It was through fortuitous beginnings that fashion designer Kara Mendelsohn and interior designer Jeanne Campana came to work together on the redesign of Mendelsohn’s 63-year-old fixer-upper. "While waiting for our daughters to finish up their ballet class, Kara mentioned to me that she would love to redecorate her living room someday," recalls Campana. "I said, 'I can help you!'" And so a dream team was born. After ten years of living in New York City, Mendelsohn, founder and designer of the contemporary fashion line cooper & ella, along with her husband and two children, left Manhattan to settle into life in the suburbs. With its proximity to the city and nearby relatives, the family chose the small town of Centerport on the North Shore of Long Island. Like any circa-1950 house, it needed a little love in the way of aesthetic improvement. Together, with the same goals in mind, Mendelsohn and Campana brought new life to the home’s living and dining rooms that the whole family can enjoy. Here, the two spill on how they achieved such Pinterest-worthy results.
What was the ‘before’ like?
Kara Mendelsohn: Not good. When we moved here I had a two-year old and an infant. I also had a consulting business. My priorities were on my family and building my new career, not my house. When we moved in, everything needed to be done—bathrooms, kitchen floors, driveway, you name it. We've done our best to chip away at projects one by one.
Jeanne Campana: Kara's home's "before" consisted of bold-colored walls and mismatched hand-me-down furniture from a previous home. The living room's furniture arrangement did not function well, but it had big beautiful windows that let in a lot natural light. The space itself had so much potential.
What was on your must-have list?
KM: The space had to be livable. I grew up with a formal dining room and living room which we were never allowed in except for holidays and parties. Times have changed— our household is very different than that.
JC: When I first saw the living room and dining room I noticed right away that it was lacking architectural interest. This was something I thought Kara's spaces needed in order to give her rooms some character. Providing storage solutions, a desk for Kara, ample lighting, and a place to display family photos, favorite books, and travel mementos were also important elements that needed to be incorporated into the design.
How did the two of you collaborate on this project?
KM: I had spent a lot of time pinning "My Dream Home" on Pinterest. [Jeanne] reviewed my pins to better understand my style and wish list, and then incorporated those elements into the design. It helped that she and I are close friends, so she knew the space and understood the level of functionality we truly needed. She took our needs and wants seriously, [like] spending serious time making sure that my husband's one request—a comfortable couch—be honored.
JC: Kara had a clear vision of what she wanted for her new space but didn't know how to achieve it. She provided me with a Pinterest board, magazine clippings, and pictures of her favorite catalog items. They included images of white neutral spaces with natural textures, soft color palettes, and stylish details. Kara was a quick decision-maker throughout the entire process. When I presented the drawings and materials to her she knew exactly what she wanted and what she didn't want. She was fantastic to work with.
How do you approach designing a kid-friendly space?
KM: We waited to do this remodel until the kids were a little older, so that we could really incorporate all of the elements that were important to us without endangering them. I love my glass end tables, but they'd pose a risk that I was not willing to take with toddlers. We really felt that at this point they are old enough to respect and enjoy a beautiful space. We made sure that there was lots of storage space. Their things (games, Xbox, books) needed to be readily available, but also hidden away so I'm not tripping over them all the time!
JC: I knew Cooper and Ella were going to be spending a lot of time in these rooms. As a mother of three, I know that when selecting furniture pieces, comfort as well as easy maintenance is key. Slipcovered sofas with relaxed, machine washable, high performance fabric was the perfect choice. A sisal area rug is easy to clean and two small ottomans tucked underneath a console table can be pulled out for extra seating when their friends come over.