In the Spotlight: Stephen Saint-Onge

By Kate Riley September 12, 2012

Hello all, I’ve invited a special guest here today!  From time to time, I ask stylists and designers I admire to chat with me here, and today’s guest is Stephen Saint-Onge, also known as “Designer Dad”! 

Stephen is the Contributing Home Editor for Family Circle Magazine and his expertise is in creating comfortable and livable spaces for families.  His practical and budget conscious designs help us all bring beautiful, easy-to-attain style into our homes.  Stephen is the husband, father, and homeowner that reminds everyone to appreciate the simple things in life: home, family and friends.  Please welcome Stephen Saint-Onge and enjoy our Q & A.  

stephen saint-ongeQ:   Hello and welcome Stephen!  Share with us a little about your background and your work.

First off, hello to all the readers of your blog!  I’m a big fan of yours so it’s a true pleasure to get to talk to you this way.  I’ve done makeovers on television and in magazines for many years now.  I love that design can change someone’s life.  I have seen how simple changes can make an impact on a homeowner’s outlook and feel for their home.

In recent years, especially during the personal time of writing and photographing my first book, I realized that my focus is truly on the family focused home and lifestyle.  That’s what I’m all about, so the focus became about all things ‘Designer Dad’.   However, my blog is not solely about home design – it touches on my love of photography, food, culture, family, music, film.  As a creative person, I wear many hats so that place is the home base of all that I am doing or connected to.

A great deal of the work that I do is in the media or seen in the public eye, for example, my work as contributing editor to Family Circle Magazine or other makeover projects that I do.  At the same time, I’m also doing private client design work as well in the New York City Metro area.  It’s a good balance between keeping what I do in touch with what real families want because that is who I am designing for.  As a husband, dad of two boys, and a homeowner, I use those things as my touchstone towards reminding me of what I’m bringing to the creative table. 

Recently, my love and interest in photography has come into focus.  I now shoot all my own design projects and also launched a canvas collection of my photography and artwork targeted at the everyday home.   Photography is also going to be a bigger part of my next book project which is currently in the early stages. 


Q: From reading your recent book No Place Like Home, it’s clear your philosophy is focused on family friendly home design. Tell us where you begin when you work with a family to create a comfortable and stylish interior that reflects the needs and personalities in the home?

I start every design project with a private client the same way or even just someone coming up to me and asking me to help them figure out their home style – "What movie or TV show have you seen that has a great house featured in it that you just love?"  It is amazing how it takes people a second but then their faces light up. 

slipcovered chair stephen saint onge

They start remembering great houses they loved or ones that caught their eye.  For those that have no idea where to begin, that is great starting point.  What is your favorite movie home? is a great question to ask.  For me it would be: Something’s Gotta Give, Out of Africa, and It’s Complicated

summer white stephen saint-onge

Though you may not do a whole house exactly as you see it in the film, you get the essence of what you are moving towards.  I did a behind-the-scenes visit on my blog to the homes of the series on NBC’s Parenthood  – there was a huge response from fans because they connected with those homes and loved them.  Same with my visit to the set of The Good Wife on CBS.   You are entertained but you can also be educated and empowered by design! 


Q: What are your favorite ways to add color and texture to a space?

I’m a big fan of paint as an instant makeover, so paint is key.  I would say art work or photography area also a big thing for me.  Even if you have white walls, you can add a painting and you get color, depth, mood, style, etc. 

farmhouse table red chairs stephen saint onge

I like the layers of life to add texture to a room, family photos, collections from travels, books, flowers, pieces you love that add the details to a room, that is the favorite part of any makeover I do, the details that come in at the end.

tray with flowers branch stephen saint onge

In my own home, I’m always changing rooms around because I like change.  It lifts you up and excites you about your rooms again and you start to see things differently from a fresh perspective.  It does not have to break the bank – it just takes some of your time to make that happen! 

wood coffee table stephen saint onge


Q:  What do you believe to be the key elements in designing spaces for children?

Storage is key, and comfort too.  Pieces that can act as the base for the room yet allow the elements of the room to grow and change as they do.  I’m a big fan of classic choices for kids for furniture but letting wall colors, accessories, and details to change over time.   

kids room stephen saint onge

kids room storage stephen saint onge

kid room storage stephen saint onge


Q:  What changes to you recommend to update a bathroom without spending a lot of money?

I have numerous makeovers of bathrooms on my blog – if you look at them each one does not involving heavy renovation but more cosmetic changes.  A new faucet, new mirror, new lighting.  Those are attainable, doable changes that do not have to cost a great deal.  Yet, the end of the day, they can bring a new look and feel to a tired space. 

bathroom sconces and mirror stephen saint onge

To me, a bathroom could get a facelift in a day if you planned it right.  That is big thing that I see in homes or hear from homeowners – they do not do projects because they feel they will take too much time.  Change is good and changes do not have to take months.  Sometimes the few hours you spend on a space can make you excited about your environment again! 


Q:  You’ve also visited a lot of celebrity and television sets in the past year and shared them on your blog, what tricks that set designers use to make a TV show set like a real home?

Beth Kushnick, the Set Decorator for The Good Wife says it best,  "It’s all about creating the layers of life."  What makes the sets work and resonate with fans is that they seem like real homes.  On the sets for the actor, they are like real homes.  You open a kitchen drawer on the kitchen set and there is stuff like we all have in our kitchen catchall drawers!   It’s always about keeping it real and livable.

good wife bedroom

Bedroom from The Good Wife set

No one wants to live in a magazine spread.  We do not live in perfect spaces.  People often ask me if my house is like a magazine, and my answer is:  I have two boys, a big dog and I want to be comfortable in my home!  So, no, my home is lived in but it does fit my family quite well.  I think that is truly what homes should be.  It’s not about what your neighbors are doing or keeping up with the trends – it truly boils down to what you love, what you respond to and who you are as a family in that home.  That’s it.  Simple and easy.

table setting stephen saint onge


Q:  You just recently refreshed an entry for a family, it’s amazing what you accomplished with some paint and a new runner!  What makes a home’s entry welcoming in your eyes? 

painted staircase stephen saint onge

We all deserve something good to come home to, whether it be the foyer, a mud room or a hallway you come home to at the end of your day so make it welcoming.  It’s not about the size of the house or where we may live.  We all deserve environments that are good to us.  I always say we cannot control the outside world but we can create a world on the inside of our homes that is good to us.   We all deserve that.   Now go and be creative!

entry dresser stephen saint onge 

Thank you so much Stephen for answering these questions and inspiring us with your inviting and livable spaces!  And thanks for the reminder to keep our homes simple and personal.  Want to read and hear more from Stephen?  Visit these links:

Book:  No Place Like Home * Blog: Designer Dad * Artwork: On Canvas

all images courtesy of Stephen Saint- Onge

What’s your favorite piece of advice Stephen shared today?




  1. I was just looking at his blog yesterday. I remember liking his work from Better Homes and Gardens. My decorating philosophy is very similar to Stevens, being focused on family and comfort. The tv show house that I love is the Dunphy’s from Modern Family!

  2. Wonderful interview and so inspirational for family homes. I love that comfort is the focus. Sometimes, when I look through magazines homes are beautiful but too stuffy and almost unrealistic for someone with three kids under 4. Also, I too love the house from Something’s Gotta Give.

  3. I am about to get married to a wonderful man… we currently live in a bachelor pad (3 guys, and 1 girl) and it drives me nuts! Plastic tables, broken mis-matched furniture, hand me down desks and shelves… I can’t wait to find our own place and get out, but once we are out, I want a home not just a house. This was really inspiring to me and I think I know just how to make all of our hand me downs look brand new! Thanks for the Q&A!!

  4. Great advice and some great eye candy! I love “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Because I Said So” for houses from movies. I do remember the home from “Something’s Gotta Give” and that’s a great one too!

  5. Cool…didn’t know what he was doing now…remember him from TLC….I think it was while you were out…? anyway, happy to hear about him and gonna check out his blog!

  6. Great interview!!! I also agree with storage and comfort and Stephen’s work shows that so well. I also loved his comment about refreshing a bathroom. Thanks!

  7. Hi – Nice advice. Is it possible to know the name of the color used in the living room and stairway pictures pls? I am looking for something very similar to these 2 and would really appreciate the info. Thanks!

  8. I really love Stephen’s style! I completely agree with his advice that we all deserve a home that we enjoy to be in….I believe our home’s are ‘our nests’ our shelter from things we can’t control. As a military spouse there are many things I can’t control in my life….I move frequently, hubby is away frequently..many other families have things that can’t be controlled as well….but my space is our center-point, our compass to keep some order and stability in our lives. Great interview Kate!

  9. Total crush here. I mean, who wouldn’t love a man who is so creative, visual, family oriented, is into photography, design, etc. Not to mention creates a ‘look book’…right up my alley. I have binders of look books. And the fact that he’s into ‘movie’ and ‘tv’ homes as inspiration. I have a lists of movie homes I adore and am constantly googling information on them. My latest one is Haley and Nathan’s house on the set of One Tree Hill…loved their house, pool, etc. and was desperately seeking the name of the color on their living room walls. Kind of looked green (like SW Sea Salt) but then other times looked more gray. Still working on that one.

    Great interview. I’m off to order the book!

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