Podcast, Ep. 126: design blogger Kevin O’Gara

Design blogger Kevin O'Gara of Thou Swell

Design blogger Kevin O’Gara joins the show this week to discuss the inspiration and background behind his traditional yet youthful style. Kevin is a rising superstar in the world of design, and talks about his blog Thou Swell, the inspiration behind his new maze inspired rug collection, and what trends he is most excited. Kevin also talks with us about using contrast and color in both traditional and modern, how he took his design skill to his very own dorm room, and what it was like working with Suzanne Kasler.

What You’ll Hear on This Episode:

  • Trials and triumphs including water leaks (yes, a new one!), garbage disposals, and why you should leave it to the professionals to do the fixing. Also, a search for the perfect lamp, the Margot Slubby Velvet Quilt, and finding the right box that is both beautiful and functional.
  • Kevin has always found ways to turn things he is interested in into a business or entrepreneurial venture. He started his blog, Thou Swell, in high school, and mixed his interest in design, photography, and graphics.
  • Kevin’s design style is rooted in classics with a playful twist. He grew up with traditional design, but found balance between that and modern while spending time on Pinterest and blogs,
  • What it was like for Kevin to work in Suzanne Kasler’s office, and the biggest things he learned throughout his experience.
  • Some do’s and don’t of wallpaper that Kevin has learned, including accent walls and how to get over the feeling of intimidation when starting with a blank slate.
  • Kevin’s rug collection, and how the color choice was inspired by nature.
  • The Invitation Homes show house that has been one of Kevin’s favorite projects, where he got to be playful and step out of his comfort zone.
  • Why working on tiny spaces such as a dorm room has been one of Kevin’s most fun challenges and how they are a great creative experience.
  • Kevin’s biggest tip: focus on textiles and invest in comfortable bed linens and lots of throw pillows and blankets.
  • How Kevin’s blog name “Thou Swell” mirrors the traditional and modern aspects of his design.

Decorating Dilemma

Happy New Year, lovely podcast hosts!

I’m listening to the bonus tips episode and this was the push I needed to reach out. My family recently moved into a 1960s colonial with a living room and a family room. So, all of our previous “living room” furniture is in the now “family room,” which is attached to the kitchen and truly where we live.

Now, we need to do something with our long empty box of a living room. My husband and I have two young kids, and er already have TVs in the family room and playroom. We’re thinking of doing seating and bookcases  and make it more of a cozy retreat. (Not “formal,” but less about toys and TV and more a bit of a comfy retreat for reading, games, cards, etc.)

Relevant facts:

  • Room is 23′ by 11’4″
  • The trim was a scary yellow-tone polyurethaned wood but I sanded and repainted white.
  • I want to have the fireplace bricks/tile covered with marble or the like but that probably won’t happen this year.
  • We live in New England, fireplace is functional so we hypothetically could be using it!
  • Walls are in Ben Moore Stonington Grey.
  • Small little pictures above mantel aren’t a design choice; they were to cover existing nails when we decided to sort-of decorate the mantel for Christmas.
  • Console in the room can stay or go….just didn’t have another home for it.
  • We use the 3-season porch off of the room a lot; not now but that’s where we ate dinner every night over the summer and into the fall. So I want to maintain easy access.


  1. Can I do full-length drapes to cozy the space up or would that look silly since the windows are smallish and high up on the walls? The ceilings aren’t tall either.
  2. I am thinking maybe two “areas”…one with the couch facing fireplace and an ottoman and coffee table, and then move the console down and create another more loungy spot in corner across from porch door? Maybe use it as a bar area?
  3. I think I may be the only person in the world who doesn’t love the look of jute but I am on a budget….thoughts on what I’m supposed to do with rugs for such a strange dimension?

I’m afraid it won’t look good to just line furniture up against the wall opposite fireplace, but the room is so narrow that I’m not sure what to do. Any and all thoughts much appreciated!

I’ve been listening for a long time and appreciate all of the great designers and ideas you’ve introduced me to; thanks for a wonderful podcast! (I’m already thinking I should use the room planning tool once I have some sense of what I’m doing!)

Best wishes,


Kevin suggests having a smaller scale sofa facing two chairs, and definitely do full floor-length drapes if you are able to lessen the heating situation. If you can’t, Roman shades would be another option.  If you are worried about the space under the window, adding some benches can be a nice addition. Building bookcases above the heating panels could look great, with all your books and window seat to make a nice reading room. Four chairs around an ottoman would center your seating. If you want to add a large mirror or nice piece of art on your mantle, check out our acrylic easel and skirted tables. Send us some after pictures, we would love to see it!

Show Notes:

Skye's library after adding bookshelves around the window

Skye’s library after with new bookshelves and a fresh coat of white paint

Please send in your questions so we can answer them on our next episode! And of course, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes so you never miss an episode. You can always check back here to see new episodes, but if you subscribe, it’ll automatically download to your phone.

Happy Decorating!

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.