Richmond Spaces
Kat & Mike Liebschwager
Simple test gets couple one step away from Oprah
Writer: Jenny Hansen
Photographer: Darl Bickel

Kat and Mike Liebschwager use a simple test to determine what's included in their home décor: Do we love it? Is it cool? If both answers are a clear yes, the item makes the cut.

The Liebschwagers left their corporate jobs to open a home décor shop and design business.

As useful as this metric is for interior decorating, the couple find it equally valuable for making general life decisions. And the test has literally altered their lives and opened countless doors to new, exciting opportunities - including national media attention.

The Liebschwagers moved into their 1920s row house just over a year ago. They married modern and traditional decorating concepts throughout the house, and the clever convergence works well.

The couple poured a great deal of work into the house, tiling the kitchen backsplash and adding granite countertops, painting every inch of wall space in the house, applying a sprayed concrete treatment to the front patio, and carefully choosing every piece of furniture and every accessory to match their style.

The walls in the dining room are painted dramatic black. Crystal chandelier from James R. Moder. Silver antler candle holders from Roost. Painting on the left by Joe Delulio. Painting above the mantel by Justin Farley.

Kat felt confident their decorating was unique, stylish, and entirely true to their hearts. One night while Kat was flipping through O at Home magazine, an opportunity leapt off the page.

In a feature box was a call for examples of inventive, beautiful interior decorating. The contest, "knock, knock, it's NATE!," offered the winner an opportunity to appear on the Oprah show with famed designer Nate Berkus.

"I love Nate!" Kat thought. "I have his book!"

Kat applied the test: She loved it. It was cool. She decided to enter the contest.

Weeding through an entire page of very fine print, Kat discerned she needed to mail 10 pictures of her home, one picture of herself, and a 100-word essay describing her decorating style, all by June.

Just six weeks after Kat entered her submission, she got a phone call. The Liebschwagers were among the top 25 finalists.

Perhaps Kat had a bit of a leg-up on the competition, considering she is an interior designer by trade. But that was not always the case. Just a few years ago, the couple used their trusty test to gauge their career satisfaction. Both Kat and Mike were living the corporate life, complete with long hours, pressure, and unending stress.

After 9/11, Kat said, the market slowed down considerably. Shortly thereafter, Mike's mother passed away unexpectedly. The couple felt they needed to reevaluate the way they were spending the majority of their time. They asked themselves: Do we love what we do? Is it cool? Ultimately, the answer was clear: There was a more rewarding career out there for both of them.

"If you don't love it," Kat said simply, "don't do it. It's just not worth it."

RIGHT: Kat and Mike love color. In the kitchen they have a Louis XVstyle chair in cast aluminum, upholstered in lime-green vinyl. Pillow from Designers Guild.
BELOW: The Liebschwagers created a cozy, leafy, private city garden where they can relax on new furniture that has a decidedly vintage feel.

Kat left her marketing position behind and began an interior design business in 2004. Mike followed suit, and the couple opened a home design shop, Ruth & Ollie, on Grove Avenue.

Despite the couple's obvious creative ability and drive, neither Kat nor Mike knew how to shoot and edit a video, which was the next and final phase of the "knock, knock, it's NATE!" contest. And, to step up the challenge, they had a week and a half to complete it.

Colors pop against the black and white furnishings. Painting by Joe Delulio. The black chair in the foreground is a flea market find.

Thank goodness for friends and fate. One of the Liebschwagers' friends, who happens to shoot professional training videos for NASA, was in town - with his equipment. He shot and edited a five-minute video of Kat giving a tour of her home.

The couple's house had just been featured in the Museum District's Mother's Day tour, so it was already immaculate.

"It was just a stroke of luck that I had gorgeous flowers in every room of the house, too," Kat laughed.

She mailed the video in July, and anxiously awaited the response.

In August, the couple were notified by e-mail they had not, in fact, been chosen as one of the three winners.

They had come so close to sharing their home, their passion, and their important test with the nation, but the Liebschwagers weren't discouraged. Kat, in fact, felt confident another opportunity would present itself.

Indeed one did. Kat and Mike's home was published in a national decorating magazine this past fall - featuring a multi-page spread of their interior design work.

"This is obviously what we were meant to be doing," Kat said. "Since we opened the store, all of these things have just fallen into our laps."

While the couple can't deny hard work has played a major role in their success, they also feel incredibly lucky to be living such a fulfilling life. Perhaps luck is what happens to those who do what they love.

The essay — Old, new, funky, classic, flea market, function, and indulgence all have a place in our new row house built in 1921. Piece by piece, the test is: Do we love it? Is it cool? If so, it's here.

The design foundation is neutral...black, white, and beige... with a heartbeat added through color...sometimes vibrant color. Art is vital. It sets the mood and gives each room its own "vibe."

We believe every person's home should reflect his or her personality, not someone else's. Our home does!

Nate, come see us...