At Home: Krista Washam LaBlue

North Asheville residence. Photo by David Dietrich

North Asheville residence. Photo by David Dietrich

By Emma Castleberry

Krista Washam LaBlue will be the first to applaud her colleagues in interior design. “My peers do an amazing job of making selections and putting looks together that fit a client well,” she says. What sets LaBlue apart in a very crowded industry is that, for her, well-suited selections are just the beginning. The designer has her own workrooms where she crafts window treatments and decorative pillows that can truly tie a room together. “I personally thread the needle,” she says. “I’m more involved in the details, and that makes my work more unique.” The term designer doesn’t seem to encompass all that LaBlue does for her clients. “I’m an artist as well as a designer,” she says. “Each pillow or window treatment is a piece of art and my workroom experience really helps me put all of that together.”

While this artistic lens is important for all of her projects, the customized items themselves are particularly useful for residential projects, like the condo of Melinda Douglass in downtown Asheville. Douglass and her husband Richard had owned the condo for 12 years and lived in it for five when they decided to update. “The condo has an industrial look and we wanted to soften it,” Douglass says. Their primary goal was window treatments for the large windows, and they also added some wallpaper, lighting and a few small pieces of furniture. “Krista is really good at giving you the entire picture and she’s easy to work with,” says Douglass. “She will show you a multitude of choices and it’s a smart way to work because it becomes more collaborative. She understands me and I understand her.”

This level of intimate understanding is a key part of LaBlue’s strategy—she gets to know each of her clients very, very well. LaBlue’s first meeting with a client often lasts upwards of three hours. “I get them to walk me through what is important to them and what they really love,” she says. “They need to be a part of the process so that they understand how it all fits together.” After this meeting, LaBlue will take a few weeks to build several creative boards. “Boards are how I get my client to visualize what is in my head and what I’m trying to do,” she says. Each board has images of the client’s space mixed in with different design options, layering fabric, wallpaper, furniture, lighting and other details. When she presents the boards to the client, the real work begins. “You didn’t have a good design meeting unless you rip the boards apart,” she says. LaBlue is relentless—if an item doesn’t make her client light up, it gets pulled off the board, allowing the client to better visualize what does make his or her heart sing. The simultaneously destructive-and- creative process is fulfilling for both parties.“The whole board process allows the client to see how truly custom the work is,” she says. “It’s fun, because it’s all about them.”

Krista Washam LaBlue in the studio. Photo by David Dietrich

Krista Washam LaBlue in the studio. Photo by David Dietrich

LaBlue’s detailed, involved method was vital to the success of her work at Stone Ridge Tavern, a large, family- owned restaurant on Brevard Road that can seat as many as 450 diners. The restaurant hadn’t been updated since the 1980s and owners Georgia and Peter Barlas knew it was time for a change. “We wanted to bring it up to date and make sure that our customers feel warm and comfortable when they come to dine with us,” says Peter. The Barlases had seen LaBlue’s design work at Green Man Brewery, so they were confident in her ability to complete a project of similar size and scale at Stone Ridge Tavern. After meeting with her clients, LaBlue got their permission to interact with the restaurant’s customers throughout the day. “I visited the restaurant over and over and over,” she says. “I interviewed customers about what they like and what they don’t. I need to know what I’m dealing with, and at a place like this, the opinions of the customers are key.”

Updating the family-style restaurant presented a unique challenge for LaBlue. Not only was she charged with giving the restaurant a modern look without intimidating the long-time customers, but the owners decided not to close the restaurant for a single day during the renovations. “That was a very fun role,” says LaBlue. “We had to get crews who could work at night and take this dated interior and turn it into a comfortable-yet-modern environment.” LaBlue integrated some whimsical, but not wild, wallpapers and color, stripped all of the old art from the walls and added sophisticated custom lighting. “I see my job sites as art whether they are small or large,” she says. “I get to the core of who the client is and what they want, and I give it to them.”

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