Whenever I have a little problem, like how to choose a light bulb, I write a column. When I have a big problem, like how to clear out the family home, I write a book. For a writer, this is a good formula. I get free expert advice, avoid therapy, and pocket some gas money.
This is how last week I came to talk to John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon, the design duo behind Madcap Cottage, an interior design and home product business based in High Point, N.C.
I was wrapping up research for my next book about merging households, a messy process I stumbled inelegantly through several years ago thinking, as I often do, “there must be a better way.” How did Loecke and Nixon do it? I wondered. Their home exudes their signature style – a colorful, zany, whimsical, layered, unrestrained combination of patterns mixed with abandon and aplomb. It’s a global brand. And they still look pretty happy.
So, of course, I called them up and asked a bunch of personal questions. I learned, to my delight, they haven’t always shared a seamless sensibility.
“We were like the odd couple,” Nixon said.
“This has been an evolution,” Loecke said.
They took me back to the year 2000. They were living in Manhattan working for magazines when they decided to move in together. They chose Nixon’s place -- a 400-square-foot one bedroom, which didn’t leave much room for argument – because he owned his apartment, and Loecke was renting.
“I was the neatnik, a minimalist,” Nixon recalls. “John was more … relaxed, and eclectic.”
Nixon’s apartment reflected his modern aesthetic: white walls, spare neutral furnishings, and only a few items of clothing; all were black.
“I don’t think I owned a piece of black clothing,” said Loecke, whose traditional furniture and extensive wardrobe were far more colorful and – gasp! – patterned.
On moving day, both vividly remember Loecke’s furniture out on the sidewalk. “I was like, what are we going to do with all this (stuff),” Nixon said, then mentioned that a storage facility was just a block away.
“That was our compromise,” Loecke said. “I wasn’t going to give up my stuff, but it wasn’t going to work in that space.” He now regrets paying $150 month for 12 years for stuff he should have gotten rid of. He never used any of it again. (Folks, we’ve been over this.)
However, one pivotal piece did fortuitously move in, a traditional rolled-arm upholstered chair, which Loecke had slipcovered in a high-sheen pink floral chinoiserie chintz. “It was not clean lined or modern,” he said. “It was the complete opposite of everything in Jason’s apartment.”
The chair grew on Nixon, seeded what would become their blended style and eventually led to Madcap Cottage’s irrepressible look. Their current High Point home is “sort of England meets Palm Springs by way of Morocco,” Nixon said.
No one is more surprised than Nixon: “Here I had all that love of pattern in me, but it took our merger to bring it out.”
And some time. “Jason would have run screaming, and our relationship would have ended if I had tried to do to his apartment what we ended up doing in later in our home,” Loecke said, offering hope to any couple blending households and going through the design wars.
“John took me on an adventure, a journey of having fun with interiors that weren’t all neutral,” Nixon said. Loecke credits Nixon for creative leaps that involve “pulling in more influences from the worlds of travel and fashion.”
After they told me how they got to this colorful point in their lives, I asked them for tips on what they do best: add pizzazz. In a rapid-fire repartee, they rattled off these 10 rut-busting ways we can add madcap style to our – yawn – homes:
Paint the front door a bright color. Try canary yellow or lacquer red. (I painted mine Jalapeno orange.) You will add instant curb appeal, give your home a focal point and turn a neutral facade into a knockout, they said.
Put something – anything -- on the walls. People say they can’t afford nice art, so they leave walls empty. Don’t. Find prints that relate to your interests, or frame your kids’ artwork. Art makes rooms friendly.
Bring in house plants, especially ones that flower. Having anything alive in your home besides you and your pets feels welcoming, they said.
Change up accessories. Display items you’ve collected on your travels that you’ve tucked away. Put other items away for a while. When you edit your things and move accessories around, people will ask if you’ve bought new furniture.
Commit to a pattern -- somewhere. All solids may feel safe, but they are boring. Venture out and pair a solid neutral sofa with a patterned chair or print pillows. Layer in patterned drapes. Try florals, geometrics or stripes. Patterns give a room personality and dimension, they said. No one comes in your home and says, “I love your beige.”
Mix up your bedding. Break up sheet sets. Put a white fitted sheet with a flowered top sheet and striped pillowcases, then layer on a patchwork quilt.
Shop your china cabinet. Haul out old china and put heirloom patterns back on the table. Your kids don’t want it, so you might as well use it.
Trim it. Even if you don’t sew, get some grosgrain ribbon, or braided and banded trim from the fabric store. Use a glue gun to embellish lampshades, drape panels and throw pillows.
Spa-tify your bath. Fill an industrial jar with bath salts. Swap an ordinary showerhead for a rain showerhead. Splurge on a fantastic bathmat and plush spa-grade towels.
Ditch your fear factor. Life is short. Don’t be boring. Almost everything you do to your home is reversible. Nixon took the plunge with one flowered chair, and look where he is today.
CAPTION: Layered Looks – Don’t be a slave to sheet sets. Mix a white fitted sheet with a flowered top sheet and striped pillowcases, then layer on a patchwork quilt, say Madcap Cottage designers John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon. Photo courtesy of Madcap Cottage.