What is it about Southern style that so enchants us? It’s beguiling and mysterious (the Spanish moss and the black iron and the shuttered rooms), and many years ago when I returned to Baltimore after some time living in Georgia and South Carolina, part of its spirit stayed with me.
James T. Farmer, author and interior designer, believes that a classic Southern home includes “fine fabrics, patina cloaked antiques and exposed elements like pine and brick.” In his new book A Place to Call Home: Timeless Southern Charm he takes us into homes with all of these things, and much more.
All of the homes except one are in Georgia, and all of them are owned by people whom Farmer has some connection to—several go back to his own childhood in Perry, Georgia where he still lives and has a design firm. Fittingly, he is interested in the established roots of a place, both literally and figuratively: a house must be in sync with the landscape and its rooms should be full of stories. But at the same time, Farmer makes it clear that his approach to making a house a home also includes looking at things with fresh eyes and creating spaces meant for modern living: that is, the making of new stories.
Farmer’s look is one of unstudied Southern elegance with a touch of the English country style—there is something warm and welcoming and rich about the rooms without being heavy and stale. Within their eclectic, layered walls we find pieces and elements that are absolutely unique to each home (he calls this “stuff” and makes it clear that loving “stuff” is fine as long as it is good “stuff” worthy of display), along with Farmer’s trademark features which create continuity and harmony in the space: grasscloth on the walls, heart-pine floors, vintage and antique pieces with stories, red brick, faint blue ceilings (a re-interpretation of the haint blue ceilings found on Southern porches), collections of hanging plates, and chinoiserie.
All of this sounds a bit stuffy, but Farmer does not impress me as such. In fact, he takes pleasure is fluffing, which is the non-technical term for making things look nice. And though he is confident in what he likes and steadfast in his vision, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.
There were also some unexpected interpretations. In one of my favorite homes, a raised cottage with Antebellum roots, he created ladies and a gentlemens segregated parlors, rejecting the modern day “Great Room” and instead embracing the original configuration and culture of the past (we see him winking a bit here). And in his own home, which is new but modeled after an old post office that he loved growing up, his bright and spacious dining room serves as an entry hall (I love this idea, but cannot imagine how it would feel to live with this arrangement, though I’d love to hear about it). The room itself is a wonderful example of Farmer’s old, new, high, low look with its antique brick floors, velvet upholstered Chippendale chairs, undressed windows, exposed painted beams, and a large hanging lantern with a sleek, modern design.
I would say that Farmer doesn’t so much re-imagine a place as he reinvigorates it, making the most of what is already there and refashioning it so that memories remain but the possibility of new meaning is created—and thus the narrative continues. This book is a lovely addition to any collection, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mine (and so has my sister who got one for her birthday because I ordered two by mistake!).
Have a good Sunday!
(all images from A Place to Call Home: Timeless Southern Charm)