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By Marlene Holmquist

Featured image: Interior designer Marlene Holmquist keeps an old manger from her grandparents’ barn as an item of personal luxury—a concept that is open to personal interpretation. Photo: Courtesy of Marlene Holmquist

For years, I have been lugging around a rusty old manger from grandma and grandpa’s big green barn, waiting for the perfect landing spot. I had thought of restoring and painting it, but I am sure glad I didn’t. It now sits in a corner of our coastal patio, and it is the first thing I see when I glance into the backyard. It is a little piece of luxury that makes me smile. It brings back years of growing up on the family ranch, confident a gentle ol’ horse would be waiting for me after that 3 o’clock bell finally rang. (Today, parents take away cell phones. My parents had more power than that!)

Don’t ever let the word luxury scare you. Its true meaning is often misunderstood. It is not expensive furniture or materials; it is a feeling. It can be created in your own home through thoughtful interior design. Anyone can live in a luxurious setting, no matter the budget. Defining what luxury means to you is the secret. Over the years, I have seen many a modest home with more luxury than a mansion. Larger homes can be uncomfortable and difficult to decorate. However, the secret is to create varying intimate areas for gathering. And smaller homes can actually allow some of the “out of my price range” items to be more of a possibility. Customized luxury creates a sense of well-being, happiness, and healing. Try incorporating biophilia (the subject of a previous article) into your home, which brings nature into our lives for emotional and physical wellness. The art of feng shui addresses spatial arrangement and favorable or unfavorable energy flow (qi) in a home. Feng shui is mostly intuitive, so don’t let its complicated reputation intimidate you. Great design just feels good.

Along with personal items you cherish, every room should have functionality and a focal point. Viewpoints (entry options) are a subject different from focal points and are also very important. When moving room to room, what do you see? Does the room you are standing in entice you to move into the next room, or is it so different you get an uncomfortable feeling? With different family members living in a home, spaces like bedrooms are often very different from each other. The flow of both private and commonly used areas in a home is accomplished by the varying yet common attributes of the materials, colors and/or textures. For more self-help, refer to my website home page (, where you can download the free guide “How To Assess and Add Personal Value To Your Home.”

For me, true luxury feels like jumping off a cranky old mare and landing in the saddle of my beloved Ol’ Blue. Translation: familiarity, comfort, and memories of the many horses that gave me confidence to navigate the world ahead. Putting your personal definition of luxury into words is an exercise that will save you lots of time when it comes to decorating or building your home. It is literally a compass to guide you to your destination. I challenge you to take the time to write down what luxury means to you and others in your family, then take the plunge and start making positive changes. It may take more time than you think, but your definition of luxury will eventually find its way to your fingers.

Marlene Holmquist, ASID, owns Luxury Ranch Interior Design, a full-service interior design company specializing in remodels for residences and small businesses. An avid equestrian known as “The Cowgirl Designer,” she is a member of the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition and Las Vaqueras Women’s Riding Club. or

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