//No Room for Formality

No Room for Formality

Interior designer Denise Dixon’s sensible and affordable approach to decorating is reflected in her own home.

By Sharon Holbrook

Designer Denise Dixon's Shaker Heights living room

Denise Dixon has a way of making guests feel instantly welcome.

Perhaps it’s her warm, easy nature, but it also might be the feel of her home. She and her husband Jim, an attorney, share
their Aldersyde Road home with their three children, Annabel (13), Hyde (13), and George (12), all of whom are students in Shaker schools. There are three kittens padding around the Dixon home as well, bringing the household total to eight inhabitants – a busy reality that means there’s no room for pretense and formality.

Denise is an interior designer who runs her own design firm, Farrow & Wren. You might expect that a designer’s home would look a certain way: Formal. Fancy. Expensive. But the Dixon home shouts none of these things. Instead, it projects comfort, style, and calm.

When the Dixons moved here from their Dorchester Road home in the Fernway neighborhood in 2017, the Aldersyde house, built in 1921,  was a bit tired. It was designed by architect Harry Shupe, known for his eclectic and appealing mix of disparate architectural styles. [See “The Elusive Architect” for more on Shupe and the Shaker houses he designed.]

Like other Shupe homes in Shaker, it has generously-proportioned windows and feels, as Denise aptly put it, “expansive, but cozy and relaxed.” The house was mostly in good repair, the first floor’s front windows were completely blocked by overgrown shrubs, and dated light fixtures and yellow paint dominated the interior.

Denise Dixon working at a table with her assistant

Denise Dixon, left, in her home office with assistant Angela Bailey.

The shrubs are gone, the exterior colors were updated, and the interior now shines with a marriage of neutral paints, colorful rugs and art, clean Scandinavian touches, cozy couches, and the traditional warm woods.

“I like mixing modern with old,” says Denise. “Shaker’s houses are really traditional, but not everybody who lives here is traditional.”

Besides modern touches like her sleek easy-clean dining set and up-to-date lighting, Denise is also a fan of incorporating newer artwork into the home. While she sometimes finds works on Etsy, Denise is an avid supporter of local art and a past member of the Shaker Arts Council.

She shows me one of her favorites, a striking, colorful canvas she picked up from 22-year-old artist Ryan Roth at last year’s Ingenuity Fest in Cleveland. She was captivated immediately. “I saw it, and I about had a heart attack,” she says. Since then, she has introduced the young artist to a number of her interior design clients. The Dixon’s dining room is also home to a vibrantly original and unframed painting (inset above) on corrugated cardboard that she purchased from resident Julius Hanna at a Moreland Rising event.

She has a realistic approach to updating and decorating for her clients and for herself. “When you move into a house, you can’t afford to do everything,” she says. Accordingly, she made backsplash, lighting, and appliance upgrades to give her own kitchen a stylish boost, but largely left pricey features like the layout, counters, flooring, and cabinetry alone.

Similarly, she understands that a homeowner can’t do everything in the house at once. “It’s still a work in progress,” she says of her home, noting that the kids’ bedrooms and bathrooms have yet to be touched.

She brings the same sensible approach to choosing furnishings and explains the surprising origins of her impeccable living room: a chair brought from the Dorchester house, a pair of chairs bought for $70 on a local Facebook “Sell Your Stuff” page, a Crate & Barrel coffee table on clearance, and a handsome rug from Wayfair, an online retailer known for its low prices.

“I don’t like spending a lot of money,” Denise says. “Some things you have to spend money on, but the other things you really don’t. There are so many good deals out there.”

She brings the same approach to Farrow & Wren, which she began seven years ago after informally doing decorating work for many years before that. She’s a solo designer, and she charges her clients by the hour rather than the job, enabling clients to budget for design help and get as little or as much assistance as they need. She advises on tile and other choices in home renovations, but also helps with simpler jobs like shopping for accessories and furniture, or choosing paint colors.

“It’s always a collaboration, and I love that,” she says. She sees her role as responding to the tastes and ideas of clients who might not have the time or confidence to decorate on their own.

Soon, her new “clients” will be her own children, who will have a voice in redecorating their rooms. Signs point to them trusting their mom’s taste, since the kids regularly pile into the master bedroom to hang out, lounging on the couch to read or watch a movie. Maybe it’s the soothing gray paint that Denise chose, the charming tiled fireplace, or the comfy couch and rugs. Somehow, through decorating magic, the Dixons’ bedroom, like the rest of the home, radiates happy comfort.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2018.
2019-04-01T16:51:02+00:00Great Shaker Homes|