Smart Solutions: Designer Laurie Smith loves to push the envelope

By Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Though home improvement projects may not be as easy as they seem on TV, reality shows can provide plenty of inspiration and guidance along the way. Homestyle caught up with designer Laurie Smith from TLC’s “Trading Spaces” who will be a presenter at the Novi Home Show this weekend. Here, the popular designer, author and speaker offers some timeless advice for your interiors.

First, the vast selection of products available today can be overwhelming. “I always encourage people to start the process by finding a point of inspiration,” says Smith, adding it can be an object or an image from a magazine or Instagram.

Known for her use of color and love of textiles, Laurie Smith has long been a popular designer and TV personality.

For one of her clients, that inspiration came from an antique cloisonné platter featuring a beautiful array of colors. That began the dialogue to determine where to introduce those hues, whether they come from a piece of art or a can of paint.

In 2020, Smith says neutrals are giving way to more layering with color and pattern, which to her, makes a room feel more interesting and inviting.

Though some clients come to her for a certain aesthetic and her knowledge of textiles, Smith says ultimately, the design of a home should be a reflection of the person living there. “I want them to feel like they’re part of the process,” she says. “I encourage them to bring something they love as a springboard for inspiration that becomes a touchstone for the space and keeps it anchored with an object that is meaningful to the owner.”

Designer Laurie Smith from TLC’s Trading Spaces will be in town this weekend.

In her own home, an antique Murano glass clamshell from her grandmother became the inspiration for the living room with its specks of gold, hints of butterscotch, and amber. Smith describes the feel of the space as 1940s glamour with a neutral rug and a little sparkle from a gold gilt mirror. “I loved what that Murano glass shell evoked,” she says.

For her, lighting is the most vital component to the design process. “There really is no point in investing in beautiful textiles, art and accessories if the room does not have good lighting,” says Smith who’s a stickler for dimmers and loves unique lamps.

Knowing what you want your space to be and understanding the traffic pattern are also important. As Smith explains, people want their rooms to be lived in and to serve multiple functions. There’s no sterile space, like the dining room that can have bookshelves from floor to ceiling to be a library or a sitting room.

This supports the trend she’s seen toward the “less is more” movement. “The home is like a little jewel box where every space is being maximized and really thoughtfully curated, not decorated,” Smith says.

Classically trained at the New York School of Interior Design, Smith describes her personal style as “modern classic” and she loves to push the envelope with pattern or color. Still, she says you need to understand the bones of a home. “You can mix mid-century with a traditional house with a contemporary painting on a traditional wall with decorative molding, but you shouldn’t try to force it to be something that it isn’t architecturally,” she says. “You can still have a modern edge; you just have to balance it.”

She may have time and budget constraints on TLC’s Trading Spaces, but there are no limits to her creativity. “I don’t want to create a room that you’ve seen before, which is what is great about the show. It encourages people to think outside the box,” she says. “They might not want to replicate exactly what they see, but they think about how they would modify the look for their own space.”

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Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at