Podcast, Ep. 255 Breaking Design Rules with Summer Thornton

Breaking Design Rules with Summer Thornton

Designer Summer Thornton

We are thrilled to welcome Chicago-based interior designer Summer Thornton to the show. Her work has appeared in Architectural Digest, ELLE Decor, House Beautiful, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, as well as on the recent cover of Veranda. Her style is described as maximalist with a modern sensibility, whimsical textiles, bold art, and surprising patterns. She also wrote a fabulous and fun new book called Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating. We talk all about Summer’s fantastic use of colors, how to break the rules, and how if you really love something it’s never “too much”!

What You’ll Hear on This Episode:

  • We talk about how much we all love Summer’s coffee table book Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating.
  • Why Summer loves using her dining room table as a “stage” when entertaining.
  • How does Summer account for having two young children when designing?
  • What are Summer’s guidelines for coming up with a color scheme?
  • How you can break the color rules of a color palette and make it work.
  • Summer’s biggest tip for designing a room is to try to plan it all at once.
  • Summer thinks the important investment pieces are fabric and textiles.
  • What are some of Summer’s favorite fabrics, colors, and combinations?
  • Summer loves using bold and fanciful shapes.
  • To layer and “make it work”, Summer really recommends truly loving everything in your space.
  • Rules that Summer likes to break like using neutral sofas and the idea of throwaway spaces.
  • Summer is designing a beach dream house in Mexico. Follow the progress for Casa Rosada Sayulita!
  • Summer’s final tip is to use a larger sample swatch to truly see a color.

Decorating Dilemma:

Hello Dear Designers!

Thanks for the podcasts- they are so fun and educational! I enjoy listening to them daily.

My dilemma is this:

I purchased this vintage Cabriole leg oak buffet specifically for my small dining area and it still doesn’t seem to fit, aesthetically, with the rest of the open concept space. Is it the stain color, the style, or the decor that is throwing it off? I planned to paint it deep navy or black at one time but am not sure if that’s a good idea or not. Please help!

I would say I have a transitional design style and like to throw a few unique pieces in the mix. The home is a 1901 American Foursquare home we recently inherited and remodeled. Any additional suggestions for improving my home are welcome!




Hi Deb,

I love the idea of incorporating an older piece into this space. I don’t like rooms that have all painted furniture, so I think the concept of using a wood tone balances this. What I think might be throwing things off is the style of this piece; I think it’s maybe too delicate compared to the other pieces. That said, if you wanted to try to paint it, you could see if that helps it fit in better. Otherwise, I would recommend getting a different piece with a wood stain finish; I do think that works well. The other thing to consider is the styling; I would maybe take the runner off and style the lamp with a more modern shade. If you wanted to try, you could also bring more warm tones in to incorporate with this piece; maybe something like throw pillows and/or a floral fabric. I think you could live it up a little and change that wall color! If you are set on neutral, really soft pink or if you want to stay on the cool side a light lavender is a good place to start dipping your toe into colors.

Good luck, Deb! Pick up Summer’s book for inspiration and send us pics!

Mentioned in This Episode:

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Happy Decorating!

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Abbey Nolte

Abbey is a homegrown Georgia peach who loves a fresh take on Southern design. When she’s not working behind the scenes of the How to Decorate blog and podcast, you can find her cheering on the Appalachian State Mountaineers and spending time with her wheaten terrier, Charlie.


  1. Reply


    June 17, 2022

    Wow! Just looked through Summer’s portfolio on her website. The way she layers colors, textures and patterns is masterful. Nothing formulaic here, each and every piece she selects for these rooms is unique and impossibly gorgeous. And her attention to detail in her styling absolutely took my breath away. I totally see her as a modern day Billy Baldwin or Sister Parish…amazing!

  2. Reply


    June 7, 2022

    I always love this podcast as I learn so much. And I often find myself also trying to solve the decorating dilemmas. This room is great and just needs a tweak.

    I think Carolyn nailed it when she suggested just bringing in a little more of the same color as that sideboard. So here are my amateur thoughts, Deb:

    Loose the runner (that’s part of what keeps it looking like a different style).

    Replace one of the trays either on the table or the island. My vote is the island since that one is a little small. Try Ballard’s Braided Seagrass Tray.

    Add something on that long wall from the front door: either try Ballard’s Suzanne Kasler Southport Rattan Bench or else Ballard’s Prairie Wall Basket on that wall by itself or over a painted bench.

    A throw over the gray recliner in the same orange tone would be good, but I couldn’t find one on Ballard’s site. Also, move that chair over by the fireplace and just scoot it over when needed for TV viewing. If a throw can’t be found there are some pillows (Neco block print in Ochre…..), but I like the idea of a throw more.

    Some more expensive options would be putting rattan shades at the windows or replacing with the dining table or island lighting with something woven.

    There are so many ways to help that piece blend in. Go for it, Deb.