Inner City Sanctums
The natural world is the main inspiration for local designer and stylist Ann Lowe, whose unique aesthetic is typified by organic materials, natural light and a streamlined minimalism.
“I love space and openness,” she says, attributing her affinity for simplicity to a childhood spent in West Texas and long-standing loves for mystic destinations, like Santa Fe and Big Bend National Park. “And I’m a very functional type of person.” But her roots reach even deeper when it comes to her earthly inspirations.
One of Lowe’s first loves is food and the art of cooking simple, natural cuisine. She once spent months working on small farms throughout the French countryside, picking olives and wild raspberries, learning local cooking techniques and immersing herself in the chic, culinary culture and, in 2009, she, along with friend and fellow Austinite Alice Crow, launched Any Style Catering, specializing in creating intimate dinner parties and special events in stylish setting.
That’s how Lowe’s design career began, in fact — her love of hospitality and inviting people into her home and other local spaces for magical evenings of intimate dining and conversation. “We did so much research when we were launching the catering company and I took pages and pages of notes,” says Lowe, who has a background in studio art. “But when I looked back, I realized most of my notes were about the design of each dinner and space.”
She believes the organic art of conversation has been lost on our generation and says any essential gathering place should be a space where people can sit, talk and simply listen to each other.
Her first Austin client was Contigo Austin (which has been hailed for its refined, rustic elements and inviting, open-aired atmosphere), and she’s also behind the East Side’s new Rosewood Community Market, but she quickly began to design private homes and residential spaces, as well.
And with in-home consultations and packages starting at $100, she provides an affordable option for people with high expectations and low budgets. “People don’t have the biggest budgets in Austin,” Lowe says. “They’re moving into their first home, having their first kid or starting their first business.” But despite budgets, the goal is the same: Create a memorable space that brings out the distinct personality, and purpose, of each project — commercial or residential.
“I’ve always thought people’s true personalities are represented by their home,” Lowe says. And her strength lays in highlighting that extension of individuality into otherwise streamlined, minimal spaces. She cites her best friends as one of her biggest inspirations and influences.
“The art on their walls, the work they do, the music they play, they just hit the nail on the head,” Lowe says. She even started a blog, My Friends’ Homes, to chronicle their unique styles.
While some of her favorite design staples include muted colors, natural linens, and native woods, like walnut, they serve as a neutral, functional backdrop for a kaleidoscopic range of personal belongings, art and statement pieces. Lowe is drawn to distinct textures, amorphous shapes and other “weird stuff” and delights in seeking out potential items for her clients in antique and consignment stores (like Next to New, her favorite place in town), thrift shops and estate sales. “I love anything that tells a story,” Lowe says.
She believes the organic art of conversation has been lost on our generation and says any essential gathering place should be a space where people can sit, talk and simply listen to each other. The space and décor should inherently spark curiosity and conversation. A living room should never be designed around a television, Lowe says.
Her own living room bookshelves feature an array of intriguing conversation pieces—worn Salinger paperbacks, shells from every country she’s visited and a veritable shrine of natural treasures, like wasp nests, petrified wood, fossils, bugs, and a tiny piece of a meteor. She also believes fresh flowers and other plants are important fixtures in every space in order “to provide additional life.”
But the best way to breathe life into a space, Lowe says, is to invite a few good friends over. Her idea of the perfect gathering? She recalls a recent dinner party when seven friends came over to her house, sat on the floor around her living room coffee table, set with several, tapered candles and even more wine, and talked for hours on end. Nothing fancy. Just the essentials.
Lowe’s tips to remember when styling a space:
Reinvent your space with what you have. “The answer to a great piece is usually hiding in your own closet,” Lowe says. Think about any special collections or beloved keepsakes that you’ve acquired, consciously or unconsciously, over the years and put it on display. Feel comfortable about letting people look at everything in your space and be proud of what your belongings say about your personality.
Choose one color palette (like warm or cool tones) and stick to it throughout the entire home, with structural elements, like walls and cabinets, along with textiles and furniture, creating a pleasant uniformity. Decorative items should also be grouped by color. This makes for a less busy—and more dramatic—effect.
Reduce the amount of patterns. Choose one statement pattern for each space in the home and have all other patterns match it accordingly.
Resist the urge to fill every open space. Leave clean, unfettered areas to cleanse the visual palate. If a space is small, consider every item you bring in. If it isn’t beautiful or useful, don’t bring it into the home.
Maintain a diverse scale. Not everything should be small or large, tall or short. An engaging space should feature furniture and decor of all shapes and sizes.
Create individual areas and keep them separate, even if a space is small,. For instance, don’t use your living room as a home office. Use furniture to separate areas, creating stopping points, organizing the flow and heightening the efficiency and function of each individual space.