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Mary Carol Garrity says she only knows how to do things one way: full force.

So when the longtime Homestyle contributor, author and owner of renowned home decor store Nell Hill’s in Kansas City started thinking about retirement after nearly 40 years in the retail business, she knew there was no way she’d be able to scale back or ease into it.

“The problem is I was so hands on and I was there pretty much seven days a week,” said Garrity, 63. “I like being on the floor, greeting everybody. But with that, you’re going to eventually get burned out.”

Luckily, she found a new owner for her store, Katie Laughridge, who she’ll work with during the next year to ensure a smooth transition. She jokes that after years in charge, she now has a boss.

Still, she’s looking forward to new adventures with her husband, Dan. When Garrity and I chatted last week, she was gearing up for a three-week trip to New Zealand. In the past, she could only take one or two trips with Dan a year. Now she’s going to say yes to everyhing, she says.

“I have always tried to cram my personal life into my work life and I’ve always kind of run around with my hair on fire,” she says. “I’ve sold the beautiful life but I don’t get to live it. Now I’m hoping to live it.”

We chatted about her career, how the design business has evolved and what’s ahead for her. But she’s already loving this new chapter in her life.

“I’ve taken to this retirement very well,” she says.

A people person

Garrity grew up in the retail business. Her parents operated a clothing store.

At 25, she opened Nell Hill’s in her hometown of Atchinson, Kansas, in a former bank building (she later relocated Nell Hill’s to Kansas City). But Garrity says she was never a business person; she’s always been a people person. That’s a difference between her and Nell Hill’s new owner, Laughridge.

“Katie is interested in investing in a business and taking it to a different level,” she says. “With the right people she has in place, she will know every inch of that whole business....I’m so excited to see where she takes it.”

Garrity, meanwhile, will work part-time over the next year with Laughridge, who she met through a broker, to ensure a smooth transition.

“We’re kind of finding out (my new role). It’s really evolving. I’m coming in whenever my boss tells me to,” jokes Garrity. “And I love having a boss.”

Style At Home

Garrity’s column, “Style at Home,” which has run in Homestyle since 2006, started with Garrity being interviewed by a writer who would then turn the interview into a column. For readers who will miss it, they can check out the new blog on Nell Hill’s website, nellhills.com, and its new writer.

“Katie is taking the blog over,” says Garrity.

Fans can also turn to one of Garrity’s many books on design, including “Nell Hill’s Rooms We Love” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $29.99). 

Reflecting back on nearly four decades in the design business, Garrity likes the range of styles people are free to embrace these days.

“The design industry is not cramming things down people’s throats” now, she says. “There are so many looks out there. It’s like how you dress. I could never wear ruffles or pastels. I think people are now getting to do what they’re comfortable with.

“The biggest thing is people can show their individuality and style and what they’re comfortable with now,” she said.

Her advice? Embrace “who you are and what you like — as opposed to what someone thinks you should like,” she says.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mfeighan

Mary Carol Garrity's Top Tips

Since 2006, home decor expert Mary Carol Garrity has offered decorating and entertaining tips through her column, "Style at Home," which was adapted from the blog for her store, Nell Hill's in Kansas City. Here are some of her top tips:

Brightening up the bedroom: "One of the easiest and most effective ways to warm things up is to use textiles. If your bedding ensemble is lackluster or showing some wear, invest in luxurious new linens. But when you're picking out your duvet and accent pillows, think twice before you buy a dust ruffle. Many of today's bed styles don't require a dust ruffle, so folks are instead concealing their unattractive box springs with a custom-made cover."

Wow window treatments: "To pick the perfect fabric for your drapes, ask yourself a few key questions. Will the drapes be in direct sunlight most of the day? If so, don't pick a fussy textile such as silk that will deteriorate quickly in the hot sun. What is your budget? If you like the luxurious look of silk but hate its price tag, check out the faux silks made of polyester. How much pattern is perfect for your room? If you have a lot going on in your upholstered furniture, floor coverings and wall coverings, opt for subtle drapes that blend in. But if your room is soft and subdued, consider bringing in some pizzazz through your drapery fabric."

Organizing home trouble spots: "If your back door is like mine and opens directly into your kitchen area, conscript the wall by the door into service. Install some gorgeous hooks to hold your coats and a purse. Then, put a large, lidded basket on the floor under the hooks to hold your shoes. Finally, rest a silver tray atop the basket to collect your mail, paper and keys."

Sizing up the right sofa: "Interior designers like to argue about whether it's more important for a sofa to fit the scale of your room or the contours of your body. In my opinion, you need one that does both, because in the long run, you won't be happy with a sofa that isn't the perfect proportion for your room or for your posterior."

Picking the right lamp: "For a lamp to work well in your home, it has to be the right scale. Don't make the common mistake of picking a lamp that is so little or delicate it will be overpowered by the size of the room and its furnishings. Instead, look for a lamp that's a bit beefier, carrying enough visual weight to hold its own on a sofa table, end table or buffet."

Decorating a coffee table ottoman: "One approach to decorating a coffee-table ottoman is to divide the space into quadrants. Be sure to reserve one of the quadrants for a killer display of doodads. You could use the second quadrant to hold a drink service and the third to house a stack of books. Leave the fourth empty so you have a place to toss the book you're reading."

Plates as art: "Whether you have a full set of beautiful patterned dishes you never use or a number of unique singles, hang them on the wall to transform your artwork displays. The round shape and curved edges of dishes do wonders for breaking up a sea of square or rectangular artwork, adding texture and dimension."

Area rugs: "Area rugs provide a stage for furnishings, giving them a visual home in a room. I think placing an area rug under a dining table is a must because it reinforces the table's position as the focal point of the room and keeps it from feeling like it's floating in the space. Rugs also protect the floor from the wear and tear of sliding dining chairs."

The joy of velvet: "All it takes is a touch of velvet to make a space feel luxurious. In my own home, I often finish my accent pillows with velvet trim. The pillows on my bed are outlined with black velvet, one with a welt and another with a flange. In the winter, I like to add a bit more weight to my pillow mix so I switch out the linen pillows with a few made of navy velvet."

A well-dressed table: "Lots of our customers tell us that when it comes to setting a stylish table, they don't know where to begin. Inspiration can come from lots of different places: Your dishes, the season, table linens, accents, a color palette you want to bring to life. Pick your muse, then start to play. If you have more than one set of dishes, mix them up a bit. We like to combine dishes in lots of different colors, styles and patterns."
 

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