Foundational Design Lessons with Anna Smith

Uncategorized Aug 24, 2020


This is a re-released episode from our archives.  This episode originally aired March 27, 2017.

Our guest today is interiors expert, Anna Smith, founder of the blog and interior design firm,  Annabode and Company.  Anna lives in Colorado and really enjoys working face to face with clients in her community.  But she also does e-design for people across the country.  We particularly love seeing her own home as she and her husband renovate and decorate a 1970s ranch that they bought before ever seeing it in person!  In our conversation, we're really excited to hear about her very actionable suggestions when it comes to approaching the development of your own personal aesthetic and making decor decisions over time.  


Portfolio from Annabode (all photos from Anna Smith)



So this conversation happened way back in 2016. We interviewed Anna Smith of an abode and company. She had recently moved her business and her life to Colorado, and we talk with her all about how she works as a designer, her background In the decorative arts, but the reason why I wanted to re air the episode is because we get back to basics in it. And I think it's just really helpful to be reminded of some of the foundational principles behind good design so that if you happen to be struggling with a piece of your room at your home that's just not quite working, it could very well be one of these things that Anna touches on today. So sit back and have a listen, I will see you on the other end.


Karen Grant  4:29  

We’d love to hear a little bit about sort of your history with with design, you know, you can go back as far as you want, like, I mean, as far as when, when that interests are started, you know, to percolate in you and then we'd love to hear a little bit about how you started and abode and set out, you know, what you do with the business, what your husband does with the business and so on?


Anna Smith 4:55  

Yeah, definitely. Um, well, so I have a kind of non traditional design background. And I came to it in a more roundabout way. I grew up, you know, in a creative family and I loved the arts and the visual arts and the performing arts, but I never really settled on one, even through college, I just couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. So when I graduated, I decided to enroll in a graduate program at the Smithsonian in DC, in the history of decorative arts, which was kind of tangentially related to what I'm doing. I was pretty convinced that I wanted to become a curator in a historic House Museum. So I I loved interiors at that point, but I also loved history. And so that's kind of the path that I ended up going down. Um, but I did my degree kind of slowly because I we also had our son at that point. And over time, I became really sort of disillusioned with the extremely reverence that that kind of academic world has four objects, right? Don't touch don't change, like, though use. And, to me like, they're interesting and they were beautiful, but they're also just things. So I really didn't enjoy that part of it. And I felt like they should be used and brought to life and changed if necessary. So kind of at the same time, my husband and I bought our first home. And it was really the first time that I had ever had a space that was in a dorm room or rental, like I could actually do subdue and change and that was like, kind of like the beginning of the seeds. And we didn't really have a lot of money at that point. But our house was pretty generic and boring. So we started doing, you know, these little DIY projects, and on a whim one day I started a blog about it. I just got super into And absorbed into it and blogging kind of took over my life. And it became pretty clear. You know, once I was spending more time on the blog than I was on my degree. I was kind of more interested in design happening now rather than in the past. So I expanded the blog a little bit to talk more about design in general. And then I think about a year after I started blogging, and I got contacted by an E design company, based in New York, and they asked me to apply to be one of their designers. And that was the first time that I was like, Hey, I could do this for a living and I had never even thought about it.


Zandra Zuraw  7:36  

And that was Laurel and Wolf, right?


Anna  7:39  

No, that was actually I've worked for lone wolf that was decorilla.


Zandra Zuraw  7:42  

Oh, okay. Sorry. Yeah.


Anna  7:45  

I've kind of dabbled in all the design companies. Okay. But yeah, so I started working for decorilla and I kind of gave myself a crash course in SketchUp. And the kind of 3d modeling aspect of design And I worked for them for a year doing EA design. So my clients were kind of all over the country. And I really, really loved it. And then I got one design client that ended up being local in DC. And it was the first time that I had done that. Personally, you know, in her speech that I could go to Yeah, or I could meet the people and I was like, Hey, this is a lot better. And then pretty soon after that, we moved to Denver. So I actually started my own business with my husband. And ever since then, we've been doing mostly local in person design services and some e design services. So in terms of me and my husband, he's been probably my number one supporter and push her to do it and have my own business. He's very much an entrepreneur. And he helps me mostly with the manual labor side of things. I do a lot myself But sometimes I need him and I need him to lift heavy stuff for me. But I do the design portion of it, because he does have a full time job. So yeah, so I've been doing that for almost two years now for myself, and it's been going really well. Denver is really an amazing place for design right now. Because the city is growing so quickly. And so many people are moving here and have nothing you know, they've moved across the country. And it's, it's been a lot of fun.


Zandra Zuraw  9:31  

Oh, that's, that's great. I love this the part of your story where you're saying that it the bug really hit you when you got your own place where you can actually do something. So I think that's so true for so many of us, we, whenever we get our first space, and it might be it might be a dorm room where you know, especially if you've shared a bedroom with a sibling and you know you finally have your own room or something and you could finally put whatever you want up on the walls or it might be something more permanent like your first home, right but I do feel It comes from this sort of innate human desire to put your mark on something and to say, yeah, hey, this is who I am. This is this visual representation of who I am. I totally agree. And you know, a lot of times sometimes I regret you know, that I didn't go down the more traditional path of going to interior design school and, um, but I really just had never thought about it. Until I had that space. It wasn't you know, it was never presented to me as a child as this is a career path. Which is ironic because my, one of my sisters is is actually an interior designer. Oh, my gosh, I thought about it that way. Oh, that's so funny. Yeah. Well, and I want to say you I want to mention you do on your blog, you do have a series of, I forget what you call it, but it's where you you look at the history of a particular object or a particular design style.


Anna  10:53  

Yeah. So I really like Oh, thanks. I started doing that when I was still getting my degree. Unfortunately, I did not blog Any more very frequently at all. But that was a fun series for a while. And I mean, I do love the history of furniture and objects and decor, that's still very much you know what I do and, and why I love mid century design so much. And it is it is fun and interesting having that kind of a background and approaching spaces with that kind of perspective. Right?


Zandra Zuraw  11:25  

You just like it to be living. You want to live with these objects. And so yeah, put them in a museum. Yeah, I do.


Anna  11:32  

Yeah, that's what they were made for.


Karen  11:33  

Yeah. Well, that actually brings us to something that I wanted to talk about. And one of the things that initially drew us to you, I think we found you through your Instagram feed, but then when we went on to your website, I love that your mission is to create stylish modern homes while paying special attention to function. And I think that's, I mean, that's really a big part of why I'm room works or doesn't work. That one, we're living in a space. And so I was just wondering if you could share with us maybe some, either key details or pieces or just sort of concepts behind how you look at a space and come up with either for yourself or for your clients. Mm. Details or items that that helped with this idea of some space being both aesthetically beautiful, but also having this functional element.


Anna  12:30  

Yeah, definitely. Um, you know, I think I think it's easy to make a beautiful space, but the harder part about sign is making sure it reflects, you know, your personality and your lifestyle, not just your sense of style. So, sometimes that means, you know, designing with your children in mind, very often in Colorado, it's with your pets. Everyone has dogs here. And you know, sometimes it's as simple as just making sure you're choosing the right fabrics and the right rugs. are going to be stain resistant and easy to clean or, you know, rugs onto your dining room table that are half kind of a more of a flat lead. So they're not holding crumbs under a high chair. But also, you know, it's making sure that those family members or those pets are brought into the design and how they use the space is accounted for. Um, so like I have a client right now who has a bull Mastiff.


So like, we had to make sure he had an area in the living room where he could feel included, you know, if people were over, but he also wasn't in the way which was typical. It's a very small narrow room and you know, bullmastiffs are very large animals. And then like in her in her bedroom, he's getting older and he can't get up on the bed anymore. So we had a bed custom made that was lower to the ground so that he could climb up on it. So it's things it's things like that and I really do believe good design is you know, mostly about function and aesthetics almost plays a secondary role. Because, you know, if something is beautiful, but it's not working for you, it becomes this kind of extra physical emotional baggage that you hold on to and it just kind of clutters up your life. I'm a, you know, I'm a big believer in minimalism and I hate the idea of like holding on to dead weight and things that you don't need or things that aren't working for your space. Right. So that's really how I try to approach my clients homes. So


Zandra Zuraw  14:35  

it sounds It sounds like you have some pretty sensible guidelines I hit I hesitate to use the word rules because I think that we all do break the rules and we need to but you wrote you wrote another article, I think this was actually on Heather and tether and we want to just mention that you do guest posting on that website Heather into there, we'll put a link in


Anna  14:59  

Not anymore, though. But I did okay with her for a long time.


Zandra Zuraw  15:04  

A lot of great resources on that website. We're still looking at Yeah. But you wrote about first time homeowners decorating mistakes and how to avoid them. And we had some favorites in there for sure. I'm trying to think which one I want to start with because they're really they're really some good ones. But for instance, purchasing rugs that are too small for the space.


Anna  15:29  

Number one1


Zandra Zuraw  15:31  

So talk about that a little bit like,


Anna  15:33  

yeah, I mean, I think people buy rugs that are too small because they're less money and they kind of try to buy the smallest size, you know that they can. But the thing with rugs is that if you get a rug that's too small, meaning there's like a huge, you know, floor space around it. It just kind of feels plopped down and let your furniture does not feel grounded or connected at all and the end that it really makes A huge difference in the room. If you buy a rug, that's the right size for the room, meaning you know, there's 12 to 18 inches of floor space between it and the wall, your you know, the front legs of your furniture on that rug, it makes all those kind of disparate pieces feel like a cohesive unit. And people I just think don't stop to think about it because it's not intuitive. You know, it's really something that you have to kind of know. But yeah, that's definitely one of the big things I always see when I go into people's homes for the first time. Especially, you know, under a dining table, they buy one that kind of fits so that all four legs are on the rug, but none of the chairs are you know, exactly. But it makes it makes a huge difference in a room when you do get the right sized floor covering in and also, you know, protects your floors.


Zandra Zuraw  16:50  

Right, right. Well or where it's just under the coffee table. Right? Yes, you're actually walking which is how to clean the car. They struggling with that in my kitchen because I really really really want a rug in my kitchen which I know is not very practical although one of the reasons I wanted is because when this when the water from the sink splashes out of the sink which happens all the time it gets all over the floor right? But I was really struggling with it because I thought I wanted a runner in there it's kind of a narrow kitchen but it really bugged me when I you know I brought a few home and laid them down to see what it looked like that the runner it. It was where I was standing at the kitchen and both at the refrigerator was actually on floor not on the rug and then I was like well of course it's just too narrow. It needs to fill up the whole space and but I really had to see that to understand. Yeah, that sort of really just make sure that wherever you're walking is is carpeted as opposed to bare wood floor if you're using an area rug.


Anna  17:49  

Yeah, and I that's why I really love vintage rugs because they come in kind of all these crazy sizes so like I have a lot of rooms in my house that are not going to You know, an eight by 10 or a six by nine. But if I buy a vintage rug, that's maybe that goes seven by seven and a half. It'll work perfectly. So that's another good, good thing to look for.


Zandra Zuraw  18:12  

Yes, definitely. And how about matching your furniture or your wood? I love this idea, because I think people really get hung up on Woods not matching.


Anna  18:23  

Yeah, they do. And I mean, you can match your wood if you really want to, but I think matching your furniture and matching all your wood tones in your house. Really, now it just feels kind of dated. It's more like what our parents did and what our grandparents did and what their parents did. And homes now, there's definitely you know, the trend to make it feel more collected over time and you don't get that sense if you match everything. You know, you walk into a room and you feel like someone bought this all at once. Um, and that's fine if that's what you want it to look like. But I think the most beautiful spaces do feel collected over time. And so things can be slightly different and not matching and in perfect. I mean, I think matching your furniture is fine if you're matching the same kind of furniture, so like your dining chairs, you can match them, that's fine. But when it's like matching, like buying the same sofa in the same chair, I see a lot to still or even matching your dining chairs to your table. It just reads as like a set that you purchased and maybe not a lot of thought was put into it. And it was easy and it just doesn't feel as kind of collected and intentional as it could if you kind of mismatch them just just a little bit.

Zandra Zuraw  19:45  

And I think the problem is, is that that's how things are still sold, right? sold and presented as a set in a catalog or in a store.


Anna  19:54  

Maybe one day


Karen  19:57  

I think that's what's fun about it. That Zandra and I both enjoy and you do too is is is purchasing and shopping for vintage items, because it's naturally I mean the date shops are naturally collected, they're naturally variety of different time periods and different types of materials and so on and, and I think you can really get some good ideas by going into spaces like that.


Anna  20:26  

Definitely I love vintage shopping with a passion. Most of the furniture in my house was actually just Craigslist because yeah, Siri signs out there. But you're right. I mean, it's, it's the best way to have your place not feel like you bought it all at once is to kind of take the time to look for those unique pieces. And then you kind of can't do any wrong with matching your wood tones. I kind of I mean, I wouldn't I don't go crazy with word I try to keep it to you know, two to three. But I definitely think you know, you can make the match And the same thing goes with metal finishes. A lot of people are afraid to mix brass with Chrome or oil rubbed bronze with brass and you can totally mix them and they will look great together in the right way.


Zandra Zuraw  21:18  

Yeah, yeah, is there any way in which they don't look right together. Um,


Anna  21:24  

if there's a lot going on in the space, then sometimes it's good to keep those other elements more subdued. So not using a lot of mixed metals if there's a lot of color, a lot of pattern. But like, for instance, in my my kitchens, pretty much all white, so I used brass and stainless steel. And I think, you know, it's a element that you notice, but the rest is so subtle that it kind of reads well. But if there was a lot of stuff going on in the kitchen, then maybe I would kind of stick to one woman. One metal fetish.


Zandra Zuraw  21:57  

Right, interesting. So picking into choosing what you're going to mix what elements are going to mix? And then yes, yeah, yeah.


Karen  22:04  

Well, I think this is just making me think about why I love Pinterest so much. I love going on and looking for specific things like this. Because I actually I remember seeing this photograph the other day on Instagram that had a mix of both brass or I guess it had brass, stainless steel, and it had sort of like a black oil finished metal. And if someone had just described that to me, I would have said, Oh, don't do that. Oh, that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. But it was in this bathroom. That was very, it was vintage, but it was very sort of minimalist and simple. Mm hmm. And they had there were things about the metal pieces that are You know, certain lines and certain design aesthetics that tied them together and it looked absolutely amazing. And so I think it's sometimes it's about finding these inspiration things to remind us that Oh, things can work together.


Zandra Zuraw  23:18  

Yeah, I think the visuals, it's really yeah, we'll make sure we put a lot of pictures on this show notes page, right?


Anna  23:26  

Cuz you do sometimes have to see pictures to see how it's working.


Karen  23:29  

I want to bring up one more thing about that article, because I really think this is like, the best article out there. Yeah, really. I feel like you touched on all of these things that even those of us that are doing on a regular basis decorating our homes or decorating other people's homes. We can get caught up in these things. I think we have certain rules or whatever that are just have been, you know, imprinted on our brain right? And, you know, for me, it's this You know, this this topic you brought up a filling your walls.  Yeah, and this is so hard for me and I and and it's

it's interesting because this my living room right now has 14 foot ceilings and so I have a lot of a lot of walls and I currently have have not made some decisions about what I want to do on a particular wall and it also happens to be the wall that I sit and face all the time. Whereas the wall behind me I'm very pleased with anyone walking into this space can enjoy that wall but this other wall, I haven't made any decisions, and it's causing me anxiety.  But I'm trying to realize that it is really not the end of the world. And also Could you expand a little bit on that topic?  



Definitely. Um, I think this is just like a strange quirk that we all have I don't know if we inherited from our parents or what but most people feel including myself that like we need to hang something on an empty wall. I'm like empty walls just look empty. But, you know, I'm a firm believer in, the more objects you have in a room, the less individual impact each piece has. So you won't notice kind of those smaller pieces that you've thoughtfully picked out if there are too many things going on in the space competing for your attention. And in a way it sort of devalues those things that you work so hard, you know, to find and display. Um, so you know, in like in my art classes in school, we used to always talk about focal points and then also visual breaks or wrested points and I think the same holds true for spaces. So that those empty spaces or you know, some walls left blank are visual resting points for your eye and the eye those negative spaces that let you appreciate The other elements in a room. Um, so I'm not against, you know, putting things on your walls, but I just don't think most of the time that you need to have something on every single space and sometimes it's kind of like the Coco Chanel thing, you know, taking one thing off out the door, it's like, maybe you just need one less thing, and it'll actually have more of a visual impact. Without that that item on your wall. But you know, it's hard. It's definitely like a habit that we all we all have. But I mean, I'm in the same situation right now where I have this big wall in between my kitchen in my living room, and I keep going back and forth, like should I put something on it? Should I not? And it's been this long battle in my mind. But I'll tell you what I said a lot of fun and certainly don't put something in your wall just for the sake of filling. Right? 



Well, yeah, I mean, you want you want to love it, especially if you're going to be staring at it. So getting to your style, speaking of your house in your wall that you're thinking about, we'd like to just hear a little bit about what your style is, how it's developed over time, and kind of how often you switch it up and that kind of stuff.


Anna  27:15  

Yeah, I mean, finding your style is this kind of long, almost soul searching journey. I feel like and you know, your style and my style has changed over time, and I'm sure it will continue to change. You know, as I it takes time to kind of figure out what you like and what you don't like unless you're devoting hours and hours of it every day. You know, it really does take time to figure it out. And so, my designer, if you look at my older blog posts, I started my blog, I will definitely blush.


Karen 27:51  

It was a journey.


Anna  27:54  

But you know, over time designing for other people, designing for myself, doing This is our second home. Now, I've really found that What I enjoy most is is natural elements and neutral decor because I am a very anxious person naturally. So I really want my spaces to feel calm. And the way that I like to do that is with neutral palettes and with elements that make me feel more connected to the earth rather than the city. But it wasn't always that way. I had a shabby chic face. And, you know, it's it's different for everyone. But I think the only really true way to find your styles to experiment and also to kind of copy things you see like on Pinterest to gather inspiration that way and to try things out and that's the only way you can really figure out whether or not you like something. Yeah. So my home now, it's always so hard to pin down your style, especially when it's a mix of so many things. But I like to think it's, it's mid century. I mean, our home was built in the 70s. So I kind of stretch it to be right. But it's mid century. It's a little bit rustic. I grew up in rural New Hampshire. So there's definitely like I have farmhouse II leanings that come out in the materials that I use, you know, I reclaimed wood shelving in my dining room that I love and might seem out of place to other people in a mid century home, but I really like it.

So mid century, a little bit of rustic, very neutral, organic.

Zandra Zuraw  29:37  

I know there's a tiny lot of boho there but it's not maximalist. Oh yeah, it's that minimalist. It's like a little nod, which I think is more when you bring in the natural stuff.


Anna  29:47  

Definitely. Yeah. But you know, I'm sure it'll change and I very strongly feel that you should style your house for yourself but also for your house. So you know, if we ever buy a different style home? I'm sure my personal style will change with it. So who knows what it will be next?


Zandra Zuraw  30:09  

Yeah, yeah. Well, that's a really good point that you just brought up is and I think you mentioned this and something else you've written is at least take into consideration the architectural elements of your home or that or the era the Yeah,


Annar  30:24  

yeah, I think that's really important. And a lot of times people don't do it. And it's not like I'm saying that you should totally abandon everything that you like to tell them to fit your architectural style of your house. But more that you should take it into consideration, like you said, and adapt it. So this home for us is kind of more mid century and even the boho aspects of it. I feel like I've drawn from the 70s because that's the era of this house. But we keep talking about moving back to Vermont and having a farmhouse and I'm sure At that point, you know, I will maybe choose my favorite mid century pieces, but go a little more rustic, while still keeping kind of those general style elements that I do love, like the neutral palette or the organic elements that I can translate, you know, into the different kind of time period and styles. So just taking into account when your house was built and what the style is, I think makes it feel more natural than if you kind of superimpose a very specific style on a house that wasn't made for it.


Zandra Zuraw  31:38  

Right, right. Well, and I think this is the fun part of moving to me is that you get to kind of channel these different aspects of yourself. Mm hmm. When you have a new house that's presented to you that has its own, its has its own personality that you then can say, Oh, yeah, I'm gonna bump up my rustic love, you know, Yeah, I never mind moving because to me, it's always like, Oh, good. I get to explore this other aspect of, yeah, myself or a home.


Karen 32:10  

Yeah, well, I think it's what, what all, all three of us and then all of you listening. I mean, we're, we're all into this because we like exploring those things we like taking different parts of ourselves and considering our personalities and all of that, like, I'm right there with you in the anxious person category. I need a space that makes me feel like I'm surrounded with things that put me at ease. And, you know, and that can look different for each person. I mean, you know, my living space looks quite different than your living space, but the sort of core bits of our personalities. We're focusing on those same bits, you know, and so it's nice, it's just it's interesting how easy person's space is different in that way. That's, that's what's exciting to me about interior design. Definitely.


Zandra Zuraw  33:08  

So, before we let you go, I can't believe it's already been a half an hour, but really, really flown by I wish that we had a cup of coffee in front of us so we can keep chatting. But we do want to ask you, why does style matter to you why why you spend now your your career, but also all of your free time thinking about this stuff? And what do you think it does for you? Why does it matter?


Anna  33:31  

Um, it's a tough question. Yeah, it's a good question. I think, you know, there's something kind of like you were saying a moment ago about surrounding ourselves with things that we love that makes us happy. I think surrounding ourselves with those things, but also doing it in a way that reflects who we are, is what brings us that kind of sense of peace or comfort. That can be kind of hard to explain. But I think there's this instinct and all of us to make our homes feel safe. Kind of like a like a haven from the rest of the world, which is crazy and chaotic and unpredictable. And I actually, I think style is a big part of that. So that even if your style is wild and crazy, the fact that it's your style means there is some kind of intention and decision and control behind it. And it's that feeling of control that on some level, I think gives us the feeling of safety and contentment and ease in our own home. I know for I for one feel more at ease and comfortable in spaces where there is an immediate sense of style. And it doesn't really matter what that style is or even if I like it aesthetically, but when it feels neglected or like an afterthought. I am not as comfortable and I'm not as at ease. And I do think that rings true for a lot of people. Maybe not everyone but I'm certainly not Just not just visual or not just creative people, because kind of like the number one comment I get from my clients after we've finished those spaces is how differently it makes them feel now and how much their day is affected or their morning routine is affected because of that kind of different style in the space.


Zandra Zuraw  35:19  

That's it's amazing how much power it has.


Anna  35:22  

It really is. Like I have a client that I recently did her her master bedroom and it was like the last room in her home that she had just not thought about and he had, you know, kept putting it off and kept putting it off. But once we finished it she it was just totally transformative in the way they use the space and the way her children used it to and they actually wanted to come in and snuggle in the mornings because we had all this new bed linen and she felt no better when she woke up in the morning to that kind of a space. So it really does have an effect on her emotional well being whether or not we realize it.

Zandra Zuraw  36:04  

Right. I think realizing it is the key and yeah, I it's so interesting that you said that you, you yourself feel uncomfortable or not as at ease when they walk into a space that you can tell it's been an afterthought or


Karen  36:18  

Yeah, that really stood out to me.


Zandra Zuraw  36:20  

Yeah, yeah. Because it's not. It just goes to show you that. People maybe don't even realize if they're living in a space that that hasn't they haven't been thinking about intentionally, how it might be affecting them. It's sort of like what do you walk into a house and it's full of dogs and the owners don't smell the dogs anymore.


Unknown Speaker  36:45  

You need somebody else to walk into my house smells


Unknown Speaker  36:48  

like dogs.


Unknown Speaker  36:51  

I used to host dogs. I used to ask the answer that question all the time because I don't think it smells like dogs, but maybe it does. Usually didn't know it. No, it didn't. It did. But she had to ask because she was too close to it. So


Unknown Speaker  37:06  

yeah, no, I definitely I definitely agree. I mean, you don't kind of know what you could have or what you could feel like until you kind of do that exploring. And a lot of people just kind of live that way. And they don't know that it could be better and they could feel better in their homes.


Karen  37:22  

Yeah. Well, thank you so much. Thank you really incredible. 


Zandra Zuraw  37:27  

Yeah. Thank you so helpful.


Annar  37:28  

Oh, thank you so much. It was so much fun to talk to you guys.


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