10 Questions with Interior Designer Phoebe Lovejoy Russell

The interior designer tells us how she fell in love with design, how to create a mood using color, and how her intuitive nature serves her well when she’s planning a room.

A view of a living room designed by Russell.

A view of a living room designed by Russell.

Phoebe Lovejoy Russell creates welcoming spaces for her clients with bursts of vibrancy that reflect her excitement for design. With an intuitive spirit and keen eye, Russell approaches each project with care and thoughtfulness. We asked the interior designer about her use of color, how to achieve a similar feel, and how she overcomes creativity blocks.

1. You have a bachelor’s in psychology. How would you say that education serves you in your design career?

The most successful jobs I have are the ones where I really communicate well with the client. I basically take their words and what I see in their house or what they wear and try to put it into a look for them. So, the psychology aspect—being intuitive and being aware and thoughtful about who that person is—that helps. I have a look, but I always try to stick with them. You need to be really thoughtful and really aware of personalities and be patient and help them through their decision-making, and it requires open communication. So, the psychology totally gave me the awareness of the mind.

2. When did you decide that you wanted to start your own company?

I worked in a store called Trove in Weston. So, I left design school in New York, and I came back to Boston. And, before that, I thought I want to do event planning. I worked at Rafanelli, which is an event planning company. And I helped with designing parties. At some point, I decided I wanted to get back into the furniture and interior design worlds. So, I started working at Trove. The woman that owns the store sourced furnishings as well as jewelry. And people would come in looking for an interior designer and—she was so amazing—she would always refer me. So, I was doing Trove and then working Lovejoy Designs two days a week, then it turned into three, then it turned into five. I always knew that I wanted to do it. It’s such a great job. I never really had any doubt. I sort of threw myself into the fire and learned as I went.

3. How can clients prepare for meeting with a designer?

It’s a partnership, for sure. And I think personalities have to match. There has to be a trust between the client and the designer. And I think part of that, for me, comes a lot in understanding what they want their house to look like. I have a really streamlined approach where I don’t even begin to source product or even draw the floor plans until I have a really clear vision of what they like. I’ve been using Pinterest a lot, actually. Clients will make private boards. So, then, they can post images that they love or hate because that’s just as important. And I’ll post images in there, so we conceptualize a design before we source things. And that’s a pretty good way. The other way I do it is I have a questionnaire that has every question from “how do you entertain?” to “do you like plaid?” So, it runs the gamut of questions. The more information I can get, the easier it is for me to execute a design that they want.

4. How do you make a space chic and beautiful while still making it feel livable?

I work with a lot of young families. Their biggest needs are usually how to have a beautiful house and also have it be durable. Part of it is the floor plan and the layout in terms of where you place really effective storage for a living room with kids. In terms of the furnishings, I would never use a white sofa for a family of three. And there are so many amazing outdoor fabrics that you would never know were outdoor that I use for upholstery. And little things, too: don’t pick a square, glass table if you have a kid under two. Go for the round ottoman. I use a lot of faux leather and faux ostrich. And then, you still get that chic look. But you’re not getting stressed out the whole time while you’re having pasta.

5. You use a lot of soft colors with pops of richness. What’s the importance of color in your work?

I like a clean palette with a more monochromatic feel, but I like the pop. I like the moment of chartreuse or yellow. I find that many people are afraid of color. I understand, it’s scary to make a big investment in maybe a red sofa. What happens is the houses end up looking kind of beige. But what happens when you bring in the red, or a blue, is it totally livens things up. There’s so many ways to incorporate a little pop and still feel soothing and soft and calming. I like my spaces to feel cocoon-like and relaxing when you come home after a stressful day. It’s nice to have a space that makes you less stressed. But, for many people, having that little pop of color energizes them just enough, too.

6. Do you ever get “designer’s block”? How do you get inspired when you feel creatively blocked?

I do. I would be lying if I said I didn’t, but I know the tools to get me out of it. There’s so much online buying because you can’t go and see a lot of stuff even there’s some great retail stores around and the design center is amazing. And I find, being online all the time, sometimes, I need that kick. I need to get out. For some people, it’s going to another country. For me, it’s going to High Point. It’s the most beneficial days I can spend because I’m able to see new products and see other designers who are just as excited about creating homes as I am. Seeing a product and holding a product, that always jump-starts me. I can design a room in two hours when I’m seeing this stuff. It’s just getting outside my box of the internet. As much as I need it, I find that being tactile lessons the block.

And sometimes, it’s the client. They’ll want to do petal pink for the whole room. That’s happening now. I’m doing a master bedroom that’s orange and petal pink, and I never do those colors. But it’s so fun because it’s different, and it jolted me out of my blue phase, which I will never leave.

7. What’s your philosophy on design?

My philosophy is that I love a well-designed room. And I love beauty, and I look for it everywhere. Everywhere. I can’t help it. But I’m also logical. Pasta is going to get on the sofa. Life is not perfect. I think that you should live in a pretty, beautiful house that you’re proud of, but things are going happen, and it’s not the end of the world. I try to be easygoing while also appreciating design. On the client end of it, just being thoughtful to them. It’s amazing that they let me in their houses and let me come up with these designs that I hope will be the foundation for many years. That they’re treated thoughtfully—that’s important to me—that they felt that I was flexible and listened to them all [while] being a good guide.

8. What made you fall in love with design?

I think that ah-ha moment you feel when you go in a space and you can’t really say why you feel calm or excited. It just takes your breath away. I love going into spaces that feel like that. And I’m always trying to create that for others. I think it’s a never-ending need to create beauty around us. All while being functional—it’s not all about aesthetic, it’s about living. I think that’s what keeps me going back for more. I think it’s partially the relationships with the people I get to meet and, also, this desire to continue to create cool spaces.

9. What keeps you motivated on hard days?

To get it right for the client. I just want them to be happy. When I have a bad day, something didn’t quite hit it. And that bothers me. A lot. So, when I have a hard day, that’s what keeps me going back. I want to get it right for them.

I think when balancing motherhood and a job there’s definitely hard days. And it takes a village. I couldn’t do it without the girl who watches my son four times a week and my husband. I love my job, and I love my son. They are both important to me and I want to believe that I can do both. And, for now, it’s working.

10. How has design shaped you? Has it changed you in any way?

It shapes my identity in that I love being a creative person. I love that it goes into all aspects of my life. I love fashion, and I love thinking about fashion. I love how being creative can blend into baking or floral design. I love the whole world of creativity. Interior design encompasses me. It’s not an isolated part of myself. It goes into my life, everywhere.

Check out more of Russell’s designs below:

Master Bedroom

Kitchen Cambridge

Guest Bedroom

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