An Irish designer in America: ‘Don’t overthink it ... if it makes you happy, then just do it’

A move to the US saw Phoebe Edmondson make the leap from pharma to interior design; now she’s renovating a home in the Boston suburbs

Moving abroad can be a chance to reinvent yourself and Phoebe Edmondson has grasped that opportunity with both hands. She worked in the pharmaceutical business in Waterford, before moving to the US with her husband, Nick, in 2016. Now she is a Boston-based interior designer, working with brands and giving advice to her legions of followers on Instagram (@whiteberryhome).

“Pharma was the family business, but it never really excited me,” she says. “So when I made the decision to return to the workplace my husband said: ‘Whatever you choose, make sure you are passionate about it.’”

She discovered that passion when they moved into a 1920s Tudor house in New Jersey six years ago. “I began renovating it and it kind of grew from there. I just loved it,” she recalls.

So when she got the chance to work with interior design studio Kerri Pilchik, she jumped at it. “The experience I got from that was absolutely huge – Hamptons showhouse photoshoots, in-store days, big projects in the city, in Connecticut, New Jersey. Experience is invaluable in this fast-paced industry, and I am still absorbing it all.”

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She still works part-time as a design co-ordinator with the firm, but now also offers her own design consultations and is documenting her family home renovation on Instagram. The couple and their two children moved into their current home in the Boston suburbs last year.

“We’ve been slowly moving around the home with simple DIYs, painting, wallpaper, lighting, making it our own space,” she says. “Uncomplicated classic is what I love. At the end of the day, it’s a family home and I want it to be welcoming and inviting. We have a lot of visitors from Ireland, both friends and family.”

Entertaining in Boston is very family-orientated as many friends also have young children. “Sunday Funday for football in the fall is very popular, where we all gather in the open-plan living and kitchen for casual dining and drinks to watch the game.”

Coming from Ireland, she has noticed that American homes tend to be more intentionally styled, with homeowners picking a theme and following it. “When they are shopping for home decor, they are not asking: do I like that but rather will it suit my home, and will it fit the layout? Trim work that will add to the value of your home is massive here – wainscoting, picture frame moulding, coffered ceilings,” she says.

And while there are few differences between home interiors in various parts of this country, she says there are distinct differences in the US, often influenced by culture or climate. Southern style is very popular now, with its mix of vintage and modern pieces, and its focus on making outdoor areas a comfortable extension of the interior. “Here in New England it’s always going to be lighter, brighter, more of a coastal theme, that Cape Cod feeling.”

She says US homeowners are more adventurous in their choices and are not wedded to the matching three-piece suite – that staple in many Irish homes. “There is a confidence behind the American design style to not pick matching furniture sets but to choose complementing styles, to mix metals when choosing fixtures and fittings and add that special something into the design scheme.”

But the biggest difference between Ireland and the US is the enormous choice when it comes to shopping for home decor. “The home decor market and choice available in America is so extensive,” she says. “We’ve put coffee tables worth $20,000 into New York apartments, and then a client will ask me to source something for $500,” she says.

“You can source anything here. If it’s not available to purchase directly from a vendor, it can be custom made.” At one stage she was looking for a bamboo mirror for inside her front door, but everything on offer was too expensive. “Then I found an online marketplace for high-end vintage furniture and art, and I negotiated a one-of-a-kind for a great price.”

The choice also extends into interior design. Some interior designers will take on a project only if the homeowner is willing to spend at least $50,000 per room, and will commit to refurbish at least three rooms, while other design consultants will work on an hourly rate and plan a makeover on a very small budget.

“A lot of us know what we like and don’t like, but maybe don’t know how to put it together so sometimes people look for a sounding board just to make it more cohesive,” she says. Renovating the Tudor house in New Jersey was an education for her. “The greatest learning curve we took from this one is to put more thought into the lighting plan.” She regrets not adding more light fittings in the foyer, livingroom and bedroom.

“We found solutions like plug-in sconces for the bedrooms and rechargeable light bulbs, but the right accent lighting will give your home a really intentionally designed feel, plus it will add so much character.”

She has noticed that non demo makeovers (as in non-demolition) are becoming increasingly popular, as people want a quick fix without breaking the bank. “By using paint or wallpaper, switching out hardware, updating light fixtures and new accessories you can create a new room.” She replaced the door handles of her current kitchen with brass ones.

“I think we had 50 or more and that did make a massive difference. Lighting is another easy upgrade to make to a kitchen. Can you change your island pendants or what about under-cabinet recessed lighting? It’s so easy to add and you don’t need to hire people to do most of these things.”

She watched a YouTube video before she used wallpaper for the first time “and now I can put a mural in our diningroom. Patience, and having the right tools are all you need. Painting and wallpapering, they are like my therapy now.”

But DIY skills do not come as naturally to everyone. She has noticed common mistakes that people make, such as saving or splurging on the wrong items. “For example, in a livingroom do splurge on the sofa, coffee table and feature ceiling light and save on the throw pillows, accent lighting and decor.”

And when it comes to furniture, she urges people to stop pushing their sofas against the wall. “I think that people feel that pushing their furniture against a wall can make a room feel bigger when in fact it’s quite the opposite. We want to give the furniture a feeling of space and floating. Even pushing it out by a few inches gives that feeling of space.”

Choosing paint colours can be tricky and a common mistake is to choose a paint colour that you’ve seen and liked in a friend’s home, without considering the surroundings. “That same colour could look entirely different in your space,” she says. If there is a lot of greenery outside the window it could bring up surprising green undertones that you might not want. Sunlight and artificial light can also change the colour.

“But remember, it’s only paint,” she says. “Don’t overthink it. It’s your home and we are all spending so much time in our homes now. If it makes you happy, then just do it.”

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