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Design duo wants people to tap into their own styles

By Bethany Knipp

In the bright and modern office basement of a converted school in Keats, two women are on a mission to get people to decorate their homes without worry.

Friends Amanda Purdom, 39, of Manhattan and Eryn Smith, 34, of Keats started AsterHouse Design to help people make their distinctive tastes functional.

Before the creation of AsterHouse, Smith was working as a registered nurse in labor and delivery. Then she decided on a more artistic career path, and when circumstances made the time right, she and Purdom started AsterHouse in May of 2010.

It began when Smith took a break from nursing to raise her children and started decorating her own house. She taught herself design techniques by studying the work of other designers, and trying things at home. 

Smith already had begun helping others with their houses when she met Purdom, who had a background in art and art history.

“[The business] really started because other people would call and say, ‘I’ve seen what you’ve done with your house, can you come do the same thing at mine?’ ” Smith said.

Purdom previously had a retail business decorating customers’ homes.

Three years after AsterHouse’s birth, the pair is busy helping their clients be true to themselves.

“[People] are just afraid to do what they really want to do,” Purdom said.

Smith and Purdom said they’ve designed everything from a cattleman’s cave to a New York City loft for their clients.

They said they’ve even used Wedgewood Blue carpet for a home and it turned out to be exquisite, despite the fact that it’s different.

“If you love that, we’re going to use that and we’re going to make it work,” Purdom said. “That makes people excited and it challenges us.”

Yes, Purdom and Smith do have their own personal style.

“We love adding a lot of layers to things and having them look like they’ve been collected over time, as opposed to having them look like they just came off a showroom floor,” Smith said.

Purdom said she doesn’t like everything to look new, so she searches for antiques. She also wants to bring back an old trend: wallpaper.

“We’re gonna wallpaper this town one wall at a time,” she said.

Smith said that with all of the designs and textures out right now, the long-shunned decorative paper is making a comeback.

“That’s been so out for a long time, because it was so awful with the duck borders and tea roses on the wall,” she said. “People have spent so many years pulling it down and scraping walls that they’re like, ‘You’re never putting wallpaper in my house.’ ”

Smith said wallpaper is now being manufactured to be more easily removable.

The two are also fans of a “high low” technique, in which decorators take expensive pieces and mix them with things that reasonably cheap to trick the mind into thinking everything is expensive. 

Smith said it’s a good technique for budgeting.

Their own design aside, neither of the pair like the reality shows on HGTV – although Smith said the shows have made things interesting for the design business.

“It has opened it up to where the average person pays more attention to what’s in their home. But it has also done some damage from (the point of) realistic expectation, because people expect things to be done in 30 minutes on a budget of $500 or less,” she said.

She said people don’t see all the hours that are spent planning projects. They simply show up and seem surprised.

Purdom said the planning and work involved in redoing a room can be tedious. One of AsterHouse’s bigger projects took 18 months and one of their shorter ones took six to eight weeks, not including planning.

“It’s hundreds of hours of work that nobody sees, because it goes on behind the scenes and that’s what a lot of design is about,” Purdom said.

She said she and Smith spend about 25 percent of their time coming up with a design, and the rest of the time is turning their ideas into action – ordering material and sometimes having to send what they ordered back.

“If it’s not the couch, it’s the lamp,” Purdom said, “and I’ve had four broken lamps. That’s just the reality of working with 20 vendors. There’s always some hiccup and some snag.”

Ultimately, the two said, they want their clients to get a design that’s right for them, even if they’re a little afraid it won’t work.

“If you’re into red then let’s go for it,” Smith said. “Don’t be afraid because that’s not what’s in the Pottery Barn magazines right now.”

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