Top designers from across our region share 10 simple tips for creating elegant, inviting rooms.
A beautiful table ready for anything says welcome. Phoebe Howard, a Jacksonville, Florida, designer, keeps table settings
simple with white plates and crystal glasses. She also uses crystal saltcellars and partners them with pepper grinders rather
“The pieces don’t need to match,” she says. “They just need to be similar and simple.” Charlotte, North Carolina, designer Cindy Smith takes a slightly different approach. “I like to mix patterns,” she says. “The fancier, the better. I like the juxtaposition of fancy silver with simple plates and glasses.”
No two ways about it: Silver is a Southern classic. And giving silver as an annual Christmas present is useful, she says,
because “silver isn’t given much as a wedding present anymore.”
If you stand to inherit silver, make sure any new pieces match the old silver. (Sounds obvious, but it’s often ignored.) If you have to purchase your flatware, consider what pattern you want carefully before buying.
Connect the past and present by framing and matting old photographs and portraits in a fresh way. “Clean them up, blow them
up—do whatever you need to do—and then put them in a simple black or white frame,” says Phoebe. “Black looks modern, but
white with a white mat also looks great.”
Steer clear of posed-looking family portraits, though. “Instead, take candid, casual pictures, and collect them as a nice assortment on the wall,” she says. And whatever you do, get photos professionally framed.
Books are ubiquitous on coffee tables in Southern homes—“particularly in family rooms,” says Phoebe. But if your home isn’t
already spilling over with volumes, start with topics that mean something to you.
Books are just one example of how details matter. “I love to incorporate family heirlooms, one-of-a-kind rugs, and antiques with unique lampshades, pillows, and accessories,” says Birmingham-based designer Tammy Connor.
“Southern rooms are like Southern ladies,” says Little Rock designer Tobi Fairley. “Southern women aren’t afraid to have color
in their wardrobes, and a Southern room shouldn’t be afraid to have color on the walls.” She suggests such saturated hues
as Fresh Cut Grass and Lavender Lipstick from Benjamin Moore.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, designer Charles Faudree prefers to let fabrics, trims, and accessories take center stage to more neutral paint colors. Tammy likes to let nature—especially that of the Carolina Lowcountry—inspire her palette. The main thing to remember? Let color reflect your personality.
The most important piece of advice here? “Always use the woman’s monogram,” says Phoebe. “Period. End of story. People ask
me about this all the time, and I don’t think it’s proper to combine monograms or to use the husband’s monogram. Think of
it this way: Everything in the house belongs to her, and that’s all there is to it,” she says with a laugh. “What’s mine is
mine, and what’s yours is mine.”
A white monogram on a white napkin will never go out of style, Phoebe says. A nice set of these also makes a beautiful wedding present. “Make sure that you find a quality monogrammer,” she says. Some monogrammers use premade templates, while others create their own distinctive styles, which make your linens more special.
Like color, fabrics reflect who you are. The secret is to mix patterns, textures, and colors for a truly personal look.
Charles likes to layer toile, striped, and checked fabrics and then add fabulous fringes and trims for a luscious Country French style. Tammy likes textured neutrals for a timeless look but offers this tip for when you need lots of yardage for drapery. “I use Patterson from Fabricut,” she says. “It’s a solid linen and comes in many colors. Finish the edges with a tassel or trim in a contrasting color, and it will look like you spent a million bucks!”
“The way you live should come before the decor,” says Palm Beach, Florida, designer Mimi McMakin. Houston designer Carol Glasser
concurs: “A table close enough for putting a drink down, something to put your feet on, light flooding in, and armloads of
flowers brought in from the garden—these are keys to comfort in a Southern room.” Furniture placement is important too.
“Living rooms should be arranged for conversation, with several different seating areas,” says Phoebe. “Slipper chairs always work, and surprisingly, men like them too. They aren’t for football watching but for conversation and moving about the room easily.” Phoebe’s favorite slipper chair is from Lee Industries (#1560-01). For deeper seating, Cindy likes Lee’s #1077 chair with a dressmaker’s skirt and English arms, pictured.
“Antiques are a hallmark of Southern homes,” says Phoebe. But don’t be afraid to make a passed-down piece your own. Charleston,
South Carolina, designer Melissa Ervin says, “If I had to, I would update my grandmother’s wing chair with a current version
of a traditional damask—in a timeless tone-on-tone style.”
“If you’re not lucky enough to inherit antiques, don’t buy cheap ones,” adds Cindy. “Save until you can buy a good piece. You don’t have to have a room full of antiques—one nice piece in a room can elevate everything around it.” As for which to buy first, Cindy suggests a mahogany Sheraton-style sideboard or a walnut English chest of drawers.
“For years, I have collected antique white urns, white faience jars, and blue-and-white containers to fill with flowers,” Carol says. “I also fill lovely baskets with oranges or lemons. I adore the smell of flowers and fruits.” Charles agrees, adding that nothing complements a garden bouquet like fried chicken and loved ones.