Casually elegant in a white summer dress with a rope belt, rope handbag and espadrilles, Anna Nowak, the Ridgefield-based interior designer and home stager, seems as effortlessly put together as one of her stunning interiors.
Raised in Fairfield County, Nowak cannot remember a time when she was not interested in decorating. Growing up with a mother who was in poor health, she and her sister were given free rein to arrange the family home — where close family, good food and sit-down dinners were the norm — just as they pleased. “From the earliest age, I was always moving furniture, making rooms bright, letting in the daylight, just being aware of my immediate surroundings,” she says.
She was also musical, playing the violin and singing in a local chorus, with time left over to enjoy sports, including tennis, field hockey and softball.
But despite her natural aptitude for sports, the arts and interior design, Nowak’s first commercial enterprise, with her own name on the shingle (along with her sister’s), was not a design studio, as might have been expected, but a spa. Located in Brookfield, the business thrived for 10 years before she was ready to move on. “I designed the flooring, the lighting, the window treatments, the front desk area — everything,” she reminisces of where her real talents lay. Still, she was not yet ready to take the plunge into full-time interior design.
Instead, she embarked on a period of design education, pursuing undergraduate studies at Western State University in Connecticut, evening courses at Fairfield University and supplemental classes at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
By then she was married with a young son and, as she puts it, “life came along.”
But working at Kismet Art Co., a Westport gallery, she became acquainted with the feng shui master who rented space above the gallery, and what she learned became a key component in her trajectory to becoming a full-time interior designer.
She left Kismet and opened Lionspaw, her first studio, in Fairfield, naming it Lionspaw for a favorite antiques and accessories store in Nantucket. Always favoring handmade objects over the mass-produced, she encouraged clients to give prominence to pieces that really spoke to them, offering beautiful jewelry, objets d’art and furniture for sale in addition to works by the artists she represented.
Simultaneously taking on numerous commissions for both decorating and staging — the all-important art of preparing a property for sale so that it achieves its full potential in the marketplace — she was also building her specialist consultancy, until Covid hit. Suddenly, Nowak recalls, there was nobody on the street and no footfall for the brick-and-mortar studio, although ironically the onset of the pandemic was when people began spending extended periods of time at home, both needing and wanting their homes to be comfortable and look their best.
Letting go of her studio, Nowak now decided to start from scratch. After some serious thought, she took on a part-time job as a design consultant with Safavieh, the rugs and home furnishings store whose metro-area locations include Hartsdale, Norwalk and Stamford. (The staffers, she says, are “lovely people to work with.) At the same time, she set up an office in her home in Ridgefield.
The new enterprise, which goes by the name of Lionspaw & Co. — Anna Nowak Interiors and Staging, operates within a roughly 30-mile radius of Ridgefield, although Nowak says with a smile that she “will hop on a plane for a project if it’s juicy.” Business is already booming, with new clients eager for Nowak’s expertise and her eye.
For staging, Nowak typically follows up an initial inquiry with an in-home, walk-through consultation, in which she carefully observes and makes notes, coming up with a checklist of what the potential client should do and must do in order to sell at the highest price. The basics, I ask her? “Sympathetic lighting, clean rugs and carpets, polished hardwood floors, clean and sparkling windows, are all essential. Nothing can look bad,” Nowak says.
She goes on, “People don’t think they need a stager, but they do.” She reiterates that a well-staged home eliminates work for the homeowner and emphasizes that nearly everybody (despite what home improvement TV shows are ever-eager to suggest) wants “move-in ready.” Buyers, she points out, are also generally younger than sellers, which is something the savvy seller will keep in mind.
Staged homes, she says, are more appealing and sell faster. And if your home has curb appeal, good landscaping, a beautiful front porch and a well-lit walkway, then you, the client, are “more likely to walk away with your asking price or full market value.”
Although hardly a minimalist, she is also a great believer in decluttering, whether she is staging a home or decorating one. “Old stuff is old energy,” she says. “It can actually make a person ill.” Is she strict with her clients, I ask her, as our meeting draws to a close? She takes a moment to ponder. “No, not strict, just fair.”
While she tends to talk more about the staging side of the business, the two disciplines are complementary and Lionspaw takes on a similar number of pure design and decorating projects throughout the year. She works closely with all her clients, quietly but persuasively getting across her personal philosophy, that a home is “a sacred place, a quiet place, a place for self-reflection.” Beyond the design itself, she believes that good lighting, pure water and fresh flowers and plants all contribute to the home, resulting in a wholesome environment made for good living. While original design, excellent grasp of space and an aesthete’s eye may be a given for any great interior designer, it’s this holistic approach that seems to single Nowak out from many of her peers.
A final thought? “A home is not just a place to crash,” she says. “It’s somewhere you should be inspired.”
For more, visit lionspawcoandstaging.com.