Park City Home: The New Nesters
Studio McGee redefines style for the next generation of homeowners with simple shapes, symmetry, and a timeless, minimal palette
If you ever need an ego-check, spend a little time with Shea McGee. Shea and her husband, Syd, founded their Salt Lake City-based firm, Studio McGee, five years ago. It has subsequently become a juggernaut of the design field, with a clean and classic aesthetic that resonates particularly with young tastemakers.
Here’s a bit of what’s on the Studio McGee plate: Coast-to-coast design projects from Pacific ranch homes to New York high-rises. Appearances in Domino, Architectural Digest, Vogue Living, HGTV magazine, Apartment Therapy, King’s Lane, and Elle Décor, among others. Over 1 million followers on Instagram. A booming online market, McGee & Co., from which to order anything from beds to planters, as well as a brick-and-mortar store in Costa Mesa, California. In 2019, a collaboration on Real Simple’s first branded home — a stunning Brooklyn penthouse. And in their spare time, the care and feeding of two young daughters.
Shea McGee took time out of her nonstop schedule to talk to us about her first love, creating thoroughly livable interiors.
On discovering her aesthetic
“I went to school for communications, not design, so when I got into the design world I was really drawn to magazines and blogs that made homes feel very livable. I realized that you can have really nice things that also feel really comfortable. I didn’t want anything too precious — I wanted my house to feel as though people could come in and hang out. I was getting the same requests from clients, and that became my perspective. Trends come and go, but that’s the core of everything that we believe in when we design.”
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On designing for large spaces
“We typically start by laying everything out in our CAD [computer-aided design] program. I also love to tape furniture on a floor before ordering anything, so we can walk the space and make sure it all works.
“In large spaces, we usually need to create a couple of zones, each with a purpose. The main gathering place will focus on the fireplace. If there’s more room, we’ll put together an additional gathering area that might look at the scenery, typically with a couple of chairs, a sofa, and a lounge chair. In a very large room with a cathedral ceiling we might create a third, dining space. At that point we’ll scale the furniture up rather than make yet another zone.”
On making neutrals interesting
“I’m all about mixing textures, which prevents a neutral room from falling flat. If everything is a smooth linen texture, it’s not going to feel as thoughtful as something that incorporates wood or leather. I also like patterns. You don’t need to add a pop of color to make it feel interesting.
“I tend to keep the big pieces neutral, since they’re such an investment, but use pillows to add color and depth.”
On working with challenging pieces, such as a client’s tufted fuchsia headboard or orange pleather recliner
“I like color, but I do not like big pops of color. I like my colors to move in and out of each other around a space. For example, if you want to bring in blue, introduce several blues in different depths, so nothing feels like a discordant ‘pop.’
“As far as the headboard goes, I’d retuft it. And that orange recliner is going to the dump. If your spouse insists on a recliner, find him a new one in a more neutral tone — there are some good options out there.”
On wall color
“I love a warm white wall. I look at warm white walls that we did years ago, and they don’t age. We go back and forth in the design world. There was a time when everyone wanted a crisp gallery white, which creates the perfect backdrop to layer beautiful things.
“We like to use strong doses of dark wall colors in offices, powder rooms, and bedrooms. We’ll also use it on furniture and finishes. In recent years, I’ve found that instead of doing greys on walls, we’ll use it more on cabinetry.”
On freshening up traditional mountain interiors
“Some of it, I love. I love the big wood beams and would leave them alone. And I’d leave wood ceilings alone — I think they’re so beautiful. But I would take something like a knotty alder cabinet and do a smoother oak finish or add some paint so that everything isn’t wood-on-wood-on-wood. If there’s wood paneling on the walls, paint it. Choose a color that speaks to the mountain aesthetic — a dark blue, green, earth tones, even black.”
On tamping down a budget
“You have to pick and choose where you want to splurge. Let’s say you have your heart set on inset cabinetry, which is beautiful but super-expensive. It can be the star of your space, which means you’ll spend less on the lighting fixture above it. If you decide to cut back on the cabinetry, make sure to choose a lighting fixture that becomes a stunning focal point.”
On Studio McGee’s trademark detail
“I always sneak in a hint of black. Even in a sweet cottage, I’ll add a little black and white photo. In a mountain home we’ll do black window frames or iron details.”
On trends that stand the test of time, and those that don’t
“In recent years we’ve seen a lot of English influences, Shaker-style cabinetry, and cottage-style mixes of rustic and new, none of which we are going to stop using anytime soon. They are going to be around for a long time.
“On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of shiny gold recently, and while I think gold works well if you mix it with other metals, that glammy look, with everything bright white and gold, is going to look very dated.”
On one interior style she could gladly see vanish from the earth
“I lived in Orange County for a long time, and there were a lot of Tuscan tract homes with brown-beige faux-finishes applied everywhere, and not in a thoughtful way. I love Tuscany in its truest form, but that ruined it for me.”
On arranging tabletop tableaux
“Create groupings, and don’t just line things up. Levels are your friends — you want to focus on different heights and scales. Some low, some tall, some medium-scale, some oversize. I walk into homes where everything on a shelf is too small, and that’s one of the major things I fix.”
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