Leslie Tunney reaches for the Windex and scrubs away at an already gleaming granite island in her kitchen, with apologies that she hasn’t cleaned up yet since breakfast an hour ago. A quick glance in the sink reveals no dishes; a peek around the floor under the stools, nary a crumb; and an inspection of the creamy white walls, not a single finger print or smudge. Amazing, considering this is the home of not only the decorator and her husband, John, but their three children, ages 10, 8 and 5.
Not to mention the black, shaggy Newfoundland wallowing in the mulch outside on this rainy morning. He seems to have left no trace inside— there’s no tuft of fur, half-chewed rawhide bone or muddy pawprints in sight. I wonder aloud where all of the family’s sports equipment, dolls and chew toys might be. “It’s all in the basement, out of the way,” explains the trim, direct Tunney, who never stops moving. “I have a busy business and three young children— I need to keep things in my living space simple and looking orderly.”
Mission accomplished. The living space of the decorator, who describes her aesthetic as “clean, architecturally interesting and simple,” has created a soothing home environment where beige and white upholstery and seagrass rugs meld with walls and trim in shades of white from chalk to cream. Against this ultimate neutral palette, Tunney relies largely on nature to provide the color: the greens and browns of the surrounding woods are evident at every angle, through the many large, undressed windows. Accessories are kept simple, too: white-blooming orchids, rustic mirrors and streamlined lamps.
Tunney’s appreciation for simplicity and her resourcefulness show in her work, as well. The practical decorator is just as likely to shop at Pottery Barn for her clients (and for herself) as she is to look for furnishings at the high-end Holly Hunt showroom at the Washington Design Center. “It all depends on the clients’ taste and budget,” she explains. “If they are very formal and like a high-end look, we’ll do designer pieces. If the client is a young family with kids who like to dive off the coffee table onto the sofa, I’m going to look for something a little more practical.”
This grounded mentality has inspired Tunney to fill her own home with everything from fabrics by Brunschwig & Fils to lamps found at Target. “I like anything that is well-made, with style,” she says. And in every room is a great find. In the foyer, beneath a beautiful, candid portrait of the Tunney children painted by Baltimore artist Ruth McCall, is a wrought-iron chair found years ago, literally on a roadside. The living room’s club chairs, a pair that Tunney slipcovered in off-white cotton duck, were inherited from an old friend of her grandfather. And the large Chesterfield sofa, covered in off-white pique, was given to Tunney by a client in return for her decorating help.
Small prints and paintings throughout the house were found in consignment and antique shops from Cockeysville to Catonsville. A pair of arched, glass doors on the pantry are fashioned from a large window that Tunney found at a auction in Washington, D.C. “I’ve been lucky with the things I’ve found,” the decorator admits. “But you get lucky when you take the time to look.”
Case in point: The gray slate floor veined with green, red and blue that covers the entire first floor of the Tunney home was salvaged from a shoe boutique that was going out of business. The owner of the chain sold Tunney every tile in his warehouse for an incredible $1 a foot, and there was enough to cover a client’s floor, as well. The floor is the essence of practicality, its dark color and natural imperfections camouflaging any rogue footprints or dog hairs that escape the housekeeping mop.
While pared-down simplicity is the look for Tunney, it is not the only style in her repertoire. Current projects include a Ruxton home she is filling with bold Oriental rugs and overstuffed upholstered pieces covered in red and yellow plaids and toiles. And Tunney’s last home (she has occupied four in the last 12 years), a traditional stone house in Towson, was decorated in a brightly colorful English Country style.
For now, Tunney is right at home in her uncluttered surrounds, where even the master bedroom, with its spool bed from Eddie Bauer covered with crisp linens, and a complementary antique side table, is a study in cool simplicity. But, like the decorator herself, the creative wheels are in constant motion. “I love to plan a project, make everything perfect. Then I get an itch to start something new,” Tunney says. “I’ve already got ideas for the next house.”