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There’s no part of the U.S. right now where style is on the move quite like the South. With millions of new residents, the design industry is blossoming like never before. We wanted to get to the bottom of this new phenomenon, so we talked to four of our favorite Southern designers to get their thoughts. What makes Southern design so special? How has it evolved over the years, especially in booming population centers like Atlanta and Charlotte? And how can everyone take a touch of that Southern charm and incorporate it into their own spaces, no matter where they live? Meet our Southern belles below and see what they had to say, and be sure to check out each of their hand-selected curations of Chairish favorites while you’re at it.

MALLORY MATHISON

Mallory Mathison embraces personal style and gracious living with a deft appreciation for the classics. Based in Atlanta, she’s particularly influenced by her lifelong love of travel, which she incorporates into all her spaces. Shop a curation of her chic, thoughtfully updated selections.

Shop Mallory’s Chairish Favorites>>>

Mallory Mathison
Mallory Mathison. Photo: Laura Negri.

What do you think of as the main principles of Southern design? What makes it so special? 

The foundation of Southern design is quite simple. The premise is telling the story of your family through gracious living at home. Southerners tend to cherish the items and elements that have been in their family and use those collections to tell their contemporary story at home. What makes this special is the ability to embrace your personal style and approach to design in a way that has reverence for the past. The modern Southern design enthusiast is taking that legacy and effecting an original, updated twist on it for today’s lifestyles.

How has it changed over the years, and what do you think of as newer developments in the style?

Design is always adapting to meet changing needs at home. One space that was prevalent in historic homes with staff was a scullery and china closet. This is a space that all but disappeared in recent years but has been resurrected. The focus on collecting china, linen, and silver is being embraced by younger generations. New variations of the scullery and china closet are often requested, updated with lacquered jewel tones and decorative custom cabinet details.

What are some lessons that everyone can take from Southern design, no matter where they’re from?

Hold on to family pieces, even though you may not have a place for them at the moment. If you don’t have any furniture, china, or linens from a grandmother or great aunt, start your own collection… Chairish is the perfect place to build a one-of-a-kind assemblage that can be loved today and passed down to future generations.

Mallory Mathison
Photo: Katie Charlotte

How does entertaining come into play? How do designers in the South make sure guests feel welcome?

Welcoming family, friends and neighbors into one’s home is a way of life. From an intimate dinner party for eight to a festive holiday cocktail party for 80, entertaining is opening the doors to your home and inviting people to come on in and enjoy themselves. One sure way to make guests feel welcome is to give them the option to make a drink and get comfortable, especially in an informal setting. Set up a self-serve bar in the room with the most seating and tell guests to help themselves!

Who are some of the design icons you most admire?

Mark Hampton, Billy Baldwin, Nancy Lancaster, and Miles Redd

What’s a dream piece you would love to have for yourself?

A custom breakfast tray made out of lacquered faux bamboo with a built-in bookstand, magazine rack, iPhone charger, and ice bucket.

What are three items on Chairish you’d love to have?

I love this Tromp l’Oeil Stack of Books Glazed Terracotta Italian Side Table Garden Seat, this pair of Maison Baguès Black Lacquer and Gilt Two-Tier Tables; and these Rattan Wicker Peacock Fan Back Arm Chairs.

Ariene Bethea of Dressing Rooms Interiors

Ariene Bethea of Dressing Rooms Interiors is known for mixing heirloom pieces with modern classics in traditional palettes. Based in Charlotte, she’s passionate about collecting and playing with color, and her work has been featured everywhere from Architectural Digest to The New York Times. Shop a cut of her fave Chairish finds.

Shop Ariene’s Chairish Favorites>>>

Dressing Rooms Interiors
Ariene Bethea. Photo: Corrie Huggins.

What do you think of as the main principles of Southern design? What makes it so special?

For me, the main principles of Southern design are the mix of heirloom pieces with modern classics in traditional color palettes. What makes the style so special is the balance between being both elegant and comfortable. It’s layered and approachable without being formal and fussy.

How has it changed over the years, and what do you think of as newer developments in the style?

Today those heirloom pieces have a fresh coat of candy-colored lacquer and new brass hardware. Classic floral patterns have been translated into large-scale prints for a more modern feel. It’s Southern with a twist. 

What are some lessons that everyone can take from Southern design, no matter where they’re from?

Mix in heirloom pieces, even if they aren’t from your family. Vintage and antique pieces give a room some soul and tell a story while adding history and character.

Dressing Rooms Interiors
Photo: Brie William

How does entertaining come into play? How do designers in the South make sure guests feel welcome?

Southerners love to entertain! You can’t be a gracious host if you are running around trying to get things together while guests are arriving. Advance planning is necessary, so expect a fully set table with linens and flowers in every room, as well as outside on the patio, where guests will end the evening.

Who are some of the design icons you most admire?

David Hicks, Tony Duquette, and Billy Baldwin

What’s a dream piece you would love to have for yourself?

I dream of this 1970’s Brutalist Silas Seandel-inspired metal wall sculpture

What are three items on Chairish you’d love to have?

Only three?! That’s the most difficult question, but here goes. I love this Vintage Contemporary Charles Hollis Jones Lucite King Poster Bed; these Maison Arlus Gold Hand Sconces; and this Doane Powell Polynesian Head Sculpture Lamp.

Betsy Brown

Alabama-based Betsy Brown crafts spaces that are relaxed, beautiful, and charmingly personal for each of her clients. She uses a modernist aesthetic as the base of her design, building upon them with carefully curated layer of antiques. Shop a selection of her one-of-a-kind discoveries.

Shop Betsy’s Chairish Favorites>>>

Betsy Brown
Betsy Brown. Photo: Billy Brown.

What do you think of as the main principles of Southern design? What makes it so special?

Southern design has always been known for being welcoming and comfortable, which could seem in conflict with the expectation that it be formal and traditional, with every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. I’m not a traditional Southern designer, but I do feel that the same qualities can be found in less traditional work. Our Southern clients are smart and well-traveled, coming to us with wonderful collections they’ve amassed over the years and a desire for their spaces to be relaxed, beautiful, and very personal. Personal is the key word! 

How has it changed over the years, and what do you think of as newer developments in the style? 

Design is now truly global! Wonderful things from all over the world are now available from sites like Chairish. The ability to create beautiful, layered spaces that are deeply personal has totally changed the game. I’ve been in the design business for quite a long time and remember when we used to shop store-to-store with a Polaroid camera! 

What are some lessons that everyone can take from Southern design, no matter where they’re from? 

Plan your home for delicious solitude and also for entertaining—guaranteeing that your guests have a wonderful, memorable time in your home.

Betsy Brown
Photo: Peter Vitale

How does entertaining come into play? How do designers in the South make sure guests feel welcome?

Southerners love to entertain and it’s evident in their houses. Working with their designers, they think through each aspect of their dinner parties, including places to gather with drinks upon arrival and a dining table with beautiful lighting and comfortable chairs that encourage people to stay long after the meal has finished.

Who are some of the design icons you most admire? 

Oh my gosh, I could go on and on! I’ve been very influenced by Frederic Mechiche’s amazing collections and reverence for the imperfect; Alberto Pinto’s graphic, global style; Billy Baldwin’s dramatic but tailored, unpretentious comfort; and Angelo Donghia’s playfulness. Soon after I graduated from design school, AIDS began to take its brutal toll on the best of the design community. I often wonder what Angelo Donghia’s and Michael Taylor‘s rooms would look like now if those amazing talents were still working today.

What’s a dream piece you would love to have for yourself? 

I would love to have a set of Kaare Klint “Red Chairs” in patinated Nigerian leather. Every time I come across a beautiful set I seem to hesitate and lose them!

What are three items on Chairish you’d love to have?

I love this Bespoke Plaster Fixture; this X Chair by P Hvidt and O. Molgaard-Nielsen; and this Set of Rauter of Salon Astoned Urban Raw Armchair by Jean Prouvé for Vitra.

Melanie Turner

Altanta-based Melanie Turner is passionate about transforming the way her clients live with sophisticated yet unassuming spaces that embody their individual aesthetics. Her work has received awards from Traditional Home, Architectural Digest, and more. Shop a curation of her personal Chairish picks for a sense of her style.

Shop Melanie’s Chairish Favorites>>>

Melanie Turner
Melanie Turner. Photo: Mali Azima.

What do you think of as the main principles of Southern design? What makes it so special?

The home is so important. Southerners put a lot of effort into their homes and create “finished” spaces.

How has it changed over the years, and what do you think of as newer developments in the style?

I feel like it’s become more edited, with fewer pieces used, and a mix of old and new. Everything seems to be going lighter in terms of palette, with not as much brown furniture.

What are some lessons that everyone can take from Southern design, no matter where they’re from?

Reconsider how to use family heirlooms. Hang old photographs next to something new. Buy what you love and make your home truly personal.

Melanie Turner
Photo: Mali Azima

How does entertaining come into play? How do designers in the South make sure guests feel welcome?

An open bar is a must! And make sure you have lots of comfortable spaces to gather.

Who are some of the design icons you most admire?

Axel Vervoordt and Saladino

What’s a dream piece you would love to have for yourself?

A Saladino Tuscan sofa

What are three items on Chairish you’d love to have?

I love this pair of Murano Glass Chandeliers; this Palma Swivel Chair; and this 1970s Vintage Trompe L’Oeil Draped Natural Wicker Console.

Lead image: Design by Melanie Turner. Photo by Mali Azima.

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October 20, 2022

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