Designer Lillian August turns on the charm in her Carolina home
Even for Lillian August—the belle of gracious living—it came down to being practical (without giving up on the pretty). The furniture and textile designer had one month to furnish her newly purchased second home in North Carolina before family and business associates came knocking.
“Every house has a function, and that’s where I start,” says Lillian. This house’s major role would be as a haven for Lillian and her guests to unwind after long days on their feet at the International Furniture Market held twice a year in the Greensboro-High Point area. With the spring market just weeks away, Lillian went into overdrive, filling the 1923 house with guest beds, comfy seating, and plenty of quiet spaces to enjoy Southern breezes.
“This house has incredible light, and I wanted a summer look, a porch feeling, to take advantage of that light,” she says. “I love opening up all the doors and that wonderful sense of light and air flowing through the house.” To allow for that indoor-outdoor attitude, Lillian had a side porch screened with ultra-sheer “invisible” screens. Two glass-paned doors between the porch and living room stand open, encouraging breezes and barefoot traffic between the rooms.
A porch on the other end of the house—enclosed with glass by a previous owner—serves as Lillian’s office when she’s in North Carolina. And for Lillian, work is virtually nonstop. About 30 years ago, when she was a young mom living in Kentucky, Lillian launched her creative career designing country-style quilt fabrics. Today her name is a full-fledged brand, with Lillian August showrooms in five locations, including her flagship store in Norwalk, Connecticut. She has designed several furniture collections and has licensing agreements with rug, art, and accessory manufacturers.
Lillian’s three adult sons have followed in her footsteps. Dan and John Weiss help operate and oversee Lillian August enterprises, and Michael Weiss is a designer with his own furniture line.
Knowing that the North Carolina house would function as a family hub during furniture industry events, Lillian chose sink-in-soft chairs, sofas covered in simple white linens, and plenty of ottomans for propping up feet and extra seating. “It’s relaxed decorating—relaxed and romantic,” she says. “I like creating pretty and somewhat feminine atmospheres where people can sit back and enjoy themselves.”
Large sisal rugs define the main living areas and keep the mood warm and casual. “I wasn’t crazy about the color of the floors, but I didn’t want to refinish them,” says Lillian, tapping into her practical side. “The sisal rugs really ground the home in a new traditional point of view,” she adds. In the living room, an antique Oushak rug peppered with peachy-pink accents is casually angled over the sisal. “I like to throw a patterned rug over the sisal, like a scarf.”
One of Lillian’s first practical decorating decisions was to keep the existing wall coverings that adorned nearly every room. Even though she generally prefers a white backdrop, removing them would cost money and time. “The wall coverings are all hand-blocked English papers and are so nostalgic, as is the house,” Lillian explains. “It just made sense to work with what was there.”
To complement the traditional wall coverings and introduce a fresh, clean palette, Lillian brought in furniture with whitewashed and aged-looking finishes from her Antiquaire collection, which references archival Belgian and Swedish antiques.
While the furniture lines are rooted in formal designs, the worn painted surfaces ease concerns about scratches and spills, tipping the scales toward comfort. “We’re doing so many beautiful antique reproductions that people can afford that ‘collected-over-time’ look without having to buy antiques,” she says. “The Gustavian and Belgian concept is so strong now. Today’s decorating is trending away from dark woods and toward painted finishes with patinas.”
Framed photos of Lillian’s children and grandchildren are arranged on a sofa table in the living room, and blue-and-white Chinese porcelain urns and jars accent tabletops. Artwork on the walls leans toward the architectural, with antique and reproduction black-and-white garden plans hanging above the mantel and a chest in the living room. “I don’t like adding too much color in art if I want a relaxed look,” Lillian explains.
Flowers and plants—from bouquets of hydrangeas to ceiling-tall ficus trees to lacy Sprengeri ferns—bring color and softness into the spaces. Lillian uses fresh flowers when she entertains but is a fan of many of the silk versions now available. “I love the hydrangeas and topiaries,” she says. “If you’re arranging silk flowers, stay with one species for the most realistic bouquets,” she adds.
Although Lillian chooses every accessory in her design showrooms, she knows that for most people accessorizing is the most challenging part of design. For the best results, she advises working with a professional designer—and being ready to pitch extraneous objects. “Decorating is all about editing,” she emphasizes.
“Accessories create an intimacy that we need to express in our homes. They tell a story,” she explains. “But you have to get rid of things periodically because, as your life changes, your whole point of view changes,” she adds. “We have to make sure we see significance in each piece that we display.
“I personally like simplicity. I like to see the bones of a house,” she says. “This North Carolina house was gorgeous when it was empty, so I kept the furnishings spare. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t cluttered.”
Accessories in the living room are in shades of white, including sculptural pieces of coral, antique urns, and books covered in parchment paper. Curly willow twigs decked out with tiny white lights fill a large glass vase in the front window. Overhead hangs a white, silver, and gold candelabra chandelier, a reproduction of an Italian antique.
“Basically, I created relaxed rooms with a romantic feel, which is what I wanted. It’s a house where my family and others from the industry can come and just relax.” A welcome reward after a day—or two or three—touring America’s furniture capital.
Photography: Emily Followill
Interior design: Lillian August, Lillian August Design, 32 Knight St., Norwalk, CT 06851; 203/847-1596, lillianaugust.com .
Living Room Details
Chests and tables with rubbed painted finishes from Lillian’s Antiquaire line were inspired by Swedish and Belgian antiques.
Living Room Mantel
Lillian August enjoys collecting old garden plans, like the one hanging above the fireplace.
The curvy chair beside the sofa lends a note of Old World charm with a unique finish and a lovely carved wood back.
Pattern was kept to a minimum so as not to compete with the striped wall covering. Lillian designed nearly all of the furniture in the room, including the “Stefan Secretary,” which is a replica of a rare Gustavian antique.
Living Room Detail
Bouquets of blooms by NDI add floral charm.
Homeowner and designer Lillian August with her Shih Tzu, MeiShui. The “Skye” chest in the background is from her Antiquaire line.
Lillian furnished the space with a Swedish-inspired dining table and sideboard. The rustic tabletop and the sideboard’s hand-rubbed finish downplay formality. The room’s one dressy note is a crystal chandelier Lillian designed, with inspiration from a Russian antique.
Teapots and pretty plates are displayed in a painted cupboard with chicken-wire doors.
Chinese porcelain urns add just the right shots of color and pattern.
The Aga cooker and beadboard walls give the kitchen a cozy feel. A console table Lillian designed serves as an island.
“I love opening all the doors and that wonderful sense of light and air flowing through the house,” says Lillian.
Sweet country details plus a cozy fireplace look as if they came right out of an English cottage, so Lillian accessorized with English china, potted herbs and topiaries, a framed botanical, and a petite English antique chair by the fireplace.
Graceful arched windows scallop across one wall, offering views of the terrace and back gardens. An antique Oushak rug leads the way from the living room into the sunny dining spot.
Lillian screened the existing side porch and opens doors that connect it to the living room. “I suggest everyone find a way to have a porch. It really changes your lifestyle,” she says. Floral pillows and Lillian’s “Theodora” chair with a pink upholstered back contribute to the garden feel.
The large windows, architectural symmetry, sun-flooded rooms, and historic qualities sold Lillian on the classic painted-brick house.
An oversized lantern and large urns around the patio seating area are the right scale for the home’s rear faade.
An urn-style lamp sits on Lillian’s “New Thora” bedside table. Glass candlesticks on the mantel were gifts from her son, John Weiss.
Master Bedroom Details
The bedside chest from the Antiquaire collection has heirloom appeal. Its blue-gray finish complements the room’s airy palette.
MeiShui strikes a pose on a Lillian-designed tufted chair.