Natural instincts: At home with designer Alana Woerpel

Alana Woerpel says her favorite room in her own home is the sunroom. "You can be inside and outside all at once, sitting on cushy upholstered furniture yet surrounded by woods, rhododendrons and a mossy courtyard with a fountain," she says. "The real treat is when it snows. It's like being in the middle of one of those glass globes with the white flakes swirling around you. Magic." Photo: Amy Jackson Alana Woerpel says her favorite room in her own home is the sunroom. “You can be inside and outside all at once, sitting on cushy upholstered furniture yet surrounded by woods, rhododendrons and a mossy courtyard with a fountain,” she says. “The real treat is when it snows. It’s like being in the middle of one of those glass globes with the white flakes swirling around you. Magic.” Photo: Amy Jackson

Designer Alana Woerpel says she’ll tackle anything. When asked what she’s afraid to DIY, she says there isn’t anything she won’t do.

“On my most recent whole-house installation I found myself re-installing ill-fitting toilet seats for the client,” she says. The can-do attitude (not to mention good taste) pays off—her work has been featured in magazines from Garden & Gun to Architectural Digest. And she’s regularly tapped by tastemaker Lynn Easton to decorate projects in Charleston, South Carolina, and here at home.

We caught up with the owner of Alana’s, Ltd. on her way back to Charlottesville following an installation in Maine to ask her about breaking design rules, the house she grew up in and her favorite room.

City or country? City. I live smack in the middle of the Charlottesville and love it, but I couldn’t do it without the woods surrounding my house.

Which colors do you gravitate toward? Green is my favorite color. All shades of it, preferably layered. It’s the color of trees, grass and moss. My second favorite is blue, especially as it changes hues in expanses of water and sky.

Which materials or textures do you frequently use in your own home? I mostly use neutrals and natural textures. Sisal carpets. Pale off-white walls. Linens, silks and velvets. I prefer woven textures over printed fabrics. Fresh flowers and branching plants are my favorite sources for pattern and energy in a room.

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

Does your home look like the one you grew up in? Not the homes we’ve lived in so far, but we recently purchased a house to renovate and it startled me when I realized how eerily it resembled the last home I lived in as a child.

What’s one thing that can really transform a room? Floor-to-ceiling draperies. Simple panels hanging from a thin iron pole add height, elegance, warmth and quiet.

Favorite designer? Nature.

Décor-wise, what should a homeowner never scrimp on? A well-made custom upholstered sofa. Something cheaply and poorly built won’t support you, won’t hold up to years of use. You should be able to choose everything from the length, width and depth, as well as the stuffing and the fabric. My grandmother had the same damask-covered sofa with lofty down cushions for 40 years. When it needed recovering, she chose the same white damask. It always looked stylish, always promised comfort.

Design rule you like to break? I don’t believe there are design rules to employ or break when decorating. My only “rule” is that a space function well and feel lovely to those who will live there. Mixing professional experience with a client’s tastes and needs, I try to create the best possible space for them. Likewise I design my own home with only my family’s tastes and needs in mind. Ultimately, if you are confident and comfortable in your own style and space, guests to your home will be comfortable, too.

What is your favorite room in the house? The kitchen. It’s where I feel most at ease when I’m visiting someone. There’s something about the layers of energy kitchens accrue. It’s where coffee is brewed, meals are prepared, wine is poured, the day’s events are shared. I prefer offbeat kitchens that feel more like real rooms, maybe with a table in the center instead of an island and a stunning chandelier instead of the ubiquitous metal-and-glass pendants.

What is your most treasured possession? My memories. Objects can be bought and sold, found and lost, made and demolished. I realize we can lose memories, but I will treasure them until I do.

What do you wish you could do without? My cell phone, my computer and the pressure of being constantly reachable.

If you could live in one historical figure’s house, whose would it be? I can’t decide. There are too many compelling places around the world and throughout history. On days when I’m feeling overwhelmed by big projects and vast houses, I’ll subversively yearn for Thoreau’s cottage by Walden Pond. It was 10′ by 15′ with a fireplace at one end. His only furnishings were a bed, a table, a small desk with a lamp and three chairs: “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Surprisingly, Thoreau noted that he had more visitors to his simple cottage than to his larger abodes.

On what movie set would you like to live? It’s a toss-up between two movies: Something’s Gotta Give or Out of Africa. Both have gorgeous houses in beautiful settings. (Yes, I do realize that they’re not at all like the Walden cottage!)

If you were reborn as a piece of furniture or an object, what would it be? Anything made from wood. It will mean I’ve been reincarnated as a tree.

What is your first design memory? It’s of watching my mother sew. She made clothes, draperies, slipcovers. She taught me to sew, to paint, to hang wallpaper. She could take any derelict space and transform it with her own creativity and labor.

Have you ever had a change of heart about an object or a style? Absolutely! My tastes are always evolving. I think it’s healthy to let go of ideas and things that no longer serve us well.

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