Whether it’s a beach cottage, a bachelor pad, a traditional family residence or a whimsical apartment for entertaining, Erica Burns believes that her clients’ homes should reflect their unique personalities. Her role is to guide them through the complex world of plumbing fixtures and drapery panels to arrive at a cohesive and welcoming design.
Common to all her projects is an attention to detail and thoughtful editing, to create a timeless and classic look with a touch of the unexpected.
Originally from Atlanta, Erica graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction & Planning. She began her career in the construction industry, eventually finding her niche in residential design.
Erica’s background in reading construction documents and working alongside the trades gives her a unique approach to design, one that is seamlessly integrated with the architectural elements of a home.
We recently had a chance to chat with Erica, who lives in Bethesda with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle, to learn more about her design savvy.
1. How would you describe your signature style?
Three words I would use to describe my style would be timeless, tailored, and layered. One thing I hear a lot about my portfolio is that it spans a lot of different design styles, versus one “signature look”. My goal for every project is to reflect what the home owners want, whether it be an old English layered look or clean lined and modern. But regardless of the style, it should always be classic and interesting.
2. How has your early experience in construction and knowledge of building techniques informed your design approach in residential interiors?
It has helped tremendously! Understanding how homes are built has greatly impacted how I make decisions about design and material selections. Little things like: Yes, that vintage dresser would be a great looking powder room vanity… but how will the plumber install the drain? If we need to have recessed lights be exactly down the center of a hallway… we need to make sure the floor joists above are not in the way. And I still learn something new on every construction project.
3. How do you decide on a color palette?
I always start with asking clients about their reactions to colors and how they want their homes to feel. Do they want to feel tranquil or be energized? Warm hues or cool? Once we nail that down, we can start working with textiles to find the right mix.
4. What are the biggest challenges in making a new house look lived in, and an old house look fresh?
Great question! It’s all about the juxtaposition of furnishings that make it interesting. A new house needs some old things like an antique chest in the foyer or hardware finishes that develop a patina with age. A fresh coat of paint makes any old house feel instantly updated, and I love a piece of abstract art posed next to vintage millwork trim!
5. What’s your favorite phase of a project?
I think the point when the walls start getting painted, countertops get installed, lighting goes up… that’s when the months of designing begin to take form and you can really see the personality of the home start to emerge, but there is still excitement of what is to come…
6. What are the most often requested features when a client is remodeling?
Places to stash messy stuff. Mudrooms are getting bigger and more functional, we do a lot of “coffee bars” in kitchens where you can close the doors on all of the appliances when not in use, designated places for laundry hampers, elaborate playrooms for kids. Everyone wants to have that perfectly organized space when they move in!
7. What mistakes do you most often help clients avoid?
a) Playing it too safe and going with what they are used to (I always say I like to push clients 15% outside of their comfort zone), and b) Too many trends. A few trendy things are ok here and there, but do it small doses to keep things classic.
8. As we all are spending more time in our homes now, what do you see as the most popular trends for 2021?
Home offices (often we are finding spaces for two), separate living areas for members of the family to unwind on their own (less open floor plans), outdoor living spaces, and durable fabrics! COVID quarantine was rough on my clients furniture …
9. What is one of your favorite projects and why
Like my children, I can’t pick a favorite! But I think at the top of the list would be my very first ever real “project” – renovating my husband’s family’s beach house. It was the first thing I did on my own, and had the full support of my mother and father-in-law behind me. I learned a ton, and it ended up being published in the Washington Post. Ten years later, it still looks great and we get to use it every summer!
10. What element in a room do you usually start with (artwork lighting, rug, sofa, etc.)?
Every project is different. One time we found an amazing hand- painted wallpaper that set the tone for the dining room. Another was a piece of art that we knew everything else in the room had to support rather than compete with. A lot of rooms I know need a bold color (hopefully in high-gloss!!) and everything plays off of that. Most of the time there is a fabric or wallpaper or something I’ve been holding onto that I love until I find the right project, and that’s when it begins. :)