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St. Louis Magazine - At Home

Seeking Chic

This fab local couple designs on a dime by sourcing stylish pieces online.

Alise O'Brien

Those looking for the happiest, chicest home in America need look no further than Grantwood Village. Last summer, the owners of this '50s-era ranch house, Carolyn and Clayton Berry, won first prize—a $2,500 gift certificate—in designer Jonathan Adler's Happy Chic Home Contest. In a tough economic climate, many would-be contestants found it difficult to get just the right mix of items to match Mr. Adler's "Maximalist" aesthetic. But the Berrys had technology on their side.


After years of collecting toys, the couple—she a tech leasing manager, he SLU's director of communications—had mastered the art of using arcane and purposefully misspelled search terms on sites like eBay and Craigslist to find the objects of their desire. So when they fell for Mr. Adler's pottery line, they quickly applied that search-engine mojo to landing their ideal designer décor.

They started off collecting Mr. Adler's creations, then quickly branched out to search for complementary vintage items, including textiles by midcentury designer Alexander Girard, a colleague of furniture guru Herman Miller's; metal sculpture by Curtis Jere; tapestries by Evelyn Ackerman; and a variety of midcentury-glam items, such as fabrics by present-day designer Kelly Wearstler, that fall under the loose heading of "Hollywood Regency." A mix of high- and low-end items does the trick.

On a walk-through, Mr. Berry points out a few low-end items they've picked up that still manage to stand out, including a shiny lacquered desk and coffee table from West Elm, a ginger jar from Target's Global Bazaar line, and a pair of turquoise-glazed ceramic Fu dogs found on eBay. "We've looked for certain kinds of pieces. In the back bedroom, you'll see we have a couple ceramic zebras from the '60s, which are kind of iconic of the time," says Mr. Berry. "If Liberace had one in his house, it's good enough for us." Other online finds on display include mod blue Carnaby glass vases by Scandinavian company Holmegaard and a series of Fornasetti plates and prints. The couple found their Italian ceramic owl umbrella stand at a local flea market.

Although the Berrys continually redecorate—friends play "Hidden Pictures" when they come over, trying to spot what's different—they always manage to do it on a budget. Remodeling the kitchen, for instance, cost less than $5,000, as they enlisted the services of an automobile-painting company to glaze the cabinets a clean white and a tiler to cover the old Formica counters. An antique white rotary-dial phone hangs above the counter. And those framed Fornasetti prints in the front room? They were culled from a mid-'90s Pier 1 calendar and fitted into wooden record frames, spray-painted black, from Urban Outfitters.

"Jamming econo" this way, says Mrs. Berry, gives them the freedom to change things up on a whim, which has proved deeply satisfying to them both. "It's guilt-free ability to change our mind. Well, almost guilt-free," she says, admitting she sometimes finds herself laying on the guilt—and at other times plays the enabler. "Yeah, you don't help when I'll say, ‘Oo, we should pass on that.' ‘Oh, let's just put a bid on it,'" Mr. Berry says. Both laugh.

"Clayton's really good about making sure that it looks good," Mrs. Berry affirms during a basement walk-through. They've both taken Mr. Adler's "Don't be afraid" mantra to heart—whether that means moving furniture around the house on a weekly basis or even repainting the kitchen's accent wall the day before our photo shoot. The couple have fearlessly taken ownership of this formerly Golden Girls–style ranch and made it their own on every level.

As they've done so, the home's color palette has gradually evolved. "We had an eggplant purple at one point," says Mrs. Berry. "That went out quickly. We had a dark, rich red that lasted for a while and went out. The orange and the turquoise are within the past year. I like them a lot, and at this point, I don't see us doing anything, but you never know." All the rooms were at first done in neutral colors, so items could be more easily mixed and matched, but the couple recently added several colored accent walls.

To maintain their budget, the collectors only buy certain items from Mr. Adler's many lines—and always dig deeper for a deal. It's a smart strategy for two self-proclaimed Maximalists. "We're antiminimalist," says Mr. Berry. "Meaning that for us it's more. We still like it to be edited—you can see that it's edited to select colors, 'cause that keeps you from getting a little overboard. But if there's a surface, we're putting something on it."

In a house with two cats, Spencer and Kolby, that means making liberal use of museum putty to anchor items to shelves and tabletops and carefully curating to avoid clutter. As their collection has grown, so too has their design vocabulary.

"One of the other things that we do, whether it's from eBay, an antique, or at an estate sale, is look for design books and interior-decorating books, especially from the '60s to the early '70s, which is probably our favorite period," says Mr. Berry. "They were not afraid of color; they had gotten away from strict modernism, where everything was stripped down in response to [Art Deco], and the naturalists, Eames and those people, responded. The Nelsons and Singers and all that—that stuff is great, but for me, when it's too stringent, then it becomes a little sterile."

The Berrys pick and choose from midcentury influences to avoid going too far in the other direction with their use of color. Says Mr. Berry, "The '70s and the late '60s is like, ‘Hey, let's have that pattern on the curtain and on the wallpaper and on the bedspread and on the chairs!' It's too much to replicate today, but it's inspiring to me at the same time, because they were so brazen with color and geometrics and all that kind of stuff."

The Berrys' approach to color fits in perfectly with Mr. Adler's visual sense. "His design aesthetic is ‘happy chic.' So chic in the sense that it's classic, it's clean, it feels upscale, but it's not clinical," says Mr. Berry. "The happy part is where he might have emblematic things, like a sun, birds, and all that kind of stuff, the menagerie of the animals that he makes. So it's the mix of something that's kind of very high-end, but then there's a handcrafted quality, because all of the pieces are made by hand. And then it's fun colors, or you'll see this table that we have, it's kind of a classic arrow-style table, but the arrows are a little bit bigger, a little bit oversized. So it's always just kind of turning up the notch a little."

For design cues, they look to a variety of magazines, including Elle Décor, Metropolitan Home, House Beautiful, and back issues of the now-shuttered Domino, House & Garden, and Blueprint. They also pick up copies of British mag Livingetc, though at times the overseas offerings can prove daunting. "That one's more frustrating to look through, because it'll say, ‘That's available at this store for this many pounds,' and it's like, ‘Well, that doesn't help us!'" says Mr. Berry.

In search of more accessible wares, the two frequent design and décor blogs Design*Sponge (designspongeonline.com), decor8 (decor8blog.com), and 1stdibs (1stdibs.com). "I'd look on 1stdibs, which is very expensive high-end antiques, but look for ‘Oh, that's really neat. Who does that?'" says Mr. Berry. "Then that might become a new search term on eBay. Because sometimes you might be able to find something on eBay that you could get at a tenth of the price that you could through one of those retailers."

Locally, they also pop into Niche Furnishings + Design and UMA downtown, Centro Modern Furnishings in the Central West End, The Future Antiques on Morgan Ford, and Intaglia in Brentwood, searching for sales. "We've become really friendly with the store people," says Mr. Berry. "Sometimes you go to these high-end boutiques, and they kinda turn their noses up, but here, well, they're not like that at all. They're playing Prince's album Dirty Mind, and you know, they've always treated us like Brangelina. And we've never really bought big pieces of furniture."

In seeking affordable style, the Berrys have even bought broken mirrors and had them refurbished—a risk the more superstitious might decline to take. Chippewa Glass & Mirror also furnished the couple with a custom-cut overlay for the master bedroom dresser, solving a slightly, er, hairy problem. "The cat hair likes to cling to the top of this, and we really couldn't find a solution," says Mr. Berry. "So we found this wallpaper we liked online that was kind of Palm Beach '60s bamboo, then had Chippewa Glass cut the glass for us, then just laid it down. You can still see some dust there, but it's a million times better."

The couple's Maximalist approach means stocking even the stairwell with a hidden bounty: a globular porcelain pendant lamp, wavy like bleached coral, set off by a trifecta of dark navy stretched canvases bursting with big white stars.

Downstairs, built-in white shelving fills one side of the finished basement. One expects to see cluttered storage space here, but these shelves, too, hold a curated collection of objets d'art—each secured by that sturdy museum putty against the entreaties of the home's feline residents.

"When we first had the shelves done, we had them built specifically to house the toy collection. And I mean, it was just jammed in there," says Mrs. Berry. "So we scaled that back and then eventually kind of moved from the toy collecting to the pottery collecting. Many of the kiddie toys we still like a lot; we just got rid of the clutter."

Says Mr. Berry, "There's things that are a little bit kitschy, and some people would describe our style that way—but I think that's like pink flamingos and things like that." The couple's tastes are clearly more informed by the art world than the term kitsch would suggest. Boutique stuffed animals share space on the downstairs shelves with an original Charles Eames House of Cards set. And a surprising number of Adler items hide here, too, amid a menagerie of midcentury fiber, ceramic, and wood folk-art animals.

"You could probably run a game to see what's Adler and what's not Adler in the house," says Mr. Berry, chuckling a little sheepishly.

"But it's cool," adds Mrs. Berry, "because he makes so many different types of things!"

And in this house, you can be sure they'll pop up somewhere different in a matter of months.

 

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