The front door opens into a bright, airy living room adorned with gray and soft-blue furnishings and a natural-wood-topped coffee table. On it, a shallow basket holds a small plant and an antique cigar box that hides the TV remote control. A stack of terrazzo coasters sits on a book entitled Lake Champlain: Reflections on Our Past. A shiplap wall behind the sofa adds visual interest while camouflaging a door that hides storage space. Vintage wooden milking stools serve as side tables. Artwork on the wall features drawings of owls and hummingbirds.
Juliet Palmer, owner of the Burlington interior design business Abode VT, helped conceive the welcoming space in the city’s South End. These particular clients wanted to repurpose the 800-square-foot, second-floor apartment above their home as an Airbnb called the Aviary, with a bird theme and décor that nods to its Green Mountain surroundings.
The house’s dormer eaves posed a particular challenge: a steeply pitched ceiling. Palmer applied gleaming white paint to the walls, ceiling and trim, giving the room a wide-open feel. She made use of the otherwise wasted space of the dormer nooks: “We put a little desk in one and a little plant in one, just to make it more intentional,” she said.
A longtime restaurant manager, Palmer founded Abode VT on April 3 last year — 4-3-2-1, she pointed out, because she has a thing for numbers as well as a keen eye for atmospheric appeal. This July, she took her design services to the next level by opening a showroom in the Innovation Center of Vermont.
Visitors will hardly notice that it’s in an oddly shaped former credit union office. Big windows facing Lakeside Avenue shine a light on Palmer’s style, which centers on clean, understated spaces and comfortable materials — an alpaca throw, a woven leather bench, a rattan hutch. In the showroom, she sells a smattering of antique and vintage pieces along with new, modern furniture — a green velvet sofa, a glass-topped round dining table, a small ottoman with an abstract print.
Finishing touches include ceramic vases, kilim throw pillows and candles made by a University of Vermont student who created signature scents for Abode VT: Peony Rain and Peony Gardenia.
“Livable spaces is what I’m going for, and that’s what I want people to experience here,” Palmer, 37, said during a recent interview while sitting on a caramel-colored West Elm leather sofa.
Function is key to Palmer. “I’m so big on intention of space and who it serves, who it needs to function for,” she said.
Palmer has no formal certification in interior design and no access to direct-from-trade orders at discounted prices from furniture manufacturers. She sources products for client spaces herself, applying her skills as a savvy shopper and pledging to find deals that fit any budget. But Abode VT clients have no obligation to buy anything when they redo their rooms.
“If you have things you can use and pieces that you love, that’s what we’re going to work with,” Palmer said.
Abode VT offers four tiers of service. Palmer charges $150 for a one-hour style discovery session in her studio, which includes shopping help and access to exclusive inventory. An in-home consultation costs $250. “I’ll help you move your furniture,” she said. “I’ll bring paint samples.”
For Palmer to create a design board, which features layout suggestions and links to products to purchase, clients pay an average of $1,250 per room. The full “Abode Designed” service — including project management, installation and styling oversight — ranges from about $3,000 to $8,000, with furnishings billed separately. For those jobs, Palmer has items shipped to her house, then she delivers them to the client and sets everything up.
When she started the business, Palmer heard people say they could never afford an interior designer. She caters to those clients.
“I want it to be approachable,” she said. “Everybody deserves a space that they love and can enjoy and that nourishes them and that they feel good in, whatever that looks like for them and whatever that budget is.”
Palmer’s target client is a working parent, like her, who might have come out of the pandemic with a house in shambles, having set up offices for work and school in the dining room or a bedroom. Now, those clients are looking to reclaim the space and make it their own.
“You know you want it to be better,” Palmer said. “You know there are improvements that can be made, but you’re not sure how.”
Palmer uses no computer-aided design or digital presentations. “I can just look at a space and see if something’s going to work. I don’t need it laid out on a computer screen.”
She added, “To me, it’s so much about being in the space and feeling it and the energy and the flow.”
Bethany Vaillancourt and her husband had planned to handle the renovation of the Aviary themselves and balked at paying for an interior designer, which seemed like a luxury, she said. After starting the project, Vaillancourt found herself stymied by some decisions: the right position of the refrigerator, the placement of artwork, the items to accomplish the look she wanted.
“I really felt like I needed a partner to execute it well,” Vaillancourt said, adding that Palmer proved to be the perfect collaborator. “She helped pull together the vision.”
And the investment has paid off, Vaillancourt said. The Aviary has enjoyed healthy bookings since opening in August, and guests’ gushing reviews invariably mention the décor.
Money was tight in Palmer’s household while she was growing up in Lebanon, N.H., she said. Her parents divorced when she was young, but each imparted to her a strong sense of style. Her mother loved to outfit a room or set a beautiful table, Palmer said. Her father was a chef for restaurants including at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, but after a triple bypass, he switched to collecting and selling antiques at flea markets. One of her father’s treasured pieces, a rustic white-painted dresser, stands in an honored position in the entry to the Abode VT showroom.
Palmer also had instincts all her own. Though she doesn’t remember it, her mother often told Palmer that she would rearrange the furniture in her room as early as age 4, she said.
Her design predilection hadn’t surfaced as a career choice by the time Palmer graduated from the University of Vermont. Working in restaurants since age 14, she stayed in that business, taking a job with the now-defunct Three Tomatoes Trattoria. That’s where she met her husband, and they both later moved to the Farmhouse Group, which owns four Burlington-area eateries. Palmer managed the lunch service at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill on Bank Street, and her husband became the group’s chief operating officer. He has since left to work in property management.
When restaurants temporarily closed in March 2020 to stave off the spread of COVID-19, Palmer decided to stay home and focus on her son and daughter, now ages 6 and 9. But full-time parenting didn’t suit her, she said. She started a house-cleaning business and quickly filled her schedule, getting to know her neighbors while earning income, but it was too physically taxing to sustain, she said.
She and her family moved to their South Burlington home in June 2020. “The thing that kept me going during the pandemic was planning how I was going to design our house,” she said.
One day last year, Palmer and her daughter were watching one of their favorite TV shows, “Dream Home Makeover,” and her daughter said, “Mom, you could do this.”
The next day, she registered Abode VT. She intends to keep the business “hyperlocal,” she said. Most of her clients live in or near Burlington.
One exception — a recent job she took to refurbish a yurt in the middle of the woods in Granville — allowed Palmer to flex her design muscles. Previous tenants had trashed the place, she said, and the owners wanted an overhaul with all new furnishings.
“I try to stay true to the spaces themselves,” she said of the pieces she picked for the earthen yurt. “We’re sort of going for a Robert Frost-type writer’s retreat.”