Martha Dayton is a Minneapolis-based designer that creates welcoming, sophisticated, and beautifully balanced residential and commercial spaces. Known for expert space planning and a deft hand in creating harmonious spaces, her company, Martha Dayton Design, has become one of the go-to interior design firms in the Midwest. As as a Minneapolise-based company ourselves, we couldn't help but take notice of this design powerhouse.
As we've watching Martha's inspiring career, we've become more and more impressed with her work. Imagine our delight, then, when we spotted not one, but three of our papers in her designs! This gave us the perfect excuse to reach out to Martha and learn more about her process, her tips for working with pattern, and her favorite places to use wallpaper.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to interior design.
I have quite an unorthodox story and career path. I started in my twenties by buying rundown properties in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and renovating them. When I moved to Minnesota, I bought a condominium from a local developer and made some substantial changes to the floor plan. After it was completed, he asked if he could photograph it, and if I wanted a job. I had very little formal design training, so he took a substantial risk on me. I jumped at the opportunity and spent the next four years as President of Design for the Lander Group doing numerous condominium developments. I founded Martha Dayton Design in 2005 and began doing residential interiors right away. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have found a career that I absolutely love and to work daily with a great team and fantastic clients. I do think there’s quite a bit of luck involved with my story, and a lot of hard work to go along with it, but I can’t imagine doing anything else!
How would you describe your design process? What inspires you in your work?
Our design process always starts big and narrows as we get further into the process. We start with a feeling and a vision that we are trying to convey, which usually results in two to three ideas or palettes for our client. Through the back-and-forth, we start to fine-tune the choices and then begin to build the foundation for what will guide the project.
There are so many avenues for inspiration these days with the access we all have. I get inspiration from fellow designers—from Pinterest and Instagram, from the incredibly talented smaller shops and vendors, from wallcoverings, smaller tile companies, and from artists. Minneapolis can boast about its art and design community, which provides talented individuals who can realize any vision we can dream up. Believe it or not, everyone in my studio still loves to sit down and read a great design magazine—Elle Décor or Architectural Digest or our many local design magazines that feature our friends and vendors. And, when we’re lucky enough to travel, there’s no better way to get inspiration. My most recent trip, prior to COVID, was to Vietnam, and I can’t wait to go back. There is so much good design all over the world to draw from.
Your designs are undoubtedly sophisticated, but with plenty of fun in both color and pattern. How do you strike that balance?
We always try to honor the architecture of a home so that it feels cohesive. Listening to the bones of a home or building is important to us, but the layering is like adding the jewelry—and that’s where we can add color and pattern. We love to create backgrounds that can stand the test of time, but then spice it up with accessories, art, and pillows—the elements of your home that you can continually change and have fun with.
What are your tips for working with pattern, both as a focal point as well as mixing several together in one space?
We usually start with the pattern that is the most bold, and then we build around it. Layering in smaller patterns and different color options is a really fun process that requires a lot of intuition and a little bit of experience, but we lean more heavily on our intuition with patterns and color. Use your gut—if it feels like too much, it probably is! And, if it feels like something is missing, keep adding until it feels like it’s just right. My biggest tip: It can’t hurt to try… have some fun. If you don’t like something after a few years, you can always change it.
Well, in my opinion, they truly made the spaces in each case. Obviously, the layering of lighting, tile, good cabinetry, and styling go a long way, but the pop in each of these cases is the wallcovering. Bloom was sort of an obvious choice given the color of the floor. We don’t usually like to overly match on a project, but it worked so well in the space and it’s a kids bathroom so the color is fantastic. In an otherwise calm house, the client was willing to take a risk here and it definitely paid off. Otomi is in a master bath and we wanted that bathroom to have a calm, soothing vibe so this paper felt perfect. And Nethercote—honestly, just look at the color! It’s so much fun. This is a powder room, which is always a perfect place to have fun. The color and the pattern bring this room to life!
Why do you think the bathroom is such a great place for wallpaper?
Bathrooms are such an obviously good place for wallpaper. Whether or not you have a wainscot or a full wall to paper, the usually quieter surfaces of a bathroom lend themselves to becoming a backdrop for color and texture on the walls. Additionally, you aren’t generally competing with other furniture or fabrics, so you can really let loose in the bathroom and have some fun. Another fun place for wallpaper is in dining rooms for a lot of the same reasons—there’s less going on and it’s a fun place to add some interest.
Hygge is a Danish concept of finding comfort in coziness in life’s simple pleasures. What brings hygge to your world?
First of all, I love the word and the fact that you’ve brought it to the forefront of design. Without hesitation, my family brings me the most comfort in life. I love it when they’re all home and around me. I also find complete joy in working side-by-side with my talented team during the day. We have an extremely collaborative office and there’s nothing more fun than putting all our heads together and coming up with amazing results. And in the absence of either of those scenarios, a really yummy cashmere scarf, a tasty meal, a great glass of wine, and a fire in the fireplace—preferably with friends—are all things that have been known to make me awfully happy.
Design: Martha Dayton Design