Designer Profile

Maria’s Magic

Maria Adams Designs maintains classic sensibilities with contemporary flair

By Nancy Oakley

Ask Maria Adams about current design trends, and she’ll break into an infectious laugh, explaining that she isn’t a trendy person. “I’m a traditionalist at heart,” says the Winston-Salem native, whose interior design business, Maria Adams Designs, operates out of Oak Ridge. “In my home and family life, I think family is really important and the traditions of family are really important.” Then she adds with another laugh, “And I’m also simple — I would say, simple-minded.”

But like any good designer, Adams stays on top of what’s new, what’s coming back into style, (brass and warmer tones, for example). And she admits to “picking other designers’ brains,” and perusing their blogs and Instagram feeds or websites, such as Houzz. With 15-plus years’ design experience, she has transformed living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, entire houses, and earlier this year, the kitchen of Hillside, the Julian Price Designer Showhouse in Greensboro, all under the guiding principle that has become her tagline: “Classic Modern Living.”

The “Classic” part of the equation, Adams says, stems from her love of tradition. “I like things that are lasting, timeless,” she explains. Indeed, her designs are harmonious, tending toward an openness and lightness — with just the right proportions of color and imaginative accents. As for “Modern,” she allows that contemporary elements in a design “affect your life, because you have to operate in a certain way, function in a certain way.” Something Adams understands firsthand, maintaining a busy home. “I have two boys, three dogs and a husband — and I have a cream-colored sofa,” she offers, explaining that the piece is upholstered in a fabric from Crypton, one of several manufacturers, along with Revolution, that are treating fibers with moisture and stain-resistant substances before they’re even woven. Durable, low-maintenance and compatible with anyone who has children, pets — or a penchant for red wine — Adams recommends them for all upholstered pieces. “That is a trend you’ll continue to see a lot of: high performance fabrics,” she notes.

Ditto wallpaper, which is enjoying all kinds of incarnations, from painted papers and metallics to grasscloth. “It is a hot, hot thing to use wallpaper in every room of your house, really: bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms, ceilings, like we did in the Julian Price house,” Adams says, adding that overhead adornment in general is a trend in and of itself. “People are paying attention to ceilings, and not just wallpapered ceilings.” She says she is beginning to see ceilings painted in special colors, or accented with interesting millwork. It’s all about “bringing attention to that fifth wall.”

Working on the Julian Price house kitchen was “a lot of responsibility,” Adams admits. Unlike most of the other designers, who had free reign and whose rooms would be dismantled, her kitchen wasn’t dismantled, so it had to be a reflection of owners Eric and Michael Fuko-Rizzo’s tastes. “I had to take into account their style, their needs, their wants, as well as what I could bring to the table to make me stand out,” Adams says. By the time she was on board, Marsh Kitchens had also been engaged to build the cabinetry, adding to the composite vision. And of course, it’s a historic property. Given that the room is long and narrow, the layout was pretty much determined before Adams got to work. “The sink needs to be where it is. The range needs to be where it is,” she explains. Since the Fuko-Rizzos had opted for a double refrigerator, there was only one wall that could accommodate its “massive” size.

Lighting was another one of Adams’ challenges. Recessed can lights had been installed; otherwise there was the one wall with a row of windows and a billiard light overhead (the room had been used as the billiard room previously). Her solution? Two large, round chandeliers from Currey & Co. “I chose those fixtures for a lot of reasons,” Adams says. “One is the style. Because of the period of this house, I did a little bit of a nod to the Art Deco period. Those fixtures just gave me that Modern look of something that could be reminiscent of Art Deco.” She’d already decided that she wanted round fixtures and ones that would add a sense of lightness and airiness to the room. The challenge, then, was to find some that fit the space. “They were the perfect scale,” she says. And here she offers a designer’s tip: When hanging lighting over a kitchen island, round fixtures tend to line up better than square ones, especially if they are suspended from a chain — because they spin. As for those mini pendants of late? Well, they might be seeing the end of their popular run.

Adams also put her classic sensibilities into play, employing subway tile, a kitchen trend she sees as here to stay. With manufacturers offering them in different sizes besides the standard 4-by-6 inches, and in different materials, such as porcelain, ceramic, marble or Travertine, Adams went with textured, 3-by-16 inch tiles “with an elongated, handmade look.” For the countertops, she chose a material “on the rise” in kitchen design, quartz, from Stilestone, while accommodating a request by the Fuko-Rizzos to incorporate a vintage butcher block into the kitchen island, one they found in the house. She did so by encasing it, rather than abutting it to the island, and still marvels today at the craftsmanship of the piece that was easily 8- or 9-inches thick.

Craftsmanship is something Adams prizes, sourcing many of kitchen’s components, as she frequently does in all of her designs, to local artisans. She is particularly complementary of Window Works studio in Jamestown, responsible for the window treatments. The detail in the ruched Roman shades is meticulous, as Adams points out: “Every one of them is perfectly matched. The pattern is perfect on every single one of those. And that takes a lot of skill set and talent, because that was a silk embroidered fabric.” Her laughter bubbles up again as she continues, “I can pull all the pieces together, and source it, and manage people to do it, but to sew window treatments? I could never do that!” She has similar praise for Thompson Traders, which generously donated the hood — a last-minute addition, as it turns out. Originally the hood was to have been flanked by cabinetry and was to have matched it, but Adams suggested it be “the star of the show.” And what a star! Thompson delivered a stunning piece in burnished nickel, handmade by artisans in Mexico.

In addition to these standouts, Adams suggested elongating the room even more, by opening up the pantry, where beautiful dishware, courtesy of Replacements, would shine — atop another artisanal piece, a walnut countertop with maple inlay by Greensboro custom furniture builder Sam Rouse.

The overall effect of the room, with its emphasis on its newfound lightness, is beyond pleasing. And for the house’s two inhabitants, livable.

Which brings us to the last component of Adams’s design philosophy of Classic Modern Living. Of these, “Living” is perhaps the most important. Why? “It’s all about how the space makes you feel,” Adams says. A recent project on the Tour of Remodeled Homes, presented by the Greensboro Builders Association, bore out her philosophy. Adams refreshed the entire first floor of a house to rave reviews from the general public. “One of the comments that meant the most to me was when people walked in and said, ‘This is so comfortable!’— and this was a big house,” she emphasizes. “Of course they said, ‘This is beautiful. This is elegant.’ And all that. But their real comments were ‘cozy and comfortable.’ I achieved my goal.”

Info: Maria Adams Designs, (336) 944-1797 or

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