Text by Elizabeth Czapski
With Mother’s Day coming right up, we’ve got mother-daughter bonding on our minds, and to give the connection a fitting The Cottage Journal twist, we chatted with one of our favorite designers to discuss the experience of redesigning her mom’s cottage. A few years ago when her mother began a big remodel project, Dallas-based Emily Johnston Larkin of EJ Interiors got the opportunity to embark on a refresh of her childhood home in a sweet collaboration with the woman who inspired much of her own classic yet personality-infused style. To see more of Emily’s beautiful design work, be sure to preorder your copy of our upcoming book, Dream Cottages, to tour her own home—which also happens to grace the cover!
The Cottage Journal: Did your mother and growing up in your family home have any kind of influence on your desire to go into interior design? How has your mother influenced your style throughout your life?
Emily Johnston Larkin: Yes, definitely. As a child, I have memories of my mom redecorating the rooms in our home. She could install her own wallpaper, so things were always changing! My classmates in high school thought my mom was an interior designer because she had such an eye and talent for decorating. My mom’s style has always been rooted in a more traditional aesthetic—she had classic, good-quality pieces that have stood the test of time. I incorporate this style in my own home, only buy what I love, and make sure I am investing in nice pieces just like my mom did.
TCJ: Where is your mother’s home located? Does she live near you? Can you tell us about your mother and why the home works for her?
EJL: Her home is located in North Dallas. She lives about 30 minutes from me—I am across town in Lakewood in East Dallas. When my mom drove up to the home more than 30 years ago, she immediately fell in love with the house and knew this is where she would live for the rest of her life. It felt like home to her. The people who built the house had three daughters, and, at the time, she had three daughters also, so it was the perfect house for her growing family.
TCJ: Tell us about the process of redecorating this home. Was it all at once or slow and steady? What spurred the redecorating project?
EJL: Very slow and steady. She hasn’t stopped decorating since she bought the house. Each room has had multiple iterations as her family has grown and her lifestyle has changed. We’d come from school and find that she had rearranged all of the furniture by herself. Everything flowed in her home, so she would repurpose a lot of her pieces and switch things around. I came on about 5 years ago for the redesign when she started her big kitchen and primary bath remodel project.
TCJ: What was your vision? What were your design goals? What would you describe as the overall theme of the home?
EJL: My vision was to honor my mom’s love for English design. She has never been one to follow the trends, and while everyone else years ago was doing French- and Swedish-inspired style, my mom always stayed true to her English design aesthetic. She has a lot of classic pieces and antiques in her home (like her Chippendale dining set) that she was not willing to part with. My job was to come in and make the home look fresh with some modern touches to balance out all of the antique and traditional pieces.
TCJ: There is a classic foundation filled with traditional furnishings and a soft, feminine feel to the blue-green palette and botanical patterns, as well as an undertone of sophisticated international influence. Can you tell us about how you achieved this layered look and how it translates to your mother’s style and personality?
EJL: We tried to keep the pieces that she loved but also carefully edited to keep things fresh. She has been married for more than 40 years with four kids, so you’d expect that someone with such a big family and life experiences would have a lot of treasures. She is someone who is very sentimental and has kept everything from her travels and all of her children’s art, so having personal objects around her home was very important to her.
TCJ: What is it like to take on your mother’s home as a designer? How did your process differ or remain the same compared to working on an unacquainted client’s home? What was the mother-daughter collaboration like?
EJL: It has been interesting! Since I got the decorating gene from my mom, she has as many opinions about her house as I do. It can often take a little convincing to get her to see my vision (like when I told her she needed to take the shutters off in her home and add functional window treatments instead). I will say that she always comes around in the end and then loves the finished result. My sister Catherine now works for me at EJ Interiors, so she has gotten to collaborate on my mom’s home also. We love working with our mom because we all share the same style. It’s really nice coming back to her house because we feel so at home!