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For Interior Designer Teri Maher, It's All About the Light

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Interior designer Teri Maher at her studio in Waterbury - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Interior designer Teri Maher at her studio in Waterbury

If such a thing as a "typical flatlander" exists, interior designer Teri Maher is not it. She grew up in St. Louis, in a neighborhood filled with finely crafted century-old homes, and spent time in New Orleans with her grandparents, absorbing that city's unique architectural character. After studying hospitality at the University of Missouri, Maher lived in Telluride, Colo., for four years, then headed to Santa Cruz, Calif., for the next decade. There she earned a degree in interior design and proceeded to work with high-end designers in the Bay Area.

How did these sunnier locales and diverse traditions influence Maher's design practice after she moved, in 2007, to Waterbury, Vt.?

In short, she goes for the light. "I do like West Coast style," she says. "Light and bright, and lots of color."

Maher, now 48, didn't set up her own practice right away, though. She and her husband — a New Jersey native who now works at Red Hen Baking — arrived in Vermont with a small child. Maher initially worked with Cushman Design Group in Stowe, but after a year her job became a casualty of the recession. She did "odd jobs" for a couple of years, she says, and had a second child.

Then, in August 2011, came Tropical Storm Irene. Many homes and businesses in Waterbury were hit hard by flooding.

Maher began helping friends with their home renovations "and then started slowly getting back into it," she recounts. "It felt so good to be back, and to give back." She launched Teri Maher Interiors shortly thereafter.

Her business is located in a pleasant second-floor space just off South Main Street, though she is moving to larger, ground-floor quarters in the fall. She appreciates the small-town convenience of Waterbury. Her family's townhouse is nearby ("We live small, which is challenging but good," she says), and her kids, now 9 and 13, can walk to school and activities.

Maher is also centrally located between the ski areas of Stowe and Waitsfield/Warren, where many of her clients have condos or second homes. One of her customers, for both personal and commercial projects, is Sugarbush Real Estate broker Kyle Neyer.

Family room at a ski condo in Stowe designed by Maher - COURTESY OF LINDSAY RAYMONDJACK
  • COURTESY OF LINDSAY RAYMONDJACK
  • Family room at a ski condo in Stowe designed by Maher

"Teri did some space layout plans for a bathroom renovation [at my home]," he says in a phone conversation, "and also converted a bedroom into a TV room."

Maher sourced furniture for the latter room, working with a vendor to re-cover a family-heirloom chair. "She did a nice job," Neyer says. "Teri really listens to you and comes back with a well-executed plan. She's not afraid to think outside the box."

Neyer adds that Maher has also worked, "from concept board to finished product," with various Gadd Brook townhomes in Sugarbush Village.

As the "interiors" images on her website indicate, Maher isn't trying to re-create a laid-back Sausalito vibe or Silicon Valley opulence for her clients, despite her West Coast proclivities. On the contrary, she has enthusiastically embraced the energy-efficiency concerns of a colder climate, as well as Vermont's emphasis on local materials and its revered tradition of craftsmanship. All those qualities are reflected in her choice of details, such as a Hubbardton Forge lamp, an interior barn door, and forged metal handles and a stained-glass window by Vermont artisans.

If the connection between local makers and a lower carbon footprint is not obvious, one need only think of the real environmental cost of shipping home goods thousands of miles around the globe.

When Maher says she loves working with Vermont craftsmen, though, it's not just the environment or the local economy she has in mind. She also respects the quality of lovingly handmade items. "I often just can't find the right thing in a table, for example," she says. So she picks out a wood and finishes and lets a craftsman take it from there. "A lot of them are artists, and it's really fun working with them," Maher says.

"And sometimes I try to slip in something a little funky, a little eclectic [with a client]," she adds. She's found Vermonters receptive to such touches, while staid New England second-home buyers may be less so.

For homeowners who can't afford a total renovation, or renters who can't make significant changes to their space, Maher suggests freshening the décor with artwork, plants and accessories. The last might include one of her own creations.

Most interior designers are big fans of decorative pillows, and Maher hit on an appealingly simple design when "I found myself with some scraps and had a brainstorm," she says. The plump, oversize pillows are covered in linen — with a subdued palette from oatmeal to gray-blue — and feature the shape of Vermont in cowhide in the center. "I give them to clients," Maher says.

Constructed by local seamstresses, the pillows are also sold at a few retail outlets, as well as in her studio and on her website. But they're in limited supply. "I couldn't keep up if we had a lot of orders," Maher admits. She has created pillows featuring the shapes of other states, too, among them New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Washington, she says.

What's next for Maher? She'd like to expand beyond ski-resort condos and has worked with "a few individual homes," she says. She's also eager to work with a "from-scratch house" and commercial spaces. Whatever the job, she's clearly a team player in the local creative economy. Says Maher: "I try to sell local art into projects whenever I can."

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