Paula Grace

paula_gracePaula Grace Halewski-Zarnick brings a great deal more to the table than her wealth of experience as an accomplished interior designer. I AM Modern recently had the chance to sit down with Paula to find out how her past has come to shape both her present and future.

How would you define your personal style?
It’s funny how personal style evolves. Years ago I filled my home with furnishings. Now I like a spacious feel with fewer distractions. I love classic shapes that have been updated. My palette has also changed from highly saturated color to lighter hues.

How did you get started in Interior Design?
My mom was an interior designer in Chile before coming to the United States to study. She intended to be an interior designer here, however, she met my dad, married and raised a family instead. Still she practiced interior design in our home. I was by her side on each project she worked on. When I changed career fields, I was naturally drawn to it. I went back to school to formally learn interior design and then opened my business.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Here’s my belief about a home. A home is a place where you are at peace, have comfort, function effortlessly, and it portrays who you are. You’re reminded of happy times and creating new memories. You look forward to coming home at the end of a long day to a place that feels completely your own; tailored to your specific needs and style. Your sense of self envelops you when you walk in the door. My clients enjoy the unique skill set I have with a psychology background. I accurately understand them. They tell me over and over that they experience their home doing all of the above. That gives me great joy.

paula_grace2What are some of the most common design mistakes people make?
Sometimes people think they should do something because everyone is doing it. However, often that isn’t always the best choice. For example, placing the television over the fireplace. Placing the television there solves a problem when there really isn’t any place else in the room to accommodate it. Some how this became a trend and then a belief that the television should be there. Not so. I worked with a client that had this belief. They placed the television over the gorgeous cast stone fireplace. The television was so high that it hurt their necks to watch it. Plus the impressive fireplace was the first element seen when coming in the front door. The fireplace was overshadowed by the large television. Not the best first impression. There are great products now to conceal a television, but they are limiting. I moved the television into a media cabinet I designed for them and placed beautiful art over the fireplace. Their necks no longer hurt, and the first impression of their home is now fantastic.

paula_grace3What is your dream project?

My dream project, which I already do, is working with clients creating their entire home. My clients and I get to know each other so well there is an ease, a trust, a commitment to each other’s welfare. I have had clients support my charities, speak on my behalf, refer their close friends and families. That is a dream, and I let my clients know how much I appreciate them and their support.

From where do you find your inspiration?

From the clients themselves and what inspires them. When they look to me to help them with inspiration, I turn to fabric and music. Fabric brings the elements of color, texture, and pattern. Fabric can create a palette and the desired feel for the room. What better place than music to draw inspiration from for the design principles of rhythm and harmony. Knowing what music my clients love brings a wealth of information to the table that I interpret in the design.


Could you tell us more about Paula Grace Furnishings?
I design furniture and area rugs for my clients and by commission. When designing for my clients, the unique furnishings highly personalize their space. The media cabinet I mentioned earlier was scaled for their two-story family room. The motif on the cabinet continues a rhythm that flows throughout their public spaces. When I design furnishings for myself or by commission, music is the main inspiration. I’ve designed furnishings inspired by musical artists, songs, and performances.

Tell us about your community work.
I do a lot of community work focusing on the safety and welfare of children. I create soothing, functional environments at agencies that serve children in need. I worked on the Loudoun County Child Advocacy Center and most recently the SANE Room at Loudoun Hospital. I love doing the designs. I implement with the help of industry partners. On the SANE Room, local companies Let’s Rolling Painting, Bojams Studio, Ashburn Art & Framing, CT Designs, and J& Interiors graciously worked with me. Byron Jorjorian, a wonderful nature photographer, donated several pieces for the project. It’s fantastic when people come together for an important cause. I also co-lead therapy groups for adults at a local agency. I lead and taught group psychotherapy at the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry. I was on the Board for the local agency when they asked me to lead groups for them. I said “Of course!” I enjoy leading groups and there is such a need for volunteers.

You were a psychotherapist for a number of years. What made you decide to leave that and become a designer?
Before the move to this area, I directed a large program and did direct client care. I reached the ‘pinnacle’ of my career when we moved to Maryland. I was the Director of Behavioral Health Services for an agency in Gaithersburg. Direct clinical work was not part of that job. Instead I was in high level meetings almost every day. I didn’t care for it. It was working with people that I truly enjoyed. I left that position and was seeking another when my husband and I became pregnant. We moved to Virginia to be closer to my husband’s work. I knew that I wanted to stay home with my daughter for at least a year, so I stopped looking for a new job. While home with Lauren and working on my own home, I had an epiphany. I didn’t want to go back into mental health. I wanted to create homes. I went back to school and studied interior design. I realized marrying interior design and psychology would create wonderful homes. You already know my belief about a home. I find that is it an ideal union to do just that.

You previously taught at the University of Rochester. Do you still teach?
Yes, I love to teach. This past year I taught the seminar The Principles and Elements of Quality Design. Actually, an article I wrote on that is available on my website ( I also presented at the International Furnishing and Design Association Richmond Chapter on business aspects of a successful design firm. I plan on doing more teaching. I would love to have a day-long seminar where people bring their design dilemmas and together we tackle them. I think that would be fun.

What’s in the works for you?

I recently had an article published in the Washington Women’s Weekly Journal entitled The ‘Psychology’ of Interior Design. This fall my work will be featured in a book, Interiors Washington DC. I’m looking forward to that. I have several interesting projects that I’m working on right now with a couple more starting soon. I already design furniture and area rugs. I really would like to design the perfect fabric for a project. I recently went on a tour of Kravet. It was inspiring. Made me want to rush back to my studio and create fabric. I simply love fabric!

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