02/10/2022

Design Detailing

Design Detailing Experts

For Beautiful Traditional Interior Design, Meet ‘Murray Khouri’

For Beautiful Traditional Interior Design, Meet ‘Murray Khouri’

When it comes to interior design, Amanda Khouri and Mary Catherine Murray (the duo formally known as Murray Khouri) are making a name for themselves. Though the two found each other years ago through their former political careers in Washington, D.C., the alignment of their personal styles led them to journey into the design world together.

Now, Amanda and Mary Catherine are putting their magic touch on projects from New York to Nashville and beyond. They were the only Nashville-based firm to have a space at Atlanta’s recent Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens. Their spirited and unique style, which features layers of texture and textiles galore, tells beautiful design stories worthy of attention.

Please welcome our newest Interior Designer Crush duo, Amanda Khouri and Mary Catherine Murray of Murray Khouri. 

Amanda Khouri and Mary Catherine Murray of Murray Khouri. 

Meet our newest Interior Designer Crush duo, Mary Catherine Murray (left) and Amanda Khouri (right) of Murray Khouri. Image: Ben Rose

What inspired your design career, and how did you team up?

Amanda: I have always been a creative person, and that has manifested itself in different ways through the years. I remember really caring about being able to choose the paint color and bedding in my room (I won’t share photos of that particular “project”). I’m also a collector through and through. I love to paint in my spare time, and I learned to appreciate historical architecture and decoration while in school at UVA. So, while I might’ve been on the path before recognizing it, design is a second career for me.

Before moving to Nashville two years ago, I was in the political space for most of my nine years living in Washington, D.C. I worked on Capitol Hill for four years where, believe it or not, my to-be business partner, Mary Catherine, and I met while on a Senate Staff Delegation trip to China. In hindsight, we’ve joked that we were perhaps more interested in the tile and marble work in the Capitol building than in the business taking place there. After leaving Capitol Hill, I was an in-house lobbyist for Twitter and Google. During that time, I bought an apartment in a beautiful early 1900s building in northwest D.C. I remember being adamant that the bones be more than 100 years old and the kitchen in desperate need of renovation so I could make it my own.

Renovating that apartment forced me to realize that I wasn’t in the right line of work. I fell in love with the process and was determined to make a career change. It took a few years for me to make the jump, but in late 2018, I realized I couldn’t ignore the voice inside any longer. Mary Catherine and I reconnected as she was considering a similar transition — we each knew we wanted a business of our own, but we didn’t want to do it alone. We took several weeks to discuss what a partnership might look like, and as they say, the rest is history.

Mary Catherine: My love of design started with my grandparents’ collection of treasures, from Nigerian pottery to Indonesian batik textiles, as it told the story of their life abroad. This greatly influenced me at a young age — I understood firsthand the power a house has in telling a great story. I’ve always wanted to help others create their own cherished spaces with unique items, but I took a brief detour and went into a career in politics after college. As it turns out, this job led me to my partner, Amanda, who shared both my love of design and my desire to leave politics behind. We decided that two are better than one when making a big jump and decided to go after our dream together.

Children's bedroom with green accents an two beds.

This beautifully bold bedroom boasts green accents and wallpaper that wows. Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Breakfast table with green accents and a vase of white florals.

Fun fabrics, fresh florals, and a curated mix of casually elegant furniture make this breakfast nook a standout. Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

What is your favorite project to date?

Amanda: We’ve had so many that we enjoyed working on, whether because we adored the clients or were really pleased with the end result. My favorite projects are those with a high degree of trust and collaboration between the clients and us. The rooms where our clients trusted us when we suggested something they might’ve perceived as risky have, without fail, become their favorite rooms to live in. That’s very rewarding to me. Nothing beats getting a call or text a year after a project has wrapped where the client says, “I’m SO happy I said yes to [insert outside-the-box idea here]; it’s my favorite space in the house.”

Mary Catherine: Every project where we’ve enjoyed the client’s full trust. Such deep collaboration leads to our most creative and most fun work! We love it when our labors bring clients true joy.

You recently had a space in the Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens. Can you tell us about it?

Amanda: What a thrilling experience that has been! We began the year with an eye toward seeking new opportunities to grow our business, and we’d been intrigued by the idea of doing a showhouse to put ourselves in front of a wider audience. We decided to inquire about the application process with the thought that we might apply in the following calendar year.

After speaking with the team at Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, we received a call back a few days later saying that there was a late decision to add a lower porch to the decorated portion of the Showhouse, and if we wanted it, it was ours. We were very surprised! We had to make a quick decision, as the install was only 10 weeks after that phone call. Ultimately, we felt it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass on, so we got right to work.

Mary Catherine: It came about quickly! With less than two months to prepare, we leaned on readily available favorite antiques and vintage pieces. But we used them in the non-traditional setting of an outdoor patio. We wanted to show that antiques don’t have to be too precious; they can help a space feel warm and inviting.

A stairwell designed by Murray Khouri, with a puppy making it look cozy.

This stairwell designed by Murray Khouri offers a perfectly placed vignette of art, books, and collectibles. Plus, who doesn’t love a photogenic pup? Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Dining room with green-checked chairs, white flower light fixture, and vases with greenery.

A combination of greenery, eye-catching wallpaper, and a contemporary light fixture add depth to this dining room space. Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

What inspired your Showhouse space?

Amanda: Given the indoor-outdoor nature of our space, we wanted to push the envelope a bit on what an outdoor space could be. Travel is always inspiring, and we had this image of a breezy open-air hotel lobby in our minds — a place that encourages connection and conversation. We also wanted to illustrate that a room full of bold decisions can still feel quite liveable, serene, and welcoming.

Mary Catherine: Travel! During the pandemic, we dreamed of faraway locales like the bustling terrace of an old Moroccan hotel — light and airy with some Casablanca flair. We wanted guests to walk in, be transported, and sit and stay awhile.

What piece of design advice can you offer us to elevate our homes?

Amanda: The “little things” are actually the big things. Be sure to give the details as much consideration (or more) as anything else in the room.

Mary Catherine: Buy only what you really love! Settling rarely leads to lasting satisfaction; it’s always worth the wait when you finally come across that thing you know you’ll cherish for years to come.

Ornate curtains behind a table with a classic lamp and a vignette of books and art.

Amanda and Mary Catherine combine traditional and modern styles and patterns, taking inspiration from classic architecture and design. Image: Heidi Harris

A living room designed by Murray Khouri, with pale blue walls

Amanda and Mary Catherine accurately describe their aesthetic as collected, energetic, inviting, and timeless. “Every room starts with a traditional foundation,” offers Mary Catherine, “but it’s thoughtfully layered with interesting and exotic accents.” Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

What is your favorite space or design element in your own home, and why?

Amanda: One of my favorite parts of the design process is the hunt for unique furniture, objects, and art that personalize a home. When I look around my own home, I’m reminded of all the fun I have going to estate sales, traveling, and visiting antique shops — picking things up all along the way. I absolutely LOVE a deal. It makes the memory of the find that much sweeter!

If I had to get specific, I think my favorite item in my home is a large portrait of a woman in a field of flowers painted by a celebrated Nashville artist, the late Anton Weiss. It contains all of my favorite colors — deep teal blue, citron, and saffron yellow — and the look on the woman’s face is ever-so-slightly mischievous. I bought it out of the estate of a clearly fabulous woman (for a song), and I just love the way she presides over my dining room.

Mary Catherine: I truly love the whimsical chintz wallpaper by Soane in my powder room. I carried a sample of it for years before we bought our house, as it perfectly matched a special piece of art I brought back from Marrakesh. I once read that Lee Radziwill used a Pierre Frey print in several of her homes because she loved it so much. I want to steal a page from her book and make sure this chintz follows me wherever I go!

Painting on ornate wallpaper, with vintage furniture and collectibles.

“I think my favorite item in my home is a large portrait of a woman in a field of flowers painted by a celebrated Nashville artist, the late Anton Weiss,” Amanda tells us. Image: Murray Khouri

Bathroom sink with ornate blue and white wallpaper

“I truly love the whimsical chintz wallpaper by Soane in my powder room,” says Mary Catherine. Image: Murray Khouri

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, be it another designer or a dream client, who would it be?

Amanda: I’m no exception to designers’ tendency to be their own worst clients, so I would be delighted to hand my house right over to Matthew Carter. I’m such an admirer of his exquisite work and reference it frequently. I find something new to love each time.

Mary Catherine: I’d have to go with Robert Kime, the all-time master of English decoration, as his spaces are timeless but relevant and traditional but never fussy — things I hope to reflect in my own work. If I ever realize my dream of a house in the English countryside, I’ll be giving him a call!

What design trends are you most excited about this year?

Amanda: Authenticity, citrus-y colors, and more attention being paid to ceilings.

Mary Catherine: The decline of the open floor plan. To me, there’s so much more value in cozy, intimate spaces since a greater number of rooms brings additional opportunities for unique designs.

A bathroom designed by Murray Khouri, with a freestanding tub and wall artwork.

Placing value in spaces that offer an opportunity for cozy, intimate, layered design, Murray Khouri thoughtfully elevates even the smallest of bathroom nooks. Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Bookshelves with collectibles and barware.

Bookshelves with textured inlays serve as a backdrop for everything from vintage barware to large pieces of coral. Image: Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Can you describe your design philosophy in five words?

Amanda: It’s eight words, but I’m going to quote Miles Redd here: “Buy the best, and you’ll only cry once.”

Mary Catherine: Can I have six? “Surround yourself with things you love.”

All images by Stacy Zarin Goldberg are styled by Frances Bailey.

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