Yall . This is Southern Design

Reynaldo . The original Estate of R J Reynolds, designed by Charles Barton Keen, 1918.

When my Clients told me they were leaving Cambridge for warmer climes I admit my long drawn out nooooooo was a little dramatic, but life is fluid and ever evolving. The exciting news is that I am going to have the chance to evolve too. My very first opportunity to influence the design of a southern home, followed the initial piece of traumatic news, softening the blow, as only Jonathan could.

Note the scale, the diamond patterned tile floor, and the acid green.

A new emotion took over – known to many as panic, I asked myself, what exactly did I know about southern design? Naturally quick to met out a harsh judgement, I told myself, “absolutely nothing”. I love talking to myself, and frankly don’t care who hears. Some of my very best conversations, are held between, me, myself, and I, and in the end, helpful recommendations to some of my biggest quandaries result.

Kelly Wearstler’s Avalon Hotel

I actually do know something about Southern design, I had just forgotten that these influencers, for whom I have great respect, all hale from, or are known for their southern design aesthetic. Kelly Wearstler, born in Myrtle Beach, SC, has a self proclaimed style, known as Modern Glamour. Derived from the Hollywood Regency era of design, it is bold and graphic, bright and accented by enormous ceramic figurines – usually of animals. Dorothy Draper – born in Tuxedo Park, NY, known most famously for the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and for being the first socialite interior designer, has been on my radar for a very long time . Suzanne Kassler, born in Waco, Texas to an Air Force Dad, lived in many places, gathering inspiration near and far, until finally landing in Atlanta, GA.

Dorothy Draper’s Greenbrier – iconic design.

So what makes southern design, well….southern? The properties are certainly much, much bigger than the urban locations that I typically design. They are grand, they are estates, they come from an era when income tax didn’t exist and amassing of wealth was easier. Aside from their size, southern design appears to incorporate the following elements:

  • Florals: from the gardens to the interiors, they are heavily represented,
  • Painted floors: intricate or simple patterns – the diamond being a favorite,
  • Heavy use of fabric: from slip-covered furnishings to curtain-laden windows, reams of fabric abound,
  • Collectables: southerns love to tell a story through “things”,
  • Family photos,
  • Mix of antiques and modern furnishings,
  • Monogramed everything,and
  • Bold colors.

Kasler brings a fresh approach to Southern Design – she doesn’t paper the walls, but brings the outdoors in and loves her curtains!

I got this. My journey begins in just a few weeks. I’ve got a lot of research to do to pull this off, but I won’t let my lovely Clients down!

A Room for all Seasons



I love changing up the design and furnishings in my home, wantonly following the color trends of the season, or the Pantone Color of the year.  I thought to myself today, what will happen to me when I no longer just go out and buy a new house so I can decorate again?  Gasp, will I have to choose a single design that I live with for the rest of my life?


That’s just unimaginable.  I don’t want to sound spoiled, so I think I need to remind everyone that I’ve moved about a million times in the last three years so I could continue to design and decorate.  It’s not really that ideal.  Wasn’t it Dorothy Parker who said, “I started this career because I loved doing houses.  I had done three of my own, and I couldn’t keep on moving my family all the time, so I started decorating other people’s homes and buildings.”


I do foresee a future when I no longer have the inclination to move every 8 – 12 months.  While that doesn’t feel at all like me, I think it will in fact be me….somewhere down the road.  I’ve only owned this place 351 days.  That’s right – tomorrow marks my 1 year anniversary here.  Yet, I am restless, even as a few nudgy items left unfinished, I feel ready to move on.


Still, I am staying for a least one more full year.  A virtual eternity for me.  So I’ll stage for the show, in a season that seems most fitting for No. 4, but in order to appease my desire to flee I am working a seasonal change-up.  I wondered to myself if it was possible, through flowers and pillows, and maybe an accessory here and there to give a living room a facelift – a make-over – a touch of the daring and or whimsy.  Please do let me know if you think I succeeded, or if you have ideas of your own on how I can remain happy in a marriage to this place that has to last me for another whole year.




Designer Profile: Dorothy Draper

I’m in awe of this woman, who only came to my attention in 2008 when I visited The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (How is it possible that my short stint at New England School of Art and Design in the Interiors program back in the mid-90’s neglected to mention her?  A crime!)


Does she not just ooze style?

I can assure you it was an adventure getting there, and I can still remember vividly my ride back to the airport through winding mountain passes, rabid dogs chained to fence posts, snarling and straining, I assumed in an attempt to rip me to shreds.  The Beware of Dog – No Trespassing Signs need not have been posted.  I owed a little of the adrenaline rush and racing heart to my introduction to Dorothy Draper.

The first professional interior designer in the United States – Draper was a trend setter, a path finder, a titan of industry.  Yes, she was a socialite too, from an incredibly wealthy family, for which she certainly deserves additional credit for foregoing a life of ballroom dancing, and delicate needlework.  Born in 1889 she opened – by herself – her interior design company in 1923.  She focused her efforts initially on public spaces. -Later she included among her astounding accomplishments:

  • Columnist for Good Housekeeping Magazine
  • Fabric and Wallpaper Designer – Schumacher and others
  • Furniture Designer:  Ficks Reed
  • Automobile Designer:  Packard and Chrysler ( featuring a pink polka dot truck none-the-less)
  • Airplane Interior Designer

She believed that one could be elevated in the presence of beauty.  She aimed to engage the senses, inspire and enrich the quality of life through her designs.

Credited with creating a whole new bold style known as Modern Baroque, her design was characterized by the use of wild colors in a time when color wasn’t used at all.  She threw combinations together that were jaw-dropping:  aubergine and pink, chartreuse and turquoise blue, dull white and shiny black.  She loved the bold stripe, plaster moldings, the use of Cabbage Rose Chintz, for which she was famous.  It sounds awful, and this statement will perhaps surprise you – it’s not what I consider my style.  And yet, I am mesmerized by it.  It takes your breath away and fills you up all at the same time.  How is that even possible.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art . NYC – “The Dorotheum”

She wasn’t exclusionary either, attempting to block others with a carefully constructed veil of secrecy around design.  She said:

Decorating is just sheer fun:  a delight in color, an awareness of balance, a feeling for lighting, a sense of style, a zest for life, and an amused enjoyment of the smart accessories of the moment.

I appreciate that, and know too that she had talent.  Like an eternal fountain it just kept bubbling over.  She was fun, and ambitious, and successful beyond reason.  If she was told to mind her place, to check her pretentions, she clearly did not listen.

Draper stair

I love a splash of color, the impact of black and white, high gloss and matte, now and again I’m tempted to introduce a little chintz in the form of a pillow.  DD most definitely has influenced me.  She joked about how it all began, saying:

I started this career because I loved doing houses.  I’d done three of my own and I couldn’t keep moving my family all the time, so I decided to decorate other people’s homes…”

Perhaps we have more in common than I’d thought.  I am on number three.  While I don’t have a family, I have asked myself the question:  Can I keep moving myself in pursuit of design?……  Time will tell.

black and white

It’s pretty black and white to me.  She wasn’t just the first, she remains a legendary influence on designers today.