Meet Mary Ellen Cunningham - Knilans' Interior Designer


There are plenty of design blogs out there, but only Knilans’ is written by our incredible team of working designers, right here in the Quad Cities. We wouldn’t expect you to take home advice from just anyone, so we’re introducing each of our designers. Meet Judy, Joan, Lori, Nicole, and Gabby, if you haven’t yet, to see why Knilans’ team is as talented as they come.

This week, you’ll meet Mary Ellen Cunningham, a new member of the Knilans’ design team. Mary Ellen has worked as a designer here and in Chicago, and coming to Knilans’ - while living in the home her family designed when she was young - brings her design journey full circle. Read on to learn about Mary Ellen’s style and philosophy, in her own words:

How did you get your start in interior design?

I dreamed of being an interior designer as a young girl and was thrilled when I was able to contribute design ideas when my family built our new home many years ago. 

Later in life, I was able to make interior design my career. I graduated from the Harrington Institute of Interior Design in Chicago. While there, I learned to think of design as a form of problem solving. A door or window might not be where we want it, but with good design, you can solve these problems and finish your project on time and under budget. 

After time as a practicing designer in the Chicago area, my husband and I have now moved back to that home I helped design.

What is your goal when you work with a client?

I like to work in collaboration with my clients - learning about the function of the space, style, color. Initially, I want to know some basic information. Is this a whole-home remodel, or a one-room project? How many people typically use the space, and what do they do there? Will there be children or pets? These considerations help us find a design that is as comfortable as it is beautiful.

Some clients know exactly what they want, while others are looking for more guidance. Every project is an iterative process in which I learn about the client’s desires and make sure that the final result is unique, functional and beautiful. 

What is a current design trend you love?

Personally, I like modern, contemporary, and mid-century styles. I also appreciate transitional looks: they’re comfortable, beautiful, and are a great way to move from traditional styles to a more contemporary look.

Regardless of style, the most important criteria is what the client’s vision is for their space. We can find trends that incorporate well into that vision. Often, I will ask clients to collect photos of spaces they love from places like the internet (especially Pinterest), magazines, etc. This helps identify trends and styles we can incorporate into their space.


If you had to pick a favorite room in your home, which would it be and why?

My favorite room in my own home is our formal living room. My husband and I relocated back to the Quad Cities and we live in the home my parents had built years ago. The house has many wonderful memories and I love updating it! I designed the room with neutrals and pops of color. I especially enjoy decorating for the holidays and entertaining friends and family there.

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?

My husband and I love to travel and have been fortunate to visit many locations in the world. We enjoy learning about the culture, history, and architecture of the places we visit.  We also enjoy spending time with family and friends in the Quad Cities and Chicago area. In my free time, I enjoy volunteering, photography, and painting.

Jessi Lane