Living Room Style | Modern-Traditional

This living room design came together as such a beautiful fusion of modern and traditional style, we couldn’t wait to share all the details with you. Although we work with clients all over the Eastern US, our studio and home base is in the heart of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and we love it when we get a chance to create beautiful spaces right here in our hometown. We’ve got so much love for our local community here, and these homeowners were a true delight. Infusing their classic Chapel Hill home with lots of charm and beautiful, modern touches was a designer’s dream.

Small side table in Chapel HIll Living Room - Cat French Design

Classic + Timeless

For our readers near and far, we’ll share just a little bit about homes ’round these parts. Every area of the country has unique architecture and aesthetics (one of the things that makes design so wonderful!), and North Carolina is no exception. Chapel Hill, as well as other parts throughout North Carolina, have many homes with beautiful, traditional elements, many of which you’ll see throughout this space- features like classic mantels, crown molding, wainscoting, and pillars. You may remember some of this from their gorgeous Dining Room, which we showed you in our last post! One of our favorite views below:

Navy Beaded Chandelier - Catherine French Design

A Function of Great Design

Let’s dig right into this beautiful Living Room. This space is a hub of activity in this home- it’s both a family space for relaxing and connection, in addition to also serving as a more formal living room. It’s directly adjacent to the family eat-in area and is open to the entryway and kitchen. From a function standpoint, it’s like so many areas of our homes in that it fills multiple roles and sees a lot of traffic- lounging, conversation, entertaining- this design needed to do it all! The other design challenge in this space was to create a fresh, inspired aesthetic while also incorporating several existing pieces – AND, keep our eyes on function (i.e. not just beautiful, but a truly comfortable and usable space). We know great design lives in not just amazing-looking spaces, but true LIVE-ability. Similar to their Dining Room, these homeowners have the most fabulous taste, and they wanted to keep some of the beautiful pieces they already had in the space as part of the new design.

Updated swivel and mantel in a wonderful living room design - Catherine French Design

The Perfect Surrounding

The fireplace is a focal point in this room (and visible from many other parts of the house as well), so we wanted to give it some extra design attention. We brought in custom woodworker extraordinaire Thompson Millwork to craft a custom fireplace surround. They took our design and brought it to life, making a truly beautiful, unique piece for this home. Their work on this was pristine (as always!) and the final product was the perfect combination of clean-lined and intricate, with each detail absolutely perfect. The crisp white finish of the mantle and fireplace surround seated beneath a stunning piece of abstract art ties in both the classic charm and modern detail of the space.

Modern blue rug in traditional home - Catherine French Design

Light + Fusion

To enhance that custom fireplace even further, we decided to get creative with a classic lighting feature- the sconce. This beloved fireplace accouterment is as timeless as they come- and for good reason! A beautiful sconce set brings light, warmth, and style to the ensemble. The long, sleek lines of this unique style also serve to lift the gaze to the mantel and highlight that eye-catching large art piece. The layered mixed metal finish paired with an angular shade is the perfect design-forward take on these fixtures, elegantly bringing together the core elements of the living room design and beautifully weaving together modern, traditional, and classic.

Modern Traditional sconce in Chapel Hill Living Room - Catherine French Design

Design Synthesis

Designing around existing pieces in a space presents a unique angle in a project, but it’s something we truly enjoy and do for so many clients. We’re always thinking about the big picture and how we can create a robust vision where these pieces will appear to effortlessly fall into place, and it all comes down to a lot of strategy on our end, and perfecting that custom living room design Master Plan. The couch and coffee table were a set that the homeowners wanted to incorporate into the design, but the seating area didn’t feel complete just yet. We designed a completely custom leather chair to round out the room shape and seating configuration. It was a DREAM to sit in, but also featured a low-profile back and swivel, which made it perfect for this spot in the living room where flow and visibility were key. We could go on about the gorgeous steely gray leather, but for now, let’s just say it was a big win all around!

Design Frontrunner

In the open space that merges the living room, kitchen, and hallway areas, we wanted to bring some great design flow and purpose. To do this we honed in on crafting a color story to move the eye through the transition space between the kitchen and the living room. Designing a custom carpet runner for the stairs achieved this beautifully, perfectly bridging the blue hues in the living room with the adjacent kitchen. We love how it pops against the hardwood and adds depth to the space.

Tones in Harmony

The champagne-toned transitional style console was another show-stopping piece that brought a touch of glam and a ton of visual interest to the space. We fell in love with the look of mixed metals and chrome throughout this room, and the finish of this console was the perfect warm, soft complement to the other surrounding metallic tones. Custom designed pillows in rich blues and sophisticated patterns bring together the plush neutral of the couch upholstery with the cool-toned hues in the rug, walls, and art. Deep blues and greens paired with gold and chrome throughout give the entire living room design a sleek, polished finish.

Custom pillows and navy decor accents in Living Room Design - Cat French Design

Hand in Hand

One of the strong undercurrents of this design was bringing multiple pieces and elements into a cohesive vision. Strategic design allowed us to integrate these homeowner’s loved pieces with new furnishings, we love the way new fabrics and textures, beautiful art, and some stunning, creative lighting gave this entire room a brand new feel and look. The design intersection of modern and inventive + traditional and classic is one that we always find inspiring, creative, and rewarding for both our team and our clients. We loved making this space a perfect place for these homeowners to enjoy for a lifetime.

Want to see more recent projects? Check out even more images of CFD designs on our Portfolio Page! Have questions about transforming your own space? We’re here to help, and we’re only a message away- you can always reach us at or via our Contact Page. For more of the goings-on and happenings of this busy team, follow us on Facebook or in real-time over on Instagram at @catfrenchdesign!

Dining Room Design: Sip and Savor with Style

It’s a BRAND-NEW project, and we are so excited to share it with you! The dining room was only part of this gorgeous home design, but as the holidays approach, there’s no better time to share this beautiful gathering place. Whether you are having a small gather or hosting this year, there’s plenty to be said for making it a beautiful, inviting space (especially this year, as a lot of us are staring at our own rooms more than we have in years past). This project was unique in that it was a true fusion of traditional, classic elements with a modern, inspired style. So come along for a seat at the table, and we’ll tell you all about this gorgeous space.

Dining Room - Cat French Design Southern Village Chapel Hill

Function + Beauty

The dining room may not be the most highly trafficked room in the house, but for many of us it’s actually one of the rooms we enjoy the most. It’s where so many memorable times, great meals, and special occasions take place. And, it is often one of the first rooms we see when we enter a home, and can even set the tone for the rest of the home. This means we want it to be not only highly functional as an eating/entertaining space, but ALSO have that eye-catching, can’t-stop-staring gorgeous look. Here in the studio, we are always excited to create a beautiful dining room design, and there is so much to love about this modern-traditional stunner. Like many of our clients, this lovely homeowner had some special pieces of furniture that she wanted to keep in place- in this case, a large dining room table, rug, and a beautiful china cabinet.

The Dining Room Challenge

Integrating existing pieces isn’t always as easy as it might seem, especially in the context of a multi-room project. When it’s completed as part of a full home design, the overall objective is to create a beautiful, cohesive design flow throughout the series of connected spaces. Creating a visual aesthetic that makes sense means carefully (and strategically) making a plan that will bring those existing pieces into the vision with purpose and intention. We always ask clients, “what’s your design challenge?”, and so often they tell us that figuring out how to design around existing pieces is at the top of the list.

Dining Chair - Cat French Design Chapel Hill

When the Bones are Good

Bringing in bold, rich blue to tie in the classic rug with the rest of the house was a great place to start. This gorgeous dining table was a keeper for this couple, so we honed in the design powers on how to elevate it into a fresh look. When the bones are good, outfitting those chairs with brand new fabric can elevate the entire space. This beautiful custom upholstery brought vibrant, fresh texture and tone to the entire space. We love how the clean color pops with the rug and adds just the right amount of modern against the classic elements.

Blue Reupholstered Chairs  - Cat French Design Chapel Hill

Light Matters

Let’s talk about that LIGHT! Y’all, we could do an entire post just about this fixture. A creative design choice for a modern-traditional blend, this beaded chandelier brings SO much design dynamic to the space. We created this as a fully custom piece, and everything from the beading to the color to the textured wrap we chose by hand. The classic shape echoes the traditional-style elements in the furniture as well as the beautiful wainscoting and trey ceiling. The bold blue of the beading brings in an element of modern trend, along with just the right hint of flair and playfulness. We couldn’t love it more.

Navy Beaded Chandelier  - Cat French Design Chapel Hill

Peripheral (Design) Vision

While we love a chandelier that makes a statement, the right wall decor can truly enhance and elevate a space even further. The impact of a stunning light fixture paired with creative wall art is one of our favorite ways to layer in depth, dimension and beauty to a room. We share some in this post about how large art can transform a space, and for this dining room, a unique, eye-catching piece was in order. But, wall art doesn’t always have to a framed print or a painting on a canvas. There are so many creative, unique design options to explore, whether that’s bringing in something completely new, or looking for a way to bring in an existing piece to an updated, fresh design. These homeowners have fabulous taste, and we were thrilled to see they had this beautiful structural art piece waiting in the wings. The layers, shape, and flow are both nuanced and gorgeous, with the delicate gold detail adding a touch of glam we love for formal dining.

Dining Room Decor - Cat French Design Chapel Hill

A Place at the Table

We love to say in the studio “design is in the details”, and it couldn’t be more true when it comes to finishing touches in the dining room. That place setting is where so much style can live. These unique touches not only polish and complete the space, but bring purpose to the entire room and create that inviting feel that we love. A little bit of classic blue paired with some modern, sleek gold edging makes this a beautiful table set for any holiday gathering.

Dining Room Table Setting - Cat French Design Chapel Hill
Tablescape - Cat French Design Chapel Hill

There’s SO much more to show you! We love every room of this incredible home design, and we can’t wait to share more. In the meantime, you can see more images from CFD projects on our Portfolio Page. For more in-the-moment happenings of this busy design team, catch up with us on Facebook or Instagram @catfrenchdesign. Have questions about your own space? We’re here to help. Reach out to us at or via our Contact Page.

Falling for Orange: Design Color Crush

Fall color is all around, and today we wanted to give some much-deserved love to orange -inspired design. While we don’t always think of this hue as a traditional staple of the home design color palette, orange can be so much more than just an October one-off. When placed with creativity, art, and skill, it’s a design bombshell that can bring glamour and glow to any space.

Orange throw pillow - Cat French Design Chapel HIll

Creative Color, Artist- Style

This is the perfect time to talk about a really special past project. Although we show some selected scenes from it here and there, we haven’t blogged about it in a long while, and over the years it’s become a tried-and-true beloved favorite among the CFD client community. A little bit of backstory here- this was actually one of Cat’s earliest residential projects, right out of graduate school. It was a large redesign of a gorgeous classic home in a charming historic neighborhood. We call it “The Artists’ Retreat” because Cat designed the full house interior as a beautiful, synergistic fusion of style for a well-known artist in the community, and her partner who was a talented musician. As with all of the CFD designs, it’s inspired by the personalities and passions of the homeowners themselves, and you can see hints of them both throughout each room.

That Perfect Palette

This was a rich, inspired interior home design with multiple layered elements, but one of the most fascinating design components was the use of orange, coral, and blush tones as the undercurrent of the aesthetic. Although folks may not typically think of the orange color-family as necessarily one that would grace every room in a house, it created an incredible and unique style throughout this home. Crafted with artistry and style, orange hues became the fabric of the design itself. This warm but bold color palette created a gorgeous vision that is equal parts stunning, vibrant, and cozy all at the same time- and it starts right with that show-stopping coral front door.

Orange front door  - Cat French Design Chapel HIll

Color Chemistry

One of our favorite ways to talk about color is redefining the role of “accent” and “neutral”. In the traditional sense, we may think of neutral colors as soft, subtle, and lightly pigmented, while an accent color would be bright or visually intense. But Cat’s knack for hues is such that when she’s creating a custom design, she can choose most any tone in the color wheel and decide whether it will read as neutral or bold in a room. There’s nothing formulaic about it, but rather so much art and chemistry are woven together into a fully custom color vision- all part of that design master plan. There are many lovely demonstrations of this exact color-play throughout this project, but a couple of our favorites are the living room and the den. In the formal living room, the peachy-coral toned walls actually serve as a color base and infuse the room with a soft glow against the steely gray, deep green, and gorgeous black pieces. Paired with some incredible coral-colored glass decor and accents, it’s a stunning vision that just never stops drawing you in.

Orange patterned throw pillow  - Cat French Design Chapel HIll

Similarly, the den is a skillful balance in color, with complementing and contrasting colors interwoven throughout. That deep teal behind the built-ins and above the windows takes most of the bold credit, but hints of orange tucked into the upholstery and decor layer in the perfect tone, depth, and contrast. Full of visual interest, this space is everything cozy, while still filled with so much personality and design flair.

Bright Dining

There’s everything to love about this breakfast nook! In this room, the soft gray walls set the tone, letting that perfect, ripe orange hue steal the show. With statement wall art complemented by an artfully-placed central light fixture, it’s the perfect punch of color and an infusion of design energy and style from every angle.

Orange pendent light  - Cat French Design Chapel HIll
Orange accent plates  - Cat French Design Chapel HIll

Big Color, Small Space

The powder room in this house has got so much style and charm, all centered around those beautiful coral hues. When considered carefully, a rich tone and pattern can live in a small space and have a gorgeous, polished effect. This petite bathroom was a perfect spot to showcase an incredibly unique, artistic wall choice. This koi wallpaper, paired with sleek chrome lighting and clean white porcelain fixtures came together beautifully- the perfect balance of movement, shape, and color. We love the peek you get from the hallway and the way it meets your line of sight from the beautiful coral front door.

Fish wall paper - Cat French Design Chapel Hill
amazing front entry  - Cat French Design Chapel HIll

The Art of Orange Serenity

If there was ever a scene that showed orange at it’s most versatile, one that we love is in the bedroom. You saw a little piece of the blue-and-orange guest suite up in the first photo, but this bedroom deserves a feature too. This room is so incredibly peaceful, but still every bit as unique as colorful as the rest of the home. Orange plays the role of a warmth-giving complement to deep grays and dusky plums. The chemistry is so perfect with the blend of tones and patterns (that rug!!). We can’t get enough of the serene feel of the burnished + bright orange tones.

Creative Space

For this home, in particular, creative and inspired spaces were a must. Bringing the orange color palette throughout meant defining this home office space with an incredible blush rug that pulls your eye through the room. The soft fabrics, subtle upholstery, sleek desk and lighting, are the perfect combination. We also love the details in here- everything from the gorgeous floral pillow that brings in a bit more brightness to the unique orange-striped teapot.

Fall and Beyond

The orange color family is always a winning go-to for fall decor- and for good reason! But we’re forever-fans of this tone for so much more. When placed with intention and purpose, an orange-inspired collection of hues can have a place in your home design all year ’round. From warm to bright to spicy, it can add an incredible element of style and interior design color-harmony that we never stop loving.

See more images from this beautiful project on our Portfolio Page! If you’re digging all things Color-October, also check out some of our other color-love posts here and here. Have questions about designing your own color story? We’re here to help! Give us a shout at, or reach us via our contact page. For more of the happenings and goings-on of this busy team, follow us on Facebook or catch up with us on Instagram @catfrenchdesign!

Designing Wall Color: Why We Love the Paint Consultation

Y’all, we are excited! (all the jazz hands emojis over here!). It’s no secret that we love color in design, especially wall color. And in this time of year that is all about change and transition to new autumn hues all around, we get even more dazzled by the way color can transform a room, a vision, and the entire home. The science and theory behind the perfect color choice for each space is something that we never stop exploring, and continues to be one of the most requested interior design services in our studio year after year. So this month seemed like the perfect time to post it up about all things colorful design, and how we can help you find the perfect hues that you will love for a lifetime.

Amazing Wall Color on this wood siding - Cat French Design Chapel Hill NC

The Paint Color Consultation

Of the many design services we offer, one of the most long-standing favorites is the Paint Consultation (we talked a bit about this in this post, too!). Most of our services fall under the umbrella of Full-Service Interior Design, but the Paint Consultation is so popular that we’ve kept offering it as one of our only one-time consultations. We continue to get referrals from painters all over who have customers looking for help figuring out the right color combination, and they send ’em straight our way. Clients love this service because it’s SO helpful- whether it’s interior or exterior painting you’re having done, it’s a big commitment, and getting it right matters. Having Cat in your space and choose the right paint colors for your specific house makes SUCH a huge difference- homeowners tell us they not only enjoy this process but breathe a huge sigh of relief at having a plan in place for beautiful wall colors within one session.

The perfect Wall Color - Cat French Design Chapel Hill NC

A Personal Paint Story

I recently went through this process myself, and Cat asked me to share about it here on the blog. For those of you who don’t know, I’m Sarah P (also known as “other Sarah,” not to be confused with the amazing Sarah Hamlett!). Among other communication-related things, I help Cat with the blog- she and I have been friends for a long time and have also worked together in the past. She knew I had been planning and saving to repaint most of the interior of my own house for about 3 years, and when it was finally time to get it done, trying to choose colors on my own turned out to be extremely overwhelming. We have a lot of large blank walls and a partially-open layout that is tricky for color transitions. So, I lured Cat to my house under the guise of Mexican food and a plant shopping trip, and being the good friend that she is, she kindly agreed to take a look at some colors with me while she was here.

Selecting the best combinations of wall colors - Cat French Design Chapel Hill NC

The Wall Color Process

The majority of our house was a sandy yellow-beige flat paint, which had been in here long before we moved in- probably since the house was built…. so, that paint was about 13 years old (yikes, I know). There’s nothing at all wrong with beige, but since it was in almost every room, we were over it. I had some general ideas about color- i.e., “blue is nice!”…. but that was about it. I had originally thought we would just paint all the rooms the same gray, but Cat quickly dissuaded me from that notion- and I’m SO glad she did. After she arrived she whipped out her paint sample deck and set about the house. She carefully assessed the lighting, the angles, the floors, art, and the furnishings that we already have- efficiently taking in and synthesizing all the details. She started to pull out colors, and in a truly wizard-like fashion, it just started to come together. Before I even knew it, she had a beautiful line-up of colors laid out, including this amazing icy blue with a hint of teal for the study.

Building the Vision

Cat knows that my husband and I enjoy the outdoors, and she instinctively based a lot of the palette on some of the photos that we have in the home of our favorite backpacking trips from years past- incredible sunsets, mountains peaks, beautiful valleys we saw during our journeys. She created our color story not just to highlight our current furnishings, but also to resonate with what we remember as some of happiest times of our life. I had originally thought we would land on a blue-green color scheme of sorts, but she had a vision that would make it much more unique. When she initially suggested a lavender-toned white for the foyer and living room, a deep, moody purple for the powder room, and a rich, bold navy for the dining room- well, I was nervous! But she knows exactly how to help you see the bigger picture, and I knew enough to trust in her talent and experience, and let her work her magic. That was the smartest thing I could have possibly done, because every room turned out incredible, and now that gorgeous night-sky plum bathroom is just about my favorite thing EVER.

A Moody Wall Color - Cat French Design Chapel Hill NC

Color Theory, Color Love

I’ve been writing about Cat’s work for a while now and trust me, I’ve seen her and the team do many incredible things- but having the experience myself was still nothing short of AMAZING. It’s hard to describe the talent that she has with color (especially wall color)- it’s probably best quantified as equal parts artistry coupled with a superpower level of design intuition- and a true desire for people to love their space. She’s told me before that her foundation in color theory started way back in studio art class, where mixing her own colors to replicate classic works of art taught her about the importance of undertones in creating a color story. As a non-designer, that was a bit lost on me at the time, BUT, once the painting was actually done and I got to see the full transformation, I had a whole new understanding of what she meant. It really is an art and a skill to create a completely original paint combination that brings your entire home together. The first person to see the house after it was painted was my mother-in-law, and the first words out of her mouth were, “These are the most beautiful colors I could ever imagine.” That about says it all, and I couldn’t agree more.

But there’s much more to talk about than just paint- We’ve got so many color-amazing things coming your way this month and throughout this fall! In the meantime, check out our Portfolio Page for more of Cat’s signature color stories. Interested in a Paint Consultation? You can always reach out to us via the link below!

Have questions about adding wall color to your space? We’re here to help! Give us a shout at or via our Contact Page. Tell us what kind of wall color ideas you have and we can help. For more of the happenings and goings-on of this busy team, catch up with us on the Catherine French Design Facebook Page, or on Instagram @catfrenchdesign.

Designing Your Home Office: Cat’s Pro Tips

Whether working from home is your normal routine or something you’ve been adapting to over the last few months, creating the right space makes a big difference. Especially when many of us are also navigating the tall task of converting our home into a makeshift schoolhouse, our own home work area may have taken a backseat. Giving that workspace some focused attention can go a long way toward making the days more pleasant, and we wanted to share a few of our favorite tips and tricks for giving the home office some TLC.

Lighten and Brighten

Bringing in great lighting is one of the first things we suggest for an office area. It gives the space an instant lift, and keeping things at the right brightness throughout the daily grind can help with consistency, focus, and even productivity.  Natural light is ideal (especially orienting yourself so that a window is in your line of sight), but not always accessible for every space.  Consider a quality, appropriately-sized desk lamp that adds something to the space- perhaps a fun shape, interesting texture, or a bright color. You can even outfit it with a full-spectrum bulb for a bigger energy-lifting boost. 

an inspiration board in a home office - cat french design

Sit and Stand

A giant spacious desk and plush wheely office chair may not be an option at home- a lot of us are making do with space and furniture that we already have, and making it work with whatever will actually fit in our space.  But sitting for 8 hours in that old folding chair from the garage won’t do your back any favors, either!  No one does their best work when they’re physically uncomfortable, so try to find a chair with good support, or even better- sit on a large yoga ball. It’s an inexpensive option that will fit behind most desks, and it’s awesome for your joints. Sit-to-stand desks are something to consider, too- you can use them while sitting and then effortlessly elevate them when you need a standing break (about every 45-50 minutes).  If there was ever a time to invest in one, it’s now! Your body will thank you for the extra comfort and movement.  

turn a music room in to a home office - cat french design

Green it Up

It’s no secret that we love some greenery around here- and for good reason! Plants can add to a space in so many different ways- and believe it or not, keeping your spirits up during endless hours of zoom calls can also be one of them. Working from home can be isolating for anyone, and especially for folks who are more accustomed to a busy office. Having a green friend around can do wonders for the mood, and provide some much needed natural “scenery” that our eyes and our brains greatly appreciate.  Don’t let the fear of maintenance hold you back- even something like a tiny snake plant or a small pothos can do the trick, and they can basically survive anywhere. If you have little more sunlight in your space, a friendship plant is the happiest of additions. Get a pot you really like, and let it live right there beside your laptop where it can purify the air and radiate some good plant energy as you type away.

adding in plants to your home  - cat french design

Making it Yours

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Design Sessions- Spaghetti Day at the Studio!

Today we’re giving an insider-look at something we’ve never shared before- the infamous “Spaghetti Day” at the studio. Our clients tell us over and over how much they love this part of the process, and it’s one of our favorite ways to open the door to deep creativity and true personalization on each custom project. We’ll show you the magic behind this unique monicker, and all the teamwork that goes into making this term synonymous with BIG design sessions at the CFD studio.

Our spaghetti day room - cat french design

Reinventing the Recipe

If you’ve been following for a little bit, you know one of the facets of the CFD way is full custom design- meaning that every client, every space, every design concept- we’re planning and executing from scratch. One of the biggest reasons we do this? Because it serves our clients in the best way possible- to make a space that is the perfect fit for them. But, that also means there is a lot (a LOT) of time, strategy, artistry, and creative elbow-grease that goes into each design because no two are ever alike, and that’s a good thing. Although we create custom designs day in and day out, each project has a vision and a scope and a life of its own- it’s design reinvented, and we love to break the mold one unique space at a time.

All about Taste

We start to lay the groundwork for each design starting with that very first conversation we ever have with a client, but much of the critical design direction happens when we get them into the studio. Beforehand, we take the time to collect information and images about what our clients find beautiful, inspirational, comfortable, and meaningful. This can be everything from “I’ve always wanted a super comfortable armchair” to “my dream is a chef’s kitchen” and literally everything in between. A dedicated playroom with storage everywhere? That gorgeous dining room picture you clipped from a magazine and have held onto for years? Yes and yes. We want to see it all, because what matters to our clients exactly where we want to start. Building on everything they want for their space is how we create a vision that’s fully unique to them.

reviewing selections prior to a design session in the CFD studio - Cat french design

The Key Ingredients

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La Vita Dolce Part 3 – The Final Reveal

YES, the final reveal is here, and it’s love at first sip for this gorgeous Chapel Hill coffee house design. We’re so glad you’ve been enjoying these posts, and if you’re catching up on this series, we’ve been taking a tour of the one and only La Vita Dolce Cafe at Southern Village (see Part 1 and Part 2 here!). This beautiful complete interior redesign was a collaboration of CFD and amazing local entrepreneur Annie Johnston. Along with a team of superhero industry pros, we brought vision, life, and all the chic vibes to this beloved Chapel Hill spot. Today we’re going to dig into more behind-the-design challenges and solutions, design strategy, and all the details that made it picture perfect. So let’s clink those cappuccinos and make our way to the final design finish.

Design in Business

When we’re looking at commercial interiors, there’s quite a bit more than meets the eye. We talk a lot about business design in this post, but creating a business interior is more than just a beautiful finish. It’s also about creating an image that aligns with the business’s individual goals and values and showcasing their unique brand. And especially important when it comes to a place where customers spend time- we’re creating an inviting, memorable space where people WANT to be. A perfect cafe concept certainly has a lot to do with aesthetics, but it’s also critical to establish and curate the way a space feels when you’re there. Annie had already worked incredibly hard to establish a meaningful community spot at La Vita Dolce, and it was our job to reflect that in every detail of the design.

New Paint and banquette in La Vita Dolce - Cat French Design

At First Sight

The first thing that greets your eye when you enter a space matters – a LOT. Especially in places where there are multi-use areas (think ordering, paying, sitting, etc). It’s not something that we’d normally think about too much as a customer, but when we’re getting down to the science of good design, the flow in a commercial space is critical- and it all begins with where your eye goes the second you step through the door. For La Vita Dolce, one of the major tasks on the must-have list was centering the space and creating a focal point. Remember that gorgeous arch that was crafted by Thompson Millwork? It’s for more than just looks, y’all! It was also a strategic component to bring beautiful visual symmetry directly across from the front doors, to elevate your gaze upon entering the space. Coupled with the mirrored finish below, it also serves up some good ole’ design flair, and showcases the main event- i.e. the incredible espresso machine (she’s a beauty!).

New tile, Cabinets, Back Splash and lighting in La Vita Dolce - Cat French Design

Light Roast

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La Vita Dolce Part 2! Behind the Design

If you’re just joining in, we’re diving into a much anticipated series here on the blog about our CFD custom design of the gorgeous Chapel Hill coffee and gelato sweet-spot, La Vita Dolce! In case you’re catching up, you can see the story from the beginning, including how we met the fabulous owner Annie Johnston in the first post here! But we’ve still got more good coffee and creative vibes to send your way, and lots to to tell you about how this beloved Southern Village spot came to life. Last week we talked a little bit about timeline, and how we made strategic, big-impact changes to immediately boost the cafe’s seating capacity and transform the interior finishes. TODAY we’re going to get into all the juicy details about the next phase of improvements. Grab your latte and join us as we show you more!

Annie Johnston and Cat French in La Vita Dolce after the renovation - Cat French Design

Right on Time

Once the initial phase of the design was completed, Annie was excited to move on to the next round, which included many larger-scale changes. For this part, we got to dig into that Full-Service Design toolkit in order to create and manage some big structural changes. The trick? Annie needed to have this completed and ready to open the doors within a week’s time. This is normal for businesses that are customer-facing, and it’s critical to maintain the timeline so as not to stay closed for too long. It required a lot of planning, organization, and project management on our end, but we were up to the challenge and so happy to be able to transform the space into a true reflection of the Annie’s vision and brand.

Custom Cabinets in La Vita Dolce - Cat French Design

Counter Collaboration

Continuing to root into the Old European Vibe that Annie loved, we dove into a full redesign of the behind-the-counter area. This spot was in need of a complete overhaul to maximize space, streamline the look, and give it that perfect mix of inviting and chic, while amping up the visual interest. The goal was not only to bring in more beautiful woodwork but to also bring symmetry and cohesion to the full span of the back wall. There are a lot of moving pieces and parts in the area behind the bar (think baristas hustling to and from to help customers all day) and we also needed to accommodate and showcase the beautiful espresso machine, create attractive storage and organization (gotta keep the wine handy!) and curate easy access to the cases full of treats. To get this done (and done right) with a strict timeline we knew we had to bring in the dream team. This was still a big project- custom cabinetry, woodwork, painting, AND lighting, so strategy and efficiency were essential. We started with a general contractor who we knew was going to bring quality and skill to the job. We called in Chad of Collins Design-Build, who we’ve known for years. We’ve worked with him on many a successful project, and he was key to making the magic happen.

Behind the Design Discussions at La Vita Dolce Cafe - Cat French Design

From Rendering to Renovation

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La Vita Dolce! Cafe Redesign

All projects are one-of-a-kind here in our studio, but every so often we get the opportunity to do something truly dynamic- and La Vita Dolce is exactly that. This local cafe and coffee house redesign is one that we can’t WAIT to share with you. There’s so much to talk about with this project that we’ll be posting it across a few weeks to give you all the insider details and a front-row view to how it all came together in the makings of this much-loved Chapel Hill spot.

Kindred Spirits

La Vita Dolce is owned and operated by Chapel Hill local (and businesswoman extraordinaire!) Annie Johnston. We first met Annie right after we moved the CFD studio to Southern Village. For our readers who aren’t as familiar with these parts, Southern Village is an urban village in the heart of Chapel Hill that houses an awesome community of businesses. Annie is a young, extremely savvy local entrepreneur and we immediately loved her energy, passion, and commitment to creating meaningful spaces that bring joy to the Chapel Hill community. When she approached us about the redesign of her independent coffee shop and cafe, we were thrilled to say yes! You may also recognize her name from our posts about her soon-to-open sister restaurant here in Southern Village (which we are also designing!), the much-anticipated Market and Moss!

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Cat’s Pro Tips: Throw Pillow Throwdown

It’s time for a throw pillow throwdown! When it comes to design versatility, it’s pretty hard to beat the classic throw pillow. It’s a design staple that’s been around so long it can sometimes be taken for granted, but a great throw pillow is such a workhorse for bringing together a space. There’s every option under the sun for shape, color, texture, pattern, and more. It’s also one of the most budget and time-friendly ways to dress up nearly any seating area. It seems like it would be super simple to just grab a few and literally throw them around (it’s right there in the name!) But, like so many aspects of design, getting the combination and arrangement just right can be a little trickier than we may first assume. Often clients are surprised how in-depth the selection process can be, especially when we’re looking at complete rooms or full house designs. Bringing in pillows and changing them up is one of our favorite ways to bring life, color, and flow to custom rooms, and today we’re dropping some of Cat’s favorite pillow strategies to know-before-you-throw.

Cat adding throw pillows to sofa - Catherine French Design Chapel Hill

The (Pillow) Basics

First things first. When you’re ordering pillow covers and inserts, you want to order an insert that is 2 inches larger than the cover. That insert is going to shift and naturally lose some volume over time (trust us), and a deflated throw pillow is just not what you want laying around. To get the best look as well as longevity and bang for your design buck, you want those pillows to be over-stuffed. This is one of the best tips we can offer you because it will give your pillows a lot more life, shape, and presence in any place that you put them. Anticipate that you will need 2 pillows in each sofa corner (so for a sectional, that’s both ends AND 2 or 3 for the corner spot where the two sides meet) and 1-2 pillows for chairs. Yes, that may seem like a lot! But you’d be surprised what a difference it makes- throw pillows are one of the key components that make a space feel finished and complete.

Color accent pillows - Catherine French Design Chapel Hill

In The Mix

One of the main questions we get about pillows is HOW to mix them. With so many options, it can get overwhelming fast. Firstly, keep in mind that not all of your pillows have to be super high-end. You can get a fantastic look from combining one or two custom pillows with off the rack or other mainstream options. The next thing to think about is varying size. Something we see all the time is folks have a variety of pillows, but they’re all the exact same size. To really make an impact, you want to play up the visual component by using pillows of different sizes in the same shape and then add an accent. This can be a pillow with a bolder fabric pattern, a different texture, or even a funky shape. Layering in fabrics is one of the ways that we create depth and dimension in a space. When pillows are chosen and placed with intention, they become one of the building blocks of great design.

Breaking it Up

We love gray as much as the next gal (we really do- gray is beautiful!). But, once you get started down the gray rabbit hole it’s easy to get lost. Before you know it, your space can accidentally start looking pretty drab. We’ve got all the appreciation for neutrals over here- BUT, one of the great things about throw pillows is how they can be used to embrace pattern and color without a huge commitment. This comes into play often when we are looking at large seating areas. When we’re thinking strategically about a long sofa or sectional, you want to create visual impact by breaking up that big hunk of solid color with different patterns, texture, and tones. We love combining a more nappy sofa fabric texture like tweed with some luxe velvet pillows to give lots of depth and create an inviting, appealing space that draws your eye into the room. When you’ve got pillows that not only look great but make you WANT to go over and sit down, you’ll know you’re on the right track.

custom throw pillows - Catherine French Design Chapel Hill

Bringing it Together

In addition to breaking up larger blocks of color, pillows can also bring together different pieces, parts, and elements in the room. This sweet spot from the Lakehouse Redesign was one of our favorite examples of using throw pillows to create color flow and balance. One of the important elements of this design was bringing in blue tones throughout the house, and part of that meant creatively pairing this rich blue rug with the bold red sectional. Along with a carefully chosen piece of wall art, throw pillows were the key players for bringing these two large components together in a way that made good design sense, as well as tying in all of the other colorful accents in this beautiful space. Giving those pillows a purpose in the big picture of your design can go a long way toward making it all work.

colorful custom throw pillows - Catherine French Design Chapel Hill

Throw ’em, fluff them, or change ’em up- some well-chosen throw pillows give you so many ways to bring in dimension, style, and finish to your room. We’re so glad you joined us for our Throw Pillow Throwdown, and we’re hoping it gives you some extra inspiration to get creative in your own space with this great design stand-by.

Want to see more? Check out our recent post on CFD Custom Styling Services for more great images of our custom design creations. Have questions about your space? We’re always here to help. Give us a shout at or reach us in the studio at 919.537.8148. For more up to date happenings and goings-on of this busy team, follow us on Facebook or Instagram @Catfrenchdesign!