When Penny Francis was a little girl, she and her sisters often helped her father with projects around the house. And because he was in construction, he taught her important lessons very early in life.
“I learned I liked to get dirty, that I liked to do things with my hands,” said Francis, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. “People think being a designer is glamorous, but there is nothing I won’t do or can’t schlepp to get the job done right.
“And because of the projects my father involved me in, I developed the imagination to be able to picture in my mind how something would look when it was finished even before we got started.”
Francis has put those childhood lessons to use in the interiors she creates for her clients and in Eclectic Home, her home furnishings store on Oak Street in Carrollton. Bedrooms, kitchens, dining areas, living rooms, even laundry rooms have all benefited from her original and refined point of view.
“There is a certain feel I like, and I think my clients are drawn to that feel,” Francis said. “But if a room or house ends up looking like me and not like my client, I have done them a disservice. My role is to help them realize their vision, not to impose my vision on their project.”
Perhaps her first experience redesigning a space came when she was an adolescent, visiting her grandmother’s antique-filled house.
“I loved the antiques, of course, but I liked to play around with things and move furniture around to get a different look. I think I was 14 when I started refinishing furniture because I liked seeing the transformation,” she said.
Although her affection for antiques hasn’t dimmed, Francis says that “no one wants to live in an environment that looks like a museum.”
“They like to combine antiques with contemporary pieces and to update the color palette,” she said. “To succeed, rooms have to function as they are intended and not just look good.”
Many clients reached out to Francis for help after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, but it doesn’t take a disaster for redecorating to become a burning passion. Francis says that her clients are frequently in a transition of one kind or another.
“Maybe they just bought a new house and they want design advice and resources for making it the place of their dreams. Or maybe the family has expanded and they want to convert an office into a child’s room,” she said. “The value of using a professional designer is that he or she will have access to fabrics, wall coverings, flooring, and so many more things that their clients can’t even imagine. The designer’s role is to listen carefully and then translate the vision of the client using all of the resources at their disposal.”
On some projects, Francis likes to introduce wallpaper for extra snap.
“It could just be an accent wall or it could be an entire powder room, but wallpaper adds pattern and texture. I’ve even used it on a ceiling as an accent,” she said. “Clients are sometimes reluctant when I suggest it, so it’s important that they trust me if I’m going to be able to help them expand outside of their comfort zone.”
Dyed and stamped cowhides — perhaps metallic or zebra striped — can be playful additions to the décor, even layered on top of another rug, Francis said.
She suggests layering lighting with chandeliers, pendants, lamps, task lighting and recessed lights to create a warm and welcoming space.
Always use dimmers because they can change the mood of a room with the turn of a knob, and don’t fret if every finish in a room doesn’t match, as long as they complement one another, she said.
Francis wants to dispel the notion that it’s necessary to wait until children are grown to redecorate.
“Outdoor fabrics have undergone a revolution and they are now just as soft and nice to the touch as indoor fabrics,” she said.
“If you’re worried about children spilling ice cream on the sofa or getting the upholstery dirty, you don’t need to — if it’s covered in an outdoor fabric, it will wipe right off.”
Outdoor rugs now come in an array of patterns and colors and can take the wear and tear of high traffic indoor areas.
If a home redesign seems out of reach because of financial issues, Francis has advice for those working on a small budget.
“Repaint. It’s one of the most inexpensive things you can do to totally change the feel of a room,” she said. “Then consider recovering something – maybe a chair, rather than a sofa, because it takes less fabric and labor and so it’s cheaper. Add a few fun pillows. And don’t be afraid to bring in something from another room in the house — a piece of art work, maybe.”
“Most people know what they like; they just have trouble putting it all together. That’s what a good designer can help them with.”