After looking at the same four walls for weeks, homeowners may be ready for a renovation.

Lindsey LaRocco Longacre understands. And, she's ready to help.

A 2003 graduate of Neshannock High School, the interior designer and her business partner, Kate Tomalis, who opened the Pittsburgh-based Laken Design in 2018, were recognized last month by Pittsburgh Magazine. The pair's complete transformation of a 9,000-square-foot New Wilmington residence earned Laken the magazine's annual Best Renovated Home recognition.

"I was so surprised when we won, it's a huge category and it was our first entry into the contest," said Longacre, the daughter of Frank and Sandy LaRocco.

Longacre credits retired Neshannock art teacher Ned Yahn with "recognizing the little bit of talent I had" and pushing her toward pursuing an artistic field. She earned a bachelor's degree in interior design from La Roche University, studying in Italy while a student.

After college, she worked in New York City and spent a year in Australia as an exhibition designer for the Queensland Museum before returning to the Pittsburgh area.

"I had done furniture and landscape design and exhibition work, but when I came back I wasn't sure where I wanted to go," recalled Longacre who began working as a designer for Restoration Hardware.

It was there that she met Tomalis and the two clicked.

"We both enjoyed working in residential design and our ideas seemed to mesh," Longacre said. "Our clients began to ask if we could work on the side for them, which we weren't allowed to do, but we did eventually take on some secret clients and things took off."

When the pair opened Laken many of those customers followed the designers, which Longacre said wasn't something the women intended although it was "a nice surprise."

While they started small, with simple bedroom and bathroom redesigns, Laken's designers soon found themselves doing complete remodels. The first of which was the award-winning home.

"(The owners) are close friends, so I was even more particular. I wanted it to be so great for them," Longacre said. "I'm a perfectionist but, I can honestly say, there were no negatives with that project." 

Photos of the renewed space in Pittsburgh Magazine's April 2020 edition highlight Laken's dramatic use of lighting in the casual yet elegant home. It was one of the elements that caught judges' eyes. 

"This home beautifully combines classic elements with more contemporary textures and colors," judge Crystal DeCastro Knapik said in the article. "The thoughtful curation of artwork, the precision of technical details, and the harmonious collection of interior finishes come together tastefully to create a familiar, yet unique, home experience." 

Since then, Laken's portfolio has included several more higher scale renovation projects, the majority of which have been in the Wexford-Cranberry Township area.

"I like meeting with the clients in their homes, not tidied up but in the chaos of life. I like to show people that this doesn't have to be a really serious process," Longacre said. "Making a space that is functional, but really beautiful, is something I'm really passionate about."

Encouraging clients to think outside of the box, Longacre said most are "open to listening and take what we say to heart. They know we want something magical and beautiful to happen in the space."

Although Longacre can't currently meet with clients due to the coronavirus pandemic, she's been getting calls from new customers thanks to the Pittsburgh Magazine article – and perhaps the stay-at-home orders.

"Unfortunately, a lot of our projects are on hold because we need to come to houses to see how things work physically in the space, but we've been doing a lot of planning and sourcing and Zoom meetings," Longacre said.

She's also been casting a designer's eye on the Fox Chapel home she shares with her husband Perry and their sons, 4-year-old Finn and 1-year-old Theo. 

"I'm my own hardest client, but luckily I've got a very cool house," Longacre said of the home built in 1912 as part of a design contest challenging Carnegie Mellon University architecture students to come up with a dwelling with as many small storage spaces as possible. 

"I can see what needs to be done, but by the time I renovate one area I'm tired of everything else," joked Longacre, who's expecting the couple's third son in September. "But, now that we have to be here non-stop, I'm glad we did the work.

"I've had so many new clients say being at home has inspired them to contact us. Now that they've had to look at their homes every day, they're ready to start as soon as this is over."

rgendreau@ncnewsonline.com

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Renée Gendreau is a lifestyles reporter at the New Castle News. Email her at rgendreau@ncnewsonline.com.

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