It may be winter outside, but the promise of a warm surf beckons in 10-year-old Gabriel Stransky’s sunny North Raleigh bedroom.
Inspired by a mid-century modern dresser that was a wedding gift to his grandparents from a set of in-laws, the colorful room is a pre-teen dream that will easily transition as the avid surfer ages. In fact, it contains many elements, including a few beloved nursery room treasures, from its previous incarnation as a playful pirate’s lair.
“I’m all about mixing old and new, especially family pieces,” says his mother, Laura Burke of Burke Interior Designs, whose home is filled with sentimental keepsakes. “I like to look around a house and think about people.”
The sturdy dresser that now anchors Gabriel’s room makes her think of her father every time one of its hinged cupboards is opened. “This was the sound of my childhood,” she says, smiling warmly as its metallic scrrrutch reminds her of her dad selecting a handkerchief as he dressed for work each morning.
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Its dark, boxy shape informed the selection of a pair of mid-century nightstands found on Etsy and intentionally mismatched lamps from SoHo Consignments near the state fairgrounds, one of her favorite Raleigh shops. They cast a warm glow on the room’s other signature feature: a battered surfboard that hangs on a shiplap wall as if it caught the perfect wave. Gabriel found it on a beach trip several years ago, washed up on the shore after a storm lashed the Outer Banks.
“We could have had it restored, but we like that it looks like a shark took a bite out of it,” Burke says as her son grins at the thought of the board’s previous adventures. “It you make things look too perfect or matchy-matchy, your home will look like a catalog instead of a reflection of you.”
The room also features a few classic nautical elements, like a large, brass-trimmed mirror that suggests a ship’s window and would be equally fitting in a formal living room.
While Burke’s designer touch is evident in the bold assemblage of furnishings, fabrics and accessories, she believes that anyone willing to set aside the lure of packaged showroom looks can achieve similar results with these tips:
▪ Take inheritances out of storage and enjoy them. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of using grandma’s china or worry if an object is authentic. “If you like it, use it,” Burke says. “Everywhere I turn in my house, I have things that remind me of people I love.”
▪ Scout consignment shops, flea markets and yard sales. You can find good buys on vintage and distinctive pieces, especially if you can live with minor flaws like scuffs from everyday use. She also buys from online sellers with strong customer satisfaction reviews. “I primarily choose East Coast vendors because freight fees can kill you,” she says.
▪ Don’t get hung up on whether elements match. “All the trees in the forest don’t match, but people love to be among them and pay a lot of money for paintings of them,” Burke says. “You can have a lot more fun when you let go of that and instead focus on what you love.”
▪ Invest in quality, but don’t fret about mixing in inexpensive pieces. “This is an Ikea chair his grandmother bought years ago and no longer wanted,” Burke says of the chartreuse discard placed by a sunny window in her son’s bedroom. “Its color and style are perfect in here.”
▪ Reuse and recycle. One of Gabriel’s favorite toddler toys, a fake aquarium in which exotic fish wiggle in a perpetual wave, has assumed playful prominence in this surfer’s retreat. Elsewhere, Burke has repurposed favorite sweaters and linens by having a seamstress convert them into cozy pillow covers.
Gabriel counts himself among his mother’s most satisfied customers.
“I love my room, and my friends think it’s cool,” says the fifth grader. “When I get my first apartment, I’m definitely going to have her design it.”
Lucas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org