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Summer Henry Makes Big Impact On Small Spaces


Knoxville Designer Summer Henry Approaches Tight Quarters With An Open Mind

Sizing up the powder bathroom of her historic Knoxville home at a very diminutive 17 square feet, Summer Henry knew she had her work cut out for her.

“When I saw it, I was incredibly underwhelmed,” she says, recalling the mustard-yellow walls, the outdated fixtures...and the potentially painful lack of wiggle room.

“This might be too much information, but...it was so tiny that someone could not have sat down on the potty without almost hitting their head on the corner of the oversized pedestal sink,” Summer says with a chuckle. “That’s not the ‘Wow’ factor that we’re after, hitting our heads!”

That lighthearted, open-minded approach to design dilemmas has served Summer well in her latest passion project. A 16-year veteran of residential and commercial design, Summer is currently busy reimagining her lovely, 91-year-old Federal-style home in Knoxville’s iconic Old Westmoreland community.

While some might look at a small space and see limitations, Summer embraces what she calls “a jewel box opportunity,” a chance to “splurge” and “have a lot of fun.”

Summer has used Robert Allen and Duralee fabrics and furniture to make a big impact in small spaces throughout her home. In this installment of our ongoing blog series, we explore her process for two particularly challenging rooms: the powder room and the smallest guest bedroom.

Powder Bath Panache

When preparing design plans for clients, Summer takes special pleasure in designing the powder bath. Unlike other, more private rooms in a home, the powder bath is a high-traffic area -- and a potential showpiece for guests.

“I really feel like the ‘Wow’ factor is what you’re going for in a powder bath,” Summer says. “Not necessarily every time, in an over-the-top way, but I love to make it a special room, an attention getter. Whether it’s a laquered wainscoting, a special sink, or fixtures that are a little different, it’s just a great spot to be able to make a statement with fabulous details!"

Adding accessories with bright colors and interesting embellishments can help to liven up a small space.

Summer was the opposite of “wowed” when she looked at her own tiny powder bath, situated at the end of a back hallway, next to a staircase leading to the basement. She knew she wouldn’t be able to make a grand impression by physically expanding the space.

“I was stuck with the dimensions I had,” she says, “so I just started by emptying the room.”

On the longest wall in the room, Summer built a narrow, bow front shelf made of calacatta silver marble, and on it, she installed a hammered nickel vessel sink. Then, she added a radius backsplash mirroring the curvature of the shelf. She chose a wall-mounted faucet in order to utilize as much space as possible “so the room would not feel so hemmed in.”

Throughout the restoration process, Summer has tried to stay true to her home’s history and architecture, while infusing her contemporary sensibilities into the design. The house was built in the 1920s and was one of the original homes in the neighborhood to be serviced by the historic water wheel that provided hydroelectric power and water to the Old Westmoreland community.

When construction is finished, the house will make an opulent abode for a busy 21st-century businesswoman.

An eclectic black lacquer mirror serves as a showpiece and helps to expand the space in Summer's powder room.

Although Summer used traditional marble in her powder bath and chose a neutral black-and-white color palette as her base for the room, the eclectic black lacquer mirror (shown above) adds a bit of edginess and avant garde style, while a few distinct pops of color in trim and artwork round things out and bring the interest Summer seeks. Summer also plans to fashion a skirt for the powder room sink.

"I wanted a soft treatment in the powder room, and skirting the sink was a perfect way to do that," she says.

"The marble would have been commonly used for bathrooms and floors in a house that was built in the 1920s, so I stayed with a traditional material there,” Summer says. “The toile wallcovering is quite traditional, but the black and white palette is not, so that too is a juxtaposition of both. The fixtures have traditional lines; the light is a polished nickel, reeded chandelier, the sink has a hammered finish to it, all white metals, but different textures at play, which I think gives it a fresher, younger, more modern feeling.”

Whether she’s designing her own historic home or a client’s brand new custom residence, Summer finds creative ways to use color and light to open up a small space. Powder baths give her a chance to really work her magic.

“Rarely ever do you have natural light in the powder bath because of where they’re situated in the home, so generally speaking, you have to get your light from overhead,” she says. “If I can do so at all, I like to use sconces, besides being visually interesting, they wash the room in light, as opposed to just having direct overhead lighting. Also, If I use darker paint in a powder room I will do a lacquered finish, which brings a reflective quality and helps the room appear more spacious.”

The right lighting fixture more than makes up for a lack of natural illumination.

Balancing The Bedroom

Not only did Summer need to grapple with space constraints in her home’s smallest guest bedroom, but she was also concerned with the room’s overall lack of balance.

“I personally hate anything that is not balanced,” she says, recalling the offset window that immediately grabbed her attention when she entered this bedroom. It was located on the largest wall in the room, the only wall where Summer felt she could place furniture.

“That window was a real point of contention for me,” she says. “I would go in the room and look at it and go, ‘Ugh! I hate that! What am I going to do?’ I was trying to imagine how I would treat it with drapery and center a bed on that wall, and it just wasn’t working.”

Then, something clicked. Summer found her creative solution. She realized she could make the window “go away” by covering the wall in drapery with blackout lining, to keep light from filtering through.

“I wanted to make the whole room appear like this really luxurious, posh space by almost overtreatring that wall, so I decided on a full drapery wall, floor to ceiling,” she says. “I also decided upon a wall-to-wall headboard that was oversized for use with twin beds, which allowed ample space for a chest in between. This gave separation and some privacy between each bed, while still allowing me to place everything the room needed on one wall.”

Summer chose a feminine color scheme for the guest bedroom, with blush-colored pinks and white, and she says her creative wall design has given the room a kind of “cocoon effect.”

“I think it’s going to be one of the most interesting rooms in the house, just based on how everything is configured,” she says.

In general, Summer’s approach to designing a small bedroom space tends to be: Go big, or pull back.

“You either have to go with something that is really impactful or dramatic like that headboard, or you have to scale it down so it doesn’t seem overwhelming,” she says. “I think the approach depends on how the room itself is laid out. If you have a long wall like I did, and that’s really the only wall you have to work with, you can do something really large and really impactful like the oversized headboard. But if it’s a room where you have more of a balanced space but it’s still very small, you want to scale your furniture to reflect that.”

Be sure to keep checking the Robert Allen Inspiration blog for more design wisdom from Summer and our whole team of experts! We will continue to update this blog series as Summer’s project progresses.

You can also follow Summer Henry Interiors on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on her personal and professional adventures.

Have you encountered any design dilemmas where you had to work with a particularly small space? How did you go about trying to establish a “Wow” factor? Please let us know in the comments!

Summer Henry Makes Big Impact On Small Spaces

Summer Henry Makes Big Impact On Small Spaces

Summer Henry Makes Big Impact On Small Spaces

Summer Henry Makes Big Impact On Small Spaces