When it comes to new home design, this interior designer has plenty of pro tips

View from the front door. The kids love to sit at the table and play games with the globe.
View from the front door. The kids love to sit at the table and play games with the globe. Cat Wilborne

My signature style tends to include a feeling of luxury, a blend of elegant finishes that look high end (even when they’re not) and a sophisticated mix of furnishings that reveal a unique personal look.

In new construction, I love to fulfill homeowners’ dreams while working within the practicalities of what builders can and can’t do. Building a new home is exciting, but it can be overwhelming – so many details!

Working with an experienced designer, teamed with your builder, can help control costs while upgrading creativity so you end up with a distinctive home that flows beautifully throughout.

Here are some reasons why you’d want to hire a professional interior designer, and things to consider when designing a new home.

5 ways a designer can help

1. Couples don’t always agree. Designers can reconcile conflicting styles and make unlike things work together in surprising ways. This featured home has a grand, palatial European exterior cocooning a modern glam interior that seems to have wings. I collaborated successfully with the couple and builder Kevin Mangum of Mangum Design Build to make it work.

2. Designers keep up with the latest trends and techniques in building construction. Builders appreciate what we bring to the table.

3. Interior designers know when to splurge and how to save without sacrificing style. Allowances can be blown easily, so designers can oversee selections of cabinetry, lighting and other items to help keep you on track. I revised the budget in countless ways to help free up money for investing in worthwhile custom features.

4. Designers know the best sources. Most designers have access to unusual items not available to the public. To warm up the entry and living room areas of the project shown, we ordered beautiful, hand-knotted rugs. They’re due to arrive any day now.

5. Designers use common sense. There are so many gorgeous things out there. You can become emotional when trying make multiple important decisions at one time. “I love this. And I love that!” Feeling overwhelmed, the temptation is to admit defeat and let the builder or sales staff choose. Really? Designers are in the best position to help you make decisions that are practical and that beautifully contribute to the overall design vision.

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White-on-white trim and ceiling (Sherwin-Williams Alabaster) and walls (Sherwin-Williams Creamy). The kitchen countertop runs right up the wall. Notice the clean look of the backsplash with hidden outlets and switches. Commissioned artwork by local artist Dan Campbell. Cat Wilborne

My must-haves in new construction

1. Build stunning decorative ceiling trims. Use 1-inch-by-6-inch lumber. It’s a great money-saving alternative to coffered ceilings.

2. Skip the heavy, expensive built-in cabinetry flanking the fireplace. We lightened up those nooks with a one-of-kind art installation, matching furniture and gorgeous sconces.

3. Continue the kitchen countertop material right up the wall. This visually enlarges the space. Hide unsightly outlets and switches by using products that install under the upper cabinets. Order extra-light rail molding for the cabinetry to hide it nicely. Consider adding USB ports and device holders to handle your phones, tablets and other devices.

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Custom hand painted artwork and florals glitter on the fireplace wall (Sherwin-Williams Classic French Gray). The burnished buff Crema Marfil marble floors, columns and fireplace add to the grandeur, with the stunning ceiling detail and chandelier completing the room’s elegant look. Cat Wilborne

4. Make room for artwork. Nothing personalizes your home like your art collection. It can be anything from creations by children and family members to commissioned pieces. In this project, three local artists followed my design direction, and their work was better than I ever imagined. On the fireplace walls, you see Peggy Lee Mead’s artwork and Ginger Dorr’s custom florals. Dan Campbell’s tryptic in the breakfast nook daily reminds the homeowners of their beach trips.

5. Find furniture that suits your family. The Triangle is filled with wonderful furniture stores to suit every price point. The comfy mink- and sand-colored living room furnishings are from Arhaus, and the modern dining table is from Z Gallerie. Both have local stores that make it easy to sit, feel fabrics and take advantage of sales.

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Ceiling detail in adjacent dining room. Cat Wilborne

6. Remember lighting. It can make or break a space. That’s why I always use a lighting expert to help create a lighting plan. Together we design lighting features for you to live comfortably in the home. Light stairways for safety. Place outlets in the floor for lamps on tables in the middle of the room. Put dimmers on everything for relaxing evening entertaining. Consider adding above-cabinet lighting to supplement standard under-cabinet lighting. Add toe-kick lighting in kitchens and baths for perfect night lights. Use beautiful chandeliers, sconces, lamps and more to finish the space off with personality.

The Bottom Line

Hiring an interior designer can give you that divine dwelling you’ve dreamed of and more value for your money. And there’s no need to stress about cost: Consulting fees are typically 1 to 1.5 percent of the total project cost. By engaging an interior designer before construction starts, as my client did in this project, you will benefit by gaining a more interesting design and by using your dollars wisely.

All of the designers who participate in the N&O’s Meet The Designer series are members of the Alliance of Interior Designers,


Contact Lisa Stewart Design at 919-275-2212,