Photograph courtesy Gwynne McCue Interiors

How to design the best room in your home

May 22, 2022

Expert

Gwynne McCue, ’97, is a Manhattan-based interior designer and “a practical magician.” Here are her tips for creating your perfect interior.
By Kim Catley
Bathroom designed by Gwynne McCue

1. Call in a pro.

If your Pinterest boards have thousands of ideas, your friends are tired of hearing about your projects, and you can’t make any decisions, it’s time to hire a designer.

“I think many people get to the overwhelmed stage,” she says, “because there’s so much out there.” 

McCue sees her role as part personal trainer — “to help you get better results than you could on your own” — and part therapist. She can identify problems you don’t see and mediate different opinions. She credits her UR business degree with helping her turn a time-consuming process into a fun experience for her clients.

2. Assess what you have.

McCue likes to use what already works rather than start from scratch. A fresh paint job and updated countertops can breathe new life into cabinets. Maybe the carpet just needs a good cleaning, the pillows need new stuffing, or the couch should be turned to face the window. 

“I’ve repaired curtains, sewed things, and patched things,” she says. “I’m a practical magician.”

McCue then incorporates paint, rugs, and furniture that complement the existing items. She also notes how the room interacts with adjoining spaces and adds unifying elements.

3. Adapt and react.

Even the best-laid plans go awry. Two months into a bathroom project (above) — recently featured in Organic Spa Magazine — the contractor found studs and pipes in the walls that couldn’t be moved. This meant the rectangular room would now be L-shaped, the expensive custom ceiling tiles no longer fit, and there wasn’t enough space for a giant tub and shower. McCue reconfigured the layout, proposed a built-in shower seat, and laid the tiles out like a puzzle until she found a new arrangement.

“It’s a great example of what a pro offers,” she says. “When you have a problem, how do you fix it? How do you not break the budget and your timeline?”

4. Balance classics and trends.

McCue encourages clients to invest in big items that are classic, safe, and well-made, but to have fun with the details. Lamps, pillows, and small tables can add personality and fun to space but can be replaced as trends and tastes evolve.

“The [big] things in your home, I hope you’re going to keep for a long time,” she says. “I don’t change constantly.” 

5. Add unexpected details.

McCue’s designs often include touches that improve functionality. Take the spa bathroom, which was for a client recovering from cancer. McCue incorporated healing features: River rocks on the floor engage the foot muscles and encourage balance. LED lights in the ceiling are used for chromotherapy. And cherry blossom ceiling tiles offer a renewing focal point while reclining in the tub.

6. Grab your power saw.

McCue isn’t afraid to turn to her sewing machine and power tools. She’s designed pillows and curtains, cut the legs off a dresser, and refinished cabinet doors to achieve the look and function she wants.

“I do all my own stunts,” she says. “And if I can’t do it myself, I know who can.”