How to shop the Boston Design Center like a pro—with tips from interior designer Shannon Gilmour.
Interior designer Shannon Gilmour.
Photographs by Tony Luong
Shannon Kelly Gilmour, creator and owner of grace interiors is not a designer I would bet against. Her flair for design becomes obvious about one minute after you meet her, which I did recently at the Boston Design Center. Located in the Seaport District, the center is a tour de force when it comes to all things design, boasting more than 350,000 square feet of showrooms and over 1,200 product lines featuring furniture, fabric, kitchen and bath design, accessories, and more.
Given all of this, the building has the potential to be overwhelming, but my day spent inside was anything but—thanks to Gilmour’s expertise and determination to show me how to shop the Design Center through the eyes of a professional.
A designer’s life is a busy one, and Gilmour keeps herself organized whether she’s in the office or on the road with a pull cart of materials that’s easy to maneuver no matter where she finds herself. Her design notebook and folders are full of essentials: fabric samples, tear sheets, and hand-drawn renderings of current projects, as well as paint colors, a tape measure, and an iPad. And (let’s not forget) a snack bag of mixed nuts and a bottled water. These are just a few of the initial tip-offs that Gilmour means business. On the other hand, her charming personality and quick wit let you know you aren’t going to get away without having some fun.
With pull cart firmly in tow, we began our journey at the Market Stalls, which are open to the public and located on the building’s expansive second floor. This 10,000-square-foot space is nothing if not impressive, a space where individual dealers showcase a varied mix of furniture, lighting, and accessories. Gilmour takes me on a sweeping tour of the space, pointing out pieces she likes and also taking out her iPhone to capture a piece that might work for a current client. She takes care to photograph not only the piece but also the card that lists all of its pertinent information. We visit spaces by Charles Spada of Boston and Dillion & Company of Plymouth, just to name a couple. Inventory is always changing, and the stalls include seasonally appropriate pieces that change throughout the year. You’re also likely to find collections and pop-up shops courtesy of visiting designers here. As we walk and talk, I ask Gilmour about her role as a designer, and while it’s an open-ended question, she does a good job of boiling it down by likening her clients who seek design services to someone who hires an accountant to do their taxes. Yes, you can do your own taxes, but if you are looking for true expertise in this area, you hire an accountant.
After we depart the stalls (where we could have spent the entire day!), we head to Webster & Company, where Gilmour greets David Webster, president and CEO of the iconic brand bearing his name.
Perhaps credit is due to her Dallas upbringing, because Gilmour’s Southern charm is apparent as she converses with most everyone we encounter. We see pillows by Rebecca Vizard, which are favorites of Gilmour’s for their intricate designs. We examine linens as we pass countless vignettes, which Gilmour says are great for inspiration. “Many people think pieces at the Design Center are out of their reach, but they’re not,” she tells me. While you could certainly have the time of your life with a “sky’s the limit” budget, the showrooms contain a mix of pieces to fit a variety of price points. In this digital age, where there’s little stopping anyone from ordering everything from a lampshade to a side table online, Gilmour reminds me of the benefit of visiting showrooms, where you can physically “sit in the chairs, feel the fabric, and see pieces in person. You can definitely be inspired by what you see online but coming here is very important,” she explains.
While each showroom has its own feel, they all share one thing: they are staffed with wonderful people who “really specialize in—and are experts in—their areas,” says Gilmour.
We visit Kravet Fabrics, Inc., and fill out a fabric form, and I quickly note the benefits of having a professional designer with me as we talk pinch pleats, leading edges, fabric wings, and more. For those visiting without one, the center offers Designer on Call services, which allows members of the public to visit trade showrooms and be teamed up with one of the center’s 15 designers to help them shop the building.
While she’s an expert at pulling fabrics and designing custom pieces, Gilmour loves to incorporate everyday objects into her designs. Books for example, about things you love or places you have visited can function “like artwork” and add to a space, she says.
While en route to Blanche P. Field, LLC, for a look at their custom lighting options, Gilmour sings the praises of Steven King Decorative Carpets. We also stop at Farrow & Ball to admire paint colors and finishes. Next is ICON Group, Inc. where we marvel at rows of wall mounted chairs followed by a visit to designer Eric Haydel’s showroom, where we chat and admire his collection of fabrics, rugs, and accessories.
When I ask about the biggest mistake the average person makes in decorating, Gilmour doesn’t miss a beat in her reply. “Lighting is where most people need extra advice; it’s such an important element.” She adds that when people move, they have a tendency to want to set up furniture the same way they did in their previous space. This is where Gilmour shines, because she is able to provide clients with the confidence to view spaces as a “blank slate that will still incorporate the pieces you love the most” in a new and inspired way. One of the mottos of grace interiors is the belief that “your home is a canvas” and “designing artful spaces” is what Gilmour does best. With the resources of the Boston Design Center at her fingertips, a space touched by grace interiors is destined for nothing less than design greatness.