The Best Southern Decorating Tips of All Time
A Southern home is more than just beautiful columns, well-worn wood floors, and haint blue porch ceilings. It’s a place of character molded by family heirlooms, furniture filled with history and soul, subtle layers of detail, and the people in it. It’s filled with nights of impeccable entertaining and days of lazy respite. Each room is a chapter of a long, drawling story that will never quite end. (Us Southerners are natural-born storytellers after all; not to mention, often long-winded.) Taking keen insight from some masterful Southern interior designers, we rounded up the best Southern home decorating tips of all time. Some favorite takeaways about Southern home style: “it feels collected,” “it gives a sense of place,” and “it’s like gumbo.” Here are a few beautiful reasons why Southern homes are truly special.
Take this advice into your home!
Mix the Old with the New
This might be the most prolific Southern design value of all time. Finding a way to perfectly balance your well-worn, loved antiques or family heirlooms with fresh, modern design and accents is the closest thing to Southern home heaven.
“Of course it would be the curated mix of new upholstered pieces, with time worn antiques—antiques that have been passed down from generations. Possibly the addition of modern art and accessories to give it an interesting mix. Southerners love stories; Southerners have great stories; and antiques tell a story.” –Lisa Palmer of SummerHouse Interior Design, based in Mississippi.
“Often our clients have collections, pieces of art, or furniture that have been inherited or have a special meaning to them. We try to incorporate these items into their interiors and this helps to create a space that is familiar, personal, and feels like home.” –Tammy Connor of Tammy Connor Design, based in Charleston and Birmingham.
Use antiques to anchor your room and then mix in modern touches with bold fabrics, mid-century lighting, and sculptural accessories.
Surround Yourself with Meaningful, Personal Touches
"I'm drawn to things that feel real and straightforward and honest; I don't like a lot of fuss. All the attributes I admire in people, I seek out in objects as well. We should surround ourselves with things that reflect our values." –Anna Braund, Atlanta-based interior designer. (Fittingly, every piece of art featured in her home was made by a close friend, and sentimental collections of family heirlooms figure prominently.)
“I recently displayed an old china collection in a client’s butler’s pantry cabinets, but you could even hang a collection on a wall in a beautiful grouping. Sharing something sentimental in a more decorative way is also a wonderful way to enjoy it daily rather than bringing it out once a year.” –Amy Morris of Amy Morris Interiors, based in Atlanta.
Create Flow Between Outdoors and Indoors
“The outdoor spaces are becoming almost as important as the interior rooms and although in my state we cannot live outdoor for many months of the year, we truly take advantage of it when we can. Comfortable outdoor upholstered furnishings with large teak or concrete tables are what I am showing my clients. There is nothing quite like a dinner on the big front porch on an early Mississippi evening.” –Lisa Palmer of SummerHouse Interior Design, based in Mississippi.
“In every home, I try to connect the indoors to the outdoors. Living in Charleston with the water close by, and the rich history of the city it is important to me to incorporate natural elements into our interiors. We aim to merge the indoor and outdoor living spaces to connect the home to its natural environment. This connection gives the home a sense of place, which I think is critical for successful design.” –Tammy Connor of Tammy Connor Design, based in Charleston and Birmingham.
Don’t Be Afraid to Really Use Color
“I really like to use color as an accent, as it really ties things together and warms things up, giving a room a little more personality.” –Lindsey Coral Harper, interior designer of our 2017 Idea House.
On using bold color: “Some people are a little reluctant to take that step, but I think those bolder choices are the ones that have the most impact and make people the happiest in the long run.” –Lindsey Herod of Lindsey Herod Interiors, based in Houston.
Repurpose Antiques in New Ways
In one of our favorite Nashville home renovations, interior designer Rachel Halvorson suggested using an antique dresser as the vanity in the powder room (pictured above). The top was removed and replaced with a sink. Halvorson says some people can be nervous about tearing up their antiques to turn into a sink, but this way you are using and seeing it everyday.
Restoring or painting old fixtures and pendants is a way to add something new to your home without spending a lot of money: "When we're doing these renovations, I always want it to feel like there's history there, and one way to incorporate that is using antique light fixtures that you [can] have rewired.” –Joanna Gaines told Country Living.
Invest in One-of-a-Kind Focal Pieces
“I think it’s good to incorporate one-of-a-kind pieces like a big chandelier, a classic chest, and easy end tables that you can always use anywhere in a home.” –Lindsey Herod of Lindsey Herod Interiors, based in Houston.
“I’d rather have my client have a beautiful period chest or mirror and a pair of super good-looking club chairs than a fancy carpet to start with!” –Brannan Geary of Brannon Geary Interiors, based in New Orleans.
A good rule of thumb: Invest in one fine antique per room, as your budget allows. Pictured above, a round French marble-topped gueridon table becomes a focal point of the space.
Mix Textures, Patterns, and Design Styles
On everything whether walls, floors, furniture, or accents.
“Sticking with one period, one color, or one style can come across as staid and serious.” Check out how New Orleans-based interior designer Grace Kaynor incorporated unique pieces, textures, and colors from different eras in her home renovation.
It’s All About the Details
“Detailed trim around doorways. It can be the subtlest detail that makes such a statement.” –Amy Morris of Amy Morris Interiors, based in Atlanta.
“If you just have a little pantry like my own that you want to feel special, show it some love with wallpaper or a great rich paint color. People love to snoop in other people's pantries. Why not make it beautiful?” –Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith Home, based in New Orleans.
“Large beautiful mouldings, tall ceilings and staircases, detailed paneled walls, and wood floors all add to the beauty of Southern homes.” –Lisa Palmer of SummerHouse Interior Design, based in Mississippi.
Know When to Save and When to Splurge
“Unlacquered brass. Though this is currently a popular finish and showing up in a lot of designer Instagram feeds, it is an old finish and one I consider timeless. If you are on a budget and tire easily of trendy finishes, I would use unlacquered brass on cabinet hardware, and it’s also pretty on plumbing as well.” –Amy Morris of Amy Morris Interiors, based in Atlanta.
“We love encouraging our clients to use bold, bright wallpapers. We find that they make such a big impact on any space, big or small. Particularly if the clients are on a budget, wallpaper is a great way to make a big statement without breaking the bank.” –Meg Lonergan, Houston-based interior designer.
Photographer Josh Gibson and his interior designer wife, Michelle Prentice, on their South Carolina cottage renovation: “We planned on using drywall, but we realized what a disconnect that much newness would be in this old cottage. Instead, we ‘sort of’ splurged on shiplap.”
Make a Statement With a Gallery Wall or By Displaying Collections
“I love mixing objects, not just framed paintings or photographs, on a gallery wall. For example, I would group a sepia print with an intaglio, a bracket that you would usually see a vase on as art, and a mirror. It just makes for a more interesting composition.” –Amy Morris of Amy Morris Interiors, based in Atlanta.
“Portraits of extended family, children, or just simply portraits of people you admire—I am constantly finding a new portrait to fall in love with. Whether they are oil, charcoals, or photography, Southerners are loving; and we love to love our people on our walls.” –Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith Home, based in New Orleans.
Decorate with Memories
“Displaying family heirlooms or objects that tell a story or elude to a sense of place keeps design personal and gives spaces more feeling of home than a ‘decorated house.’” –Amy Morris of Amy Morris Interiors, based in Atlanta.
"A lot of nostalgia comes along with being Southern and receiving things that are passed down.” –Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith Home. Check out his New Orleans ranch makeover dotted with heirloom furniture passed down from his grandmother and with patterns his mother used in his childhood home in Madison, Mississippi.
“I think one of the core characteristics of a Southern home is that it feels collected and has evolved over time. I love when a Southern home evokes a feeling of comfort, and history.” –Tammy Connor of Tammy Connor Design, based in Charleston and Birmingham.
Make Small Spaces Feel Bigger
On repeating wall patterns in draperies: “If you’re doing really graphic wallpaper in a smaller space, not breaking that line makes it feel a little larger.” –Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith Home, based in New Orleans.
On using wider front doors: “This is not just an off-the-shelf door. It’s larger, which entices people to come in. How do you make a small entry hall feel bigger? Use a large door to get into it.” –Ron Farris of Farris Concepts.
Inject Life With Plants
“Living greens in the home. This can be a fiddle leaf fig in the family room, sweeping palms in a garden room or fresh flowers cut from the garden or even scooped up right from your local grocery store. The living greens create an automatic sense of southern welcome.” –Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith Home, based in New Orleans.
"Use flowers and greenery. They can distract from a multitude of sins!" –Buff Coles, Charleston-based interior designer.