Renowned Little Rock designer Garry Mertins updates a traditional interior with a neutral palette with clean lines and angles to set the stage for interesting pops of color and texture

by Julie Craig | Photography by Jamison Mosley

Edit. This word often brings to mind preparing a publication such as this one. It might mean reading a sentence several times and changing it to have it read better, artfully rearranging the words on a page. But after spending time with longtime interior designer Garry Mertins, it becomes apparent that “edit” also applies to the design world – in a magnificent way. In fact, with close to 30 years of design work under his belt, Mertins, who owns Garry Mertins Design Inc., is a go-to for all things “editable” in the home world. He’s a total guru at adapting a home interior to the needs of a client –  whether it’s a commercial project like Petit & Keet, 42 Bar and Table, Samantha’s Tap Room – or a residential home. Mertins has a true eye for polishing a room to perfection, and he uses his love of clean lines to accomplish this mesmerizing task. 

The master bedroom’s sitting area provides a nice retreat at the end of the day.

Most recently, Mertins worked within a six-month timeline with an Arkansas businessman and his family to redesign their home of 10 years. The family wanted something fresh and new as their tastes had changed over time, so it was the perfect moment for a clean edit. With a bold and beautiful exterior surrounded by water and a golf course, the couple loved the location, so instead of moving entirely, opted to keep the house they’ve known for years and update the interior to something they truly loved to live in as a family. And as with any project Mertins begins, this one began with a proper plan. 

Great room with a two story ceiling and new stone fireplace mantle flanked by the mirrored alcoves reflect the large art over the new doorway into the kitchen/den.

“[The homeowners] definitely had ideas and thoughts, and it was a matter of brainstorming together their needs and how they wanted it to function,” Mertins says. “With any project, the first thing we do is sit down and develop a master plan – whether it’s for six months or five years. As long as we have a plan to work from, then there are no mistakes.” 

The direction Mertins took on reworking this home was the idea of keeping the classic lines and traditional details already there, but cleaning them up and adding contemporary elements for the perfect juxtaposition of old meets new. Mertins achieved this by using neutral walls throughout (which also made the lines even cleaner and amazingly cohesive), relying on the matte, white finish of the Emerald paint by Sherwin Williams and the contrast of the high-gloss trim and sleek, black doors. 

Great room with a two story ceiling and new stone fireplace mantle flanked by the mirrored alcoves reflect the large art over the new doorway into the kitchen/den.

“Paint is probably the most transformative and easiest thing to do [to transform a space], but in this case, I was using it to unify the whole house,” Mertins says. “[These details] gave instant drama and a wonderful background for the color in the artwork and drapes, plus the texture of the rugs.”

By gutting many of the walls in the main living spaces downstairs and opening up the floor plan, Mertins transformed both the feel and function of the home. Traditional stone balustrades were removed from the kitchen, and the newly opened-up area now includes built-in alcoves that act as storage space – fun and functional. Contemporary LED lighting was added under the counters along with striking, geometric fixtures above a large, glossy center island with waterfall edging that drops vertically down the sides – another remarkable addition showcasing sleek, clean lines. The black cabinets with brushed brass hardware starkly contrast with the white island, and all-new appliances like a gas range and built-in coffee maker add further to the gleaming kitchen. Barstools with a fun croc-embossed back are specially designed with kids and company in mind because the faux leather material works great for spills.

The entrance foyer with the grand piano has a black and white scheme, while the dining room pops with color.

Flooring plays another large role in the home edit as the all-new glistening porcelain tile unites with the neutral walls to create an almost calming effect, as well as the more modern look the homeowners were trying to accomplish. Because the family owns a plethora of artwork, from Old World to contemporary, this neutral palette became the perfect way to showcase it. 

“We’re playing off of space that’s there,” Mertins says, “but nothing is overpowering the room, and it never feels too heavy or stuffy. It doesn’t feel like your grandmother’s house.”

Old World and new details and accessories combine to amplify the home’s unique design.

Details and accessories really combine here to amplify the uniqueness of this home’s design. From a brilliant chandelier hanging in the great room and a classic black grand piano in the entrance hall to the yellow and hot pink silk drapes and an overdyed blue rug alongside a triangular wall pattern in the dining room, an otherwise neutral palette sets the stage for these extraordinary pieces and hues to really pop and make a statement. 

“The key here is taking a classic traditional home and updating it, removing color from the walls and creating a clean palette,” he says, “but still showing off all the classic details and not losing those.”

Classic French chairs in the entry are updated with hot pink and black velvet, while traditional pieces throughout the home, like antique gold cherubs and Old World paintings, keep with the classic, yet polished design. The entire home is a fun mix of the family’s favorite pieces and artwork, while also remaining family friendly with performance fabrics that work amazingly well for a household who also loves to entertain. 

“[My projects] are an extension of my clients’ taste and what works for their lifestyle.”