Achieving that luxury look |

Achieving that luxury look

A look inside a Lake Tahoe lakefront home. Design by Catherine Macfee Interior Design.
Courtesy / Catherine Macfee Interior Design |

Many of us would love a home suitable for Architectural Digest, but feel it’s beyond our reach. Is it possible to have a luxury home without spending a fortune?

We consulted some of Tahoe’s top interior design experts to learn how to get a luxury look on a budget.


The first step, according to Justine Macfee, creative director at Catherine Macfee Interior Design in Truckee, is starting with the room’s shell.

“If you’re going to invest in something, invest in the bones of the space.”Justine MacfeeCatherine Macfee Interior Design

“Make sure you have a great paint color and flooring you love,” she says. “If you’re going to invest in something, invest in the bones of the space.”

To keep costs down, Marcio Decker, principal designer and co-owner of Aspen Leaf Interiors in Truckee, suggests focusing on a few rooms that will have the most impact in your home.

“Put emphasis on the areas that will really show your efforts, such as the living room, master bedroom and dining room,” she offers. “These are the areas where you can focus your dollar amount.”

When it comes to color, Elisa DiNallo of DiNallo Designs in Truckee emphasizes the importance of carefully choosing the colors for your space. This is one decision where it really pays to be thoughtful or to consult a professional: “A sophisticated room uses color very consciously, whether it’s bright and bold or soft and elegant. You want to have color in your room, but you don’t always want to have it in your face.”

Once you have your shell, the designers recommend investing in what Macfee calls your “core workhorse pieces,” such as your dining room table and sofa.

These pieces should be quality, comfortable pieces that you love, as they get a lot of use and serve as your foundation in each room.


Good news for your wallet: The next step to a luxury home is free — maybe even profitable if you’re savvy with eBay or yard sales.

“Declutter, declutter, declutter!,” says DiNallo. “Then you can see what you have. You really don’t need much.”

Macfee says that more times than not, clutter is the biggest problem her clients face: “Clutter is the number one thing that makes homes feel un-luxurious. People tend to live with clutter when they get busy. Simplify, and it’s more luxurious living.”

DiNallo echoes the sentiment, noting one piece making a statement is much more powerful than thirty “knick-knacky items” in the room.

“There’s great value in empty spaces,” she says. “Think of music. Think of the silence. The empty space creates drama.”

Not sure of what qualifies as clutter? Macfee makes it simple: “Surround yourself with things you love. If you don’t love it then it’s clutter. Get rid of it, or hide it if you can’t.”


So once you love the wall paint and your comfortable, quality sofa, it’s time to bring the room together.

We asked the designers, “What is it about a room that makes it feel luxurious?” Is it just a large price tag and high-end pieces, or are do we respond to something else in the presence of a well-designed space?

Macfee offers an answer: “Luxury is a sense of completion. Does everything have a place? Is it full enough of a space?”

At a basic level, Macfee distills this down to mean that every room should have a focus, be well balanced, with great lighting and finishing touches.

“It’s all about balance and composition,” she adds. “What I love to do is make sure ever corner, every nook has its own vignette and is brought to completion.”

To create a “full” sense of completion, Macfee recommends creating personal layers on top of your core pieces using things like books, accessories, artwork and personal items you love.

Decker advises mixing discount pieces with custom-made pieces for a sophisticated look.

“It’s not opening a catalog and buying everything in there — it doesn’t matter how much it costs,” she says. “The luxury look comes from using the elements you have to work with and using your abilities to put it all together.”


DiNallo, who has a passion for incorporating found objects in modern spaces, recommends using unique elements to make a statement in each room.

“Something that makes a statement will look richer,” she says. “Look for something that speaks ‘style.’ Something that has personality and that appeals to you. Something that you’re drawn to.”

Key pieces Macfee recommends to bring a room to completion are rugs, window treatments, great lighting, art and accessories — used to create “the whole vignette, all the way through.”

She adds you can create a sense of discovery in a room by curating your things into mini collections, and stresses the life a rug brings to a room: “Rugs are a key element that people often overlook or are terrified of. It is possible to get a great rug at an affordable price — check places like World Market or vintage marketplaces.”

Decker refers to scale, color and lighting as the key design pillars — highlighting the importance of using layers of light in designing a sophisticated space.

Macfee echoes the critical importance of great lighting. She recommends bringing light down to a “human level,” cautioning against the use of overhead lights, except in the case of statement pieces like chandeliers.

DiNallo similarly suggests using different levels of lighting, adding the layers are a great way to create texture in a room.

To achieve layered lighting, start by adding lights that create mood and spaces within the room, such as can lighting, directional art lights, task lights, pendants and chandeliers. Then layer in floor lamps and table lamps. The designers add that dimmers on lights are also great to have.


While we might think of luxury as expensive and austere, each designer emphasizes the importance of comfort, functionality, and designing a space around things you love.

What separates the luxurious home from the ordinary house next-door is not an outrageous price tag after all — but careful planning, a lack of clutter and thoughtful attention to detail.

Act as a curator for your home, selecting things you love and removing the rest. It’s your space after all, and true luxury is being able to enjoy it.

“Everything in your home should make you happy and represent a piece of you,” says Macfee.

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