We sat down to chat with Phoebe Howard, the decorating expert behind  "Dear Mrs. Howard", our monthly design advice column. In addition to being a columnist, she’s also a designer, shop owner (Mrs. Howard and Max and Co. in Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Atlanta, and Charotte!), book author (The Joy of Decorating was published in March 2012). Most recently, she added furniture designer to her resume. This past April, Phoebe and her husband, Jim, launched the Mr. and Mrs. Howard collection with North Carolina based Sherrill furniture.

What’s your hometown?  I was born in Alabama, but I have lived in Florida for so long that now I call Jacksonville home.

What drove you to become a designer? I’ve owned my stores for sixteen years and branched out to decorating around seven years ago. The decorating came by accident. After running the stores for several years, I realized the demand for decorating was there. I never planned it.

How would you describe your style? I would say I’m an updated, traditional decorator. I believe in classic forms and styles, but I’m constantly trying to find fresh ways to tweak a timeless look with color, art, or accessories.

What defines Southern style to you? Southern style is inquisitive, innovative, and always evolving. Southerners have a passion for their homes and family life unlike any other area of the country. Making our houses beautiful and comfortable is how we show our love for one another. We care about the present as well as the past – incorporating our precious heirlooms while keeping our eyes on the future at the same time.

Why are you most proud to be a Southern designer? I think the South maintains a certain air of mystery that intrigues the rest of the country. I’m proud to represent Southern style in a way that is progressive and also has staying power. I like to create spaces that will still look good in twenty years.

Also, I love to tell people that I’m from Alabama, that always brings a smile to a face.

Who are your decorating icons? Currently, my favorite decorator is Jackye Lanham of Atlanta. She represents the mystery of Southern decorating—each of her rooms have a wink and a smile. In the past, I love Dorothy Draper. My own mother always talks about how inspired she was when she went to the Greenbrier in the early 1950s. The décor was revolutionary for that time. It’s remarkable when someone is still talking about a good room sixty years later!

Who is your biggest creative influence? My mother. She is a very gifted artist. I’ve spent my life in pursuit of 5% of her talent. She also taught me to be fearless in everything I do.

What’s your dream decorating project? My soon-to-be beach house. My husband and I are about to start building a beach house for ourselves. I think it will be our final house. I think...

What are the three things no home should be without? A wood burning fireplace, a good kitchen, and a bar.

What’s your dream vacation? Renting a big fabulous house somewhere with my family and staying in to cook, watch movies, read, and relax. I go, go, go so much that when I’m on vacation going somewhere is the last thing I want to do.

What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a new homeowner? Buy within your means. There is nothing worse than being house poor. You want to be able to afford to furnish and enjoy your home.                                    

What do you always scrimp on? I love to get a good deal on antiques, but I’m not a good negotiator. So, I take my husband Jim along. He’s great at negotiating.

What do you collect? I collect books on architecture, design, gardens, and all sorts of textiles -- fabrics, quilts, ribbons, and buttons. I’m constantly on the hunt for creamware, boxes, glass objects, magnifying glasses, and watercolors or prints.  Sometimes when I’m shopping, I don’t even realize that I’m assembling a collection until after the fact.

What’s your silver pattern? I have several, a simple hotel pattern, Brancaster by William Yeoward, and Francis 1st by Reed and Barton.

What makes you happiest to be Mrs. Howard to our readers? If I think I’m helping someone along on their decorating journey. Decorating is a service business and you have to want to help others to be successful.

Now that you've gotten to know a little bit more about Mrs. Howard, ask her for help with you with your own decorating dilemma. Your question could be used in a future column in the magazine!

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