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New England Hall of Fame

December 8, 2014

2014 hall of fame copy 2

This year I was honored to be among the inductees into New England Home Magazine’s Design Hall of Fame.  Here’s what they had to say:

“Many of the inductees into our eight annual New England Design Hall of Fame took a circuitous route to the design industry, first sampling fashion, medicine, social work, and other careers before finding their true calling in architecture and interior design. The defining thread linking them all is talent, and we are thrilled to announce that Douglas Dick, Treffle LaFlech, Christina Oliver, Dinyar Wadia, Jim Gauthier, Susan Stacy, and Rosemary Porto will be be joining the gifted ranks of architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and specialty designers who came before them.

Although she was born into a family of architects, designers and draftsmen, Christina Oliver did not discover a passion for interior design until after a sixteen-tar career as a social worker. While Oliver was contemplating a higher degree in the mental health field, a Myers-Briggs test revealed a keen sense of space she hand’t previously given much thought to. Once she did, she never looked back.

She earned her certificate in interior design from Boston Architectural College in 1990, and opened Oliver Interiors in 1991. It turns out that social work isn’t so far removed from interior design: Oliver’s skill for listening to what clients really want and then translating that into personal spaces factors heavily in her success. Giving back to the community remains a strong tenet of her work ethic; she places an emphasis on hiring interns, and often works for nonprofits such as Rosie’s Place and the Devon Nicole House at Children’s Hospital Boston.

“With all the help and mentoring that I received during the time I was trying to develop my own career, I felt that I needed to give back,” says Oliver. I work with a lot of people who have a lot of resources, and it’s important to me me to do work for people who don’t have those same resources.”

As past president of ASID New England and current president of the Massachusetts Interior Design Coalition, Oliver has been dedicated to pushing through legislation allowing interior designers to bid on state projects separately from architects and engineers. After years of hard work by Oliver and other designers (including fellow New England Design Hall of Fame inductee Lisa Bonneville and Mount Ida College professor Rose Botti-Salitsky), the bill has finally been signed.

Thanks to the dedication of Oliver and others, interior designers can bid on state projects beginning November 19, 2014.”

Christina here: I’m honored to be among such a wonderful and talented group of inductees this year. My thanks to New England Home Magazine and the 2014 Hall of Fame Selection Committee!



A New Vision for Interior Design Education

August 14, 2014

CIDA art


I’m so pleased to share with you the news that the Council for Interior Design (CIDA) Board of Directors has invited me to participate in establishing priorities for the future of interior design education. In early November 2014, at the CIDA’s Future Vision Session, I’ll be joining a “diverse group of nominated thought leaders to establish educational priorities for entry-level practitioners in 2017 and beyond.”

Those of you who know me are aware that I’ve devoted much time and energy throughout my career to groups that establish, license and recognize the professional preparation of interior designers. I held a position on the Founding Committee for the New England Chapter of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Business Leaders Breakfast, as well as serving as its co-chair and chair. I’ve served as president of the New England Chapter of ASID, and currently serve as the president of the Massachusetts Interior Design Coalition (MiDC), in addition to maintaining my own interior design firm.

I feel honored to be a part of the CIDA’s Future Vision sessions, along with many other design leaders. I’ve long believed that the interior design profession needs a set of quality assurance standards and educational requirements to ensure that licensed professionals in the field receive the recognition and renumeration they deserve.

I’ll keep you posted on our findings and discussions in November. For more information, visit the CIDA here.

Small Changes, Big Impact

November 20, 2013

Patina kitchen with oranges

The inspiration for this wall pattern came from the client’s existing artwork.

My collaboration with artisans is some of the most rewarding work I do: sharing my vision based on my client’s dreams, and seeing beautiful original artwork as a result! It’s a team approach to interior design that makes the final sum more beautiful than the individual parts. One of my favorite artisan-partners is Pauline Curtiss, of Patina Designs.

Pauline took a pattern from artwork the client loved, and created this striking design. I decided to use this wall art instead of a tile back splash in the kitchen. My goal was to update the apartment and make it more visually interesting; I find that Pauline’s unique pattern work often adds the final, zestful touch to otherwise serene and functional design.

This kitchen was a comparatively small job, but it has a big impact! The counter is made of Cambria natural stone, a pure quartz that is stronger than granite, and is nonporous for easy care. I repainted the existing cabinets and changed the hardware, counters and added the patterned wall.

Next: the Dining Room

Patina Dining room

In the dining room, we added more Patina-created patterns on the wall above the chair rail. You can see into the entryway beyond the door, and the patterned walls on the staircase.

 Girls’ Bathroom

Patina bath

One of my favorite projects is a girls’ bathroom we did for another client. The painted wall was inspired by the glass and ceramic tile on the floor, and the glass tile on the jacuzzi tub and backsplash.

Paint, pattern, texture and tile:  sometimes the smallest changes make the biggest difference.

Rituals of Renewal

August 9, 2013

Part One in a Series on Small Design Jobs with Enormous Impact

It’s easy to get bogged down at home. The to-do lists are detailed, the work days are long, and the time available for organizing seems short. That’s why the time-honored ritual of spring cleaning is welcomed as a chance to break through chaos and find serenity in our homes again.

The first step in moving from clutter to clarity is re-envisioning the rooms you live in. A busy professional couple I worked with recently had a love of reading and study in their fields that had them almost buried in books, reference materials and paper. After extended hours at their medical practices, they found themselves placing papers in stacks and books in bookshelves that were way over capacity. Their office, hallway and study weren’t functioning well; it was the perfect time to call in an interior designer.


I focused on three main elements to restore peace and order to their home: paint, lighting, and new shelving, created in part from wooden standards that had been in use in another room.

  • Paint: Fresh paint goes a long way toward brightening a space, and making it feel more expansive. More here…plus photo
  • Lighting: Custom lighting installed in hallways and alcoves made all the difference in illuminating their materials and their lives. More here…plus photo
  • New shelving: In addition to making use of shelving that they already owned, they commissioned a carpenter to install all new built-in bookshelves designed by Oliver Interiors to help them organize the office. More here…plus photo


The Art of Graceful Mistakes

April 24, 2013


At first glance, there does not appear to be anything graceful in mistakes.  They are usually accompanied by chagrin and embarrassment, particularly when a mistake results in a client’s disappointment.  I have learned two things in my twenty-five plus years as an interior designer:  the first is that mistakes happen, and the second is that it is how you respond to them that matters.

Recently I had a situation where a beautiful custom entertainment cabinet had been made for a client.  It took weeks for its completion, and then when delivery was only hours away–disaster.  The movers responsible for its delivery dropped it.  The specially installed lift inside was irreparably damaged, and the custom-building process had to begin all over again.  That was a hard call to make to the client, who had been eagerly anticipating its arrival, but there was nothing else I could do.

I made the call, explained the situation and how I was going to address it, and she accepted my apologies on behalf of the delivery team.  We began the process again, with patience and understanding on both sides:  her’s toward me and my design firm, and me toward the mover and his delivery crew.  Mistakes happen.

Another time clients were in the midst of renovating a home and redesigning the living room for a wonderful celebration:  the Bar Mitzvah of their eldest son.  Everything arrived on schedule, without mishap, including two custom-made chairs.  Except that the fabric that was supposed to cover the chairs had never been applied. 

Several phone calls were rapidly made, the chairs were returned to the manufacturer who pulled out all the stops to recover them in the fabric we had so carefully chosen, and they were delivered–again–in time for the family event.  No amount of yelling, hair pulling or finger pointing could have resolved the situation, but a quick assessment of the problem, and a pleasant but firm request for it’s resolution resulted in everything being made right before the big day.

Hiring a designer involves selecting someone whose vision speaks to you, whose personality blends easily with yours; and, whose credentials and reputation show them to be at the top of their industry.  But remember that mistakes do happen, and a graceful response makes the difference between a design project you love, and a design project you never want to repeat again.

Custom-Designed Furniture

February 20, 2013

To my great surprise and pleasure, I found that the talented furniture-maker Steve Holman wrote a blog post about work we did together.  I had requested a custom-made dining room hutch for a client, and described to him what I envisioned, including dimensions and budget.  We went back and forth, discussing and finessing the piece, until our plan was complete.  Steve does beautiful work and is a pleasure to have as part of my design team of independent artisans.

drawing after revisions

When I saw Steve’s drawing, I had a better idea of what the final piece should look like.  I asked for an unglazed interior, walnut burl accents and for the side elevation to match the front more closely.  Steve sent me a revised drawing.

The finished hutch was just what I envisioned, and the client was delighted.

holman-hutch-9-12-061-Edit For the complete story and more detail on Steve’s process, read his fascinating blog here:  Holman Studios

Paying It Forward

January 15, 2013


Next to my family and the passion and pride I bring to my interior design career, there is probably nothing as important to me as contributing to my industry and to my community.  Reaching down to give a hand to those just beginning their climb on the design career ladder has brought me much joy and personal satisfaction.  I’ve been a mentor to students and young designers for years, and probably have learned as much from them as I hope they have learned from me.

That’s why I was thrilled to be one of several people in the design industry honored by Design New England at their annual MIDDIES Award Ceremony. The MIDDIES were created by the magazine to honor individuals in the design field who take the time to mentor students, young designers, and architects, sharing their knowledge and experience in order to help them succeed.


I was named a “Distinguished Mentor,” recognizing me for my work with students at the Boston Architectural College, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Mount Ida College; my pro bono commitments, most recently for designing the lobby of a group home for the disabled; and my role as president of the Massachusetts Interior Design Coalition (MiDC), working to raise the professional status of interior designers.

I am included in the illustrious company of Jan Wampler, professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), David Webster, CEO of Webster & Company, a design showroom in the Boston Design Center, and Tom Moser, founder of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers.


I began my career as a social worker, and I have never forgotten that we need to give back to our communities, and to each other. No matter where we are in life, we can extend a helping hand to someone who needs one.  I hope that you do.

My deepest thanks to Pauline Curtiss of Patina for taking the time to nominate me. You can find the article about the award and the other recipients who have made mentoring a part of their life’s work in the January/February issue of Design New England, on page 22.

May 2013 bring you all peace and happiness!

 Photo of Christina courtesy of Eric Roth

Fresh Oulooks On Design and Resources: Living Room Tables

June 28, 2012

From New England Home Magazine

Oliver Interiors Selects Perfect Tables for Your Living Room

Custom Table by Howard Hatch

“Simplicity of form defines this table, which carries out the concept in this room of ‘rustic contemporary.’ The stunning dark orange and black rosewood top easily becomes the centerpiece of the living room.”

It was so much fun designing this table with Howard and our client, Pat. Howard brought us this extraordinary wood and the three of us developed the design, leaving a space between each plank and having the legs mimic the angles of the beams.

I love collaborating like this and Howard is a terrific furniture designer, so it was particularly rewarding. To see the whole room go to this link.


Photography: Brian Vanden Brink

Construction Tips

June 7, 2012

Nine Ways to Make a Renovation Go More Smoothly.

Be clear about your project priorities early on in the process. A lot of time and money can be spent to have numerous schemes being explored.

Have a great team in place and make sure that they all get along and respect each other. Architect, Interior Designer, and Builder. Check references.

Concept, concept, concept. If you have a clear concept, the design takes less time. Your design team should present concept ideas on which every decision can be based.  Another way to think about “concept” is to consider it the project mission statement or an underlying principal. For example, with our “mountain house” project, the concept was “rustic contemporary”. Once we had that concept in mind, all other decisions flowed from those two words.

Construction : Steve Larsen
Photography : Brian Vanden Brink

Make sure you have a furniture plan. Work with your design team to do a furniture plan for the spaces to be renovated. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy all the furniture, but you want to make sure that your design team knows how you hope to use the space long term.

Have a complete set of plans and specifications prior to putting a job out to bid. The more decisions that are made prior to bidding, the closer the bids should be. Anything left to the contractors’ imagination will be subject to an estimate on their part and a possible change order for the clients.

Meet often, sometimes even once a week with the whole team, even if it doesn’t seem like there is anything to discuss. This will avoid the 6 p.m. emails from the contractor saying they need a decision on something by the next morning or the job will be delayed.

Don’t micromanage the project. If you have hired the right team, they know what they are talking about. Be clear about your expectations, but then let the experts carry out the plans.

Make sure that you set aside enough money for extras, there are always extras. You want to make sure that the project does not get stopped in the middle because of finances.

Know that there will be problems, there are always problems. A good team with deal with them directly without blaming each other. The sign of a good design team is how they deal with the problems not that there aren’t any problems.

You might want to print this list out and post it on your refrigerator as you are contemplating a project.

The Birth of the Womb Chair

March 30, 2012

I’m sure children of artists might have stories of how Picasso approached a particular painting, and children of surgeons might remember the night their parents sat around the kitchen table discussing how a friend had just stumbled upon a new ligation technique.  In my case, my father, Peter Blake, was a well-known architect and magazine editor, friendly with many artists, architects and designers in the industry.

One of my father’s contemporaries was architect and furniture designer Eero Saarinen, known worldwide as the creator of the Womb Chair.  He received a request from Florence Bassett Knoll, another well-known designer, to create a chair shaped like a basket, large enough to hold pillows, and one that she could sink into to read a book.  This fabulous and very comfortable seating option has been reproduced now for decades, in many colors and fabrics, and is still widely available. It’s been hailed as an icon of postwar design, and I feel a particular attachment to it.

My mother was enormously pregnant with me when Eero Saarinen was finalizing his design.  She and my father were guests of the Saarinens at his house, and she curled up in the chair.  Saarinen, on seeing her reclining so contentedly, immediately christened it, “The Womb Chair.”  I think perhaps it was preordained for me to become an interior designer at that moment, although it took me a while before I realized my true calling.

The style of the chair is mid-century Scandinavian organic modernism, which is quite a mouthful to describe a chair as roomy and lush as this one.  Designers around the world instantly recognize it, and Saarinen was made famous by it.  He was well known for breaking the rules and inspiring new standards for modern design.  I love to see experts in their fields do ground breaking work that lifts all of us to a new level of inspiration and achievement:  when it’s combined with elegant lines, simplicity and maximum comfort, as The Womb Chair is, then it moves beyond furniture to a work of art.

Saarinen also was well-known for his other design work as well, in particular, the Tulip Chair and the Grasshopper Lounge. You can learn more at the Eero Saarinen website.

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