Her affinity for turning a house into a home inspired Dana Skotdal to start her own interior design firm, Merrill Interiors in 2002. Allowing us a peek into her beautiful home, she spoke exclusively with Upscale Living magazine about how she created her own dream space.
Dana, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you for talking with me! I live in Seattle, Washington with my husband and children. My perfect day would include playing tennis in the morning, working on an inspiring design project and hand drawing elevations (I love the hand drawing process), a walk with my dog, arranging floral bouquets from my garden to surprise a friend, and ending with a great meal and laughter with my family. There is nothing better than having all of them laughing together. An evening with good girlfriends and champagne also tops my list. If this perfect day could also include yoga, doing something creative like oil painting, and reading a great book, that would be amazing. If I could have a superpower, it might be bending time (or maybe not needing sleep?) to accomplish it all.
Did you have an influence in your youth that shaped your career path?
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by talented and creative people in my family and extended family, which helped cultivate my design aesthetic. I’ve always loved beautiful homes and gardens. As a kid, I loved to draw and always drew my ‘perfect’ bedroom or what I imagined my future home would look like. Not having smartphones, social media, or much in the way of television really was helpful in cultivating creativity. We had to imagine new worlds – there wasn’t the internet to show it to us!
Please tell us more about your home.
My family has been in our current home now for ten years. My husband and I had walked by this home for years. It was barely visible from the street, covered in trees and shrubs, in need of a lot of love. There was something intriguing about it, however, and when the opportunity to buy it arose, we realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It is a Normandy Tudor stone house with steel-framed windows, in an area where there are very few of those, so it is definitely unique. Initially, we cleared the overgrowth, ripped out the carpet, painted the interiors white, and just moved in. Our children were fairly small, so it worked for a few years while we fine-tuned the renovation plans. We could see that it could be a wonderful home for our family, for entertaining, and for our children to have a great place to bring their friends to enjoy the house and the yard.
You are an interior designer. Did you opt to do your home’s own interior design?
I did. I can walk into a space and almost see or hear what a home needs. When I first walked into this house, I immediately knew which walls needed to be opened up to give it a better flow, and what the ideal layout would look like. Very little in the final outcome deviated from my initial gut ideas. My husband has a great sense of architectural details as well, so we were a good team in determining how to proceed. I could sense this home reawakening after a long period of dormancy. During the remodel we dubbed it ‘The Sleeping Lady’.
How would you best describe your design style?
I can equally love a traditional or more contemporary home with a few key ingredients – soul, personality, comfort, and approachable elegance. I love a mix of antiques and more modern pieces. Clean, uncluttered lines contrasted with the character of an antique or vintage piece create such a beautiful look.
I am focused on exterior gardens and landscaping just as much as the interiors of a home. What can be seen from the windows of your home is equally important as what is inside.
Where/what/who inspires your design style?
There are so many incredible sources of inspiration. I’ve long been a fan of Carolyn Roehm’s style, both in homes and her stunning gardens. Ralph Lauren’s aesthetic shaped my childhood and created such an iconic version of American style. Bunny Mellon’s gardens and classic casual elegance set the tone for all future generations of American-style seekers and garden lovers. Traveling always infuses my creative energy, and through Instagram, I’ve been introduced to the styles of so many wonderful creative people in the world. Serena Crawford, from Cape Town, is one such inspiration. I love to follow along on her travels and design adventures. Lastly, I have a pretty wonderful group of highly creative friends in my circle, and I love gathering inspiration from them.
How do you keep things fresh and new in terms of decorating?
Every project and client is different, which keeps things interesting. Tapping into what they love and are inspired by is always a great starting point. Is there a beloved piece of art we need to incorporate? Does that sweet little antique chair need to be a focal point? I love textiles, old and new, and that often is a wonderful start for a client’s room or entire design scheme. Visiting new restaurants, hotels, and cities provides so much inspiration. Old classic movies and fashion reimagined; hip artists’ lofts in New York; even seeing what my kids are interested in and paying attention to on Instagram and TikTok. There is inspiration everywhere and reworking it into something new for each project is always a fun challenge.
Is there a specific color you are drawn to in interior design?
My family would tell you blue and white. It somehow seems to be part of every room in our home … I do love blues. Soft pale shades for bedrooms, and classic navy stripes for casual family spaces. But that is me personally. I always love a timeless neutral palette infused with a jolt of color or pattern. That color can vary by project or by geographic location.
Do you believe in repurposing?
Absolutely. I have recovered the same chairs and sofas we’ve dragged from home to home. When the frame and shape of an upholstery piece are good, it is well worth investing in reupholstery. I love pieces with history and patina. When clients have wonderful pieces, we always repurpose them when possible. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving something to a new room to give it a fresh look elsewhere. There is a special charm to having some pieces that don’t necessarily ‘match’. It keeps things more interesting than a gorgeous room full of all brand-new furniture and ensures that each home is truly unique.
Do you have any special heirloom pieces?
I love all my things but am becoming less attached to them as time goes by. I’ve slowly collected furniture in our home one piece at a time, and while I love most of them, there’s not much I’d save in a burning fire. My children’s art and family photos are irreplaceable so those would truly be my heirlooms. I have a few antique French mirrors that I will probably clutch with dying hands forever. I do love my blue and white Chinoiserie pieces. And my China collections … ok, so there are a few more things.
Which part of your home is your favorite?
During different seasons, different areas take center stage. In summer, I love sitting out on our bluestone patio looking at the gardens. In winter with the Christmas tree and a fire in the fireplace, our living room is the best place to be.
In which part of your home do you spend the most time?
The kitchen! Doesn’t everyone? It seems to be where all four of us spend the most time day in and day out. Luckily, I love the look and functionality of our kitchen. So, it seems, does the rest of the family.
You share your home with your husband, your two children, and your adorable Cavachon puppy, Theo. As an expert in your field, were you open to design suggestions from them?
Luckily my husband and I were mostly on the same page for our home design. My children had some ideas that were interesting, like adding a water slide from their rooms down to the pool, which sadly did not make the final design. Our dog Theo was not in our life when we designed the house, but he is small and adapted well to our existing layout. If I’d had a dog when we designed the exterior space near our mud room, I would have incorporated an aesthetically pleasing small fenced-in outdoor area for him.
Did your children navigate their own design style, interpreted by you?
They were both wonderful clients. Each had specific thoughts for their rooms, most of which we were able to incorporate. Kids’ rooms are always really fun to design because often there’s an opportunity to be a little more design-forward than the rest of the home.
Seeing life creatively has been such a gift. I always point out beautiful settings, architecture, and design inspiration to my kids. Hopefully noticing these details and gaining an appreciation for them will be imbued in their lives as it has been in mine. I love absorbing the details of beauty in the places I visit. Our recent first trip to South Africa provided so much inspiration, from the stunning scenery and topography of the Cape Peninsula to the colors of the landscape and the gorgeous animals we saw in the bush on safari. I cannot wait to come back and discover more. I’m constantly awed by all that is out there in the world, and love being able to gain new inspiration to bring home.