Remarkable balance: Interior designer Sandy Muraca adds new to the old

Muraca's aesthetic is a mix of city and country. "Though I'd take the French countryside over Paris any day," she said. Photo: Andrea Hubbell Muraca’s aesthetic is a mix of city and country. “Though I’d take the French countryside over Paris any day,” she said. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Resides in: Albemarle County

1. Antique or modern?


2. City or country?

City with a bit of country infusion. Although I would take the French countryside over Paris any day.

3. Which colors do you gravitate toward?

It tends to change with whatever the project directs, but currently I’m into shades of ink and gray blues, light and dark greens, variations of white, and little bits of red here and there. My go-to neutral wall color is Benjamin Moore Titanium.

4. Which materials or textures do you frequently use?

Over the past few years, I’ve been limiting woodgrain furniture to one or two with great patina. Otherwise other pieces in the room will be painted or metal. I’m most drawn to linen or linen and cotton blend for fabrics. I always use wool or cotton rugs or natural fiber rugs such as jute.

5. What is your favorite interior design-related word?

Lately, I’ve been using the word “remarkable.”

6. Does your home look like the one you grew up in?

Not at all. I grew up as a daughter of a Presbyterian minister. We lived in the church manse—owned by the church. Very few changes were made to the house without approval from the church session. It’s probably why I have such a passion for design expression!

7. Does a room need a view?

No, but it does need good natural light.

8. Favorite designer or architect?

Designers: Thomas O’Brien, Bunny Williams, Thomas Jayne, the late Albert Hadley. Through their work, I have a great appreciation of balancing a room with vintage and antiques along with new pieces. Architect: Gil Schafer. His book, The Great American House, is stunning. I often find myself pulling it from my library for inspiration or just to get lost in the photography of his work.

9. Which design blog, website, TV show, or magazine do you peruse religiously?

Right now, I’ve been downloading and reading a lot of Lonny Magazine issues onto my iPad. I’m still old-school, tearing out inspiration pages from Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Country Living, Traditional Home. I keep them sorted in files and use them often. Architectural Digest is the one magazine that I keep completely intact and save. Blogs I follow: Cote de Texas, An Urban Cottage, French Essence. I click around on my blogroll just about every day.

10. Décor-wise, what should a homeowner never scrimp on?

Never purchase synthetic rugs; wool rugs hold up just as well. Always invest in well-made window treatments.

11. Design rule you like to break?


12. What is your favorite room in your house?

In my own house, it’s the kitchen. Kitchens hold so many design elements, which means there’s a huge list of things to be decided on for both form and function. I also enjoy working with small spaces or rooms. Often we think more is better, but usually it’s just more creative use of space with well-designed layouts. I find small spaces to be my most creative.

13. What is your most treasured possession?

What a hard question! If my three children were still little, I would say all their artwork tacked up on the door to the garage. But, my children are all older and we don’t live in that house anymore, and that artwork is packed up in memory bins. So, currently it would be the silver angel mounted on black marble, a religious relic that my husband John and I found in Lyon, France last summer on our buying trip. She holds a shield with the date in French, 2 Avril 1889. It’s a remarkable piece. It’s currently not for sale.

14. What do you wish you could do without?

Yard service. I wish I was a gardener, but I’m not.

15. What are you afraid to DIY?

I made my own wedding dress, with beadwork and a full train (we’re talking 1991). I also have made window treatments professionally in my early design days. So, DIY doesn’t intimidate me too much. I’d have to say cutting hair. When John and I first got married and were on a very tight budget, I thought we could save a few dollars if I cut his hair. We’ve never laughed so hard.

16. Have you ever had a change of heart about an object or a style?

Two years ago, I went too pale in my family room when making some changes. I’ve spent the last two years pulling in more texture, depth, and contrast, but not necessarily more color.

17. If you could live in one historical figure’s house, whose would it be?

Hands down, Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s Bedford County plantation house, also known as his private retreat. It’s an octagonal house with a central cube room. It has very interesting and unusual light. After we visited the house several years ago, I have wanted to build an octagonal house in our retirement years some day.

18. On what movie set would you like to live?

Any of the Hobbit houses in the Shire from the Lord of the Rings series. I’d love to experience all those round doors and windows.

19. If you were reborn as a piece of furniture or an object, what would it be?

It would have to be the 18th century French armoire that I have for sale in my studio. John and I actually found it in Virginia. I wonder (as I do with all my vintage and antique pieces) where it came from and how many hands it passed through before it landed in our hands. I’d love to know its story.

20. What is your first design memory?

When I was about 7 years old, I created a floorplan with legos, with the flat green base and the long single peg legos to define walls, doorways, windows. I thought a lot about how a person would move around from room to room and what the rooms and spaces would feel like.

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French inspiration: Studio Brocante takes shape

When Sandy Muraca went to France with students from Monticello High School for the first time last spring, she fell in love. So deeply in love, in fact, that she returned a few months later with her husband John to experience even more baguettes, berets—and most importantly—brocantes.

As the owner of Muraca Design, an interior design service that Muraca started back in 2002, she and John spent most of their time visiting brocantes (French for “flea markets”) all around the countryside.

“We hit about seven flea markets,” Muraca said. “Never had I ever done anything like it before.”

And 400 pieces later, it was a much bigger endeavor than even she anticipated. She had hundreds of authentic, French antiques to offer her Charlottesville clients. “We were originally planning on selling it all on Etsy, but when we got back, we decided to make something bigger.”

In this case, “bigger” meant building a design studio, developing an inventory system for the newly acquired goods, and making plans for a brand new website that launched in late February. The website, Studio Brocante (, features a blog section in addition to her virtual shop, and will have what Muraca describes as “a Tumblr-like feel.”

Of course, she was as passionate about the virtual design of the website as much as the interior design of any room. Working closely with Vibethink, a web design company that has already created sites and promotions for local businesses like Mudhouse and Oakhurst Inn, Muraca based the look of her website on a French cookbook.

“You have this virtual interior design thing going on. So we created the functionality of the website, but it’s hard to separate form and functionality, even in the virtual world,” she said.

What came out of the collaboration is a website that promises to be very intuitive. “It’s just like picking fabrics: You’ll be looking through a list of fonts but once you see it, you know,” she said.

For now, Muraca is keeping everything online and in her personal design studio, where she will be selling locally by appointment. But a retail space is not out of the question, and the future might hold something even bigger than hundreds of pieces shipped from 4,000 miles away. As she put it, “Let’s just say I wouldn’t say no.”—Stephanie DeVaux