Published on February 6, 2019

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photography by Justin Levesque

The power of good upholstery certainly isn’t lost on Tyler Karu. One peek inside the designer’s latest project and it’s clear: Mixing punchy prints is second nature.

Situated in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Karu’s preference for the unexpected lent itself to the picture-perfect waterfront home. Of course, it helped that her clients—a young family of five who lives in London most of the year—were open to taking design risks (acrylic dining chairs and chartreuse accents included).

We really focused on pattern, textiles, and color to achieve this balance of modern yet warm and inviting,” explains the designer. “There’s more pink and purple in here than I think they anticipated, but they like that.”

Forget mastering nautical seaside vibes, ahead, Karu schools us on picking art, embracing patterns, and reimagining vintage furniture.

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To the untrained eye, lucite chairs, violet-colored cushions, and a graphic vintage rug might seem like a lot for a small room. But if there’s anything this thoughtful dining arrangement can attest, it’s that too much is just enough. While Karu sourced the rug first and ran with a complementary palette from there, her choice of seating proved to be the ultimate game changer.

“The chairs were in rough shape, but I loved the lucite because I knew you’d be able to see the upholstery from all sides,” shares the designer, who sourced the perfectly purple pick from KLS Textiles.

With the Atlantic ocean visible in the distance, sightlines impacted her design decisions in more ways than one. “When you walk into the house and you look at the ocean, you don’t feel like you’re looking past all this bulky furniture,” says Karu of showcasing the view. “That’s another reason I loved these chairs and why we kept the couple’s table. The base provided a lot of lightness.”

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Unexpected material combinations are also a constant in the formal dining room where custom white oak chairs by local craftsman Kyle Kidwell gather ’round an eight-person table. “I’m in love with everything about them. The shape, the joinery… they’re so classic,” says Karu of the distressed leather seats. “They’re mid-century-inspired, but they don’t read that way.”

Art doubles as a common thread for the larger elements in the space. A large-scale painting by Matt Chamberlain, for instance, picks up on the yellow wood tones in the dining table, while three line prints by Justin Levesque balance out the graphic nature of the area rug.

“The rug is linear in a completely different way than the art, but somehow the lines just work,” says Karu. “I don’t think you’d expect to see any of these pieces together and I love that.”

Every accent in the living room was selected with the same care. In an effort to introduce a sense of softness to the cast-concrete fireplace, Karu hung a fiery orange wire wall hanging above the mantel, placing two corresponding lanterns from CB2 at its side. “We chose it mostly because of the color, which resonates with the purples and blues in the rug, but the material was so unexpected,” says Karu.

While classic in silhouette, the marble and wood coffee table from Rejuvenation serves as an airy anchor for the rest of the elements in the room, including the retro corner chair Karu sourced from 1stdibs and swathed in a printed cotton textile by Rouse Phillips.

“It almost looks like hieroglyphics. It was another way to mix in a graphic element that still feels neutral and not jarring,” she says of the print.  

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In the master bedroom, Karu substituted bold upholstery for a refreshing dose of wallpaper. In lieu of masking the space in a dark gray or deep navy paint, the designer kept with the home’s warm aesthetic with an elevated treatment from Hygge and West in gold and cream.

“It’s pretty soft, which is what we were going for. It’s graphic but not intense,” says Karu.

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Matching tobacco-colored armchairs and checkerboard linen drapes lend a sense of dimension to the accent wall. The same goes for the cane bedside tables—the perfect marriage of storage and style.

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“With nightstands, you’re always left with whatever room you have at the end of the bed. It’s a puzzle, so you have to figure out what works well. We didn’t have a lot of room to work with. These offered storage without sacrificing space,” shares the designer.  

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Nothing sums up Karu’s love for this dream coastal project better than the sun-drenched entryway. Here, form and function find the ultimate balance.

“I love everything about the proportion of this vignette: the CB2 mirror with claws, the placement of that window, the lucite lamp, that chartreuse tray… to me, this moment ties in everything I was going for in the house,” she says.

The one piece of decorating advice Karu carries with her everywhere? Second-guessing yourself after the fact will get you nowhere.

“No one knows what your original grand plan was. They only know about what they see in the room,” suggests the designer. “If you can let go of ‘I should have done that’ or ‘I should have done this’ in your head, the space itself is not presenting that to anyone else who walks into it. Own it. I don’t get too tied to anything. Heirlooms are one thing, but I want my clients to feel like they can grow and change in their own homes and move things around and experiment.”

Tour more homes we love: 

A Massachusetts Farmhouse So Quaint You’ll Want to Move to the Countryside

One Couple, Polar-Opposite Styles, and How They Made It Work

This Museum-Like Home Puts Our Vintage Collections to Shame

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