10 Questions with Interior Designer Rebecca Wilson

Wilson talks about some fond memories, tips for spring sprucing, and her No. 1 inspiration.

A look at a bedroom designed by Rebecca Wilson.

A look at a bedroom designed by Rebecca Wilson / Photo provided

Rebecca Wilson brings inviting charm to every space she encounters. Her rich textures and layers of detail make her designs perfect for anyone looking to add a little bit of extra warmth in their home. We got some tips from the designer on how to brighten up a space for spring and more.

1. What led you to Boston after growing up in the South?

I married someone from New York City, and we lived there for a couple of years. And when we were ready to have a family, we wanted to live somewhere not so urban. We looked in the Southeast first, and this [Boston] is where he found a job. We had been to Boston quite a few times and really liked it. We had never come in the winter. But I’ve come to love it. My children were born here and raised here. This is their home. Except for the hard parts of the winter, I like it a lot.

2. How has your southern upbringing influenced your design style?

In the South, there’s a pretty intense sense of history and roots and home. When people ask me where I’m from, I always say Louisiana instead of Needham—even though I’ve lived here for 30 years. So, it’s a part of me that really never leaves. And there’s a sense of history, of your home as a refuge, of layers of time. I think that all makes it important to create homes for people, and for myself, that have a soul, that create a place for life to happen.

3. Do you remember your first project as a professional?

It was a house in Newton, and the woman was lovely. It was a really great first client. She had a family—an active family, young children. Everything she had was white because she said she just was afraid of trying anything else, so she always went with white. She had a white rug under her dining room table and a white sofa in her living room, which were not the most practical things for her family. She was a very down-to-earth person. She wanted her family to be comfortable. She was very open to my ideas, so she was, in a lot of ways, the perfect client.

4. Do you have a favorite project or memory from your career?

Of course, I love my home. That’s one of my favorites because it’s exactly the way I want and makes me feel so comfortable and relaxed and happy to be there. But I also did a condo for a single dad. And he had five daughters. So, it was an interesting project because it had to be masculine enough for him to feel comfortable, and yet, have a place where his daughters felt very much at home. He, too, had a lot of trust. That one, I could pretty much do whatever I liked. I hit a home-run in the very beginning. I brought two large framed photographs—one of the Brooklyn Bridge and one of Paris. And one of his daughters had done a semester abroad in France and another one lived in New York. So, those two photographs spoke to his soul. From then on, he was ready to trust me with the whole thing. He was very, very happy, as were his children, and they were able to use the space how he envisioned it. The goal of having him have a happy place was achieved.

5. One of the services you provide is to refresh a space using what a client already has. What goes into that process?

The way I start any project is I’ll have a client walk me through the entire house—whether they’re interested in having me do the whole house or not. I ask them to talk to me about what’s working and what’s not working for them. That does a number of things: It gives me a sense of what makes them comfortable even if they can’t express their style. It also tells me how they use the house and what’s important in that perspective. In the same process, if I see things, artwork or furniture that would work better in a different area, I’m able to catalog that in my mind. Typically, when I’m just refreshing a space, we’ll take everything out of the room that’s easily movable. What that does is it gives a client a new look at the room. I find that, often, when they’re not happy with the space, they just start throwing stuff at it. They go buy more stuff and put it in and hope that, that fixes it. And, in fact, that almost never works. So, I edit it carefully. It’s easier for clients to put things back, carefully, than to take things out. So we clear the deck and can put everything back in if need be. But I ask them what are the important things? Then, we can rearrange things so that it works better. It’s a step-by-step process. And I’m talking the whole time about why I’m doing it and why it makes for sense for the space. Then, I’ll write a design plan for things that still need to be done that covers the big picture, so they can see how every piece fits in.

6. What tips do you have for someone looking to brighten up their home for spring?

One of the ways, actually, is to take things away. So, if you’ve had a really comfortable throw and some Chenille pillows on your sofa, then I would take those out—if you want to lighten it up and make it feel fresh. I often use natural woven shades on my windows, and if those were made of a darker, heavier fabric, I would take those off. I love the color orange. I’m crazy about orange. And I have been since way before it was popular. I always think that adds a breath of fresh air to places. Light is really important. Windows can be open wide. And there should really be enough lighting in the room to bring it to life.

7. Your designs have such warmth and richness. What are some ways you create that warm, inviting feel?

Texture, color, and lighting I would say are the three essential ingredients. I like to combine textures. I think it gives a room a sense of depth and history in the sense that it feels like you didn’t just go out and buy everything and plop it in the room. There’s a sense that, over time, each piece was well loved and contributes to the whole. One of my pet peeves is sets of furniture, like bedroom sets and office sets. I don’t think it has any soul. I like it to be that each piece is loved, and it’s in there because it’s loved. Color is important. It doesn’t have to be a warm color. It can be a blue or a green or cool color. But the way the colors work together gives the room warmth and makes it feel welcoming. I think telling a story is important. How is this room used? What does it say about this family? And lighting is huge because without the right lighting, nothing works in design. It really makes or breaks the whole design. The other thing that’s really important is not to have too much stuff. Have every piece be loved and be there for a reason.

8. Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?

I’d say my sister. She’s always been able to create a beautiful and welcoming home. And she continues to inspire me. Of course, I’m always inspired my design magazines and design centers. I’m always open to inspiration—architecture and the colors in nature and all of that is a constant inspiration. But I’d say that she’s been the main, consistent one over time. She gets that warm, welcoming sense of home as a refuge—all those Southern things that I enjoy bringing to the cold Northeast.

9. When starting a new project, what do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

I ask my clients to start collecting pictures of things they like, and even things they don’t like. It’s often difficult for a client to speak in visual terms, to communicate exactly what they mean to say. I also bring photographs to stimulate their thoughts on a space. I start, always, with walking through the entire house and getting a sense of what they’re looking for. Often, it’s not so much the words they say as just being in the space with them and picking up on signals that tell me why they’re happy in the space and why they’re not. Then, to get inspiration for color and style, I often start with something that they really love. It may be a piece of art or it might be a rug—those kinds of things that give me a jumping-off point.

10. Do you ever have clients with opposing views for a space? How do you bring them together?

I think the first thing is that they need to be in the room together. A lot of times a client will call, and the wife wants to make the appointment, and the husband isn’t going to be there. I ask how does your husband feel about the project? What is he looking for? A lot of times they do have opinions, and there are obviously things that they want to see happen. That’s when I say he needs to be at the meetings. Then, I need the two of them there together, so we can talk about the whole thing together.  That’s essential. Then, I can talk to them both and say why don’t we do this, which works with your style and to the other say we could also do this, which incorporates your style. And, often, that’s all it takes. It’s an acknowledgment and an acceptance of each style and showing them how they, in fact, can work together.