Wisconsin designer and avid collector Tracy Porter combines fancy with funky to create a family house full of personal style.
By Sara Bliss
Meet Tracy Porter, cofounder with husband, John, of her eponymous bohemian-chic home design catalog and website, and mom to 9-year-old twins, Max and Fin; Siggy, 7; and Gus, 3. Tracy approaches all facets of her life—decorating, raising her family and running her business—with the same kind of joyful flair. And she doesn't give a second thought to the inevitable mishaps that can occur with four energetic boys racing through a house full of personal treasures and family heirlooms. "I don't believe in getting overly attached to 'things,'" says Tracy. "You have to let go of the idea of perfection. Fork marks or rings on the table just add more character."
Tracy has furnished her traditional gray clapboard house with a fanciful mix of her own globally inspired designs and vintage accessories—such as hand-painted ceramics and silver—snapped up at antique shops all over the country. Unexpected combinations, like a modern, white laminate chair from Wal-Mart with a 19th-century chinoiserie secretary, pepper the house. She clusters smaller objects on mantels, tables and trays. Her rule of thumb is simple: throw together what you love. "Asian or American, new or old, things don't have to be expensive to be beautiful," she says. "I'll take the kids to find cool rocks or pieces of wood, and pair them with a candelabra or a vase. It's all about having fun."
Tip: An antique leather bench scored at a Wisconsin yard sale displays a worn flag and the Porter boys' cowboy boots.
"A touch of leopard always adds a cool twist," says Tracy about the living room's ottomans. Other favorites include Asian items, lots of books and a durable leather sectional.
Tracy's husband, John, crafted the birch table from felled trees on their property. She found the ornate timeworn mirror at a nearby antiques mall. "Old pieces don't always have to be priceless or perfect to be great," explains Tracy.
In her light-filled kitchen Tracy displays vintage-inspired glassware of her own design in glass-fronted cabinets. To give the all-white space more personality, she suspended three ornate, hand-painted chandeliers above the stainless steel–topped island. Tracy bought the chrome diner-style stools from Williams-Sonoma.
"Baskets are the best way to keep all the knights and dragons in order," says Tracy. Brightly hued striped bins for toys and rectangular, woven baskets for books keep clutter at bay. She scours flea markets for paintings and other things—like a vintage globe—that will work in the playroom.
The attic rec room with its laminate faux-wood floor doubles as a basketball court.
When you have four kids, you need a hangout spot in every room—like the hand-me-down sofa in the bathroom.
Tracy's Family-Decorating Strategy
—Choose happy colors: Tracy selected a bold palette for the spaces the kids live in most—bright yellow walls in the bathroom, hot orange plus pale blue for the bedroom and a vibrant red in the playroom.
—Keep everyone together: The couple wanted their boys to be together so they placed two metal bunk beds in one bedroom. "The closeness encourages them to resolve their differences," explains Tracy.
—Put kids' artwork on display: Framed doodles and drawings of elephants, cats and scary monsters throughout the Porter house add a playful accent.
—Let your children collect too: Tracy often travels for work with her kids in tow and encourages them to look for treasures, like snow globes, to take home with them.
Tracy pulled together the boys' bathroom on a budget—she paired three sinks bought at Home Depot for $26 each with small circular mirrors and red step stool from Target. An heirloom French sofa and rug provide a cozy perch.
Decorating on a Shoestring
—Don't be afraid to mix antiques with mass market products to keep the look contemporary and fresh.
—Never say no to hand-me-downs. You can always personalize a piece of furniture with great pillows, throws, paint or new fabric. Plus, it's gratifying to have objects with a family history.
—Look beyond the flaws in vintage pieces. Tracy finds beauty and character in things that are imperfect, like worn frames on antique mirrors or wood furniture with a few nicks.
"Your outdoor spaces should feel like an extension of your home," says Tracy. She hangs paintings and other artwork to add warmth, and tops a bamboo desk with vases and decorative objects.
In the study a yellow flea market lamp on an antique chinoiserie secretary gives the room a jolt of color. Collecting is a family tradition—the cordial glasses came from Tracy's grandmother.
Inspired by a recent trip to London, the designer has recreated the artful clutter of an old English house.
Tracy serves family meals and entertains guests in the outdoor dining room, with its flagstone floor and teak-topped table. A chandelier from her company hangs overhead.
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.