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When it comes to decor, Mickey Nelson is all about family heirlooms, patterns and classic style. For the first time in print, let’s take a closer look at the interior of his own gorgeous home.
As an interior designer by trade, Mickey Nelson knows a thing or two about turning your house into a home using unique décor.
Nelson came into the business in 1969 after graduating from VCU, though he knew long before then what he wanted out of his future career. As a young boy growing up on a dairy farm, he simply couldn’t stop rearranging his grandmother’s house.
“I think I drove my mother and grandmother crazy,” he says. “I always thought I knew where things should go and was shifting things around. In retrospect, it was pretty brazen.”
He has completed some commercial work over the years, but most of his focus has always been on high-end residential work. He realized early on that people would want more interior work done to their homes, especially in the more urban areas.
“I’ve watched a lot of styles and fads go in and out over the years!” Nelson says with a laugh. “Roanoke tends to be, if you’re an older person, more traditional; if you’re younger, more sharp edge or contemporary. I’ve done both mid-century modern and contemporary, but I really like all the German Bauhaus stuff. They had great designers.”
While Nelson does a lot of mid-century work, most jobs that come his way (and get photographed) tend to be a little more traditional. Nelson enjoys both types of design and in fact owns an antique shop, Antique Blue, in downtown Roanoke. His wife Nancy, a retired librarian, now manages their store.
They moved into their home 28 years ago. While they’ve added pieces here and there, they haven’t changed a thing since they moved in. The wallpaper, floor coverings and more are the same as they’ve always been–thus, the idea that traditional will always be in style no matter the era.
“Good things are still good 27 years later,” Nelson says. “Really good design, if it has a classic thing about it or isn’t too trendy, doesn’t date itself. I would probably pick the same wallpaper even now.”
Nelson believes there’s one simple trick when designing your home: if you’re more traditional, you still want contemporary pieces that make your rooms pop. With a lot of one and just a little of another, it makes for a nice balance as well as prevents a busy look in a setting.
“Or, if you’re into mid-century modern, I think a wonderful old chest in your living room gives a nice reference to the new. A glass-top coffee table is a great piece in a traditional room,” Nelson suggests.
Nelson’s home has seven bedrooms, including a maid’s quarter that now acts as storage. Built in the late 1920s and finished in the ‘30s by John Thompson (at the time a recent UVA grad) and Randolph France, the house is one of the first in Roanoke to have forced heat (a radical notion as everyone used radiators at the time), as well as one of (if not the) first to have air conditioning. Thompson did a few homes considered “exotic” for the late 1920s; when Nelson put in a new compressor and heating system decades later, his maintenance help was amazed at the details.
“Every vent was sized right, every return in the proper place. Thompson must’ve really been ahead of his time as it was practical and correct. When it’s the first house that does that in a town, it’s usually a mess,” Nelson says.
Other than maintenance updates, Nelson hasn’t done much renovation-type work in the home, thanks to its well-kept shape. They did add a deep fish pond in back as the family enjoys listening to the rushing water while on the back deck. As the third floor had two huge bedrooms, Nelson suspended a spiral staircase on a piece of steel on the upper hall. With three kids, the top floor became a rite of passage! In addition, Nelson kept the original windows, not wanting to replace them with plastic.
“One of the best things you can say about interior design is when it looks like it’s always been that way. It appears to have worn very well and been in style all these years, rather than looking like you just did it. My home has a less fragile feel than something new.”
When it comes to Nelson’s home decor, it’s certainly more traditional. However, many of the pieces that bring the rooms together are simply things he’s found around town, without any intention of trying to match everything by colors or patterns. In fact, his traditional designs nearly border on modern because of how the different patterns and textures come together to form his décor style.
“If you’re mixing the old chest with the mid-century modern, or new table with old traditional house, I think the only rule is don’t do 50/50 because it gets confusing,” Nelson advises. “Have it be basically contemporary or basically traditional with an accent of the other, a splash for the punch you need so you can see the difference but not overwhelm your eyes–or guests!”
While some of the basic things, such as a terrazzo pattern, have been around for centuries, they don’t date themselves as much as the things you do to them. Nelson says the trend in fabrics this year is bleached ombre (where blue curtains, for example, start bold at the top and fade into lighter shades as the length continues). While it’s hot right now, that trend will most likely last only eight to 10 months before it’s over.
Nelson emphasizes how things in your home should be comfortable and practical. In addition, use caution when jumping into trends. While some are nice enough to turn into classic and stick around, becoming part of our production or culture, décor should be able to stand on its own based on how good-looking it is, as well as practicality.
“The good old basic stuff is still stylish. Leather is a great example,” Nelson says. “It only became a practical piece in living rooms within the last 30 or so years. In the 1950s, no one did that, considering leather as too casual or much like you’d expect in a hunting lodge. People grew tired of recovering their sofas after spilling things on them or got bored of the trendy fabrics; that eventually lead to leather becoming a more practical, classic piece found in everyday homes.”