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Renovated Ranch House in North Carolina

2013 New Trad Heather Garrett gives a 1950's ranch home a stylish update

Written by Cathy Whitlock

Everyone needs a mentor. “I worshiped the work of Robert Couturier for a long time,” says designer Heather Garrett. “I actually wrote him a letter and told him I would work for free!” The effort paid off and landed Parsons graduate Heather Garrett a job at Couturier’s offices in Manhattan.

Studying at the feet of the famed French architect and interior designer taught her valuable decorative and technical skills, including the art of rendering finished spaces for client presentations. 

“I learned a holistic approach to designing residences and the importance of looking at the whole picture—what it’s like to go from the beginning of the structure of a space and shape of the design to the finishing décor,” she notes.


A sleek bench from BoConcept, a modern chandelier from Roll & Hill, and a mirror from Made Goods add glamour to the renovated ’50s-style home.

Today, Garrett runs her own full-service interior design firm in Durham, North Carolina, where her sensibilities vary from French Modern to Southern Traditional.

“When I first got to Durham, Southern style was a lot of swags, jabots, and chintz,” remembers Garrett. “I try to apply more modern tendencies.”


Nature-inspired elements—pebbled wallpaper from Hunter & Company, branches in a vase from West Elm, and a blowfish on the mantel—bring the outdoors in.

Known for her neutral palettes, she is chosen by clients for her use of natural forms as well. “I like to be able to create more organic free-flowing shapes with a classic twist,” says Garrett, whose mother is also a designer. “I love anything that has to do with natural forms and shapes.” 

Designer Heather Garrett’s penchant for organic forms and a mix of materials is evident in the kitchen’s design, as well as in elements like the candelabra from Roost and the dining room chandelier made of lamp wire and LED bulbs.  

Case in point: a couple in Raleigh, North Carolina, hired Garrett to modernize a 1954 renovated ranch house, a process that took more than 2-1/2 years. “The house had plantation shutters, triple crown moldings, and six-panel doors everywhere,” says Garrett. 


A custom shadow box with curvaceous balsam strips acts as art over the fireplace. A Lee Industries loveseat upholstered in acid-green leather creates a focal point. The rug is by Thomas O’Brien for Safavieh. The sleek nature of the polished-nickel floor lamps from Bronson Design and aluminum side table from West Elm accentuate the room’s natural light.

To add a touch of classic contemporary to the mix, she made several adjustments
in the form of bleached floors, stripped down kitchen and wet bar cabinetry, and the addition of grass cloth to the panels. To replace the traditional flat-screen television housed over the faux-stone fireplace, Garrett had an inventive solution—adding a creative sculpture of cypress strips inside a shadow box. “The effect is like an art installation,” the designer details. 

Eggplant-hued fabric and chrome legs on the dining chairs create a contemporary feel for the open dining area. 

A graphic wallpaper from Lee Jofa enhances the subtle elegance of  Philippe Starck’s iconic “Ghost” chair.

Garrett took her color cues for the master bedroom from a contemporary painting that was a “lucky garage sale find,” she says.

“We used it to define the style and palette of the entire space, with an emphasis on the rich cerulean blue.” The Venetian plaster wall behind the headboard and the Kravet fabric on the chair also reflect the rich color. The silk curtain fabric is from Avon Fabrics.

A freestanding tub from Waterworks, grass cloth from Phillip Jeffries, and hanging terrariums from Roost create a study in serenity.

Outdoor-friendly elements like Sunbrella fabric on the Lee Industries double chaise give the chic cabana a durable edge.

A chevron-patterned fabric from Schumacher adds drama beside the pool. 

Heather Garrett’s Tips of the Trade

  • Collect found objects Fallen white oak limbs, black oyster shells washed up on the shore, vacant barnacles, and calcified coral can be both beautiful and free.

  • Replace the ubiquitous Instead of framed seashells, gather a pile of smooth, similarly colored stones and glue them in a ring on the back of a shadow box.
  • Let wallpaper rule A million great wall coverings are available. One of my favorites is Cole and Sons’ “Contemporary II,” a tree-patterned paper perfect for days when I wished I lived by a pond.
  • Learn to love plants Choose something architectural and hardy—like a Christmas cactus. Go big, and let the plant be an accessory. 

Photography: John Bessler 

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