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Shawn Henderson's Un-"Stodgy" Connecticut Living Room

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Welcome to Why This Works, in which decorator and former shelter-magazine editor Alexa Stevenson looks point-blank at professionally decorated rooms and breaks down the elements that make it work. Have a suggestion for someone whose work should be showcased? Do let us know.

The task at hand for NYC-based interior designer Shawn Henderson: turn an oversize Connecticut living room with gorgeous, if somewhat imposing, barn beams into a space that would at once show off the architecture and allow the clients to comfortably entertain friends. So Henderson (who oh-so-awesomely deployed a shearling-covered swing at this year's Kips Bay Decorator Show House) put a spin on the country house by using an eclectic mix of industrial pieces, midcentury antiques, and modern art, all in a soft palette. "The client is a young family and I wanted it to be a little cooler and a little more hip for them," says Henderson. "I didn’t want it to feel to stodgy." Take a closer look at the details below.

1. The living room is long and rectangular, calling for multiple seating areas. Henderson used a daybed to bridge the the space. "A daybed is such a great piece of furniture," he says. "People can sit back-to-back and have conversations on both sides—it's much more interactive than back-to-back sofas."
2. It can be a tricky working with such imposing architecture, so Henderson "had to play off the architecture, but also soften and highlight the detail of it at the same time, which is a fine line." He used wood furniture that mimicked the beams and soft colors—the rug, the pale blue pieces—to balance and enhance the natural features of the space.
3. The clients loves to entertain, and this room needed to function primarily for social gatherings. Henderson retrofitted a cabinet with shelves, and now it serves as a bar. "If you can't find exactly what you need, think outside of the box and retrofit an existing piece of furniture to suit you needs," he says.
4. Common wisdom suggests that a fireplace has to dictate the seating arrangement of any room, but Henderson unabashedly deviated from this "rule." "This fireplace separates the divide between the two seating areas," he explains. "If we had centered the furniture [around it] the remainder of the space would have been too fragmented and [there would be] voids at either ends of the room. It wouldn't have made sense. The fireplace is so beautiful—it still draws you into the room."
5. Furniture with interesting shapes has a sculpture-like quality. "Select a boldly shaped piece and admire its presence," Henderson advises. "The chair on the left is a dining room chair that we pulled in and parked as sculpture, and the wing chair—I love a wing chair—adds such great structure and variety to the room."

· Shawn Henderson Interior Design [official site]
· All Why This Works columns [Curbed National