In this extract from New York Times bestselling author Shea McGee’s new book The Art of Home: A Designer Guide to Creating An Elevated Yet Approachable Home, the interior designer and Netflix star opens the doors to her own living room in Utah, which she says is the true heart
They say the heart of the home is the kitchen, but I think the real living begins in the living room.
This is where we gather, we settle in, we lounge, and we play. For some, their floor plans offer differentiated formal and informal living rooms, but for many, a single living room is the backdrop for moments both large and small. It seems like one moment we’re building a blanket fort and the next we’re arranging fresh flowers and placing a tray of hors d’oeuvres on the coffee table for guests.
In our home, the living room serves as the headquarters of our family and is where our home truly feels like home.
Decorating the living room in our first apartment as newlyweds was when I first started to feel a pull into the world of design. I would sit on our hand-me-down IKEA sectional tearing out pages of magazines, earmarking design books, and dreaming that I would one day have the courage to call myself a designer. More than a decade later, I’m once again sitting in our home’s living room, but this time on a sofa that I designed, in a home I conceptualised from the ground up, and it’s me that is writing the design book.
The living room is often at the intersection of our daily lives and the pivotal moments that shape it.
My vision for our dream living room started with a vintage hand-knotted rug I found in North Carolina about four years before we even knew where or when we’d be building a home. It featured a perfectly faded blue-and-tan pattern that I just couldn’t get out of my mind. The rug was about two times too large for our rental home at the time, but I bought it without telling Syd and then kept it rolled up in a corner of our crawl space, schlepping it between rentals until the time was just right.
When the time came, I designed our living room to have soaring ceilings with exposed wood trusses and a wall of doors that opened to the backyard. With the magnitude of the ceiling, I wanted to balance the grandeur with a fireplace that exuded warmth and coziness. This room is an embodiment of the tension between selections that bring depth to a design — linen and velvet, jute and oak, steel and brass.
The give-and-take between comfort and style is where good living rooms shine. In our projects at Studio McGee, I strive to create an air of elevated livability. The real secret is in the mix. High and low, old and new, curvy and straight — you could be in a penthouse apartment or a beach bungalow and this approach would land you in the sweet spot of lofty yet down-to-earth design.
Our living room is a study in juxtaposition as a reflection of the way we use the space. Our main sofa is luxuriously deep and perfect for lounging — it’s upholstered in Crypton performance fabric for maximum durability.
The fawn-colored velvet sofa is a piece I had been daydreaming about manufacturing, and the prototype lives in our home. The curved back is more formal than its counterpart and looks beautiful from all angles. The seating is a delicate balance to the custom steel builtins flanking the fireplace.
Design tip: Don’t forget to pay attention to the back side of chairs when they’re placed in clear view. These angled cane-back chairs look great from all sides.
Hilltop Estate, Southern California
A mix of old and new, this sitting area in a luxurious ‘wine room’ by Shea McGee is dark and tactile.
When designing a new home, it is typical to begin with decisions about the exterior materials or the kitchen, which then influence all subsequent choices. In this home, however, the wine room came first. Decidedly both old school and new school, the room reflects our intent to set a mood and design a space with heart.
Design tip: To create a moodier space, do a tone-on-tone drape, matching them with the wall colour. The absence of contrast creates a cozy and sophisticated vibe.
About Shea McGee
Shea McGee founded her design firm, Studio McGee, with her husband Syd in 2014 and together with their team, she has designed hundreds of homes across America. As their design portfolio and following grew, it paved the way for the launch of their e-commerce brand, McGee & Co., two years later. Their popular Netflix series, Dream Home Makeover, is entering its third season. With a vision that beautiful design can be approachable, they have become one of the leading innovators in the interior design industry. Their firm has become a premiere online retail destination and continues to share their light-filled aesthetic with millions.
The Art of Home: A Designer Guide to Creating An Elevated Yet Approachable Home, published by Harper Collins, $65, is available now.
And the people who designed them.
This Stunning Off-Grid Home On Waiheke Island Was Inspired By A Pōhutukawa Seed Pod. The angular home is a breathtaking homage to the natural world surrounding it.
Fashion Designer Rory Docherty’s Kingsland Apartment Is An Earthy, Art-Filled Refuge. The warm, mid-century-dappled space spurs his creativity — and showcases it too.
Need A Decor Overhaul? The Creative Duo Behind My Exhibition Have You (And Your Shelves) Covered. Sara Bruce and Sophie Fearon specialise in surprising, beautiful objects.
10 NZ Architecture Firms Redefining How We Live Now. Awards are just part of the job for these architects laying the groundwork for the future.