Shea McGee is co-founder of Studio McGee and star of Netflix’s “Dream Home Makeover.” She and husband Syd transformed Shea’s small room of fabric samples and design smarts into a fast-growing interior design business focusing on Southern California lifestyle. The McGees have a new book “Making Life Beautiful” and a new Netflix show “Dream Home Makeover.”
Shea McGee joined a recent Washington Post Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
A: I often see people incorporating too many trends. Classics are classics for a reason.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for a paint color for a master bedroom? We’re looking for a softer white that isn’t too stark. The room has a gray linen upholstered bed.
A: I would try White Dove, Swiss Coffee or Feather Down by Benjamin Moore or Alabaster by Sherwin-Williams. Test them on your wall to see what they look like throughout the day.
Q: When you put a television above a fireplace, where does the cable box go?
A: We often have electricians install a snake tube in the wall from the fireplace to a cabinet next to the fireplace so there are no visible cords. There are also ways to recess the cable box into the wall behind the television.
Q: What are some simple home improvements we can do to make our homes more appealing and comfortable without having installers come inside during the pandemic?
A: I would focus on furniture and styling. My first step in this process is to clear out all of the clutter that accumulates and leave yourself with the pieces you really love. It’s amazing what a difference just this step makes. A new rug and pillows go a long way in freshening up a space without having to build anything. If you’re up for a DIY project, painting your walls is a surefire way to change the way a home feels.
Q: In the Washington, D.C., area, our homes are smaller and older than the ones you have in Utah. Do you have any tips for adapting your beautiful style for our smaller-scale homes?
A: There are several concepts in our design style that can be applied to a home of any size. I love to use light neutral colors, such as soft whites and creams, on the walls in the main areas of a home, because they serve as a great backdrop to layer upon. My next tip is to layer natural textures; incorporate a natural jute rug, rustic wooden bowl or a woven basket. This adds a lot to a room. Don’t be afraid to go larger in scale, even if the home has a small footprint. Try a large piece of art for impact instead of several smaller pieces.
Q: How often do you look back at something you designed and have the desire to change it? I follow many design influencers, and although I see so many cool changes happening, I often wonder how realistic these changes are for someone like me, who has limited time and money. For example, I remodeled my kitchen three years ago with no design help. I love it and get compliments on it frequently, but I already want to change the wall paint and window treatments. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I think these small changes could make the room so much better.
A: I’m always looking at designs with new eyes and am guilty of wanting to change them fairly frequently. The beautiful thing about design is that it is very organic in nature and can evolve with you as your tastes evolve. I believe the three-year mark is a great time to change aspects such as furniture, decor, wall color or window treatments, but a little early to make big construction changes. Updating as you go instead of doing a huge renovation every 10 years helps spread the cost out over time.
Q: Our house faces northeast, and we have windows and natural light in each of the common areas of our home; however, it’s an old house, so there isn’t as much natural light pouring in like in most new builds. I want the walls painted in a warm white. How do you know if there isn’t enough natural light to use white paint? I’ve done some large swatches and moved them around at different times of day, but I’m so nervous to go for it after reading that in some homes, white can look drab and fall flat. Can artificial light supplement enough in these cases?
A: If you have windows, even if they aren’t flooded with bright light, that is enough to go for it. The key will be to find a white that doesn’t read too yellow or gray. I would recommend soft white lightbulbs for the best addition of artificial light. Daylight bulbs tend to make a space feel cold.
Q: We’re not sure if we like the idea of many small rooms on our first floor or if we want an open floor plan. This is our first home, and we’re not sure how much work each option requires.
A: It’s possible to meet in the middle. I love the feel of old homes with many small rooms, but I also think it’s nice to have some connection between the main spaces. This can be done by creating separation between rooms with architectural details such as moldings and arches, so everything doesn’t run together.
Q: I have a small galley kitchen in my condo with an entrance and exit, and I want to do a total remodel. I want the cabinets to go all the way up to the ceiling. What low-upkeep flooring can I install where cleaning the grout won’t be an issue? I also need to replace my slide-in stove. Do you have any suggestions? Should I deal with a contractor for a project this small?
A: Luxury vinyl plank wood-look flooring is probably the lowest-upkeep option. There are a lot of choices out there that look like real wood floors. When using a slide-in stove, ensure that the knobs are on the front instead of the back, because it gives a higher-end look. Make all your decisions and selections before bidding the project when working with a contractor. Otherwise, they will be guessing, and it’s difficult to be on the same page when that happens.
Q: We have a storage area in the basement with one wall that’s about 90 inches long, so there are three doors in a row to access it. We have a chance to replace the doors; they look really cheap. What should we replace them with? I’m thinking sliding doors, but are there options I should check out?
A: I would do pocket doors or large double doors. A pair of doors of any style, such as pocket, barn or French doors, will give you an updated look.
Q: Our exterior is brick and wood siding, but we want to modernize it. What color should we use?
A: I would probably paint the brick and siding all one color. Try a creamy white, such as Swiss Coffee by Benjamin Moore, or a very soft putty color. You could also go really dark and moody on the brick and siding with a crisp white trim.
Q: What are the easiest updates that would make the biggest impact on a rental home that’s builder-grade?
A: Use furniture, rugs and artwork to bring the space to life. You’ll have all those pieces to take with you to your new home when you move. I always changed out the pendants in our rental kitchens and dining rooms to make those spaces feel less builder-grade, if the owner was OK with it.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of your design process?
A: Making decisions on where to push clients to take risks and where to play it safe. I always want to make our clients happy and also try new things in our designs. It can be a bit of a juggling act.
Q: I would love to change the kitchen in the home I’ve lived in for 30-plus years to make it more aging-in-place friendly. It has the typical stove with microwave above it, a corner sink and a refrigerator making the triangle. Is it possible to redo this and put in a range top and a wall oven and microwave, so I don’t have to bend for the stove?
A: You can certainly do that if you have the wall space. I would buy a stacked oven and microwave, so everything doesn’t end up too spread out.