Eye Candy: Inside Blogger Erin Wheeler’s Cheerful Home

The Raleigh darling behind the popular design site Sunny Circle Studio shows us around her space, full of unexpected ideas.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Catherine Nguyen

Step into Erin Wheeler’s home for the first time, and you might have a sense of dejà vu — have I been here before?

Probably not, but it’s possible you have seen her spaces on Instagram or Pinterest. Wheeler is the brains behind Sunny Circle Studio, a blog and interior design firm known for its upbeat, layered designs. And her Westlake Village home in Northwest Raleigh is where she tries out her ideas — a place to play with visuals and come up with solutions that work for herself and her family. “The sky’s the limit,” she laughs. “There’s always a next project!”

Wheeler started Sunny Circle Studio as “an experiment” in 2017, while working in graphic design. She’d long had an interest in interiors and an eye for photography, and she channeled that passion into her home. “I just wanted to play around and share it with my friends, then was lucky enough to pick up people who were interested,” she says. “As a creative, you drift to things that inspire you, and my home has always been that way.”

Wheeler and her family — husband David and children Wyatt and Zora — have lived here since 2014, when they moved to Raleigh from Winston-Salem.When they got into the house, which was built in 1989, it was “very 90s, lots of brown and yellow tones.” But the floor plan was friendly, and it offered classic detailing in the molding and doors. “I really saw potential,” she says.

The first, sweeping change was paint: Wheeler filled the home with bright whites and cooler tones of blue and gray throughout. Then the rest of the house evolved slowly; piece by piece, project by project. “If you truly love your home and want to surround yourself with things you love, it takes time,” she says. Over the past four years, she’s decorated the space top to bottom, tackling painting and wallpapering projects,  plumbing and tiling, and simply rearranging furniture and objects. “I update things regularly, maybe not every day, but enough to confuse my family,” she says. “I’ll be looking at the kitchen one day and the next day my husband’s like, where’d you put the bowls?

Wheeler’s taste is broad, not confined to a particular style of furniture or decorating scheme. “It’s about having a blend,” she says. “My style leans toward Mid-century modern, but living in this house, which is very traditional, I’ve been mixing more of that in.”

Wheeler always has her eye out for unique pieces, whether she’s browsing a local consignment shop, IKEA, or the showrooms at High Point. And having Sunny Circle Studio as a platform is an ongoing inspiration to go ahead and just do the project she has in mind, to follow her instincts. One example: her in-home gym. It’s located just inside the front door, where one would expect to find a study or a formal living room. “I just kind of went for it,” she says. “I just decided that, screw the trends, this is great and this is how I want to use the space.”

As her blog approaches five years old, Wheeler is more confident and energized than ever to keep reimagining her home. The pandemic offered her time to evolve and work on fresh projects, and to follow her heart, too — whether that finds her wallpapering her dining room or roller skating over to the kitchen. “These days — and especially in the last year — I’m more comfortable with my design,” she says. “I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and just go with it.” 

The teal-blue dining room is Wheeler’s most recent project — up until a few months ago, the walls were a nice, safe gray. “Before, the room was super neutral. It was bright and happy, and I liked that vibe for a while, but I played it out,” she says. “I’ve learned to love darker, bolder color schemes, and I’d had the wallpaper bookmarked for years,” she says. The first step was painting the walls and molding in Aquamarined by Sherwin Williams, then adding the wallpaper by Farrow & Ball (a splurge, but worth it, she says). She added a rug from Citizenry to go with her vintage table. She found the cabinet at High Point, designed by a friend under the Bobby Berk label. “I just loved it so much, so I bought it as soon as it was available,” she says. The portrait resting on top is of her mother, done in 1960. “It’s my most prized possession,” she says.
Just off the main hallway, the small powder room packs a surprising design punch. Wheeler renovated it herself, tiling the walls, updating the fixtures and lighting, and adding the wallpaper from Farrow & Ball. The subway tile is an element she repeated throughout the home. “It’s classic and cheap, but you can do all sorts of patterns with it that go against the grain, you can play with it,” she says. 
Just off the kitchen and breakfast area is a comfortable and functional family room filled with smart storage. “It used to have a lot more toys, but we’ve moved a lot of stuff out since quarantine ended,” Wheeler says. “But it’s still sort of the movies-and-Legos room.” Open shelves house a mix of books, with craft supplies and games tucked in among more decorative pieces. The hutch in the corner, above, was a Craigslist find; the art is a mix of new and old picked up here and there.
The “Work Hard” print, above, is a favorite both for its design and message — “it’s simple and good” — and the Frame TV displays art while not in use.
Wheeler painted the bricks in the fireplace white for a modern streamlined look.
A window-lined breakfast area adjoins the kitchen. Here, Wheeler hasn’t done “too much,” she says, just painted and removed old Roman shades to let in the light and show off the details in the windows. A round marble table is grounded by black cane chairs. “They are super well made,” she says. She always keeps a stack of newspapers nearby to protect the table from her daughter Zora’s art projects.
One of the craziest things Wheeler did during the pandemic was to convert her front room into a gym (it had previously been her office). “It was pretty but untouched, I never worked in here,” says Wheeler, who had made a commitment to focus on her health in early 2020. “At the peak of the pandemic, my husband suggested we make this a gym.” At first, she wasn’t sold — what about resale value? — but then she realized it might be possible to do it her way. “I wanted it to feel cozy and homey and cohesive with the rest of the house,” she says. She added molding around the mirrors and television and painted the room Hague Blue by Benjamin Moore, then invested in great-looking athletic gear from German gear company NOHrD.
Her newest sport is roller skating. “It’s one of those things where you fall a lot in the beginning but then get good quickly,” she says.
On the second floor of the house, a bonus room offers a space for the kids to play, lounge, or watch TV. “The sectional is so comfy, everyone has space to spread out,” says Wheeler. Here, she swapped out the original carpeting for one with a geometric design, then layered in all sorts of comfy textures (sheepskin, velvet, leather, wool) and energetic prints to make it feel cozy. “I wanted it to have fun patterns but still be neutral,” she says.
The patterned accent wall, perks up a sunny reading nook. The bonus room also holds Wheeler’s desk (which previously lived in what’s now the home gym), which lately has served as a spot for virtual school just as often as it has for work with clients. 
The vision for the guest room started with the wallpaper. “I thought it was really cool and it had a sort of boutique hotel look to it,” says Wheeler. She layered portraits on top of the peel-and-stick paper, which she found all over: a mix of family pieces, vintage finds, and downloads from Etsy. The rest of the room sticks to a neutral, linear scheme to offset the quirkiness of the walls.
In her daughter Zora’s bedroom, Wheeler worked to create a palette that was feminine, but sophisticated. An adhesive wall mural decorated with clouds offers a dreamy feel, with the house-shaped bed offering a cozy spot to snuggle in. (“If,” Wheeler jokes, “she ever chooses to sleep in her bed!”) 
In Wheeler’s bedroom, the goal was to create a calm, serene space with layers of neutral tones. “The color scheme is so peaceful, and this room gets great light,” she says. The adhesive wall mural echoes the trees outside, and the hanging seat and rainbow of books keep the space playful. Wheeler used a mix of different patterns and textures of linens to give the room a sophisticated, collected touch. 
Wheeler’s bathroom is structurally the same as it was when they moved in, but a few design tweaks have made this one of her most popular spaces on Instagram — and for herself. Wheeler installed the freestanding tub and reframed the window in walnut for a more modern finish. Here, she repeated the subway tile again, this time in a herringbone pattern, for a
trendier twist

This story originally appeared in our July 2021 issue.