Tom Niccum and Nancy Dowling’s Home Redesign

The pieces you already own might be the key to giving your home a fresh look.
Personal photography and other mementos from Tom Niccum and Nancy Dowling's worldwide travels are focal points in their redesigned Eden Prairie home.

When it comes to updating a home, sometimes it’s the “old” pieces you have on hand that provide the answer. “With art, the most important thing is it means something to you,” says Chantal Devane of Devane Design in Eden Prairie. “You find something you connect with, and I’ll build around it.” Build she did, quite literally. For the last three years, the interior designer has been chipping away at the circa 1980s soffits, cabinetry and bath fixtures in the home of her Eden Prairie clients Tom Niccum and Nancy Dowling. Tape measure and discerning eye at the ready, Devane worked to incorporate personal photography and collections of artifacts from their various travels into the final design of their home. Devane started in the kitchen, creating a chef’s sanctuary with high-end appliances and a double island for entertaining, topping the center island with a multi-colored teak butcher block to tie the new look into the original bones of the house. She stained the original honey oak floors a deeper color and transformed the adjoining family room into a spice-colored relaxation area inspired by the couple’s travels to India, Egypt and Armenia. “She really listened to us and she found out what was important to us,” Niccum says. “She created a design that emphasizes those things.” Devane also helped the couple sort through photographs and unearth collectibles long since packed away for lack of a proper display area. Together they sifted through the collections, choosing things important to them, and then Devane whittled the choices down into groupings that would work together visually. In the family room, she chose a warm neutral paint color as a backdrop for a vibrant photo wall of Niccum’s own shots. Outlining each with a thick white mat and thin black frame, she says, tied the pieces together and “let the photographs speak for themselves”. The photos range from people and faces to up-close geometric patterns Niccum captured during his travels. “That’s putting history and memories on the wall,” Devane says. The furniture was selected to complement the artwork and provide another layer of design that hearkens back to the global locations in the photographs. Grouping multiple art pieces together on one wall is something designers have been doing for years. Devane points out that “it gets away from the large print over the sofa-look” common in so many furniture stores. On the wall perpendicular to the photos, Devane also created a home for all of the treasures Niccum and Dowling have acquired during their travels. “I designed this so it would be eclectic and intentional,” she says. From small animals to handmade dolls, everything now has a space on custom-designed shelving. Small nooks provide areas to highlight different pieces in the collection and the overall project allows the couple to easily transition new pieces in and out with purpose. Devane encourages her clients to group pieces together that have some similarities even if that similarity is as simple as color. She also recommends grouping like-objects in odd numbers to create a balanced look. Niccum explains that each piece on display in the couple’s family room has a history and is so much more than a novelty. For example, the small basket sitting on the sideboard under the shelving was purchased by Dowling as people approached them in the streets of a Vietnam village selling their own possessions; it’s a basket that likely carried the seller’s lunch earlier in the day. Though Devane says not many people have the same extensive travel background as these Eden Prairie homeowners, they do have heirloom treasures that have often been passed down from generations and have their own story. “There has to be that inspiration piece; there are always things we hold true to our hearts,” she says of these special items. “It’s your family history and your past, and that’s what makes a house look like a home, that’s what makes it yours and unique.”