Designer Lisa Teague Discusses the Importance of Color
Lisa Teague has come full circle. As a child growing up on a cattle ranch in California before moving to Annapolis, she followed along behind her mother, an interior designer. She went on to train and work in France, doing both interior and exterior painting, including work on church steeples, before focusing on decorative painting. Today, she has an interior design business, Lisa Teague Studios, in Portsmouth, N.H. She and her youngest daughter Andrea, 32, have introduced a line of odorless, solvent-free paints under the label Quiet Home Paints. She spoke to mvh about the importance of color, the need to create a peaceful retreat, and why trends such as open shelving aren’t always a good idea.
How did you get into design?
I was really lucky to work with another decorative painter who was connected to a Boston designer who did a lot of work in Paris and the south of France. That really expanded my world in terms of painting and interior design. When I was doing decorative painting, I’d disassemble a room, then put it back a different way, and the client usually liked it better. I still love painting, by the way. It’s such immediate gratification. I love design, too, but it tends to be more administrative, like tracking down lost chairs.
Color is obviously very important to you. Tell us about your paint line.
I consider color a tool. There are people drawn to very cool palettes, and others to very warm palettes, but they may not necessarily know it until they sit down with someone who says, “Do you know that every yellow you choose has a green undertone as opposed to a red undertone?” I’ve done color consulting for 25 years, and I’ve realized there are so many choices out there that the consumer becomes paralyzed. I wanted to simplify colors for people, so I’ve done a soft weight, a medium weight and accent color palettes. We see color in relationship to what sits next to it. In my current life, for example, all my walls are white, but people walk in and see the house as colorful because of the furniture and accessories. A warm white will decrease the contrast of the colors, and a bright white will sharpen the accent colors. Even in a small home, you can wrap colors up around the ceiling. By eliminating those points of contrast, you lose the geometry of the house and are wrapped in softness. In contrast, if you have beautiful molding, you really want to bring those contrasts forward. Also, people want their homes to reflect the local geography, particularly second homes. Our coastal New England palette is soft, with grays and sea glass. When I worked in the Berkshires, we used heavier, more saturated colors, like warm golds and emeralds.
How would you describe your style?
It’s a little eclectic, quirky. I feel my strong suit is knowing the client and finding a way to make their home feel personal. I think that’s why I wind up doing a lot of second homes, because after the first one, the client knows they have someone who really gets them. For some, that’s worth the price of a hotel and a plane ticket.
How has your style evolved?
The biggest change for me is in my level of confidence in myself and what I do. I don’t feel I have to prove myself anymore. If you want to work with me, I’ll do everything I can do to get you what you want. If you don’t, that’s fine, too — there’s another great designer out there for you.
What inspires you?
Compassion. And an awareness of how important homes are to people, and how important it is to be able to create a place where they come in at the end of the day and exhale. Listening to clients and what matters to them — “Where did you go on your honeymoon? Is there a plate from your grandmother, or another loved object that can serve as our starting point?” — I’m inspired by people’s personal lives, their treasured objects, what they love and what they dislike. When people say, “This is my house, this is why we love it,” it blossoms out from there.
Do you have any rules?
My job is to say, I know this is really important to you, but I don’t think it works for these reasons — reasons of scale or because it makes the room feel disjointed. You may have a client who wants a purple room, so you lead them to a purple accent wall, a purple rug. But if a bordello is what the client wants and they know that, it may not speak to me, but I can get on board with it. You can’t lose sight of the fact that it is the client’s house, not yours. If this is what you as a client want, I’m going to make it work for you.
Any big trends you are seeing?
Right now, everyone’s kitchen is white, everybody wants gray grout with white subway walls. So I try and say, OK, this is a trend, but also a classic. Unless you really, really want gray grout, I’m going to suggest white so you don’t date the kitchen. I try not to let people do it with their big expensive items. If you want to follow a trend, do it with lights or with accent colors.
What’s the biggest design mistake you or a client have ever made?
We all learn as we go. I’ve made rookie mistakes like using fabric I shouldn’t have and taken responsibility when it hasn’t worn right, fixing it at my cost. The mistakes aren’t usually about the overall project, but more about the details. But that’s part of the process. You make a mistake once, you don’t do it again. One of my own houses was featured in a magazine and had all open shelves in my kitchen. People can be so mean — the comments online were, “Oh, she must never dust or never cook.” But when I was moving out, I was cleaning, and I had to say, OK, they might be right. It was a little greasy. (Laughs.)
What’s been your favorite project?
I’ve had several projects with clients that made me feel that way, but one a few years ago was just so wonderful. The client loved fabric and had the budget to do it, so we added things like fabric trim with hand-blown Venetian glass beads — things I could never do for anyone else or myself. We had beautiful Belgian linen drapes that were extraordinary. It was such a fun project, and the client was just so excited about it. It was also challenging because there really wasn’t a budget. Small budgets can also be fun and challenging — everything in between is harder, because you don’t have limitless funds.
What’s one detail that every home needs?
Every home needs one sunny spot to curl up with a soft throw and good book on a winter’s day, one tiny retreat place. When everything else falls apart, you can say, “I’m taking a cup of tea to my corner.”
What advice would you give to your just-starting-out self?
Have confidence. Believe in yourself — if you don’t, your client won’t believe in you.
Lisa Teague Studios
95 Market Street #4
To see how Teague helped a couple build their dream home on Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, read the Fall issue of Merrimack Valley Home – on sale here >>