Interior Designer Spotlight: Lane McNab Interiors

By Julie Feinstein Adams

A master class on playing well with classic Craftsman interiors...

Every Interior Designer has a style. Looking at their portfolios as a whole, you can see it. With Lane McNab’s work there is a sense of modern layered in with classic; a certain gravitas; clean lines; innovation while respecting the traditional architecture, tempered with a lightness and a thoughtful whimsy. 

In our conversations with Lane, we have learned that she very much enjoys talking about architecture, design, art, and the conceptual frameworks underpinning her projects. In this interview, we asked her to reflect on a recent project she invited us to be part of, one that involved restoration of stained woodwork, plus paint – and we also engaged in a broader conversation, which turned into a master-class on how to design interiors for Craftsman homes given their distinct, dominant features and venerated architectural provenance.

Arana Craftsman Painters: Let’s start with your “Historic Oakland Refresh” project. What were some of the challenges that you had to address with your design?

Lane McNab: One of the biggest hurdles that I feel like people want to overcome in their homes, especially the Craftsman homes we see all over the neighborhoods in Berkeley and Oakland, is that, first of all, they love the home that they bought and they often bought it because of its Craftsman architecture, but for the day-to-day living, especially the way we live our lives today is not always compatible with the architecture of 100 years ago. My firm is often called because the client is experiencing this. And most often, it's a problem of opposites.

They love the woodwork, but the woodwork feels dark and heavy. They love the unique and interesting little architectural touches but the home lacks storage. Or the historical aspects are so dominant, they don't know how to decorate their home; they don't know what they can do within the parameters of such a specific style.

I feel like I'm an interior designer who very much loves and respects period architecture. I have a historical architecture background through my previous education, as well as training in the visual arts. However, I also feel very strongly that doing anything too consistent with the original style, without offering something to set it off, means that you almost just don't even see the thing you love, because it gets lost in the shuffle of the sameness.

So, what I like to do is very subtly and quietly accentuate the aspects of the home that people love, while not hitting them over the head with Craftsman style.

For example, when we have a home like this one you worked on for us, a Craftsman with a lot of beautiful but dark, heavy woodwork and as this and many of these homes have–a clinker brick fireplace, which is also very heavy, aesthetically  one of the first things I like to do is restore the woodwork.

ACP: Do you mean restore it back to the original dark stain? Or a different stain? Or do you paint it?

LMcN: I know this from working with Arana on projects like this one, that we can either completely refinish the wood, or we can refresh it. Refinishing woodwork and completely restoring it to its original condition is very expensive, but refreshing it and getting it to look almost like-new is not nearly as invasive and has a huge impact on the way the wood looks and feels, and the way the overall home will look and feel. 

And so that is typically what we go with, with clients, We will do that sort of restorative refresh with Arana. And it is a dramatic difference. You're not going to lighten the woodwork, you're not going to darken the woodwork, you're not going to, you know, completely sand it down and refinish it, but the refresh gives a very dramatic change. Often, that is the first step we will do coming into a Craftsman home that feels dark and heavy. 

I don't like to paint woodwork that has been preserved this long. I'm not going to go in and say, “OK, we need to paint all the woodwork!” That would be heartbreaking.

We will then find other ways to lighten and brighten the space.

ACP: What are your favorite techniques for enhancing lightness?

LMcN: One of my favorite tricks is to add a textural wallpaper to the plaster or drywall areas of the home that are adjacent to the woodwork. So there's something very beautiful about having this contrast. We've done grass cloth many times; we've done wallpaper with a very, subtle textural pattern to it that will bounce light around a little bit more than just a very flat paper would. 

You can see this in the recent project we did with Arana in Oakland. We did a very light, sort-of blonde, wood-veneer-patterned wallpaper in between the wood paneling and the ceiling. And it's just gorgeous! It subtly reflects the light off the ceiling, but not like a mirror. It's very refined and it looks really beautiful.

Another trick that we do is because these craftsman homes with dark wood and brick can feel very heavy we hang soft drapery in all of the windows.

What that does, besides giving the windows the appearance of being larger, is it also softens the transition between glazing and wood in a way that adds more depth and materiality to the space; it softens those two harder materials. 

And then also in this dining room, there are two benches on either side of the clinker brick fireplace, and I like to add fabric between two heavy materials, like brick and wood. So, we had custom back cushions made that look attached to the wood paneling, but are removable. They add a softness, another layer of materiality that softens the room but still lets the woodwork make a really rich, bold statement.

Likewise, in another historic Craftsman we did, designed by famed female architect Leola Hall, we hung a light silk drapery with subtle Buffalo checks. You can't really see the pattern; it's a very tonal effect, blues and greens; it’s in the dining room and it transformed the space:

dining room botanical lane mcnab

For that room, as you can see in the photo, we also did a grass cloth on the walls from the top of the wood paneling, from the picture rail to the ceiling.

ACP: Craftsman is such a specific architectural style, it seems like many designers or homeowners might feel stifled by it, but clearly you are up to the challenge. What other aspects of the Craftsman ethos are you inspired by?

LMcN: I love to juxtapose themes from nature in Craftsman homes because one of the principles a lot of the architects and builders of that era were following was to incorporate nature which is why there's so much wood! A lot of Craftsman architects were influenced by what would have been considered exotic locations at the time. We see Japanese design  influences for example, which translate really well to a bring-the-outdoors-in kind of thing.

Bringing in nature elements and nature-inspired patterns, as well as Japanese horticultural quotes adds a little bit of freshness and lightness and an organic feel to the designs that we create.

There's so many contemporary references for these types of patterns these days. But, it also is very much a part of the original intention of the style of the home. So it balances really well with the period architecture without being very period-in-and-of-itself. 

There are several images reflecting the design element of incorporating Japanese inspired and line-drawn depictions of leaves, branches, and flowers, on my website in my portfolio:

The wallpaper in this dining room:

dining room blue botanical lane mcnab

This blue ginkgo-leaf drawn-pattern wallpaper in the powder room of a Palo Alto Craftsman

hallway ginko wallpaper lane mcnab

A more traditional American horticultural pattern on these dining chairs in the home we did with Arana:

horticultural dining chair lane mcnab

And most deliberately bringing the outside in: The coffee table in the formal living room from this same project. The tabletop is a huge thick burlwood slab floating on a Lucite stand and it works perfectly with the period architecture because it's so clearly of nature:

burlwood coffee table lane mcnab + Arana

And then also, well-placed mirrors! That's a really important one for Craftsman homes, or for any home with a lot of heavy woodwork.

For example, in the Oakland home we did with you: There’s a classic, clinker brick fireplace there. And you can see, we placed a really tall mirror over the top of the fireplace, which sits behind the dining table. And that mirror changes the whole look and feel of the fireplace. It also reflects the lighter tones in the ceiling and that light woodgrain-patterned wallpaper.

dining room clinker brick fireplace lane mcnab

And then, you get this dramatic light fixture hanging over the table. And, it's a very transitional light fixture. It almost looks like it could be period, but it also connects beautifully to today. A big element in any design is being very thoughtful in your lighting choices. 

ACP: We love this conversation around how all of these design elements affect the whole space. And we would be remiss if we didn’t ask you to also talk about your paint color choices!

LMcN: Of course! I'm very thoughtful and careful with the paint colors I choose. I want to make sure that I am selecting colors that have undertones that work well with the woodwork that we're encountering in the space. 

We did a really cool thing on this house in the living room. When you look at the photos, you'll notice that we painted the ceiling a beautiful, blue-gray. The walls are an off-white, and so, with the ceiling being a kind of foggy blue color, this adds a little bit of intimacy to the space, and also reflects a typical Berkeley sky.

We carried that ceiling color out onto the front porch. So when you come up to the door, there's this really beautiful blue-gray ceiling above you and then you enter the home and as you go in, that foggy sky color carries through into the living room and that is the only room that adjoins the porch. So it gives it like, I don't even know if people consciously notice it, but it's like this atmospheric transformation that kind of introduces you to the home itself, starting on the front porch. I love it.

You know, I could probably just wax poetic about design for hours!

ACP: We love this about you! Have you ever considered doing an educational podcast?

LMcN: I did do a webinar series during the beginning of the pandemic. For those first three months of lockdown, everything got really quiet and I’m very much someone who needs to be doing something, so I thought, “What can I do now?” It was a live webinar series, every other week, and at the height of it I had roughly 75 people signing in and asking questions about design.

ACP: That’s amazing! Maybe one day we will do a podcast and interview you again!


Dear readers, if you enjoyed this interview, be sure to follow Lane on Instagram, where she frequently posts informative reels discussing design-related topics, at @lanemcnabinteriors and view more images of Lane McNab Interiors' work on her website:

PHOTO CREDITS: Images 1,2,5,6,7: John Merkl; images 3,4: Christopher Stark

Tags: Interior Designers, Interior design tips, interior painting, Craftsman

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