Colorfully Curated with Margo Tantau

For Margo Tantau, decorating inspiration is more likely to come from a 1960s can­dy-box wrapper than from a fabric swatch.

dream in color

Margo Tantau with her adorable son Cooper.

A creative director by profession, a collec­tor by inclination, and an artist in spirit, Margo has turned her house in Kansas City into a home for the flea-market finds, folk art, and offbeat collectibles she’s always picking up. An assortment of well-worn brushes designed for various long-forgotten tasks, a deer head made from old tools, a Calderesque wire carousel—in her skilled hands, this “more is more” mix works, and her cabinet of curiosities invariably leaves the eye stimulated, the senses amused, and the heart warmed.

The transformation of her 1912 Craftsman bungalow began on move-in day three years ago when Margo let loose with coats of sea blue and bright white in the base­ment, transforming a dingy throwaway space into an inviting storage area for many of her treasures.

Upstairs, to coun­terbalance the somber weight of original woodwork stained dark brown, she chose uplifting wall colors in diffuse shades of sage green and yellow, all inviting back­drops for her eclectic furnishings and wide-ranging collections.

A collector’s eye for the quirky enlivens a 1912 Craftsman bungalow.

 dark linen 2147-60

silver sage 506

 banana cream 275

beacon gray 2128-60

Rooms need to be warm and welcoming. They should stand alone, yet work together.

For Margo, a DIY-er to the core, the evolu­tion of the house unfolds as time allows, whim dictates, and as she goes shopping. The no-rush redo has unveiled original plaster finishes and vintage wallpaper, but her unique arrangement of furniture and objects brings the house forward to the present. “I’m adding my own layers, my own story,” she says.

school map

The upstairs hall features a classic piece of Margo whimsy– a vintage pull-down school map topped by old letters spelling out iconic characters of American West.

alaskan husky 1479

Margo’s highly individual eye is testament to a well-traveled and eclectic life. From childhood, she was schooled to notice shape, color, and texture. “It was part of our vocabulary,” she says of her family. Her mother was an interior decorator and shop owner who always encouraged her to “Look up!” and notice the architectural details in a big city. Her father, a pilot, quite literally widened her horizons.

art collection red

Margo still has one of her first paintings, done when she was four years old. The wire sculptures are part of an extensive collection.

Fortunately, Margo’s partner, Johnny Stiff, a graphic designer, speaks a similar lan­guage. While it may have been his flashy orange Honda motorcycle that first caught Margo’s eye, she soon discovered in him an equal passion for treasure hunting and collecting humble, often handmade wares, from vintage board games and tools to tin toys. Besides mutual interests and wall space, these artistic mates also share an heir, three-year old Cooper, and a new Cairn terrier named Mr. Bean.

Out of the fourteen rooms and three hall­ways in the house, eight spaces have been freshly painted once, four at least twice if not more, and there is still plenty to do. With Margo at the helm, the deco­rating process remains unhurried and organic, a continuing evolution that responds to new ideas and the latest finds. Like any true artist, she doesn’t get overly attached to her collections–her “everything’s for sale” attitude simply gives her more opportunities to search for treasures anew. There is no grand master plan other than to fill her house with light, love, gratitude, and life.

Margot’s color inspirations can be seen in her one-of-a-kind collections.

Color collections

 European Pottery

colorful pottery

 Antique Brushes

brushes paint

 German Italian pottery of the 1960′s and 1970′s are one of Margo’s curent fads, as much for their shapes and embossed textures as their colorful glazes. Dealer Robert Grano in New York’s Antique Garage is a favorite source.

 Margo is drawn to the beauty of utilitarian objects and their inherent stories. “I love the primitive, the repaired, that which was never intended as art.”

A soft yellow (banana cream 275) warms the sun room, making it a welcoming spot even on cloudy days. Its cheerful retro-lodge vibe is due largely to a mix of rustic and modern.

The “bad deer” art collection is slated for an eventual lake house. At one end of the room, modern chairs in sunny yellow anchor an eating area defined by shaggy “grass” rug.


banana cream 275

Stripe-on-stripe bedding and a globe jauntily sporting a sailor cap say “boy’s room” — minus the cliches. An old metal arrow sign has been re-purposed and as a shelf for tin toys and board games from another era-rich imagery for pleasant dreams.

beacon gray 2128-60

Local artist Anthony Pack used found metal objects- an oilcan, shoe horns, and garden hand rakes- to create this wacky modern day robot. navajo white OC-95

A pale gray-blue keeps things calm in Cooper’s bedroom. A collection of toy holsters from earlier cowboy childhoods is cleverly showcased up and down one wall. beacon gray 2128-60

In the playroom Margo painted each basket of an IKEA unit a different hue. Not only did this work with the crayon box decorating scheme, but it also helps Cooler with colors, as in “Cars go in the red basket.” The rug is also from IKEA.

alpine white 2147-70

Color That Works From The Outside In

“The colors helped sell me on the house, ” Margo says of her 1912 Craftsman bungalow. With its deep porch, raised natural stone foundations and decorative half timbers, the building is typical of the style.

The exterior of the house boasts five different colors. The main color, barley 199 is used for the stucco, creating a warm prairie glow. wasabi AF-318, and acid yellow green, picks out the wood trim, defining the lines of the porch and window. A deep mossy green sterling forest 518 highlights key structural elements — the roof line and column tops — and the spanish red 1301 accent lifts the palette from the monochromatic.

 Carrying one of the exterior accent colors into the foyer wasn’t in the original plan. After two attempts, Margo was finally charmed by wasabi AF-318, the same yellow-green color used on the exterior.

Margo’s palette for the exterior was bold and inventive. Red accents were an inspired addition.

spanish red 1301 sterling forest 518 wasabi AF-318 barley 199

Have you ever taken a color from your Exterior and brought it to life on your Interior?

color and design digital publicationThis article was originally published in COLOR LIFE from Benjamin Moore, a digital color and design publication. Each issue takes a virtual tour through outstanding homes to see how color is used, shows the shades that are inspiring leading designers, and includes simple color makeover ideas. Get COLOR LIFE today!

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6 thoughts on “Colorfully Curated with Margo Tantau

  1. WOW. What great use of color and art! Such inspiration for me and my home! Can’t wait to see changes as she updates!
    Keep us posted.

  2. Love this house!! To answer the question: we bought the house next door to us years ago (a rental) and painted the exterior Wedgewood Grey (HC-146). Later, suddenly tired of my previously loved red dining room and without the budget for paint, I decided to use some of the leftover exterior paint from the house-next-door job to cover it. I LOVED it! I think it’s been 5 years and I still love it. So, not my exterior necessarily, but a nearby exterior :)

  3. I am a craftsman-style lover. My first house was a bungalow that we redid from top to bottom, outside to inside. If I could have found another one when we felt the need to move, I would have bought it.

  4. Pingback: a whirlwind of wonderful | creative gift ideas & news at catching fireflies

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