Burnham Design has established itself as one of the nation’s most influential interior design practices, with an open-minded and detail-oriented approach that defines elegant interiors, exotic and urbane all at the same time. Starting with high design concepts, partners Betsy Burnham and Max Humphrey’s process polishes and softens with the grit of the unpredictable – curated with touches of street style and elements from design’s cutting edge. Personal taste, rigorous editing, and an architectural perspective, bring about flawlessly executed interiors that are welcoming and visually delightful; done but never overdone. Their aesthetic is clever and highly-considered, never precious, and always livable with a dose of fun.
Betsy Burnham and Max Humphrey of Burnham Design were thrilled when they were asked to design the 2014 Coastal Living Showhouse. This well-known designing duo add their fun and playful flair to every space they tackle, and this nautical-inspired home was no exception. Get a sneak peek of the house and learn these designers' secrets for bringing a whimsical coastal look into your own home.
1. It looks like you had a blast putting this house together! What was your favorite part of the process?
From sourcing art and shopping for vintage accessories, to taking Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train down the coast for site meetings with the builder; we did have a blast! We loved seeing our ideas from the very start of the project finally come together —like the painted entryway floor and nautical flag wall—the whole project was a really great experience.
2. You were tasked with designing every area of this home, from the top to the bottom, where did you start?
When we were brought on, the plans were done and the general layout of the rooms were in place, but none of the interior spaces had been fully realized. After visiting the site, we decided to start with the design of the kitchen and bathrooms. We spent a day at the Ann Sacks showroom selecting the tile for the whole house. After that we went to work designing the rest of the spaces, room by room. We had pulled some inspiration tear sheets and images and really stuck to our goal of making the showhouse look like one of our many client projects: layered and lived-in, classic but not stuffy.
3. How did you define each room as its own space while still maintaining a cohesive feel throughout the house?
Each room has its own identity, whether it's a big "wow" moment (the gingham painted walls in the front guestroom) or something more subtle and "in-the-details" (the styled bookshelves in the entry hall). We began this project just like any project that comes through our office, we laid out our ideas for each room in trays on our conference table so we could make sure that the tile, paint, fabric, and furniture pieces all flowed together. By keeping the palette narrow and repeating certain gestures (wood wall treatments like board-and-batten, for instance) throughout the design we were able to maintain cohesion.
4. Can you explain the process you use to take a project from start to finish?
There's always some sort of spark of inspiration that happens early on in any project that kicks things off. It could be a new fabric we're excited to use, or a really great piece of art, or simply the architecture and location of the project itself.
Once we're inspired we start with the broad strokes: space planning, kitchen and bath design, and materials selection. We create very detailed specification books for the builder to work from during construction. Furniture is really the second phase, and we start with furniture plans, getting a sense for flow throughout the house, sometimes even before we've selected specific pieces. From there we select fabrics, a paint schedule, and finish it off with accessories and art.
It's a lengthy process, and the broader our scope the happier we are. Decorating is about selecting beautiful sofas and chairs to be sure, but there's nothing quite as rewarding as being able to put our talents to work much earlier in the building process.
5. What is your favorite part of this house and why?
Our goal for the entire house was for it to be "old-school Hamptons filtered through the California sun"; for it to have a kind of effortless chic. I think we really achieved that in the living room. The furnishings and fabrics we selected are simple but each is of great quality. The mix of finishes from rubbed black to driftwood gray is both beach-y and sophisticated all at the same time. We used original art above the fireplace. Accessories are well edited and represent a mix of styles, from nautical to bohemian to classic American, with a touch of Asian flair.
6. You used a lot of unique and one-of-a-kind art pieces, including that amazing wall of flags. What inspired your selections, and do you have any tips for choosing artwork?
Since it is an 'idea' house we did want to have a few big design moments and the flag wall was a way to give impact and identity to a long, empty wall in the basement rec room. We found almost all the flags on eBay and Etsy and just started collecting them. During installation it became clear that we needed to vary the depths of the flag mounts to give the wall even more impact.
For the rest of the vintage accessories, we stuck to our rule of simply buying things we love. Some of the pieces we had a spot for in mind and some we found a home for once we installed. It was like a big puzzle.
There's a range of artwork throughout the house: fine art like the original Elizabeth Huey paintings above the living room mantle, to collectable vintage European travel posters in the family room, to really affordable black and white photos from retail websites. It's a mix of high and low.
7. What are the 5 must-haves for a coastal look?
Lots of crisp white paint
Pale floors (painted floors are great, too)
Lightweight, casual fabrics, like linens, cottons, and denims
Classic materials like ceramic tile, tongue and groove wainscoting
Crisp, high thread count bedding!
8. Finish the sentence: Every room needs _______.
Something vintage! I know we're all Wayfair shoppers, but without a hit of something old-—and it doesn't have to be a fine antique—you can lose the balance in a space. It can be anything from a great mid-century lamp you find at a flea market, to a collection of paint-by-number oil paintings made fresh with faux bamboo frames.
9. What's your best piece of advice for someone taking on a home renovation?
Please don't try to do everything yourself; hire professionals! It's so much better to spend a bit more up front and have the job go smoothly than it is to make costly (and time consuming) mistakes every step of the way.
10. Do you want to add anything?
Thanks, Wayfair! We couldn't have done it without you!