Camping Out With Two Celebrity Designers from HGTV

Two ladies, Lori and Kellie, sitting on elegant orange and black outdoor furniture, and sipping drinks.

Tori Dennis and Kelli Ellis, award-winning celebrity interior designers and co-founders of Design Camp.

As if their appearances on HGTV, Bravo, NBC, Oxygen, TLC and Food Network weren’t enough, award-winning celebrity interior designers Lori Dennis and Kelli Ellis can add one more thing to their resume: camp counselors. 

As co-founders of Design Camp, a two-day seminar featuring special guest segments from some of the leading interior design industry experts around the nation, these two ladies know a thing or two about home design. The first installment of Design Camp launched in Austin. NewHomeSource attended as a camper and later caught up with the powerhouse duo to talk about the major design choices homebuyers have when building a new home. 

NHS: Say a first-time home buyer working with a builder is selecting the major, foundational design pieces of her home things like flooring, countertops, tile. What would you tell her?

KELLI: It’s absolutely imperative to just focus 100 percent on the look and the design. What is the look going to be? Are you going to be modern; are you going to be traditional? Are you eclectic? Transitional? These decisions need to be made right then and there. At that point, it’s going to dictate what kind of flooring you’ve got and what kind of specialty flooring you’re going to go after. Are you wood? Are you stone? Are you a combination thereof?

LORI: And if you’re working with someone  or if you’re even not working with someone and just going and shopping  the best way for you to illustrate what your style is, is to bring images. One person’s idea of transitional is another person’s idea of contemporary, which is another person’s idea of traditional and another person’s idea of modern. In order to eliminate confusion and wasting time you really want to bring images to illustrate what you’re talking about. 

NHS: What would you say are the latest trends for 2013 and beyond for things like flooring and countertops? 

LORI: Wood plank floors. And granite is gone the wayside. Nobody is doing granite anymore. It’s going to be solid surfacing like Caesarstone and wood countertops.

KELLI: As far as the flooring issue, I’m finding that a lot of my clients are loving the polished concrete look. It’s giving them something that’s a little different than the distressed wood. … It gives them an antique restoration look that they want. As far as countertops, I’m seeing a lot of recycled glass. That’s super popular. 

NHS: What about things like faucets and fixtures?

LORI: Due to either an eco-awareness or a local or state ordinance, people are really starting to use a lot more eco-friendly or energy-efficient appliances and fixtures. Whether it’s low-flow showerheads that are high-performance, toilets that are low-flush, lighting throughout the home, different appliances that [have] Energy Star [ratings] or smart home systems that are helping them to use their energy systems more efficiency, that’s definitely a trend that’s stronger and will continue to grow as the ordinances become more standard. … The trend is technology -- the really cool bells and whistles you can accomplish with these things.

NHS: One thing we’ve been hearing  and it was definitely emphasized at DesignCamp  is that stainless steel may be going out of style. Are you seeing a lot of that with your clients?

LORI: Not at all. 

KELLI: I definitely agree with you, Lori. I feel like it’s pretty much the same. That hasn’t changed very much for us. 

NHS: You still feel like stainless steel is still very much the preferred choice?

LORI: A thousand percent. And Southern California and New York are leading the ways in terms of style for the rest of the nation, and you can still see in real estate that stainless steel appliances are quoted as something that’s a premium option, so absolutely not. I just specked for four kitchens this week, all super high-end, and it was all stainless steel. 

KELLI: Another thing I’m also starting to see that I think people like is the copper look. It’s a great option. It’s super expensive right now, but it’s definitely a little warmer than stainless steel and it has the same aesthetic; it’s still a metal and not a glass. 

NHS: Lately, subway tile has been popular for backsplashes. What are some 
trends you’re seeing now?

KELLI: Mirrors. I’m actually doing a mirrored backsplash right now, and it’s so fun. It’s so inexpensive. It’s one of the easiest things to do, it goes with every single style cabinet, and it opens up the kitchen like nobody’s business. And it’s super easy to clean. Like check, check, check, check, check and check. 

NHS: Let’s talk about cabinets. There are a lot of different popular styles depending on what part of the country you’re in. What styles do you think will develop over the next year or two?

LORI: Well you’re definitely going to continue to see the open shelving on the upper cabinets, and that’s just a function of style and also visually making a space have more square footage. … Again, style is really going to come into play here. If you have a craftsman home, you’re going to see cabinets that resemble cabinets that are 100 years old, and if you have a Spanish revival, you’re going to see Spanish-style cabinets.

KELLI: Totally. … And those are permanent decisions. Again, that’s when Lori and I really question and make our clients think long and hard about the lasting look of the kitchen and those hard surfaces, because going for a trend here might not be a wise choice. This is where you want to go with something that’s going to be able to be flexible and change when your design tastes and styles change. 

LORI: And if you do want to do something that’s of-the-moment and trendy, like maybe purple is a hot color, then you’re going to want to do that in your lesser expensive and easier-to-change-out items like your knobs and lighting fixtures. 

KELLI: And I’m having a lot of fun right now doing colored glass. So instead of the clear-seeded glass, getting the lavender-seeded glass or the blue-seeded glass. It's a crazy pop that really makes an excellent punch in the kitchen, but it’s easier to change out the glass rather than the whole cabinet. 

NHS: But what if a client is really pushing a hot style in some of the hard-to-change features like countertops. How do you work with them?

KELLI: I know for me, the first thing I need to talk about is money, and that usually speaks to a lot of people. People perk up when you tell them how much it will cost to change something because they want to be “trendy.” So that’s important. When you’re spending money on good-quality items, that’s when you need to take a step back and go “OK, this is where we don’t go trendy, and this is where we do.” Not many people push back.

NHS: What is one area you feel homebuyers shouldn’t skimp on? The one element you feel they shouldn’t cut corners? 

KELLI: I say flooring. I think it’s one of the biggest ticket items. … Those are the bones of the house. You know, paint you can change, wood trims you can add, but flooring is my No. 1, “let’s-do-this-right.” And then countertops is another huge thing when you’re talking about the kitchen. 

LORI: That’s a tough question. You know, some people come from the school of “the accessories are going to hide all of the problems.” So if you’re doing really interesting lighting that’s taking your eye away from the cheap carpeting, or if you’re throwing rugs down on it, there’s a lot of things you can do. You just have to do everything, and you have to make it work. Watch “Project Runway.”

KELLI: There you go. Make it work, people; make it work. 

NHS: What is one major trend you feel really has staying power? 

LORI: Open plans with big kitchens as the center. 

KELLI: Indoor/outdoor: Outdoor patios that are like extended living rooms aren’t going anywhere. 

NHS: On the flipside, what’s one trend you think will have its 15 minutes of fame and then take a bow and walk off stage?

LORI: The thing that I think is going to go in and out very quickly  and I would probably never advocate unless I was doing a very themey space or a contract-type space that had a theme  is brightly colored countertops, like the bright orange or bright lime green. That might seem like a really great idea, but [these days] people don’t really stay in their homes for 30 years. They sell the home five to seven years later, and I can promise you that it’s going to limit the marketability later on when people are looking at the house. … Before you make decisions like that  flooring, countertops, bathroom tiles that are wild and should really be your accent pieces instead of the major bones of the house  think about it. Really think about it. 

NHS: Not everyone has the budget to hire a 
designer and help them with the major decisions that really serve as the skeletal design of the home. What can people do to make sure they’re staying on top of trends and still getting the latest and greatest? 

KELLI: They need to research. They need to buy some shelter magazines and start pulling out the things that they love. They have to know what’s in, and that’s the best resource for them. 

LORI: For sure. And you’ve got to go with your gut. 

KELLI: And online too. There are a lot of online resources that they can take a look. Yes, you’re right, go with your gut, and make sure you’ve seen everything you can possibly see. 

NHS: What are some of the go-to shelter magazines you regularly turn to?

KELLI: Elle Décor, Veranda, House Beautiful.

LORI: Architectural Digest. And I read a lot of hospitality magazines. I read Contract. I read Hospitality Today and Hospitality Design. … It used to be that the homes were influencing the way that boutique hotels would look, and now the boutique hotels are influencing the way residential looks. 

NHS: If there’s one crucial, must-do tip you’d give to buyers as they enter this phase of the home-building process and start to select these foundational design items, what would it be?

LORI: Buy some Yogi tea, so you can sleep at night (laughs). For some people, it’s the biggest decision they’re ever going to make in their life financially, and I would just tell them to try to make … the very best plans they can, from their financing to taking good measurements to thinking about what kind of a style and what types of items they’re going to put in the home. Just try to remember that it’s not life or death. It’s all going to work, and the more they invest in planning -- you know the more measuring they’re going to do -- the more the cutting is going to come out right. 

KELLI: Measure twice, cut once. That’s great and probably true for everything. They need to know it isn’t life or death, but you do need to make sure [that with] the choices you make, you’re both on board. Whoever lives in the house, it’s nice to get their opinion so everybody’s happy with the end result. … And yeah, don’t get too bogged down with the trends. I think that’s huge. Really go for the classics, so you have something that’s going to bend and mold with you as the times change.

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