From the magazine: A coastal palette

Style Queue
How Lisa Teague turns Seacoast houses into homes

Lisa Teague might say she just fell into interior design. But she has built up a successful business, and even created a popular line of non-toxic paints.

The office of Lisa Teague Studios overlooks the Piscataqua River from Market Street in Portsmouth. With help from a part-time assistant and interns, Teague provides design services for clients around the world.

Her 900-square-foot apartment in the historic Wentworth-Gardner House is decorated in her signature style. Here, she talks about color palettes, original art, and the best things about her job.

What career did you envision as a child?
I don’t know that I wanted to be anything in particular, but I do remember wanting to marry a cowboy. I was a very young mother, and then a very young single mother. I wanted a career that would make my girls proud. I started a women’s wallpaper-hanging firm called Wall Works. Over time, it evolved into decorative painting. My trajectory to interior design was that I would take a client’s room apart to paint it and then I would put it back together differently. Clients loved what I was doing and asked me to do more. I kept reinventing myself and pushing the envelope. I started pumping up my design business in earnest about twelve years ago.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
My relationships with my clients. I also enjoy the education piece of my job. I really try to keep clients from throwing away something just because it is old. I worked for a wonderful artist in Cambridge. She had an old, dark, walnut china cabinet in her dining room. She just hated it. It had been her mother’s. We removed the top, painted it, and changed the knobs. We turned it into a linen storage piece. Now it’s an amazing piece that fits perfectly in her kitchen and she loves it.

How would you describe your personal decorating style?
It is very eclectic and always evolving. Over the years, I have been interviewed for several magazines about my interior design business. Often it is images of my own home that readers respond to the most. I’ve come to realize that it’s because I take risks in my personal space. Some of my stuff comes from the dump. I have pieces that are upholstered in paint drop cloths. Over the years, I’ve trained myself to take those same risks for my clients.

Lisa Teague

Teague at home in Portsmouth. photo by Jennifer Moore

Tell me about Quiet Home Paints.
Quiet Home Paints is a line of zero-VOC paints that I developed with my daughter. 

I will tell you there is nothing more beautiful than working in heavy oil glazes mixed with kerosene, but they are just horrible for your health. VOCs attack your soft tissue. I suffered some health issues as a result of working with them. When I was doing it all the time, I would wake up in the morning and rub my eyes and my cornea would tear and I would end up in the emergency room. For my own health, I had to stop using those products. I did a paint job in a library in Africa. They only had access to oil paints and kerosene. The fumes were everywhere. I was determined to find a way to simplify the paint selection process.

We partnered with a company in the UK where they have much more stringent rules about truth in labeling. We asked them to match our colors to their formula.

Quiet Home Paints is safe to use when you’re expecting and your baby can safely sleep in the nursery. All of our binders are natural waxes. We sell paint online every day. I don’t know how people are finding us because we don’t really advertise. I won’t ever get rich from it, but I’m proud of the product and I’m glad that people are happy with it.

What are your favorite colors to decorate with?
Every wall in my home is white. I bring color in with throws and art. I didn’t use to like white. The farmhouse I had before I moved to the Seacoast had apricots and sage greens, but now I am really a fan of white. Most of my clients want some sort of color. Ten years ago everyone wanted a red dining room. Now people want taupe, sea glass, and grays. It’s hard to break people out of that gray trend. That seems to be where people are comfortable right now.

I tend to work in a very coastal palette. I grew up in California. I didn’t realize that I became a New Englander until I started Quiet Home Paints. Now my coastal palette is very soft, whereas in California the coastal palette would include stronger colors, like cobalt and wheat. My idea of coastal is completely different now.

Lisa Teague kitchen

Teague recommends putting a comfortable chair in the kitchen photo courtesy of John W. Hession/Advanced Digital Photography

How do you incorporate sustainable style into your projects?
When I start a project in a client’s home, I look for the potential in what they already have. It might take me a couple of go-arounds to see. The projects that excite me the most are not the ones where we are completely starting from scratch. I like when there is something to build on.

I try to be responsible with where I source materials. Kravet is a wonderful company that offers furniture made in the United States. I try, but people are drawn to cheap products available online. It’s a challenge to educate some clients. The reason items in the United States cost more is because of everything that everyone wants — fair wages, decent working conditions, paid family leave. These are things we say we want in our country but we don’t really want to pay for. There is a huge dichotomy between what people say they want and what they are willing to pay for.

Where do you find inspiration?
When I am designing a home, my inspiration comes from the geographical location of the home and the views to the exterior. My designs are always reflective of the piece of land the house is sitting on.

What are your favorite places to shop on the Seacoast?
I like Goods on Market Street in Portsmouth. They have great pillows and throws. There is a place called Farm and Table in Kennebunkport. They offer an eclectic mix of stuff. Christine’s Crossing in Rye and Kennedy Gallery for art — they do all my framing.

Can you give us an insider tip on how to improve the look and feel of a room?
The least expensive and most impactful change is with paint color. I always start with color. Another thing I would suggest is original art. I’m always trying to get clients to incorporate original art. Lastly, if it can fit, try to put a comfortable chair in the kitchen. 

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