It is such fun meeting kindred spirits in the design world, and that is exactly how I felt when I found Tessa Foley of Nine and Sixteen thanks to Instagram! In addition to sharing a passion for interior design, chintz, and English antiques, we both left 10+ year careers in marketing before starting our blogs, and we were both obsessed with Laura Ashley as teenagers in the 1990s. Such fun! Tessa lives with her husband and two sons in a small and charming 1920s Midwestern village. In addition to blogging about classic, cozy New England style via her blog, Nine and Sixteen, she also offers design consultations and e-design. Today, I am delighted to welcome Tessa for a Q&A and a look inside her home and portfolio… Welcome, Tessa!
Q: Please tell me how your blog began and how it has evolved over the years.
A: My blog began as a creative outlet shortly after I left my corporate job in brand management to stay home with my second child. During my baby’s nap time, I discovered design and mom bloggers and after reading them for a year or so I decided to create my own. It started as a journal about small town living, sharing snippets of family life, decorating projects, and favorite recipes. That was about 8 years ago, before pinterest and instagram, and a lot of the social engagement that happens through instagram now used to happen in the comment sections on blogs. I met so many like minded and creative women and developed friendships that are near and dear to me today. Over time, my blog became more interior design focused, so when my youngest started kindergarten, I decided to extend the blog into a small interior design business by offering design consults. It was a natural evolution of Nine and Sixteen, still allowing me to creatively pursue my love of beautiful homes with others but in a way that was more personalized and tangible than a blog post.
Q: When did your passion for interior design begin?
A: My passion for interior design started young. I fell in love with my aunt’s home and with my grandparent’s apartment, both filled with beautiful English oak antiques and layers of gorgeous chintz fabrics. They both had a gift for creating welcoming, cozy, and beautiful spaces. My Nana was British and she traveled back to London from Belgium with my aunt to buy her wallpapers and textiles. I wish I had photos of their homes to share because they were timeless. I can still recall each pattern of fabric and paper with such clarity and fondness. The thoughtfulness and care they took to create cozy and beautiful rooms made a lasting impression on my own style. Also, both were exceptional cooks and gracious entertainers which is such a big part of what makes a house a home to me, It’s as much about how a home feels as it is how it looks. As a teenager I was obsessed with the Laura Ashley catalogues of the early 90s. I even used them as inspiration when we decorated our first home. It baffles me that I didn’t study interior design in college, but I didn’t grow up around designers and I don’t think I realized it could be a career till much later in life.
Q: How would you describe your design aesthetic?
A: I always feel like I should have a much more succinct and polished answer to this question. The former Brand Manager in me is shaking her head. Haha. My inspiration comes from charming, classic, coastal New England homes mixed with the coziness of English country style. I like pretty rooms that don’t feel fussy, timeless spaces that feel fresh, and nothing that is too trendy. I like a home to feel it has evolved effortlessly over time.
Q: What designers – past and present – most inspire you?
A: I am inspired by so many designers that it is tough to narrow down a list. Those that I turn to time after time are Gil Schafer, Tom Scheerer, Sister Parish, Mark Sikes, Patrick Ahearn, Cathy Kincaid, Bunny Williams and Jackye Lanham. I also look to vintage Martha Stewart and Ina Garten for style and design inspiration because they are masters at creating inviting spaces where guests feel welcome which is such an important element in any well designed home.
Q: Please tell me more about your decorating consulting business.
A: About 4 years ago, after much persuading from friends and blog readers, I decided to dip my toes into the e-design world by offering design consults as an extension of my blog. Creating a beautiful and welcoming home is truly my favorite passion and being able to help others do the same is such a rewarding experience. The majority of my business is with out of town clients who send me photos, videos and floorplans of their homes from which I create a design plan for them to implement. While I do a lot of the product ordering, it is up to the client to hire contractors and installers to finish the rooms. I do take on a few local projects each year, where I offer more traditional, full service design. Clients that seek my help share a similar style aesthetic to mine and are usually pretty design savvy to begin with but are looking for someone to help bring it all together. Decorating your own home is tough, we all over analyze our decisions. Having my help to create a design road map, navigate choices and offer a fresh perspective can make the decorating process so much more fun. I have clients from CA to MA and everywhere in between, some that I’ve worked with one room at a time, over a couple years, and it is one of the most rewarding experiences to see these homes come together. It is an honor to be trusted to create spaces that enrich families lives, so I work hard to treat each project with the same care I would give if it were my home.
Q: You are also an amazing chef! What is your favorite busy weeknight dinner?
A: Thank you. I do love to cook! And eat! I had a subscription to Bon Appetit in high school, pretty sure that’s not normal. My favorite weeknight meal varies depending on the season. In the spring, I would have to say salmon with avocado and lime relish. My favorite way to prepare salmon is to rub it with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lime and then pop it in the oven at 400 for about 14 minutes. While it cooks I dice one avocado + a bunch of chives + toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 TBS of fresh lime juice + salt and pepper for a little relish to top on the salmon when it is finished cooking. It is so delish! My husband requests it every year as his birthday dinner and it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish to make. I typically serve it with roasted asparagus and orzo.
Q: What tips can you share for creating beautiful tablescapes?
A: Setting a pretty table is one of my favorite parts about entertaining! I usually set it up a day before the party so flowers have a chance to open and I get time to play around with different ideas. I usually don’t know exactly how I will set the table until I get started. I do have a few tips… only fresh flowers. No exceptions. I don’t have lots of “rules” when it comes to decorating, but this is definitely one of them. Even if you have the very best faux looking plants, when it comes to a table where you are eating fresh, homemade food, the flowers should be fresh too. Also, centerpieces should be low enough that you can see all the people around the table. Sometimes I will create something a bit more dramatic in height, but when we sit down I move that to another location before we begin eating. Use lots of layers and textures, just like when decorating a room. Don’t match tablecloth and napkins, rather use different patterns, or even pretty dish towels in place of napkins. Layer a burlap runner over a linen tablecloth, pair a simple striped napkin with a floral blockprint tablecloth, use rattan chargers under china, mix different metals, etc. And if you have a longer table, I love using a “runner” of smaller flower arrangements in different vessels. Sometimes I will do a collection of pewter pitchers and cups as vases, other times white ironstone, or a collection of blue and white jars. I also like to scour antique malls for pretty china in salad or dessert sized plates to layer over my current plates. You can often find sets of 4-6 plates for very little money and laying those on top of your other china creates a completely new setting. Just have fun with it! Setting a pretty table makes guests feel welcome and the occasion special.
Q: Do you have any favorite collections or treasures?
A: Yes. There are a number of things I collect: blue and white pottery which I have in almost every room in our home, white ironstone which fills our kitchen shelves, pewter because it is my Mum’s favorite and she got me started, books because no home can have too many and gorgeous fabrics which I have never been able to resist. I love collections of black and white family photos too. I also have a collection of antique landscape oil paintings, many which have been gifts that mark anniversaries or birthdays that I treasure.
Q: When you aren’t busy designing, how do you enjoy spending your time?
A: Well, right now we have a new puppy so every extra minute is spent cuddling (or house breaking) him. We love traveling to New England in the summer and usually a couple other times each year. Nantucket is our family’s favorite vacation destination. I’m also a pretty avid reader and love nothing more than to pass away a gray, chilly day with a good book and ample cups of tea.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing a little about me and our home. I’m so grateful for the ways blogging and Instagram continue to bring together people who inspire each other.
Such classic, timeless style and such talent! Thank you, Tessa, for joining us today! To learn more about Tessa Foley, please visit Nine and Sixteen and follow @nineandsixteen via Instagram for daily inspiration. You can see Tessa’s home decorated for the holidays in MidwestLiving, and in September her home will be featured in the book Nora Murphy’s Country House Style: Making Your Home a Country House, which you can preorder now!