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A Great Design Story
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: decorating features

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In which a chance shopping trip results in the perfect home.

“Every great design begins with an even better story.”
—Lorinda Mamo, designer

The interior design project for AJ and Tara Graff is one of those great stories. And it might never have happened if AJ hadn’t stopped into Artis Home Gallerie one day in 2014.

The Graffs relocated to Des Moines two years ago. But between the demands of their jobs and the birth of their first child, decorating their dream home kept getting bumped down the to-do list. Until they met Beth Artis.

And like another great story, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. “I think he stopped in originally because he loves Stickley,” Beth Artis says. “But when he found out we offer full design services, he made an appointment for me to come out to meet his wife and see their new house.”

The couple had complementary tastes, but he preferred Mission-style traditional Stickley while she leaned toward urban-style rustic eclectic. The challenge for Artis was to find a look that pleased them both.

“AJ was right,” Artis says. “Tara and I connected right away.” That connection was cemented within minutes at that first meeting. An hour earlier, Beth found out a close family member had been diagnosed with cancer. What she didn’t know was that Tara is an oncologist.

“I think we spent as much time that first day talking about that and what my family was going through,” says Artis. “Tara was so wonderful. And getting to know her and AJ that way helped me understand who they are and how they live. That personal side of it makes the design side almost instinctive. You just know when it’s right.”

The Graffs wanted their home to reflect their tastes, but they also wanted it to feel like a home, not a “design.” So, Beth says, they didn’t rush the process. “I showed them a number of pieces that reflected Tara’s more contemporary style but with the Stickley quality that AJ admired. Once we found the right look, we were able to start putting the whole design together.”

The home, which features an open plan with kitchen, great-room, and dining room flowing seamlessly from one to another, boasts high ceilings and richly stained wood floors and cabinetry.

Artis selected light, neutral fabrics for the sofas and clean lines for the wood pieces, including tables and bar stools.

“We’ve been in the house almost two years now. And finally, thanks to Beth, it feels like home,” Tara says.

Accent pieces reflect the couple’s history and interests. The muted color scheme with hints of blue and gray is reminiscent of a cloudy sky or the view from an airplane window. And although the furnishings have an elegance to them, their simple lines and plush fabrics make them perfect for relaxing.

“I think AJ’s favorite piece so far is the dining room table,” Tara says. “It’s exactly what he wanted, and fits the space perfectly.”

The biggest challenge of the project also turned out to be Tara’s favorite feature in the end. “When Beth first suggested that ottoman, she had to do some convincing,” Tara laughs. “I liked the idea, and the piece is gorgeous. But AJ wasn’t so sure. Getting him on board with that was probably the greatest challenge of the whole design. But we love it now.”

The ottoman has become everything Artis promised them it would, not just a focal point of the design but a focal point of their family life. “Our daughter plays on it, sits on it, sleeps on it—it’s the perfect piece,” Tara says.

Some of the finishing touches are still being added, but the main living area is nearly complete. Master bedroom furnishings have also been ordered. Beth hopes to have that room finished soon. “We can hardly wait for the bedroom pieces,” Tara says. “Everything is handmade, so it takes a while once you order it. But we didn’t want to just get ‘the look’ we liked—we wanted the quality, too.”

When AJ stopped in Artis Home Gallerie two years ago, he may only have been looking for furniture. But he found much more. “After that first conversation with Beth, we knew we wanted to do the whole house and do it right over a period of time,” Tara explains.

Two demanding careers and the demands of a toddler leave little time for shopping trips and home decorating. But having a partner like Beth Artis, who also became a friend, has turned the process into a great design story.

Artis adds, “We’re still putting in the finishing touches—the little pieces that make it feel like home.”

To the Graffs, it already does.


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