Maximalism is the buzzword for Brazil-born, Kentucky-based designer Isabel Ladd of her own eponymous firm. Known for embracing powerful patterns, eye-popping prints, and bright color, there isn’t a design formula on her mind, necessarily, but there is a guiding principle at the heart of all her design work, including the three rooms she’s transformed for House Beautiful’s Whole Home initiative. “I have a ‘more is more’ design ethos, so I really don't think about a theme or contemplate what elements jive together. With that in mind, I just approach my spaces with patterns, colors, wallpapers, fabrics, and trims that just bring me joy,” she says of her approach to the primary suite, which includes a bedroom, dressing room and sitting room.
The Whole Home, a showhouse produced by the House Beautiful magazine team along with key sponsors, is designed to help visitors “live better at home.” Rather than designing for a certain client, Ladd instead embraced the opportunity to play the client herself. “I was designing for me and my dream space,” she shares of the detail-filled rooms. “That’s my favorite thing to do when doing showhouses. My whole job is what the client wants, and this is what I would want. Oftentimes bedrooms are, ‘Oh, what’s soft? What’s calm?’ Rest, relaxation, calm. But some people have a different version of that. For me, I want a bedroom that energizes me to wake up. It's not just about relaxation to go to sleep. It’s about my happy, safe space. Happy, joy, desire to me is vivid colors and patterns!”
I want a bedroom that energizes me to wake up. It's not just about relaxation to go to sleep. It’s about my happy, safe space.
(Choosing joyful colors and patterns was part of the entire showhouse’s focus too, as 15 all-female design and build firms tackled the renovation and restoration of the showhouse’s site, an expansive, historic home in Hinsdale, Illinois.)
Among the detailed accents showing up on Ladd’s mood boards are verdant, botanical themed wallcoverings from Sanderson/Morris & Co. alongside a blocky geometric wool rug from Fabricut and refined lighting options, like a Visual Comfort two-tier chandelier. “I love adding surprise moments in my designs, which often evolves to a vibrant concoction of patterns and colors that you don't expect. I don't believe colors can clash, and I love to design rooms that are pretty to me, but then I always add a ‘weird’ moment.” For the showhouse, that juxtaposition “really is the combination of the retro colors in the Sanderson wallcovering with the buttoned-up navy geometric in the Fabricut wool rug. Did you notice that I did a special trim, also from Sanderson, as a border on the rug? I've never done that before, and it was a fun experiment.”
. . . the rooms didn’t have modern air conditioning vents, so the shades served to assist in climate control.
Other design experiments yielded decidedly positive results, inspired by the architectural limits and design challenges of working in a circa-1900 home that had remained largely untouched throughout much of its history. “Working with historic houses, you never know what you're going to find during renovation,” reflects Ladd. Consider her initially unfortunate findings in the home’s dressing room: “My dressing room had a dirty, old, fabric- tented ceiling, and when that came down, we discovered all kinds of holes in the plaster that had to be repaired, so we [did] cove molding over the holes, which actually looked really good — and better than I could have anticipated.”
Another obstacle was the lighting, or lack thereof, in her rooms. “There was no [electricity] for any overhead lights, so electric had to be wired. But the placements were limited, based on the direction of the attic floorboards above. So not every light could be centered. But with historic houses, you need to go into the project knowing you'll have to pivot. And pivot quickly, in order to keep the project moving. I can make decisions in seconds flat, which I think is a great trait to have when working on any project with a quick deadline.”
Ladd also collaborated with some special artisans and firms on particular design elements, like the “neon highlighter yellow”-colored decorative metal panels chosen to accent the dark green, built-in cabinets in the dressing room, which she teamed up with Architectural Grills on; and a fantastical mural on the ceiling that features a tiger and tigress (their tails forming a border), which is part of a collaboration with Relativity Textiles in Chicago. She also worked with Relativity Textiles Erin Minckley on painting folk-art flowers on the fireplace. Ladd herself crafted caftans from an assortment of fabrics and trim from the project, hanging them in the closet.
. . . shades contributed both function and form to Ladd’s rooms, as well as a dose of whimsy.
Hunter Douglas Provenance® Woven Wood Shades and Designer Roller Shades contributed both function and form to Ladd’s rooms, as well as a dose of whimsy. She had painted the dressing room’s walls and cabinets a deep green, and “needed roller shades to easily roll up to allow sunshine in to glow up the dark green, and easily roll down for the privacy required in a dressing room.” Plus, the rooms didn’t have modern air conditioning vents, so the shades served to assist in climate control. “The lack of instantly cooler temperatures at the touch of a thermostat is definitely a challenge that comes with a historic home,” she explains. “So I need shades, curtains, and blinds to help overcome that challenge.” Naturally, though, these weren’t just typical neutral window treatments. Citing one of her taglines, “adding more to more,” Ladd opted instead for mesmerizing magenta roller shades. Va-va voom, indeed!
Visit Isabel Ladd’s rooms virtually on HouseBeautiful.com and in the November/December 2023 Renovation Issue, on newsstands November 28.