A Conversation with Linda Holt, Design Consultant for Merrimack Valley Home
It’s a dark winter day, but even with the snow falling outside, Linda Holt’s Boxford studio is bright and cheerful. A corkboard holds neatly pinned pictures and fabric swatches for inspiration, and a nearby stand displays shells and pieces of sculpture. A few steps away, beneath sunny orange curtains, a walking desk is tucked into an alcove. It’s an inviting personal space — uncluttered, but with something interesting to see everywhere you look.
For Holt, Linda Holt Interiors is the culmination of years of experience. She’s always loved interior design, but she took a circuitous path to the profession. Science, art and photography have claimed her time and attention at one point or another, but the detours have made her a better decorator, with a greater understanding of proportion, space and people. She spoke to Merrimack Valley Home recently about her career, her style, and what she thinks every home needs.
How did you get into design?
I’ve always been into it. But my father didn’t want me to go to design school — he didn’t think it was practical — so I went for marine zoology instead. I worked for two years in a lab, and I couldn’t see doing that for the rest of my life. I couldn’t afford design school, and I’d always liked photography, so I moved back home and put myself through the New England School of Photography in Boston. I had my own studio, and did acting and modeling head shots for years.
Was there a turning point that led you to this path?
In all honesty, my life changed in 2005. My mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. She passed away quickly, and it made me realize that life is too short. All I was doing on weekends was decorating and looking at fabrics, so I went back to school for interior decorating. I took classes all over the country with people I really respected. I tried to keep my photography studio open, too, but doing both was really stressful — I felt like I wasn’t giving enough time to either career — so in 2011 I sold my photography equipment and said if I’m going to do interior design, I have to commit to doing it full time.
How would you describe your style?
A well-edited space, with a good mix of color and pattern, that reflects the personality of the person who lives there.
Who influences it?
I follow lots of designers, but what really gets me excited are artists and craftspeople. I love the artist Mark Rothko, for example.
How has your style evolved?
I think I’m more comfortable taking risks now — using color combinations that are outside of the box, or suggesting a piece of furniture that looks like the scale would be off, but becomes the statement piece of the room. I recently did a room for a client in a dark navy that was a risk — we were concerned it might turn out looking like a cave. It didn’t at all. We used a lighter version of navy on the ceiling for contrast, and it was beautiful.
What inspires you?
Definitely nature, travel and art. Also going to trade shows, seeing the new products — I’m always designing rooms in my head for how I would use them.
Do you have any rules?
I don’t know that I have any set rules, other than if something doesn’t function in a client’s life, I’m not going to use it. People can fall in love with a linen sofa, for example, or all-white rooms, but if they have four kids and a dog, it’s not something I’m going to recommend. It has to function for real life, and be as pretty as we can make it after that.
Tell us a little bit about how you work. How do you begin a project?
It starts with a dialogue between myself and the client about how they want to feel at the end of the day. I tend to look at a room as if through a camera — I can see balance, scale, all those things that I learned over 25 years of photography. So I’ll photograph a room before starting. I’ll also take pictures of existing outlets, casings, moldings, ceiling angles, all those things. I want to see the traffic flow and what’s really happening in that space.
What’s the biggest design mistake you or a client have ever made?
For clients, it’s decorating piecemeal, without a plan. You don’t have to buy everything at once, but you do need to have a plan for how you want everything to look together in terms of style and scale. For me? Way back, before I was in business, white was really popular, so I put an off-white carpet in the family room. I had two toddlers and two dogs, and the carpet lasted three months before it was completely trashed.
What’s been your favorite project?
Every project I do, where I can do something unique, feels like my favorite. But a few years ago in Newburyport, I did a condo where the client had a connection to Birds Eye foods — someone he knew had once worked there. We were able to purchase cypress wood from the former Birds Eye factory in Gloucester, and had it custom-made into a table. I took abstract photos of the factory from the outside, framed them, and hung them on his wall, so when he sits at the table he sees the photos. That was one of my most fun projects — the table has so much meaning for him, and it is a great conversation piece.
What’s one detail that every home needs?
Artwork. Art is really personal, and I like to help clients find art that makes a connection for them. It can be just a small piece they bought on vacation, but it should speak to them. I don’t care what it looks like, it doesn’t have to be my taste, so long as the client loves it, that’s great.
What current trends do you see as lasting?
Clients are becoming more conscious of where products come from, the same way they did with food. They want to buy local. They may be buying less stuff, but it is of higher quality, and there’s a connection — like my client with the custom table.
What advice would you give to your just-starting-out self?
Trust your gut and don’t give up on your dream. Every day I get up and I’m excited — I’ll do this until I can’t walk anymore.
Photos by Adrien Bisson.