Western Focus: Living With What You Love

How do you want to feel when you walk through your front door at the end of the day? Whether it’s a Yellowstone Club vacation home right on the slopes, a one-room rustic log cabin in the woods, or a well-used primary residence in the heart of downtown Bozeman, the answer, according to Carol Merica of the Bozeman-based interior design firm Design Associates, is probably the same. “People want to walk into their house and feel like, ‘this is me and I love being here — I love coming home every day.’”

Merica and her business partner, Lynette Zambon, have made that feeling their business model and perhaps their trademark. Instead of honing in on one particular style — Western, contemporary or traditional — they hone in on that feeling that clients strive for in their chosen dwelling. And so far, with a lengthy and ever-growing list of clients, a gigantic design library and a portfolio that spans styles, it seems to be working.

Zambon started Design Associates in 1998, and her friend and former colleague Merica joined her within the first year. They’ve worked together ever since, although instead of collaborating on each job, they tend to divide and conquer, using each other as valued resources when needed. They’ve also become travel buddies, exploring up-and-coming styles and furthering their design education in locations like Paris, San Francisco and New York City. “What’s fun about going overseas is that Europe tends to be about six months to a year ahead of us trend-wise,” Zambon says. “Even if we don’t use those trends, we know what’s coming.”

But when it comes to trends that might work in a Montana home, the individual client and the architectural design is really what’s at the root. “We usually meet with the architect and see the plans first, even if they’re preliminary, to get a feeling for the vision,” Merica explains.

“Then we end up becoming somewhat intimate with the client, because we really need to know their lifestyle need and tastes,” Zambon adds. “We do a client questionnaire, and we ask them to put together an idea book of pictures so they can comment on what they do and don’t like.”

Over each of their 20-plus years in the interior design world, Zambon and Merica have developed a few hard and fast go-to techniques that can transcend any design style.

One is to mix it up. “Maybe you’re mixing a couple of patterns, something modern with something traditional, but the most interesting spaces are the ones that don’t always match,” Merica says.

The next is to keep it lively through the use of color. “You can really add an extra sparkle through pops of color,” Zambon says. “It can be subtle, but add that little juxtaposition.”

And last, they tend to steer clients towards classic pieces of high-quality furniture that can be accented to suit a desired style. “If they want something Western, we can go with a classic sofa and use Western accents, like pillow fabrics and accessories,” Zambon says. “That way if they want to change anything, they still have the basic pieces.”

There are, however, some clients who fall in love with certain standout pieces, and following their business model of making a home feel truly loved, they just roll with it.

“If they’re adamant about an orange sofa, we’re going to embrace that,” Merica says. “If at the end of the day they love it, that’s all that matters.”

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