If you want to see how dedicated Grace Mitchell is to interior design, just look at her current home. After seven years of renovation, Mitchell is finally happy with her 1919 foursquare. And she definitely should be, as her family experienced plumbing pipes exploding, a ceiling collapsing on their car, and a bathroom literally falling through the downstairs ceiling. After so much time, energy, and creativity put into the renovation project, Mitchell has a unique, defined vision of what a home should be.
In 2012, Mitchell launched her website A Storied Style, which encapsulates both her creative design work as well as her personal philosophy, “Start with your story.” In Mitchell’s eyes, utilizing personal stories, travel experience, and distinctive interests to create an abode is much more important to design than simply trying to recreate something you’ve viewed online. This vision can be seen on Mitchell’s HGTV program One of a Kind, where she collaborates with homeowners to turn Victorian homes, lake houses, and historical properties into reflections of themselves. The creative designer shares the story of her current home renovation as well as her personal advice to design enthusiasts in this exclusive interview.
Residential Tech Today: Before you started hosting One of a Kind, you were a language therapist. Can you tell me a bit about what led you to hosting the program?
Grace Mitchell: Well, I’d always loved design and I was an interior design major for a year in college and then my advisor basically told me that it was a dying field and that I should choose something else. And so I took that advice and chose a major, ended up getting a Bachelor of Science and then a Master’s. And then I was actually working on my doctorate in audiology when we found out we were expecting. So I thought I would take a little bit of time off. And then we ended up having surprisingly four kids in three and a half years. I just didn’t go back, [and] I just felt more invested in my home since I was spending more time there.
And I started doing a lot of home projects and writing about it on a website, my blog at the time. My blog sort of turned into private design clients, and then I started getting my work published. I worked for magazines for a while, writing and designing for them and for brands. And then I got a call from the production company about potentially doing a show, and here we are.
RT Today: The stories of the people that you work with are always so important to your design projects. Do you have one story in particular that really stands out?
GM: That’s such a hard question because I feel so connected to all of my homes and to all of these people and their stories. I don’t know, it’s really hard to pick one.
It’s important to me – and it’s always been important for me in my job – to feel like I get to create, but it also needs to have meaning. And even when I was a language therapist, I got to create curriculum for these babies and their families. A lot of the time when I entered the picture, the family had just found out that their child was deaf or hard of hearing, which is, as you can imagine, was a very difficult transition. And so I got to create family activities for them to learn how to communicate with their baby. I loved that job because I got to create, and it had meaning, and now I get to do design, which I love so much. I love all things [related to the] home, but I get to make sure that it has meaning.
Really, that’s how so many people came to me before the show. When I was taking on clients, they would say, “Oh, I scoured Pinterest, and I found all the things that I liked, and I put that in my house, and I still hate it.” And it’s because it’s not meaningful to them. Of course you’re going to change out pillows or change out wallpaper here and there, but I found that if you’re really orchestrating your home around your story and what’s important to you that it makes it more timeless and you’re happy with it longer.
RT Today: In terms of more difficult projects, your own home took seven years to renovate. Can you tell me a bit about that process?
GM: Well, have you ever seen the movie The Money Pit? Well, my husband and I had never seen that movie when we bought this house, but we fell in love with the house because it has an enormous yard, and we have four kids, we’re really close to downtown, and we’re basically in the heart of the city of Fort Worth. But, we still have all of this land, so we just loved the house because of that.
But about six weeks after we moved in, the bathroom fell through the living room ceiling in the middle of the night. And then so many of our friends started telling us about this movie. “Have you seen this movie?” Because we have all these stories about this house. And when we watched the movie, my husband and I literally were crying, laughing so hard because so many of the things that happened in it have happened to us in real life in our house. So, it was a labor of love for sure. But we love that house, and we’re only the third owner. It’s a hundred years old.
So really we did our house like a lot of people do their own homes. We wrote down a list of projects that we wanted to do. We would save up over time. We would tackle one of the projects, and then we would stop and save more money and then tackle the next project. And, for us, it took about seven years. So we had to share this tiny little bathroom for several years while we saved up money to get the other bathrooms working correctly. We made it work, and it was really good for our kids, too, because I think it’s neat to see that we got to work on it together, it was really a family project, there was a lot of family input, and they got to see all that went into it.
There’s something almost spiritual to me about watching something that is ugly and broken and not at all attractive and taking it and turning it into something that’s beautiful and special. I just love that so much, and I’m so thankful that I get to do it.
RT Today: Do you find yourself drawing from your personal life as inspiration for your projects?
GM: Sure. I think I have a very good understanding about how a home needs to function for a family. So of course when I’m working on these projects, I’m constantly thinking about the family. The people who are on the show fill out a very in-depth five-page questionnaire that I have created for them. And so I pull from the questionnaire. I sit down with them; I basically invite myself to dinner sometimes. “Can I come hang out with your family and can I look in your closet? Can I see how your home works?” Taking that time to get to know them helps me figure out what they really need. Sometimes even more than what they say. So for the most part, really for the project, I take most of the inspiration from the family. But what I take from my own life is just a lot of practicality.
I want my spaces to be beautiful, of course. But, I’m a mom of four, and I work and I know that it’s challenging to keep everything together. So, I’m thinking when I’m doing a kitchen, okay, where’s the mail going to go? I’m thinking about all those things that I know are important to me in my own life and what I need to make my home run smoothly. I’m really drawing from my own life, but it’s all about their story. When it comes to what I think the function needs to be, I’m just drawing from what I know for my own family.
RT Today: What advice would you give to an aspiring home renovation enthusiast?
GM: I would say people can easily crowd their mind when they’re trying to gather inspiration from everyone else’s home. And I think sitting down and thinking about where you’ve been, what’s important to you, places that you’ve visited that you just loved the feeling of, and honing in on what really speaks to you in a home. Maybe it’s, “Oh, I loved this about my grandmother’s kitchen.” Or, “I loved this element of my parents’ house growing up.” Take all those things into consideration. That’s how you can craft a home that you love more than looking at, scrolling through random pictures. Of course, you can see, “Oh, I like those colors.” There are certain things, but I feel like if you try to write down and take it from yourself, what’s really important to you about your home and build from there.
Sometimes I even ask people to write down what they want their home to feel like, because people get so wrapped up in colors and, “Oh, do I want this or do I want that? I don’t know.” But if you can write down five characteristics of what you want your home to feel like and then measure up against that. “Okay, what if we did your cabinets blue, does that fit in with these characteristics to you? No. Okay, then scratch that off the list.” Sometimes if you just write down how you want it to feel, that can really help you.
And then people, just about everyone who has ever been on the show will say, “Oh, I don’t have a story. We don’t really have a story.” No one in this world thinks they have a story for some reason, but everyone does. And that’s really my job to pull it out.
One of the most recent episodes that we did, it was so darling because the husband was looking around and he said, “Well, I really do have a story, and it looks so good.” I thought that was really great. And that’s what I want is, when I leave a home, I don’t want to look back and say, “Oh, Grace Mitchell did this.” I love to look back at a home and say, “Wow, this looks just like the Mayos, [or] this looks just like the Rices.” And I feel like when we leave, that’s what we’ve done. And that’s just so… it’s a really special thing to be able to do, to contribute to someone’s life like that.