Lauren Liess is a spirit of the outdoors, like she floated in on a breeze and brought with her sunshine, blue skies, wildflowers. It’s an unmistakable sensibility that’s touched every aspect of her life—specifically, her interior design and textile company, Lauren Liess & Co., which she founded some 11 years ago and runs with her husband, David.
“I’m obsessed with what’s going on outside,” says the Great Falls-based talent, whose toes-in-the-stream aesthetic has earned local and national attention, landed the couple a recent HGTV series and helped their company grow like the flora she channels, with a just-launched online shop, as well as a third book and various product lines (cutlery, fragrances, tiles, kitchen decor and furnishings) in the works for the next year alone.
But for Lauren—who doubles as a mother to five (three boys and two girls), ranging in age from 2 to 12, and three dogs—it’s a passion. “Decorating is my medium,” she says. “I’m not an artist; I’d love to be, but I can’t draw, paint or sing. The house is the canvas I can work on. It’s my creative outlet.”
She didn’t always know it was her calling, though there were inklings. Born in Schaumburg, Illinois, Lauren moved to McLean with her mother when she was 4.
Summers were spent with her dad in the Midwest, where she developed an admiration for nature as she played in the fields among the thistle and chicory (those plants and blooms are now found on myriad patterns). She liked rearranging her bedroom (she loved painting the walls) or those of her friends. She later earned her degree in communications with a concentration in public relations. Then a lightbulb came on.
“I realized I liked decorating my apartment more than my job,” she says. So, she took a distance-learning program in interior design and started staging homes and building a client base. Their first son was 1 at the time, and she thought a part-time business would be a good fit. But her work kept expanding, as did their nest. David, a former English teacher for Fairfax County, came on when they had their third son.
It was a smart move, one that allowed Lauren to do what she does best—much to the joy of her clients and husband.
“I love seeing her turn blueprints or sketches into beautiful houses, furniture or fabrics,” says David. “It’s so cool to watch her create.”
He, meanwhile, handles the day-to-day operations. “She is the CEO and makes all important business decisions,” he notes. “I simply execute her ideas, and then make it happen or set the right people on the job … so she can move onto other things.”
He believes that the business has been able to expand at such a fulfilling pace because he helped streamline it. “She can focus on her vision and the brand, and we have grown very well since freeing her up.”
Indeed, they’ve worked on some 300 homes. The majority of the projects are in the DMV area (including six they’ve lived in), with others in California, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas. Each abode is personalized to the client, but with Lauren’s signatures. One in particular is her white paint, says David.
“One time a color expert was trying to figure out why they liked Lauren’s white so much,” he recalls. “Lauren told them it had the tiniest bit of pink in it. She did the color match and broke it down. The woman was shocked. She said it had something like three parts per million pink and that it should be detectable to the human eye. Lauren just shrugged.”
She favors a black, white and wood palette paired with something living—a springy, green element or wintry, wheat-colored grass—to draw your eye to the window and outdoors beyond. “When you bring in bits of nature …artwork, interesting accents and fabrics, [the colors are] a museum showcase for it. It’s a textural, natural base.” Her inspiration, of course, are those big skies and sweeping fields of her Midwestern musings, and the lush surrounds of Northern Virginia. A recent example is a DC abode for which Lauren had custom delphite-blue tiles handmade. She also brought in an artist to paint a view of the Tidal Basin, complete with cherry blossoms.
Another instance of Lauren’s attention to place and personality—of the clients and area—comes via the couple’s Property Collective arm, a residential real estate brokerage firm they co-founded a year ago with former clients and friends Daan and Maura De Raedt (the women went to school together). The properties that Lauren and David renovate and flip (from a $400,000 condo in Arlington to projects upward of $1 million) are listed exclusively with Property Collective.
It’s not a universal perspective to flipping. “Our approach is super personal,” Lauren notes.
“It’s risky, but it’s fun.”
Maura adds that teaming up with Lauren is exciting on her end too. “When you’re working with Lauren, you can enjoy the process with confidence because you know what she picks is always right for the space.”
She uses a home in Great Falls to showcase Lauren’s vision for a moody, equestrian aesthetic. “Lauren dreamed up the most amazing box paneling to make a statement in the foyer, living room and master,” says Maura. “It was a technical undertaking we never would have risked without her expertise and an amazing carpenter.”
Another quirky tidbit about Lauren’s process: She “snoops” through folks’ homes for overlooked tchotchkes, like a painting of a lion, or sources goods at spots such as The Old Lucketts Store in Leesburg. She’s also always on the hunt for a deal, whether in-store or online.
The hardest part about flipping, Lauren admits, is finding the homes—they seek properties with original elements that haven’t been touched in years. A current Great Falls residence has proved difficult due to a huge kids’ bedroom and a smaller master that didn’t suffice. So, they changed it.
“We turned the big bedroom into a master and had to convert a bathroom,” she says. “If you were trying to flip on the cheap you’d just paint and carpet it. But we dug into the floor plan and reconfigured things.” She notes that the problem comes in getting dollars back because appraisers don’t necessarily care about that—though buyers do.
“That’ll always be a challenge: finding how much you design it versus clean it up. It’s all about balance,” says Lauren.
To that end, much of the duo’s efforts in recent times have been aimed at helping her find a balance and concentrate on her burgeoning line of products (many of which are available through her new online shop), including books.
“I love to write,” shares Lauren, who is planning for her third tome in 2021. While she’s still nailing down the specifics, it will likely build on its two predecessors (Down to Earth: Laid-Back Interiors for Modern Living, which was released last fall and landed at No. 1 on Amazon for decorating; and 2015’s Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating) by focusing on achieving contentment at home and using design to bring about specific emotions.
Other labors of love stem from activities that give her pleasure. “I got into decorating because it was the first stage of life I hit,” she says. “As I go into different stages … I get excited about [other] things that I do and come up with little business ideas for them.”
Among them is Generations Cutlery, which she’s introducing with her dad. After all, their family hails from a long line of Italian moletas (knife grinders), and he formerly owned a knife company.
“His knives were so sharp,” Lauren recalls. She hated the idea of letting his talent be lost (she wants her children to learn the skill) so she approached her dad with the idea. It took some convincing, but they’re now working with what used to be his biggest competitor.
“It’s like Romeo and Juliet—the Montagues and the Capulets,” she says with a laugh. The knives are made in Italy, and Lauren’s designing the handles: “It’s me and these two sweet old men. They’re like, ‘No, this handle’s fine,’ and I say, ‘No, it’s not pretty enough.’ … I’m driving them crazy.”
The same can be said for her custom scents; she’s crafting the fragrances, bottles and packaging.
“I’m a crazy person about candle jars,” she says. When they launch later this year, the diffusers and candles (with room sprays to come) will each have an undertone of cedar. Among Lauren’s favorites are white cypress and potager.
She has numerous new collaborations too, such as a tile line with Architectural Ceramics (with showrooms in Alexandria and Vienna). Terracotta tiles are hand-painted with patterns inspired by natural elements like wild chicory. There’s also acid-etched marble made to look antique and slate pickets.
A partnership with Halethorpe, Maryland-based Unique Kitchens & Baths resulted in custom doors and cabinets. “The [pieces] are done differently than the typical American kitchen,” says Lauren, calling attention to the fact that there aren’t toe kicks underneath the cabinets. Instead, they go all the way down like antique furniture. Plaster frames and beautiful finishes with aged patinas are also found in the nine current collections.
If that’s not enough, she launched new pieces with High Point, North Carolina-based Woodbridge Furniture, and upholstery with custom furniture brand Taylor King that will be updated twice yearly. While Lauren expects the fall creations to be larger, spring’s Woodbridge collection now has a library-style dining table, bar and counter stools from some of her initial bestselling chairs, and a kitchen island; expect an outdoor collection later this year. Over at Taylor King, bedding, occasional chairs and a wicker daybed and chair have been introduced.
The final (perhaps) touch: Lauren teamed up with Bed, Bath & Beyond. The Bee & Willow pillows and bedding for spring are outfitted with select Lauren Liess patterns (think paisley and ferns), marking the first time her textiles will be available on readymade products.
And Lauren’s exclusive textiles are a point of pride; she’s been doing them for about nine years and calls them an integral part of her brand.
“One of the big things about getting a creative business up and going is you have to separate yourself and create your look,” she notes. “The textiles helped me do that because when you start to use them over time, your projects start to have a similar vibe and set the [style] apart.”
Another key for Lauren is finding ways to market her voice (there’s that PR background), to allow her to do all the things she wants to. That’s where HGTV comes in.
“It hit me that TV is a huge platform,” she says. David and Lauren had been in contact with various production companies for some months before they decided to take the leap. One thing led to another, and the network picked up their show. Best House on the Block premiered in 2018, following the couple as they renovated suburban abodes throughout the DC area. It ran for a season with nine episodes (which are still up on HGTV.com and occasionally airing in reruns).
“It was an eye-opening process,” says Lauren of the timeline (eight homes in 11 weeks). But she loved the people with whom they worked, and learning the ins and outs of TV. “I enjoyed getting to know that making a show is a creative outlet.” She also treasured the time she was able to spend with David. “At our real job, we work together, but on different aspects,” she says. “[For the series,] we went to site visits together, which we don’t get to do all the time.”
And that begs the question: How do they find enough minutes in their day?
“My husband is awesome,” says Lauren. “We’re such a team.” And, she admits, they have a long wish list.
“There’s actually so much that we want to do but can’t right now,” she says. “We probably just aren’t doing it all and are trying to stay sane.”
They do that through their family. They frequent The Old Brogue, near Lauren’s office, a few times a week; the family-run Taverna Cretekou on visits to Mount Vernon with the kids; and Jacques’ Brasserie at L’Auberge Chez Francois for dates—she says the restaurant looks like their house.
And, yes, their home is where their heart is; they moved in about three years ago and have been renovating it, taking their time on the details and spaces that evoke feeling. David loves the attic. “She put in a window with a giant seat that overlooks the whole property. It’s so peaceful because it’s tucked away. I love lying there with the dogs.”
Lauren has two favorites: the back garden, with its terrace, vegetable beds and alfresco dining table; and the master bath. They placed a big copper tub underneath the property’s original antique windows (the French pieces even have cremone bolts), providing a picturesque look at the field below.
It’s a view that epitomizes Lauren and David’s dreams for their company, which they hope to pass down to their kids.
“In our minds, the sky is the limit,” says Lauren. “We can do all these different things with this business. We’re not in a box with it. And I love that we get to do it together.”
This post originally appeared in our April 2020 print issue. For more home and design articles, subscribe to our weekly Home newsletter.