Hilary Farr has a declaration to make: Beige is not a color.
"It's not," says Farr. "There's a difference between being drawn to earth tones — which are neutrals — and beige. There are beiges, if you want to call them that, and there are taupes."
Farr should know. The sassy designer on HGTV's hugely popular "Love It or List It" has made a career out of transforming dysfunctional homes into sophisticated, polished, livable spaces that homeowners will love, not list.
Recently, Farr — who also is a style ambassador for Art Van Furniture; she appeared in Detroit's Thanksgiving Day parade alongside Art Van founder, Art Van Elslander — found the shoe on the other foot as she had to decorate her own new apartment in North Carolina, where she's now filming the first American shows of "Love It or List It." The show, produced by Big Coat Productions, has primarily been filmed in Toronto.
During her recent visit, Farr, who lives in Toronto, stopped by Art Van's Royal Oak and Novi stores along with Scott Shuptrine Interiors to pick up some pieces for her new apartment. She fell in love with Scott Shuptrine's shagreen vases, an untanned rawhide often from sharks or stingrays. "It's sculpture," she says.
I sat down with Farr — looking incredibly chic in slim black pants, a black cashmere sweater and layered necklace — to chat about why the show chose the Raleigh/Durham area for its 10th season, inspiration pieces, her relationship with Realtor David Visentin (no, they're not married, but they do bicker in real life as much as they do on the show), and whether she'd ever bring her design expertise to the Motor City. Answer: Yes!
Q. So "Love It or List It" is finally filming in the United States. Why North Carolina?
A. There were a few reasons. One is Toronto is a very specific city in how it looks and the issues that it has, and I feel like we've kind of beaten that to death. I honestly don't think I could do another basement without faking my suicide and running away.
I think the other thing that was important was to be able to come up with properties that resonate with the American fans, and we weren't really able to do that with Toronto. Our price points are insanely high by most standards.
But I think it was equally to try and find different houses to do and different design challenges. I think that was what really what drove it the most.
Q. Was that exciting for you, the idea of new design challenges?
A. So exciting — not to mention that the temperature is about 20 degrees warmer there in the winter than it is in Toronto.
I'm into homes that are larger, different issues. Ultimately, the main issue is to create a home that is going to work well on both levels — which is to function for that family and to look beautiful, which is pretty much everyone's challenge.
Q. You talk a lot about form and function when it comes to your decor. Why is that important and what factors need to be considered?
A. The saying is "form and function" and they must absolutely work together. And nothing has changed since whoever coined that phrase many years ago. One without the other doesn't work.
The sofa that I'm sitting in now for example (a tufted white sofa), it's very attractive. It's incredibly comfortable. It's made of a fabric that has texture to it, but it's durable.
A lot of families feel that everything in their home needs to be a color that will "hide the dirt." My answer to that is there are so many different technologies out there these days with fabric, whether it's leather or faux leather or faux suede or a treated natural fabric or a blend, you don't have to do that. That's a perfect example of blending two things, form and function. So you have a beautiful sofa you love, but no, I'm not going to allow a child up here with chocolate milk. But that's a choice as to how you live in your home.
For most families, you can blend the two, and that's essential to enjoying your home. Otherwise you're going to have entire rooms that are off limits. And that doesn't work either — not the way we live today.
Then there is the true essense of you — to express who you are as an individual and to bring in your family's needs as well. That's essential. To take note of trends, to take note of what is happening, to stay current — but to choose your key pieces so that they actually are you.
So if you love a purple chair, for example, you should have that purple chair. It will bring you pleasure every time you walk into your home and look at it. Do it. I don't care if purple is the color of the year or it seems like an odd choice, do it. It's not for everyone but that's the whole point of trying to express your individuality within the framework of a functional, updated, if not necessarily trendy, home.
I'll give you an example: This ottoman (in a houndstooth fabric). I happen to love this ottoman. I can put my feet up, I can be casual. To me, that is perfect. It looks gorgeous, it's functional.
Q. Have you already decorated your new apartment?
A. I have mentally.
I bought an awful lot of pieces there (at Scott Shuptrine and Art Van) — in a post-turkey state.
I think one of things is people can have a picture in their head (when they go furniture shopping) or they may actually walk in with a page they've torn out of a design magazine and they want their room to look like this. But they need to stop and think they're looking at a very heavily edited photograph that's been pulled together by designers, that's been edited by the magazine. It's been curated down to the nth degree. It's not the way most of us actually live. But it is a good idea to have something like that as your inspiration for the room you want.
Then you walk in here and there are 900 choices.
Q. That can be very overwhelming and intimidating.
A. Very intimidating, very overwhelming — not to mention the fact you have a budget. So you'll go, "Oh I love that. No, it's too expensive." What I think shoppers need to do to take the fear out of pulling together a room, whatever it might be, is to understand is if you want this ... there are no true rules. You can break the rules and make it work.
If you can choose in your principle rooms to put maybe just one or two extra pieces that just have that little bit of extra edge, little bit of design quality that ups the ante, do it. Mix it up. It can be as simple as one table and a lamp to elevate the entire space. It's going to complement whatever you bought as your basic pieces.
The other thing I'd say is bedrooms. People think, "Oh, let's not spend money in the master bedroom because no one else actually goes to see it. It's just for me or us." Well, you're the most important people in the house actually. You go into that room every single night of your life. And you get to enjoy the rewards of a beautiful bedroom, which is to sleep well and to love it.
Q. So pay attention to the bedroom?
A. Pay attention! Absolutely. Think about comfort. I happen to like to sit up and read in bed, so I like an upholstered headboard. There's loads of choices in upholstered headboards and instantly your bed starts to look pulled together. Treat yourself to a beautiful coverlet and some gorgeous decorative pillows. Get some reading lamps that actually give you the light you need, where you need it, and have a beautiful design — texture, something interesting. Artwork. If you have carpeting everywhere, you can still put a beautiful rug on top of that and give it an extra texture and color.
There are so many ways that you can enhance a room without breaking the bank. A piece here and a piece there.
Q. And focus on a few pieces?
A. So if you have pieces that you love of your own, find a spot for them. Sometimes you can repurpose them, sometimes you can rethink them. Very often, a piece you've had — because it was your granny's or your favorite aunt's, you've inherited it, it has sentimental value, but doesn't really fit — don't think it's an object to revere to the point that you have to live with it exactly the way it is. You can recover a simple chair, but in a new fabric. You can re-stain or repaint wood.
Q. Will you be bringing some of those pieces into your new apartment in North Carolina?
A. North Carolina is a clean slate. I have two challenges that so many people face. One, I live in a home (in Toronto) and I haven't lived in an apartment since probably I was a student. It's a beautiful apartment, nevertheless it is one living room — which is open. There is a kitchen, dining area and sitting area — all in that one room. I have one bedroom; I have a second bedroom that will be my den/office. That's it. So I'm the equivlaent of down-sizing and I'm moving to a different lifestyle — which is an apartment. So no, I'm not taking anything of mine, obviously some photographs and my dog.
Downsizing is a challenge. And it very often means really letting go of just about everything you have. I say there are no rules and you can break them — and you can — but one of the hardest things for people to understand is the importance of scale.
Q. Scale in a small space — how important is scale?
A. It doesn't mean everything has to be tiny. You can actually use large pieces in a small space as long as you are using it for effect.
Don't put a giant oversized sofa in a small space. But if you feel you need to have to a sectional, then you just have to bring down the scale. Then you could put a huge arc lamp in there, for example. You could put one very oversized chair with it that will, maybe in the right corner, will gives a sense of the height of the ceilings. My ceilings happen to very high. If you have low ceilings, you have to be aware of that so you don't want to draw attention to it.
Q. Where should you start decorating a room?
A. Ottomans are a great way of starting a room off and building it from there. If you don't want an ottoman and are going to go with a coffee table, start looking at a sofa or seating, whatever your seating is going to be. It's usually goign to be a sofa or sectional and a couple of club chairs.
Again, the key is to think about, "Are you very tall? Or you partner very tall?" If you have a sofa with low-back sofa, he's going to be miserable and hate you.
Q. Why is it important to layer textures and fabrics at home? Visually, it breaks things up?
A. Absolutely. The line between what we wear and what we bring in our homes is blurred now. I read an article that social media is part of it. We're seeing things and you can buy them off the runway so that's gone through the consciousness and it's already being pulled into interior design. So what we wear and what we see in our homes is starting to be almost the same thing.
Q. Let's talk a little bit about color. I heard you say once that beige is not a color. Can you expand on that?
A. It's not a color. There's a difference between being drawn to earth tones — which are neutrals — and beige. There are beiges, if you want to call them that, and there are taupes. Every single color has a base to it. You can have a taupe that has a green undertone, a taupe that has a gray undertone. You'll see that coming through on your walls.
There is no reason to put a strong color on your walls unless that's what you like to live with, because it is very, very defining and it makes a strong statement. Having said that, if you love it and want to try it, do it. It's just paint.
Q. With a sofa, do you suggest picking a neutral color?
A. Not always. Again, I think for most people they're concerned with practicality. But I do think if you're going to buy almost an investment piece, then go with a neutral. That will allow you to change it up over the years — very inexpensively, with accessories.
Q. You've spent a lot of time in Detroit over the last few years. What do you think of it?
A. I love it. I think Detroit deserves to succeed in its comeback. And I think it is coming back. I met your new mayor (Mike Duggan). What a likable man. And I do think the feeling is optimistic here — and I think that's fantastic. The feeling of everybody along the parade (in November) was upbeat and pride in their city. And I think if that can be used properly and that excitement built on, Detroit is going to come back to all of its glory. I certainly hope so.
Q. Will "Love It or List It" ever come to Detroit?
A. I hope so. I'd love to come here. You've got these absolutely beautiful buildings. You've already got the infrastructure of a beautiful city. As I drive through the area, I see these gems. I'd love to get my hands on them.
Form and function: "You can blend the two, and that's essential to enjoying your home. Otherwise you're going to have entire rooms that are off limits. And that doesn't work either — not the way we live today."
Pay attention to your bedroom: "You go into that room every single night of your life. And you get to enjoy the rewards of a beautiful bedroom, which is to sleep well and to love it."
Never forfeit comfort: "Be formal and comfortable. Don't ever, ever give up comfort. Ever. It's not worth it. It's a room to be used."
Starting points: "Ottomans are a great way of starting a room off and building it from there. If you don't want an ottoman and are going to go with a coffee table, start looking at a sofa or seating, whatever your seating is going to be."
Paint choices: "There is no reason to put a strong color on your walls unless that's what you like to live with, because it is very, very defining and it makes a strong statement. Having said that, if love it and want to try it, do it. It's just paint."