Interview: Designer Deb Nelson

We may have a bias towards designer Deb Nelson — she’s a former H&H editor — but her relaxed, modern style has made her a national favourite. After leaving House & Home in 2010, Deb moved back to her native Nova Scotia and opened a retail shop, Nelson & Co. The store has since evolved into a full-service design studio and showroom, where Deb brings her accessible, chic ideas to her clients. The multitasking designer also regularly dishes design advice in her column for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, Ask Deb, and on TV shows like Steven & Chris. We chatted with Deb about her summer decor tips, favourite spots to shop and what’s on her wish list!

House & Home: You are so lucky to live near the water. What are some of the ways you prep your home for summer? 

Deb Nelson: My tip is to keep it simple in the summer. I like a beach-y, casual vibe in the summer, so I lean towards lighter fabrics for bedding, natural materials  like cotton or linen and sisal or jute rugs for texture. For instance, I really like the cotton hammam towels (fringed towels) for the bathroom and the smaller size makes a great tea towel in the kitchen. I hang hammam towels on hooks in my bathroom for a casual look. I also love using them outdoors on lounge chairs and they make a great beach towel. Obviously it’s the time of year to get outside and enjoy the weather, so another tip is to decorate an outdoor space you love. Whether it’s a small patio or big back yard, it’s nice to create a personal oasis to enjoy.

H&H: What’s a great budget find for the home you are loving now? 

DN: I’ve always liked burlap as a great budget material. Now I’m into bleaching burlap so it gives it a really washed out, faded look which I’m loving for summer. I buy the regular brown burlap and dump it in the tub with a lot of bleach and water. I leave it over night to soak, then rinse it and hang out to dry and voila – a very inexpensive table cloth. This spring I’ve placed a long stretch of bleached burlap on my dining room table, and it would also work well on an outdoor dining table too.

H&H: Do you move some things out of rooms in summer and bring other things in? If so, what are the items? 

DN: I do move things in and out of rooms seasonally. I change things around a lot because I like to try new things out, so I rotate frequently throughout the year. In the summer I change to a linen or white slipcover on the sofa in the living room, and also like to switch up toss cushions on sofas and beds to summery fabrics and patterns. 

H&H: Do you have a summer “ritual” (road trip, visit to a restaurant, vacation destination)?

DN: To be honest I try to stay in Nova Scotia for the entire summer, and I definitely prefer not to leave in July and August. It’s always great to get out on the water and there are also some beautiful beaches in the province too.

H&H: What are some of your favourite warm-weather destinations?

DN: I’m pretty happy any where with sunshine and a beach. I love Bermuda and find the island and houses there really charming. I had a great aunt who lived there when I was very young, and I can remember details of her house – I believe it was called ‘Magnolia Cottage’ and I loved it! 

H&H: Is there someplace you are longing to shop for your home? 

DN: I was in Turkey many years ago, but I wouldn’t mind getting back there to get some beautiful, unique rugs. 

H&H: If you had to pick the perfect summer paint shade it would be…..

DN: White… probably a predictable answer but I think white is a fresh, clean back drop to showcase artwork, furniture, rugs, etc.   

H&H: Is there a celeb/designer vacation home that inspires you? 

DN: I have carried around a magazine for years that featured one of Ralph Lauren’s summer homes in Montauk. The house, guest house, pool and private beach looked pretty incredible.   

HH: What is the last thing you bought for your own home?

DN: An oversize photograph of a California beach by Jon Rou. It’s beautiful and I have it in my new house, which has on ocean view. I absolutely love it.

HH: Do you have a favourite room in your home?

DN: Oh my gosh, yes! You’ll see the room in the House & Home July 2014 issue. It’s the third floor of my house and it’s my favourite place to be. It’s all windows with a panoramic ocean view and it’s old so it has so much charm and character. It’s almost like an old sunroom on the top of my house. It’s a beautiful spot for me. I can sit there and stare out that window for hours at a time. I still pinch myself when I’m up there; I can’t believe it’s my house!

HH: Where do you love to shop in Halifax?

DN: I have a favourite spot I go to just outside Halifax called Great Village. It’s like an antique mecca. Every time I go there I find something spectacular. I’ve been going there my entire life — my grandmother is from Great Village, strangely enough. It’s this adorable old village with big old white houses. I remember as a kid going to auctions there and I feel like it’s where I got into house stuff. My grandparents renovated an old house there. It’s funny that now I’m back here and it’s my favourite spot to go.

HH: Where do you go for design inspiration?

DN: I find New York City really inspirational; the architecture of the old buildings when you’re walking down the streets, I love the detail in those old buildings. There’s just such an amazing selection of things in that city. You can find and see just about anything you’re looking for.

HH: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given in your column for the Halifax Chronicle Herald?

DN: You can do a lot with a new coat of paint, a light fixture and a rug — the little things. You can make a few small updates without a ton of money and really change the look of space. Another good thing for people to remember is to start small so you don’t get overwhelmed. Start with one area of the room and make small, gradual changes. Don’t take on too much at once.

HH: Are there any 2014 trends you want to experiment with this year?

DN: I try not to jump on top of trends too much but one I really like and always have is warm metals. I love the antique brass finish on hardware and… just about anything! I’m contemplating moving towards a faucet in my kitchen.

HH: What’s on your wish list?

DN: On Madeline Weinrib right now they have vintage dhurries (shown above) that are so beautiful — they’re gorgeous! That’s my current obsession.

HH: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

DN: I’ve lived in six provinces in Canada. I lived out West for a while in Vancouver and Whistler and that’s where I started to get into interior design.

Don’t miss Deb’s home makeover reveal in the House & Home July 2014 issue and see Deb’s office makeover tips

Photo sources:
(Top image). Portrait, Samson Learn; vintage Indian Dhurrie, Madeline Weinrib; photograph, Jon Rou
1. Deb Nelson
2, 3, 4. Ralph Lauren Montauk beach house  in ELLE Decor 2005 via Mark D. Sikes blog
5. Photograph, Jon Rou

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