Though I was born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago, the home I grew up in was decorated and run by a thoroughly Southern woman – my mother. While our neighbors’ homes tended to be furnished with matching Living Room sets and pretty landscape paintings purchased in galleries, our home was a mix of well-worn family heirlooms, oil portraits of long-dead ancestors we’d never met, and a profusion of monogrammed table linens.
In additional to growing up in a home with a Southern style, many of my childhood vacations and holidays were spent in the homes of our family and friends in the South. From Lexington, Kentucky, to Savannah, Georgia, those gracious homes and the women who breathed beauty and soul into them instilled a lifelong love of decorating in me. As I’ve turned that passion into a profession, I’ve discovered just how many Southern decorating tricks I incorporate into designs for my mostly-Northern clients.
The following Southern-style essentials center around celebrating family, embracing traditions, and encouraging warm-hearted hospitality.
A Well-Stocked Bar ~ Southerners are known for their hospitality and nothing says “Welcome!” like a stylishly stocked bar. Use a sturdy tray to corral glassware, a bowl of fresh lemons or limes, and a small cutting board and sharp knife. Then just add drinks! While it’s customary to stock a variety of liquors and mixers, it certainly isn’t a requirement. If you’re a non-imbibing household, stock your bar with seltzers, gourmet iced teas, and specialty sodas. (Orangina is always a hit with kids and grownups alike.) Unexpected garnishes like candied ginger or colorful rock candy sticks make even basic beverages like iced tea festive. Pretty cocktail napkins also add a sense of occasion; I’m partial to anything with a cheeky embroidered saying or, in true Southern fashion, a personalized monogram.
Hang Pretty Plates as Artwork ~ Anytime a client is lacking a piece of artwork for a space or we don’t want to rush the process of finding the perfect piece, I suggest filling the wall with plates and platters. Plates are also a wonderful way to play up a smaller mirror or piece of art. While I’ve had some clients hesitate and think it too “Granny”-looking, all I have to do is show them photos of contemporary patterns or a gathering of all creamy-white plates to demonstrate how fresh this traditional technique can look. Stack an odd number of plates vertically on a narrow wall space or flank them around and over a mirror on a large wall. I particularly like the juxtaposition of contemporary-style plates around an antique painting or a traditional china pattern around contemporary artwork.
Embrace Your Heirlooms…Or Buy Someone Else’s ~ The true hallmark of Southern style is the presence of hand-me-down family heirlooms. Whether it’s a re-painted dresser from your grandmother’s house or an actual antique piece that’s been cherished and treasured over the years, incorporating older pieces with sentimental value into your home is a Southern tradition that decorators everywhere encourage. These passed-along pieces tell your personal story and keep a home of otherwise new furnishings from feeling static and commercial. If you don’t have any inherited heirlooms, keep your eyes open for vintage pieces you can incorporate into your décor. You’ll be surprised at how much charm just one or two antiques can impart in a room, even if it’s just a pair of lamps or a showpiece mirror.
Use Your “Best” Every Day ~ Southerners don’t wait for the holidays to use their best china, silver, or favorite table linens. By that same token, they don’t fret over a chip or stain here and there, as those minor imperfections are merely a sign of a well-loved piece. My grandmother’s silverware drawer was a hodgepodge; it wasn’t always polished and consisted of several varying collections and mis-matched monograms, but we used it for every meal. It added so much character and elegance to any table setting, and I’ve carried on that tradition by using my wedding china, favorite mint julep cups, and best monogrammed hand towels every day. Why wait for a special occasion, when you can just as easily cherish your treasures on a daily basis? A little wear and tear gives things a bit of well-earned patina.
Whether you paint your porch ceiling haint blue (something one of my Ohio clients did with great trepidation, but now shows off to all her guests), break out your best linen napkins for a regular weekday dinner, or hang your mother’s old dessert plates, I encourage you to embrace a little Southern style and celebrate its charm!