Home & Garden

Meet the Designer: Art background helps designer see the big picture

Light, bright, clean and casual were attributes that Michelle Woolley Sauter of One Coast Design in Raleigh wanted to invoke in this room with a palette of whites, neutrals and greens.
Light, bright, clean and casual were attributes that Michelle Woolley Sauter of One Coast Design in Raleigh wanted to invoke in this room with a palette of whites, neutrals and greens.

Michelle Woolley Sauter of One Coast Design in Raleigh shares her thoughts on design.

What is your design signature? As a professional artist, I step into a client’s world to see a space for all of its design and lifestyle potential. Taking a wide view allows me to study the bones of a home and offer options to clients. I follow the New Traditional design style and love to help create a dynamic space where modern and traditional play off each other. I make things come together organically in a stylish yet warm, interesting and livable way – which is something very different from a minimalist matchy-matchy hotel room look. In my work, there are layers of new and old. I prefer a design solution that is unique. It has to feel one of a kind, and it has to belong to the client.

What are some tips for a spring refresh? Spring is a great time to freshen up your space. One common theme among my clients is not having enough storage space. I love to expand the functionality of existing pieces, use storage ottomans and create multi-use spaces such as dens that also double as an office or guest room. Custom built-ins also expand storage options by utilizing what was once considered unusable space.

Spring is also a great time to shake things up. White canvas slip covers can cover velvet upholstered furniture. Patterned wool rugs can be rolled up until fall to expose hardwood floors or to create room for sisal rugs. A traditional piece of art over a mantel can be swapped out for an abstract landscape. Forced branches, fresh flowers and produce can be brought in for beautiful table top arrangements.

What’s your favorite space in your home? My kitchen is my other studio. I love to cook and entertain, and the kitchen is where everyone gathers to chat, hang out and drink. Our kitchen is a hub with wonderful flow – it lets guests connect with two other gathering spots: a screened-in patio with seating and an eat-in kitchen area that can accommodate at least 10 more people. Those spaces connect with others both indoors and out.

What’s the next project in your home? I am in the midst of my master bath remodel. Heated tile floors in both the shower and the floor have been a luxury I never knew I couldn’t live without! Every home I’ve ever purchased has gone through a bit of a face-lift. One of the things I do is change all the light switches to dimmable ones. It’s not inexpensive but so worth it; great lighting is almost half of the design equation.

Who are your design influencers? Bunny Williams for her ability to make you feel so luxuriously taken care of in her spaces. Kelly Wearstler, as a world traveler and for her ability to see outside the design box with colors and texture from global influences. Ralph Lauren for his timelessly classic ability to bring himself to a design project, whether it is interior design or couture. Alexa Hampton has the ability to be herself and encourage you to be your best self. Locally, I really admire the coastal chic of Mrs. Howard. Her use of symmetry brings elegance in spades.

What was your biggest risk and how did it turn out? Creating a custom color grout for a master bath walk-in shower by mixing several different available colors. While it may seem to be a minor risk, if it had failed it could have been extremely time consuming and expensive to fix. Thankfully, it turned out beautifully and the finished product was a perfect transition that made the space feel luxuriously custom with no added cost.

What do you think is the next big trend? What goes around comes back around. That is, if it was a good design to begin with, it will be in style. Something trendy, yet poorly made, will not be making its way around again. New design trends are how to see and use classic elements from a particular time period in new ways, mixing in fresh and modern elements to bring the space to life. Using a color that you’ve always loved, but which seems to not be on trend, all depends on how you use it. Accenting your color with another on trend color would be an excellent way to stay in love with your favorite colors.

What are your favorite color pairings? I feel that the best color pairings are colors that are opposites on the color wheel. Use warm and cold versions of these colors for energy. I am using a lot of blues right now – from pale aquas like seaglass to the jewel-toned teals and lush indigo blues – on a project mixed with darker rustic and driftwood weathered woods. This is a home with an ocean of Brazilian cherry floors – and it pops. Mixing in brass and rubbed-bronze elements brings a touch of opulence that elevates the scheme, making it “upcountry coastal.”

How does your art background benefit you as a designer? My background allows me to work with color with sensitivity. While the untrained eye might see beige, I’ve learned to see varying shades of beige – the tonal aspects of the underlying base color. Tonal differences can vary significantly. and this matters greatly when determining the right shade of a new wall color to coordinate with existing pieces from the client’s home in varying light.

Michelle Woolley Sauter

One Coast Design of Raleigh



On Instagram: @onecoastdesign