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Showroom

Crinkly Cushions and Sofa Skirts Make Carley Summers Feel at Home

Words by Morgan Goldberg
a kitchen with marble counter tops and white cabinets

Photography and design by Carley Summers

Carley Summers’ homes look like they belong to well-traveled people who have collected antiques over a lifetime of trips across France and Italy, but her journey wasn’t always as picturesque.

“I'll be 13 years sober from drug and alcohol addiction in 2024,” shares the Greenville, North Carolina-based interior designer. “I couldn't have imagined where I am now, designing million-dollar homes. I'm extremely grateful for where I am in my career.”

Of all Carley’s accomplishments, she’s especially proud of her book, Sacred Spaces, published last year. “We traveled to five countries to photograph different people and tell their stories about how homes can help heal us and be peaceful places for us from the outside world,” she says.

Today, Carley’s clients are fans of her eclectic European-meets-traditional aesthetic. This distinctive style is evident in her newly launched Showroom, which features her own tailored furniture collection, along with other special finds. Here, Carley shares her design secret sauce, the colors she’s loving right now, and more.

a living room filled with furniture and a painting on the wall

Photography and design by Carley Summers

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How I curated my Showroom

A few pieces in my Showroom are from my River & Bord furniture line. I took my grandfather's original sketches—he was a mid-century modern furniture designer in the fifties, sixties, and seventies—and recreated them. I added my eclectic European flair and paired them with mohair fabrics and fringe.

I like to pay attention to furniture lines and how they mesh with other pieces. In traditional design, there are good core elements that pair so well and easily together. That also goes for fabric. A gingham and a floral print can work nicely together because one is traditional and the other has earthy elements.

Another thing that's super important to me is great artwork—like vintage oil paintings—and classic light fixtures because once you mix those foundational traditional pieces together, you really can't go wrong. I added many vintage items, like a 1967 still-life oil painting that's absolutely incredible, and Murano sconces: they’re something I would use day in and day out in my client's houses.

a dining room with a table and chairs

Photography and design by Carley Summers

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What I love about collaborating with River & Bord

All of the furniture is made in North Carolina. The factory is only 10 minutes away from my house and employs over 200 local families, so it's incredible for our local economy, in terms of providing jobs. It feels like mom-and-pop, but it's helping so much more than what we see. Many of our materials are made from local trees and other sources, so it’s environmentally friendly. Every time you buy a piece of furniture, we plant a tree.

My go-to brands

Brunschwig & Fils is so good to me. The Bird and Thistle wallpaper and fabric is one of my all-time favorites. I'm always going to gravitate towards that brand, I source fabrics from them all the time. I like Nickey Kehoe, especially the Cove Dining Chair. Their pieces are transitional and interesting, but extremely timeless. Another brand I use all the time is Rush House. I have two of their rugs in my house and they're in all our client's houses.

I love Evolve Lighting Co. The patina of their metal is incredibly beautiful. I want to make sure that when I put a light fixture into a client’s home, it will age beautifully over time—I love unlacquered or raw brass for that. And I love In Common With. I'm also a huge fan of Schumacher. I always will be.

a living room with a couch a table and a mirror

Photography and design by Carley Summers

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What makes a room feel cozy

If your home doesn't have original oil paintings and furniture that looks comfortable to sit in, it doesn’t feel super inviting to me. Some designers might disagree, but I love crinkly feathered-down cushions that look like someone has sat there before, skirts that touch the floor, and tapestries on the walls that envelop you. That's what makes the space feel super cozy. I don't like pristine, perfect spaces.

The first thing I do when I design a room

I think about function first. I ask my client, ‘What do you want this room to be?’ I think about how people are going to sit in the space and look at each other. I often start with rugs and art to ground the room. Then, I pull the color scheme from those pieces. If a client has a family heirloom or a piece they adore, I can incorporate it into the space and build everything else around it.

a chair and a sheep in a room
a bathroom with a marble sink and gold fixtures

Photography and design by Carley Summers

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Colors I’m loving right now

Lately, I've been really into mauves and roses. And I'll always gravitate towards green and blue as my accent colors. It’s like the grass and the sky: they will never go out of style.

How I mix colors

I make sure that there's one underlying color that runs throughout the entire scheme. In my sunroom, I have a cranberry velvet sofa and all the other fabrics have floral patterns, but they all have a bit of cranberry in them. If one pillow has tons of blues and greens with a little bit of brown, the next pillow can have a majority of brown.

a bath room with a bath tub a sink and a mirror

Photography and design by Carley Summers

My secrets for a well-layered room

Every room needs to have pieces of history. It won’t feel well-layered if it's all from a store where you can walk in and buy something off the shelf. It won’t feel curated, loved, and lived in if there aren’t any pieces that have already lived. It needs to have antique side tables, rugs, and picture frames.

What I buy vintage versus what I specify new

Vintage art, a hundred percent—I also love supporting living artists, so if there is one you love, buy their work. I love vintage side tables and antique Persian rugs. Most of my upholstery is new. I have a furniture collection, so I’m spoiled in that I can specify what I want. My upholstery pieces are some of the best-made items I've ever owned. They’re going to last a lifetime.

a living room filled with furniture and a chandelier

Photography and design by Carley Summers

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A no-fail piece every space needs

Every space needs a mirror. They add reflection, light, and freshness anywhere: on a kitchen shelf, over a fireplace, or on a chest of drawers…

My go-to finishing touch

Flowers, for sure. I am staring at foxgloves, honeysuckle, and coral charm peonies as I speak. I buy them by the season. None of my spaces are done without a beautiful arrangement. Having a living element in a space makes it feel fresh and special.

a kitchen with a stove top oven sitting under a window

Photography and design by Carley Summers

What I love about The Expert

The Expert consultations have been a huge blessing to me. I did virtual consultations for years before I joined The Expert, but they were so challenging because clients had my email address and phone number. They felt like they never ended. The Expert has given me incredible boundaries with my clients. And it's been so special because we have a really good one hour knowing that we need to accomplish everything.

It's been an incredible experience being able to meet people all over the world, too. And I'm humbled that people want me to be their Expert out of all the incredible interior designers. My rate isn’t as high as others because I want to reach a different market—that's so important to me. I remember sleeping on a mattress on the floor, so I want my interior design to be approachable.

What’s next

I’m working on more launches with River & Bord. Hopefully, you'll be seeing a good-looking box pleat skirt on some of our furniture pieces soon, which I adore. Hopefully, one day I’ll write another book, but that is probably far away. I'm just trying to keep up being a working mom and wife.

a woman sitting on a red couch reading a book

Photography by Christina Cernik; Design by Carley Summers

Want personalized design advice from Carley Summers?
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Shop Carley's Showroom

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