For the mother / daughter duo that make up design firm McGrath II, great design has always started with good bones. Even casual readers of design blogs will remember Good Bones, Great Pieces as being the gold standard of well written, knowledgeable, and beautiful to look at blogs. It was also a supremely useful resource that would go on to be published as a book in 2012, the content of which still holds up today. It is not surprising that for a design team who publish a highly rated book in their spare time, that they would have even bigger projects up their (well-dressed) sleeves. Now in its tenth year, their firm has been transforming houses into incredibly functional not to mention gorgeous, personal homes for their clients.
Lauren McGrath received an early education in design growing up with her mother Suzanne, who before going on to work as a Style Editor and Television Producer for Martha Stewart Living Television (earning 5 Daytime Emmys in the process) had studied interior design and decorative art history at Parsons School of Design. She reflects, “Growing up in a Brownstone in Cobble Hill Brooklyn under a constant state of reinvention, and spending weekends at tag sales, auctions and museums defined our creative partnership. Our decision to work together stemmed from a brief period co-writing and producing a blog as a way to secure a commitment from a book publisher whilst going through a career change. Writing the book was quite arduous, but we discovered that we really enjoyed collaborating on the interiors we created for it. More than ten years later, we’re still at it!”
Lauren would continue her love for and education in design by studying Art History at Bowdoin College and spending several years as a fashion news writer at Teen Vogue. It was during this time that the mother daughter pair embarked on creating Good Bones, Great Pieces as well as a more formal way of continuing to pursue their shared love of design as collaborators. “Publishing our first book, Good Bones, Great Pieces, The Seven Essential Pieces That Will Last a Lifetime, Abrams, 2012 was an exciting moment for us and a huge accomplishment. Seeing the growth of our followers on Instagram still feels quite amazing.”
It was clear that their working relationship was only just beginning. In founding McGrath II, the pair have found that together, they are an even stronger designers. “We both bring special skills to the business, and some even overlap. Lauren runs the “business” side of our company, as well as being a Lead Designer. We tend to feed off each other and push each other to come up with fresh, innovative ideas every day. We love coming together at team meetings with our latest individual inspirations and figuring out how to make these ideas turn into reality for our clients.”
Part of what the team shares is their love of vintage and antique pieces. “Adding vintage pieces and antiques to your home adds soul. Often, these pieces were made better than similar renditions made today. A mix of old and new is the ideal. There are so many online sources today that are user-friendly. You can source by size, style, price. We shop for antiques on all of the online platforms, and increasingly we shop at online auctions. We feel that including vintage pieces to rooms has a way of adding character, and charm and comfort.”
We caught up with Suzanne and Lauren to get to know them and their design process, and get some tips along the way.
TLV: What is the process like when starting a new project?
MCII: We start by developing the furniture plans, so that we know the layout and purpose for each room. We then look at the “bones” of the space: where might we add architectural moldings, millwork, a more interesting mantle, decorative painting? Then, as most trained interior designers do, we tackle the carpets and rugs, and work our way through the rest of the furniture pieces and textiles.
TLV: What kinds of questions do you ask your clients to get to know them and what they need out of a space?
MCII: Getting to know our clients helps tremendously for us in our mission to tell the story of the rooms in their homes, but also to help to achieve the level of optimal comfort they come to us for. We often ask them to share images of their favorite interiors, whether it be from a magazine or Pinterest board, or a hotel or home they’ve visited. The questions stem from there. Do you read in your bed at night? Do you sit at the kitchen table to eat? Do you like carpeting that is soft underfoot, or more organic in feel? And on and on.
TLV: Where do you look when you feel blocked or need inspiration?
MCII: Instagram, of course, and we have a very deep library of books that we still reference on a regular basis.
TLV: Do you have a favorite style / era / look that you often find yourself gravitating toward?
MCII: Not necessarily, we’re curious about all. But give us a period brownstone or a pre-war apartment and we’ll be at home.
TLV: Do you have a favorite type of project to work on?
MCII: We prefer to take on blank slate projects where we can impose our design intent from the onset so that the rooms have a feeling of continuity that looks and feels effortless.
TLV: What are you currently watching?
MCII: The Crown, of course!
TLV: How would you describe your own personal style in a few words?
MCII: Traditional, Eclectic, Comfortable.
Click here to Shop Suzanne & Lauren’s TLV curated collection
Text by Liana Hayles Newton