Design Master Class Tips and Tricks from N&O Design Team ProsDesign Master Class Laura Burke

Heirlooms blend beautifully with modern furnishings

February 7, 2014 

  • Design Master Class

    N&O Design Team members who will share their expertise twice a month in Home & Garden are all members of the Alliance of Interior Designers, a group of Triangle-area professionals. Learn more at

  • About the designer

    Laura Burke, lead designer/owner of Burke Designs in Raleigh, attended Parsons of Design in New York City and holds a bachelor’s degree in interior design, with a minor in art and Italian, from Meredith College in Raleigh. After moving to Raleigh 20 years ago, she worked as an event planner for an international company. Designing spaces for entertaining is a natural outgrowth. She has run her own business since 1996 and has also worked for regional and national builders helping homeowners make design choices.

The challenge

The owners of this 22-year-old Raleigh colonial wanted their living room to incorporate inherited heirlooms that called to mind their family history alongside pieces that reflected their own personalities. They needed a space that would be an inviting and comfortable place to entertain guests – but one that would not be too trendy or too sedate. Here’s the sophisticated result.

Super space

While most living rooms have a focal point such as a fireplace, this 13-by-15-foot space does not. But every room should have at least one “rock star,” and this room has a few.

One is a vintage wall sconce that is faux-finished in silver, gold and black; it paired up beautifully with a mirrored chest to anchor one corner, beside a newly acquired leather chair. We topped the chest with some vintage barware, keepsakes reminiscent of the wife’s father’s bartending days. A new silver tray with wooden handles holds the original martini shaker and seltzer bottle.

Another star is the contemporary bar across the room. Constructed of laminate and chrome, it has a teardrop-shaped surface that lends a feeling of movement. It was acquired about 10 years ago with matching stools that had become outdated. Round bar stools later purchased from a consignment shop were refinished with black lacquer paint on the bases. We upholstered the seats with a simple brown-and-black spotted fabric trimmed with gold fringe to complement the black bar and brown chair. Using stools without backs prevents crowding in a small space, and makes a great gathering and conversation area in a room otherwise lacking a focal point.

Furnishings are a blend of old and new, traditional and contemporary. The owners kept their Lawson-style sofa and added a copper-colored Art Deco-style leather chair trimmed with nail heads across from it. The chair is masculine and not too contemporary to work with the sofa. For the sofa, which is patterned and colorful, we chose throw pillows with a subtle design. A pillow covered in a neutral geometric adds interest to the chair and blends with other fabrics in the space.

To give the room pop, the off-white walls were painted in a soft shade: Sherwin Williams’ SW6044 Doeskin. With the addition of softness and color, we decided that each wall did not need to be decorated with a piece of art. We deliberately kept most walls empty. This strategy gave further importance to another family treasure – hand-glazed tiles the wife’s mother had used in her basement bar. We rescued them from the attic, cleaned them and displayed them to add color and texture to one wall.

Terrific trick

To pull a space together, repeat strong elements like this room’s grouping of shiny silver objects – picture frames, decorative glass bottles and a vase with texture and definition. As an effective counterpoint to new accessories, vintage silver bar ware (a family heirloom) lends interest to the opposite side of this space. Other family treasures – an old picnic basket and porcelain bulldog figurine – further personalize the room.

Not by the book

Different woods and shades of stain add visual interest. All the trees in the forest don’t match, but they look beautiful together. Blend light and dark for variety. Tip: Maybe your “rock star” piece is only a phone call away to a relative who would appreciate your using their heirlooms in your updated space. It will certainly add character to your home.

Burke Designs

6128 Charleycote Drive, Raleigh

919-427-3027 or

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