The Thrill of the Hunt

Maggie Jewell, owner of MKS Designs, will go to any length to find the one-of-a-kind piece or element that perfects a space.

By Barb Wilson  

Photography Anne Matheis  

Interior Design MKS Designs  

Builder Brokaw Renovation, LLC


When asked to describe what distinguishes her approach to interior design, the first word that comes to Maggie Jewell’s mind is “originality.” “Obviously, my job is to determine the clients’ personal needs and style, then help to create the beautiful, functional space they’re looking for,” she says. “But every project is unique. I never design the same space twice and will often encourage the client to consider new ideas and options.”

Ensuring that her designs are fresh, distinctive and original is actually a passion for Jewell. An ASID Industry Partner, she admits to being an inveterate shopper—a “finder of things”—and will scour countless local sources, websites and estate sales for the exact fabric, pattern, paint color or furniture piece that will fulfill her vision. “It’s the thrill of the hunt,” she laughs. “Sometimes, I even lie awake at night thinking about it.”

In fact, creative design is probably in Jewell’s DNA. She worked for several years with her mom, Mary Stieven, the founder of MKS Designs, acquiring the company six years ago when Stieven retired. Interestingly, the homeowner of this story had known Stieven long before meeting Maggie at a function in late 2018. Whether fate or karma, their encounter seems almost predestined.    

Both women are busy mothers—Maggie a well-known interior designer with four youngsters, including a set of triplets; the homeowner a mother of five, soon to be an empty-nester and in search of a designer to renovate the spacious residence in Town and County where her family had lived for 15 years.  The two clicked immediately, and plans began for a complete refurbishment of the home’s main level.

When purchased in 2003, the five-bedroom two-story had been professionally designed in the traditional décor of the time—rather ornate and featuring a warm gold/green/brown palette. Over subsequent years, however, the homeowner had “restyled things” herself, adding new items and, at one point, “tons of large red pieces. It was making me anxious,” she confesses good-naturedly. “All I wanted now was calm—and no more red!”

Working together to achieve a more serene ambience, Maggie and her client decided on a color scheme of creams, soft greiges and blues, with natural elements to reinforce the tranquil aesthetic. The basic styling would remain traditional, combining new pieces with existing furnishings and possibly considering a few modern or mid-century touches to reflect the owner’s personality.

Major alterations included refinishing the oak floors in the kitchen and hearth room and replacing the rest of the main-level flooring with wide-plank wood. The great room fireplace was refaced with marble, the kitchen was completely renovated and beams were added to the hearth room ceiling. All surfaces were repainted, new rugs, wallcoverings, fabrics and light fixtures were selected and the window treatments were modified. “Maggie is a master at combining patterns and color, and nobody does lighting better than she does,” the owner remarks.     

Photos of the completed project illustrate Jewell’s remarkable ability to interpret her client’s objectives. The overall effect is harmonious, soothing and inviting—precisely what the owner had hoped for. But what makes this gracious residence so extraordinary is the designer’s creative ingenuity as she gave each space its own uniquely personalized character.

For example, the office is open to the entry foyer and showcases a handsome antique partner’s desk. Although a favorite of the owners, it was never a good height for the husband, who is quite tall. Rather than eliminate the piece, Maggie called on Custom Furniture Works to raise it. Now a comfortable height, the desk is enhanced by a masculine Ralph Lauren leather strap chandelier and six gold-framed antique prints of trees for a hint of nature.

Across the foyer, the formal dining room is furnished with the owners’ antique English china cabinet and refinished dining ensemble, a 9-foot mahogany table with Chippendale-style chairs. Maggie added host chairs from Expressions, upholstered in a rich blue Schumacher velvet print, complemented by wallpaper and drapery fabric in Brunschwig & Fils’ “bird and thistle” pattern. Perhaps the room’s most intriguing element, however, is the ceiling, which is painted “haint” blue. Often used on porches in the South, this soft, water-like hue derives its name from folklore. Supposedly, haunts (or spirits) can’t cross water, and the color protects the occupants—in this case, the homeowners’ dinner guests—from misfortune.

Dramatically lit by a bowed, floor-to-ceiling architectural window, the vast, box-beamed great room presented a challenge.  “We wanted it to have a cozy feel,” Maggie explains, “a relaxing place for cocktails, conversation or just to read.” Reupholstered in creamy Jane Churchill fabrics, the owner’s traditional sofas are flanked by new wing back chairs in an elegant blue cut velvet pattern, with Schumacher floral ottomans and a vintage glass and gilded-iron coffee table completing the comfortable seating arrangement.

Clearly a focal point, the wall above the newly refaced fireplace demanded special attention. Knowing her client was fond of a piece by St. Louis artist Mark Fetty, Maggie located the painter, who visited the house before creating the custom abstract now above the mantel. Formerly a bar area, the architectural alcove to the right of the fireplace was inset with a vintage Baker mahogany buffet and balanced on the left with a demilune cabinet and antique oil landscape.

Fully remodeled by Beck/Allen Cabinetry, the kitchen revolves around a 10-foot work island with honed Santorini quartzite top, "Hague" navy cabinet base and a movable butcher block prep table at one end. The home’s overall décor theme was actually inspired by the Scalamandré fabric—an embroidered beige/linen/navy/gold botanical print—on the swivel bar stools, and the pub-style lighting fixture was relocated from the lower-level pool table to the kitchen as another distinctive accent.     

The owners’ English trestle table and spindle-back chairs were refinished for the adjacent family dining area, which is backgrounded by textured faux bois wallcovering and two gold-framed reproductions of historical nature prints, supersized and hand-painted in navy, gold and silver.

Serene in white and gold, the main-floor master bedroom was given classic French style by reupholstering the two Bergère chairs and ottoman in a soft blue, vintage silk and velvet damask. For a unique flourish, Maggie suggested embellishing the owner’s Empire four-poster with a traditional settee in place of a bed bench, recovering the piece with a length of leopard print velvet her client had been saving for “just the right place” for years. Several Oriental foil landscapes emphasize the sense of calm, and a cloud-like John Richard ceiling fan encircled with gold ribbon is suspended from the deeply coffered ceiling.

Thrilled with her home’s calming transformation, the homeowner enthuses, “Maggie is so much fun to work with!  We really connected.  And the only red left in my house is the dials on the kitchen range!” Resourceful, imaginative and attentive to every detail, Maggie Jewell definitely justifies her claim to “originality.” In her words, “When I revisit a home I’ve designed and it still feels wonderful, I know I’ve done the job right.” 



Interior Design: MKS Designs  

Builder: Brokaw Renovation, LLC