Inspired by Tradition





This long overdue and much anticipated celebration of the work of one of America’s finest architects, Norman Davenport Askins, is finally here, and it’s been receiving rave reviews. Southern Living magazine calls Inspired by Tradition (The Monacelli Press) one of the Fall’s best new Southern design books. That magazine chose Norman as the inaugural recipient of their A. Hays Town Award in 2013, recognizing his lifetime devotion to studying, practicing, promoting, and playing off the South’s rich architectural traditions.





As Norman and I first began discussing ideas for the book, which I co-authored and photographed, we knew we had hit on the right title when the words “inspired by tradition” bubbled up into our collective conscious. Why? Because Norman is not one of those architects who is hobbled by tradition, stiffly and slavishly recreating the past without paying heed to the way we live now, nor is he simply paying lip-service to it, slapping a few classical details onto an otherwise insipid dwelling. Pursuing a lifetime study of historic architecture ranging from Deep South Greek Revival and Virginia Piedmont houses to the little castles of the Dordogne region of France and rustic-revival English country houses designed by Voysey and Lutyens, Norman drinks straight from the well of tradition.











Because he is so deeply infused by traditional architecture–knowing it from the inside out and the outside in–he can do what many neo-traditionalist architects can’t. While he can sing the cant, he can also play with the canons, which allows him to create houses that are as fresh, individual, and surprising as the originals that inspired him. In the book, Norman writes: “When it comes to employing the elements of tradition, the principles of appropriateness, logic, and continuity are important, but they can only take you so far. If a house lacks imagination, romance, intrigue, drama, and a little bit of fun, the design falls flat. Buildings that are informed by tradition need to be precise, but they also need to be as quirky as the people who create and live in them.”









Featuring fifteen houses that include Italian-inspired villas, a Palm Beach Mediterranean Revival, a Sea Island melange of Dutch-West Indian and Cuban style, and several exquisitely detailed neoclassical dwellings, this book promises to delight any reader who loves architecture–and interior design). “While it’s the exterior photos of each house that lull me into daydreams, it is the interior shots that make me sit up and take notice,” wrote Jennifer Boles in her review of the book on her blog, The Peak of Chic.







On her eponymous blog, Frances Shultz also notes that Norman’s book is “filled with beautiful architecture and (bonus!) terrific interior design.” She also aptly describes it as “a brilliant reference for anyone considering building, renovating, or adding on.” Thanks not only to its many pages of photographs showing the big picture and small detail, but also to the depth and breadth of information offered in Norman’s charming, low-key voice, the book is sure to become a treasured volume in private libraries as well as those of architectural and design firms.
The many days I spent with Norman reviewing his life’s work, discussing the contents and design of the book, interviewing him, photographing the houses he designed, and occasionally even recruiting his services as photo assistant, are among the most delightful of my career. I am truly honored to be a part of his life and work–and glad to share it with the many people who already know and love him and those who don’t yet. How could you not love a serious traditional architect whose earliest commissions included a trio of classically inspired “houses” for a goat named Billy T. Sherman, a pig named Ulysses S. Grunt, and a rabbit called Rabbit E. Lee? Note: The clients were Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge and his wife.




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Stirred by Shakers

Imagine a group of Hare Krishnas descending upon a small New England village two hundred years ago. That’s how a witty guide at Hancock Shaker Village described the arrival of the Shakers in Hancock, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s. I’m sure the Shakers made similar impressions in other parts of the country, including Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, the site of America’s largest restored village. Although I haven’t made it there yet, I did have an opportunity to visit the almost eerily well-preserved Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires this summer.



One reason my guide likened the Shakers to Hare Krishnas was their form of worship, which involved ecstatic singing and dance (click to learn more). But he also drew a comparison between the brightly dressed HK’s and the Shakers, who often embellished their buildings and furnishings with vibrant shades of yellow, red, and green.



Many decorative arts aficionados are familiar with the graceful purity of Shaker furniture, but not as many have visited the villages where it was made. If they did, they’d discover the Shakers’ genius for creating architecture that is just as inventive, lovingly detailed, and perfectly suited to its purpose.



The round barn at Hancock Shaker Village is a stunning example, with a circular stone base, polygonal clerestory upper level, and cylindrical lantern topped with an almost whimsical pinnacle. The upper levels’ windows ventilate the barn and flood the cool stone interior with light. Lucky cows once roamed the outer area of the circle, poking their heads through the vertical railings to munch hay tossed down from the lofts, barely noticing hands that milked them while they dined.



I visited Hancock Shaker Village on a quiet, rain-polished morning when only a few other guests were present. I had each building nearly to myself and could almost feel the presence of the former inhabitants. Their craftsmanship spoke to me in the language of texture, color, and shape and invited me to come close and then closer to appreciate every detail.






When I left the village hours later, I felt as though I had been in communion with a fellowship of spirits who understand that the places we build—where we live and work and sleep—should be simply beautiful and beautifully simple.






‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.



When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

“Simple Gifts” a dance song by Shaker Elder Joseph, 1848







Now I can’t get enough of the Shakers, but until I can travel to the Shaker community in Kentucky, I am savoring the luminous photographs of it Pieter Estersohn published in his new book from The Monacelli Press, Kentucky, Historic Houses and Horse Farms of Bluegrass Country. This is one of the loveliest books to be published in recent years. If you are drawn to old houses and their quiet ways of speaking, this is a book for you.


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Art of the House: Reflections on Design


I’m delighted to announce that Art of the House: Reflections on Design (Rizzoli), the long awaited sequel to Bobby McAlpine’s best-selling The Home Within Us, is now available. Written by Bobby McAlpine (McAlpine Tankersley) and Susan Ferrier (McAlpine Booth and Ferrier), this book represents an distinct departure from the portfolio-style book that has dominated the interior design and architecture shelves for the last decade. While the book provides an inside look at several houses created together by Susan and Bobby, its deeper offering is a series of meditations on the meaning of design. Having had the honor of working closely with Bobby and Susan as co-author and principal photographer, I can attest that it offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of the house–and of these two extraordinarily gifted professionals.





Each chapter begins with a meditation on an aspect of design accompanied by a related still life composition artfully photographed by Susan’s husband, Adrian Ferrier. Together, these words and images describe aesthetic principles and the sensual, emotional, and spiritual meanings they possess. Images of rooms and the carefully chosen and arranged objects within them follow, illustrating the power these ideas carry when embodied in a house. Accompanied by Bobby’s and Susan’s observations, these images give readers an opportunity to find new inspiration and insight into the meaning and importance of home.



The objects we surround ourselves with form our private language. When we put these into play with personal memories, mythologies, and points of view, we express a rich and personal world.



In addition to providing a visual feast, the book provides readers an opportunity to witness the creative processes of two iconoclastic design professionals. I’ve heard beautiful architecture and design volumes called “envy books.” Art of the House is not an envy book–it is a profound and generous offering intended to inspire and transform.



Riches are always present as long as we are willing to make the necessary investment in time and attention to see them. The definition of luxury is to be totally aware of our surroundings.



In the first chapter, Lessons in Light, Bobby describes how his lake house at Lake Martin, Alabama, heightens awareness of the beauty within and without its walls.





“My house at Lake Martin is a carefully calibrated machine for seeing—as well as being—at the lake. Like a camera obscura, it is a plain brown box on the outside with an interior that frames beauty and captures light.”





“Light’s journey through the house offers an irresistible invitation to bring more and more objects into its path, coupling unlikely partners and challenging their compatibilities. Picking up your possessions like plants and moving them into the light allows you to see them all over again.”


If you have something important to say and you want it to be heard, sometimes the best thing to do is whisper. Receding and projecting simultaneously, white whispers this same way.



In the chapter entitled When White is Present, Susan and Bobby muse on the power of white to calm and enliven a room and heighten our perception of surrounding textures, colors, and forms.





“Painted in with the fewest, broadest strokes, white creates a sense of calm and balance. Once the eye perceives white, it begins hunting for highlights elsewhere, finding a rhythmic sense of unity.”





“Next to white, everything else finds its truest expression—black becomes blacker and silver shines more brightly. In its absence, colors and textures tend to collide or clamor for attention. Like the dogwood that blooms in the woods at springtime, white endows everything around it with the promise of a fresh start and a new day.”



Everything in this still life might have been discovered on a walk by a lake or in the woods—a pair of feathers dropped by a bird, a chunk of mica, water-worn glass floats that drifted ashore, a piece of metal left out in the rain, books carried into the shade for an hour of reading and forgotten there.



In the chapter entitled From the Forest Floor, the two reflect on how, when brought inside, colors, textures, and objects drawn directly from nature create a sense of harmony and unity with our surroundings and within ourselves.





“A massive wall of local field stone divides the living and dining rooms. Stacked without visible mortar, it appears to have risen directly from the earth. Excavated from nearby fields, the stone literally grounds the house to the land on which it stands. . . . When nature and design combine in seamless unity, dissolving the division between what is outside and inside, the invisible walls separating us from our higher selves come down as well.”





“Like diffused reflections on the still surface of the lake, the contents of the room mirror those of the landscape. Without pretense or exaggeration, they are inspired by it. Wood walls brushed lightly with a greenish-gray glaze appear to have grown a skin of lichen. Textiles evoke the subtlest and often unnoticed nuances of nature—the brown velvet underside of magnolia leaves and the blurred pattern of leaves reflected on water. Linen curtains and upholstery the colors of moss and mushrooms suggest the undergrowth of the forest’s floor.”



This room is the quiet hour you ask for every moment of your life–a place to sit quietly and be exactly where you are. There is a comfort that comes from being in a place and feeling connected to it.

* * * * *


A thoughtful celebration of the power of architecture and interiors to shape who we are and how we live, Art of the House is a rich addition to anyone’s design library–or library of any kind. Although I’m a little biased, my advice to anyone who cares about the home is to bring it into yours as soon as you can!



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Macon: Design,Wine and Dine festival

Celebrate three favorite Southern pleasures—the art of the home, the kitchen, and the brimming cup—at Historic Macon Foundation’s inaugural Design, Wine and Dine festival coming up very soon on March 7th and 8th. If you haven’t ever been to Macon, or haven’t in a long time, this is the opportunity to visit this cultural center of middle Georgia (conveniently located one and a half hours driving distance from Atlanta) and support the preservation of its beautiful and varied Southern architecture.


Sidney Lanier Cottage, Macon, Georgia


Featuring an early Spring bouquet of lectures that cost only $10/each to attend, this fundraising event offers opportunities to learn more about art, architecture and design, tablescaping, cooking (I personally can’t wait for the Southern caramel cake presentation by author and TV personality Mark Ballard), wine and moonshine. Here’s a sampling of what’s in store:



Architectural historian and Professor Emerita of Architecture at Georgia Tech will discuss her new book, Classical Interiors: Historical and Contemporary, an authoritative survey of the best of classical design and the work of its most important figures from the seventeenth century to the present day.


Fanny Kemble, 1833 by Thomas Sully

Elegy, 2010 by Thomas Sully III


Thomas Sully III, direct descendent of the renowned 19th-century portraitist of the same name (and my husband), will present Romantic at Heart: Soulful Portraits, Transcendent Landscapes, discussing the tradition of the humanistic and empathetic portrait, including the “mysterious sub-genre of the eye portrait,” and the aesthetics and spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of the Romantic landscape tradition.




Susan Sully will present a lecture on Southern Style: Town & Country, comparing cosmopolitan urban houses from Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans, and elsewhere with relaxed country retreats in favorite Southern destinations including the Florida coast and the Blue Ridge Mountains. This lecture is not only a delightful romp through time and place, but also a retrospective glance at my lifetime study (and enjoyment) of Southern architecture and interiors.




Popular blogger (The Peak of Chic), House Beautiful contributing editor, and author Jennifer Boles will talk about her latest book, In with the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z, a charming encyclopedia of the stylish decorating details (including chintz, striped walls, and orangeries) favored by great tastemakers of the twentieth century.


And don’t miss the benefit Soiree (advance tickets required), with food and spirits served in good company in a beautiful historic home on Saturday, March 8th from 7 to 10.


I hope to see you there!


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In with the Old, In with the New

In with the Old, In with the New is my mantra this year as I take time to reconnect with why I do what I do as a writer and photographer concerned with Southern architecture and decorative arts. When I first began writing about this subject, I came to it with a deep love of old houses and a fascination for the people who lived in them–particularly those whose families had lived in them for generations or new residents who understood something about the layered, storied way Southerners have long dwelt in their houses. I was so intrigued when I visited an elderly aunt in Wichita Falls, Texas, in my teens that I wrote a short story about breaking a tea cup in her house (or a strangely primitive wish to do so), prompted by a feeling of sheer envy of how she had surrounded herself with so many talismans from the past–all so powerful and beautiful, even in their humblest form.



Now I am inheriting many of my own family heirlooms and integrating them into my little cottage in the mountains of North Carolina. Some might seem out of place here in the woods, but in fact, most were used on rural plantations or small Southern towns, so what the Heck? Actually, they feel perfectly at home here, especially when used in creative, personal ways that speak not only to their past, but to my present. I love this table setting I created for a party last fall for which I finally turned a length of hand-wood-blocked fabric my sister brought me from Southern France 20 years ago into a table cloth.




I made tiny floral arrangements of wildflowers picked in a nearby field the morning of the dinner party and arranged them in dented silver baby cups and porringers–objects among the type we often inherit but can’t figure out how to use. I added early 20th-century silverware from an estate sale etched with the initial of my maiden name to the table, combining it all with simple white modern plates, antique silver goblets, and new and vintage stemware. The final effect was utterly beguiling and satisfying to me–fresh, personal, filled with the spirit of love and the ever flowing passage of time.




I invite you to try your own “In with the Old, In with the New” table settings or other arrangements in the house and send pictures of them to be reviewed and possibly posted on The Southern Cosmopolitan. I’d love to see how you bring the past and the present together in beautiful, personal ways. Please send images (no more than 1 mb in size) to me at

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Holiday Charm Event in Atlanta

Please join me in Atlanta at Glyn Weakley Interiors for a Holiday Open House

Wednesday, November 13th, from 4 to 8 pm

3489 Northside Parkway in Atlanta

Photo by Self Images Photography

I’ll be signing books that are perfect gifts for those who share our love of elegant, sophisticated, and charming Southern style and giving a short talk about the essence of Southern style.

Copies of my newest book, Houses with Charm, will be available, as well as The Southern Cosmopolitan and The Southern Cottage.





Glyn Weakley Interiors is a high-end source for traditional, transitional and unique antique reproduction furnishings and accessories. Glyn believes accessories can make or break a room. “Just as jewelry completes an outfit, accessories complete a room. Something as simple as new pillows on a sofa or lamps on a table, a few updated accessories can completely transform a room.” Glyn Weakley also offers design services that reflect her passion for design and her elegant taste and eye for beautiful interiors.


For more information, contact Glen Weakley Interiors, (404) 841-6649 or



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Southern Vogue



Ride the new wave of Southern vogue


According to Lauren Brunk of Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina, the new wave of Southern vogue is happening NOW—and not just in the South. In the culinary world, there is a lot of buzz about Southern chefs’ love of tradition, commitment to local fare, and unbridled creativity—and much of that talk is going on well beyond the South. Our approach to decorative arts is the same, as we keep our traditions alive, remember our much lauded “sense of place” — and carry those two defining aspects into the here, the now, and the future, with a touch of our trademark charm and eccentricity.




Last night at Brunk Auctions, award-winning Asheville-based interior designer Susan Nilsson and I celebrated the new wave of Southern vogue by unveiling a vignette that expresses its spirit and style. Cherry-picking objects from the inventory that will be auctioned at Brunk’s this Saturday, July 20th, Susan and I assembled a room that celebrated the complex spirit of Southern style.





Combining primitive Southern antiques, including a 19th-century huntboard from the Carolinas and a chest of drawers from Kentucky, with Ming-style Chinese chairs, we focused on two enduring aspects of Southern style—its regionalisim and its cosmopolitanism. The South is a land unto itself, but it has also been an international trade and cultural crossroads for centuries—and that has left its mark.





A collection of bird prints by 18th-century naturalist Mark Catesby—long a favorite in traditional Southern interiors—shares wall space with an abstract mixed-media print by internationally-known Southern born artist Robert Rauchenberg. Stoneware jars, including a face jug by Lanier Meaders of Georgia, are reminders of how modern traditional arts can look.





Combined with a 19th-century Aubusson rug, handwoven baskets from North Carolina, an antique British wine-tasting table, and a polychrome iron rooster, this selection of objects makes the point that Southern style, while region-conscious and tradition-infused, is also as vibrant, inclusive, and engaging as the people behind it.



For more information about the upcoming auction at Brunk Auctions (this Saturday, July 20, 9 AM) and view the online catalog, visit  To see more of Susan Nilsson’s beautiful designs, featured in Traditional Home and other major design publications, visit

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Houses with Charm: Simple Southern Style


My newest book, Houses with Charm: Simple Southern Style, came out this April, and having begun the rounds of lectures and booksignings (the next is on Tuesday, July 16th, at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, NC; see end of post for details), I can now share with you some of the readers’ choices of favorite rooms. If you don’t have the book yet, please take a look and let me know what your favorite rooms are. One of the nicest comments I heard was from a reader who said, “I could live in any of these rooms.” And really, that’s what charm is all about–that feeling that you can walk right in and feel at home.




This entrance hall in a Greek Revival townhouse in Savannah, Georgia, combines casual details, including a striped runner and painted floors, with an eclectic mix of antiques. Decorated by award-winning interior designer Lynn Morgan, the house combines Swedish, French, and American antiques with a tropical palette inspired by Saint Croix, where Lynn and her husband and children have spent many vacations in a family home.




Southerners love the past so much that they will go to any length to carry it with them…even if it means moving an entire house from the Georgia Piedmont to a hilltop in Highlands, North Carolina. That is just what Teri and Mose Bond did to preserve the farmhouse that had been in her family for generations. Vestiges of original green milk paint still cover the walls in the dining room where the present-day resident remembers sharing family meals with past generations. I recently enjoyed a classic Southern meal including ham biscuits and squash casserole in this room, which was illuminated solely by candlelight–and great conversation.




Collaborating with Sullivans Island, South Carolina, residents Hartley and Ashley Cooper, interior designer Amelia Handegan created this wonderfully eclectic and unexpected space in a simple late-nineteenth century beach cottage. The original pine walls, floor, and ceiling of the entrance room create a warm, natural backdrop for mid-century modern chairs, a Chinese lute table, and a triptych by artist Timothy McDowell.




New Orleans-born and based lighting designer Julie Neill brings the words “simply elegant” to life in this sitting room in her 1880s double shotgun house. In addition to the graceful chandelier, she designed the daybed with antique finials and extra-tall sides that complements the room’s 18th-century Italian commodes and antique French chair.



Built in the late-18th century in simple Creole style and remodeled many decades later with refined Greek Revival details, this Louisiana plantation is filled with airy, luminous rooms, including this second floor parlor that opens to deep porch. A  nineteenth-century American sofa upholstered in rose-colored Scalamandre velvet offers just the right balance of elegance and simplicity to the decor.



Architect Norman Askins and his wife, interior decorator Joane, love to decorate their Blue Ridge Mountain hideaway with antiques including this Russian folk portrait and collection of pretty English china.


If you like what you see here, don’t just buy the book–go shopping for the furniture and decorative details you need to add more Southern charm to your own rooms.  Two of my favorite sources for appropriate selections of furniture, decorative accessories, and art–much of it surprisingly affordable–are Scott Antique Market in Atlanta and Brunk Auctions right down the road from me in Asheville, North Carolina. I’ll be giving a talk at Brunk this coming Tuesday, July 16th, at 5:30 with Lauren Brunk and interior designer Susan Nilsson (117 Tunnel Road, Asheville, NC). We’ll discuss about how to create great Southern style and unveil a vignette that features a selection of pieces to be auctioned on Saturday, July 20th. Visit Brunk Auction’s website for more details.


And please be sure to email me at and tell me what YOUR favorite rooms are in the book — or send me pictures of great Southern rooms you think I should know about!




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Southern Cosmopolitan Travels: Richmond

Richmond, Virginia: Too much to do, Too little time!


Last week I spent a scant 30 hours in Richmond, Virginia, as a guest of the Tuckahoe Woman’s Club, where I presented a lecture entitled “Southern Style: Town and Country.” This was my second trip to lecture in Richmond, and both times, the short period of time I was there was only enough to tantalize me into wanting much, much more.


Jeb Stuart Monument, Monument Avenue


During my first visit, lecturing for the RAMA Antiques and Fine Arts show, I stayed at the famous Jefferson Hotel ( which, built in 1895, is a fine Southern hotel in the grand tradition and a cultural and architectural landmark. Even if you don’t stay in this beautiful behemoth of a hotel, be sure to take high tea beneath the Tiffany stained glass rotunda in the Palm Court (Friday-Sunday, 3:00 and 4:15 pm; best to make reservations.)


The Jefferson Hotel, Palm Court


On my recent stay, I had the pleasure of spending the night at Maury Place,, a luxurious bed and breakfast located in a handsomely appointed historic house. Built in 1915, the house stands on Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue, across from the Maury Monument, which honors the father of modern oceanography and Commander of the Confederate Navy, Matthew Fontaine Maury.


Maury Place


Maury Monument


The Fan District


Maury Place is a perfect jumping off point for strolling on Monument Avenue (, walking the streets of the Fan district lined with historic townhouses (, and visiting the nearby Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (


Maury Place, Foyer


I fell in love with this B&B for several reasons. Its location is without parallel for exploring historic Richmond, its innkeepers Mac Pence and Jeff Wells are charming and attentive, and, should you ask to meet them, the resident dogs, Chico and Lucy, are delightful. Oh, and did I mention breakfast?


Maury Place, Parlor


Jeff Wells is the decorator behind the inn’s tasteful, retrained, and inviting decor. The furnishings include a combination of antiques from his family’s home in Norfolk, Virginia, objects he and Mac have collected over the years, and antiques that came with the house when they purchased it (Mac and Jeff are only its 4th owners). Colored primarily in shades of brown and earth tones (inspired by the tresses of their beloved terrier Chico and the Roseville pottery Jeff collects), the style is a bit more masculine and tailored than most B&Bs.



Roseville Pottery in the Library


“I didn’t want stereotypical B&B style, which is a little bit more feminine,” says Jeff. “I wanted the look to be tailored, not all velvet and Victoriana. The rooms are gender neutral, or a little bit masculine.” The room where I spend the evening, The Fontaine Suite, was a perfect example of this aesthetic. Decorated in beige, tan, and brown, it featured a pair of Victorian settees upholstered in decidedly un-Victorian fabric. For those who, like me, have inherited one or two of these relics, I recommend taking a look at what Jeff did to give them a crisp, updated look.


Updated Victorian Settee


The highlight of my trip was a few hours spent with the members of The Tuckahoe Woman’s Club ( in Richmond, Virginia. Founded in 1936, it is one of the most vibrant woman’s clubs in the South, hosting speakers weekly on a wide range of subjects. The club’s 1954 Colonial Revival brick clubhouse, with an auditorium that seats several hundred and a spacious reception room, embodies the classic Southern woman club’s twin commitment to education and community. In addition to being the site for lectures and other member activities, the club and its gardens are also available for wedding receptions and events.


Tuckahoe Woman’s Club



One of the biggest surprises I discovered in Richmond is Agecroft Hall, an astonishing anachronism among the Colonial Revival houses gracing the beautiful Windsor Farms neighborhood where it stands.


Agecroft Hall


Built in Lancashire, England, in the late 15th century, it was sold at auction in 1925 to Richmond resident Thomas Williams, Jr., who had the Tudor estate moved to the banks of the James River. For information about tours and events, including the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, visit Also contact Agecroft Hall for information about the Seven Historic Homes tour (March 23-24). Another reason to visit Richmond and the surrounding area is the Virginia Garden Week tour of houses and gardens, April 20-27 (, now in its 80th year.


Virginia Garden Week


Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you something very, very important. When you prepare your walking tour of Richmond, don’t forget to pick up a box lunch from Richmond institution, Sally Bell’s Kitchen ( Since the 1950s, Sally Bell’s has been making delicious box lunches that include a sandwich on a handmade roll (I had chicken salad but they have many choices including cream cheese and olive), a deviled egg with a slice of sweet pickle on top, potato salad, the crispest bite-size cheese wafer, and a little cake to rival anything my grandmother from South Carolina could make…and that’s almost heresy to admit!



So hurry up and make plans to visit Richmond—it’s gorgeous in the springtime and autumn—be sure to leave enough time to dawdle—and eat a Sally Bell’s box lunch for me!

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Joy to the Home

In this season of joy and light, consider giving a beautiful book to someone you love. One of my favorite design books of the year 2012 is The Joy of Decorating: Southern Style with Mrs. Howard by Phoebe Howard (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)–a volume I’m sure will delight those who share my love of  Southern decorating, past and present.



This recommendation has utterly nothing to do with the fact that I had the pleasure of co-authoring the book and everything to do with the fact that interior decorator Phoebe Howard is delightfully articulate, infectiously in love with her subject matter, inspiring, fun, and gifted. Her very first decorating project (outside of the lovely rooms she has created in her Mrs. Howard stores since 1996) appeared on the cover of House Beautiful, to be followed by countless covers and articles in top decorating magazines.



“A sea of blue and white embraces you.”


Phoebe is a compelling storyteller, and in the introduction she describes her evolution from awkward teenager to full-time mother to a design entrepreneur whose empire includes four Mrs. Howard stores, four Max & Company stores, the Mr. and Mrs. Howard line of furniture, and a thriving  decorating career [for more information and to order the book, visit]. The inspiration that launched this journey came from Phoebe’s Aunt Myra, a loving relation who designed an intimate and charming retreat for her teenage niece, teaching her about the healing power of interior design.



“Make your house an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life.”


“I can still close my eyes and recall every detail of that room,” Phoebe writes. “It embraced me and allowed my wounds to heal. When I think back to the impact the room had on me, I realize how powerful our environments can be. They affect us far more profoundly that we realize. In every room I decorate, my goal is to re-create that same sense of inspiration and comfort I felt in that bedroom.”



“The ability to look at the past with fresh eyes is the secret to timeless style.”


Arranged in seven sections with beautiful pictures of rooms decorated by Phoebe (many of them including architectural settings by her husband Jim Howard), she addresses the questions of how to design environments that are Inviting, Inspiring, Timeless, Graceful, Tranquil, Casual, and Comfortable.



“A graceful room is characterized by the harmonious composition of all its elements.”



“The best gift you can give yourself is a pocket of tranquility in your busy life.”



“Inspiration surrounds us all day, every day. You just have to learn to see it”



“An inviting house embraces you. It’s never intimidating or overdramatic.”


These rooms include handsome antiques, contemporary decorative objects, color schemes ranging from the masculine to the feminine, and approaches to style that are both traditional and fresh.

“The contents of the house constantly evoke your interest, inviting questions and engaging you in a never-ending dialogue.”


If you love beautiful décor, this is a book to sit back and enjoy. If your passion is decorating, it’s also one to study and learn from. Either way, The Joy of Decorating is a gift that is sure to delight and inspire anyone who receives it.


Note: This review by Susan Sully also appears on Ronda Carman’s popular style blog,, where you will find any more ideas for holiday giving—to yourself AND others.

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