A young Heights family with a pre-teen daughter and two mischievous rescue dogs turned to their stylish friend, Clare Burks, for help when they wanted to transform their old house into a modern, well-appointed home. I’m a firm believer that great designers are born not made, and Burks is a prime example of that. A mother of four who once worked in the fast-paced ad world in L.A. and lived in Budapest for over a decade, Burks brings a unique perspective and worldly sensibility to her work. She also has an innate sense of proportion and a great eye (perhaps inherited from her mother, Mary Clare Brierley, who worked at MertinsDyke for many years).

“They were still living with their college furniture,” says Burks of her clients/friends. They also, says Clare, had beige walls throughout the house. So, the ever-energetic Burkes decided to begin with color—and some gentle coaxing. “Originally, the clients wanted to leave the interior house color the same as it was, beige. . . As the project moved forward, however, the client’s trust in me grew, and we ended up choosing new paint colors for the master bedroom downstairs and all the rooms upstairs.” After establishing the palette—and trust—Clare’s creativity could really take flight.


Here, she catalogues a few rooms for us. Prepare yourself for an edifying experience.

Great Room/Kitchen


Here, we focused on the comfort of daily living here. We knew a few things at the outset: that we wanted a sectional and large TV somewhere and that we would use the client’s rustic country dining table and matching chairs. Other than that, it was wide open.  

Again, I wanted to accent the natural light where we had it and enhance it where it was lacking. The backsplash was originally a rather dull putty-colored tile placed on the diagonal, and it just zapped the room’s energy. My dear friend, Eric Ford, suggested I go see what options Inside Effects had; I did and found exactly what I was looking for—a gorgeous, pillowed subway tile in a rich creamy-white that matched the trim in the room. Perfect! Casual glamour.


Next was the sectional. We chose one of the newer shimmer leathers in chocolate from American Leather. It radiates light and sheen, and it’s supple and soft. We then found the fabulous console in Platinum (by Stanley), the Museum Bench in Lichen ultrasuede, the custom pillows from Hickory Chair and a linen accent pillow with French writing. All from mertinsdykehome. The blue-green throw was from Cynthia East. In addition to adding undercounter kitchen lights, we needed a chandelier for the dining table. There were several considerations, like the fact that the table is small and very narrow and that it has a rough-hewn feel to it. We decided to counter the rustic style of the table with a modern chandelier. All of us were drawn to fabric-enclosed fixtures because of the muted light and interesting shapes available now. The length and narrowness of the table also lent itself to having a long, thin shape for the light. The owner found a Polsen light that fit the bill with her father, a retired architect.

Front Living Room/Entryway

I just love, love, love the windows, the wood-burning fireplace and the firescreen (from Ellen Golden Antiques) in the front living room. I really wanted to take full advantage of the indirect daylight in this room and also encourage cozy lounging around a crackling fire during cold evenings. So the first change we made was to replace the black polished square tile around the fireplace with a gorgeous marble-like cream Travertine from All Natural Stone in Riverdale. This lightened up the focus point considerably.

Next was the layout of this room. We basically treated the rectangular room as two rooms: an entryway and living room. With advice from Bill Brierley, a retired expert light executive from Curtis Stout, we designed the can lights in the ceiling in a way that emphasized the “two” rooms. The two oriental rugs the client had also helped create the borders of the two rooms, and we hunted for the furniture that gave us the look we wanted, that was comfortable enough to be used any time and that fit the narrow space without looking crowded.  


Master Suite

Here, we changed key elements including the master fireplace, the wall-to-wall carpeting and the chandelier. The old carpet was dirt-colored, which actually appealed to the client because of the two small dogs who dominate the household. They wanted something that could withstand wear and tear. But with all the great technology and lifetime guarantees, like the ones found at Carpet One, we were able to have it all. We settled on a carpet in a solid color with an embossed pattern.

A Hickory Chair fabric with an Asian pagoda print inspired the master suite design. We all loved the teal green and sharp graphic elements. We choose Sea Salt by Sherwin Williams for the walls; it harmonized with the Hickory Chair fabric and pulled the greens, grays and blues from the great room into the master suite. Next, we found the bedding. At Vesta’s, I found exactly what I was looking for—a rich mocha, cotton-weave coverlet and two king brushed-cotton plaid pillowcases in pale blue and cream. Not matchie, but it suited our look and was the perfect canvas for the awesome the pagoda print we started with. We made one large square pillow with the Hickory Chair fabric that sits in the middle of the bed.

The little alcove in the master bedroom was appealing because of the light but odd because of its size and shape. We went back and forth about what to put there, then it struck me that this was the perfect spot for a dressing table. The dressing table, which originally came from Gumps (!), was a big score from Bella Boutique. Narcissa [Jackson] was using it as a display and had it covered with stuff, so you couldn’t even see it. The bamboo was exactly what we wanted, and we loved the black finish in contrast to the soothing walls. To soften the light, we found sheer floor-length curtains at Cynthia East that have oversized horizontal seams that almost hide the blinds behind them. Uber-glamorous!

Upstairs Office

The Bauhaus chairs, from the client’s father, were the lynchpin for the look of the room. The black-and-chrome lamp and chrome-and-glass corner table were both scores from Clement in Hillcrest. They set up the sharp, masculine feeling of the room against the soft-grey backdrop of the wall color (Stonington Gray, Benjamin Moore).  

Upstairs Den 

Here’s something cool: American Leather furniture now also comes in upholstery! The sectional for the upstairs den—where many a teenager will play Wii, drink sodas, and dance on the furniture ’til dawn—is American Leather. We chose an indestructible grey flannel that is rich and soft to the touch. The Langham console is one solid piece, light in color and design but sturdy in construction. I love the way the room sways and bends between modern elements, like the white coffee table and chrome legs of the sofa, and organic textures, like the Driftwood Deer Head (Box Turtle), Tropical Driftwood bowl (mertinsdykehome) and woven sisal rug. All found at mertinsdykehome, except for the end table from Cynthia East.  

Having traveled the world and lived abroad, Burks was delighted (and impressed) to find so many wonderful resources right here in her hometown. By mixing high-end finds with more reasonable ones (from Target, TJ Maxx, and PB Teen), she was able to create a harmonious and hip home that perfectly suits this family. Says Clare, “I just love how it’s still an old Heights home that has been updated for a young vibrant family, and even though it has been added onto, it has retained its charm.” And, I might add, gotten an infusion of cool from a talented friend.