by MARSHALL BONE
In the South, the story’s the thing. Shared over sweet tea on languid, humid afternoons, it’s storytelling that buoys and sustains the home decor styles of the Southern states. Because it’s in these stories, often passed down through generations, that heritage becomes legacy and tradition is shared.
This brief guide will discuss some of the most prevalent home decor styles of the South, where they’re at their most vibrant, and some of the overarching design legacies grown in Southern soil.
Anyone who’s ever been to New Orleans, La., knows this decor style when they see it. They just might not know what to call it. The South’s version of bohemian decor is a long, complicated story told in objects, the use of color, wallpaper patterns, and well-loved family heritage pieces living comfortably next to mid-century modern and contemporary expressions. Hang a vintage chandelier dripping with bright crystal pendants, and you’re halfway there.
Shotgun houses and Creole cottages keep one foot in the antebellum past with the other firmly planted in the current day. Jewel-toned velvet (especially in the purple, green, and gold of Mardi Gras) on overstuffed, tufted chaise lounges, ferns potted in hammered brass pots, and lacy wrought iron all figure prominently. But these echoes of the past are responded by whimsical local art from icons like Dr. Bob, bringing the flavor of the city, and its vibrant culture into the home.
Retrospective Modern Opulence
Atlanta, Ga., is where Margaret Mitchell wrote her epic Civil War novel, Gone With the Wind. It’s also the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, an icon of the Civil Rights movement. The modern spirit of the city is richly expressed in its home interiors. But this isn’t the “modern” you’re used to. It’s opulent, married to the past that’s woven into Atlanta’s fabric. Plush comfort is inscribed on fine old homes, honoring the past while crisply updating it.
Retrospective modern opulence is expressed in elegantly realized flooring, marble tiles repeating striking patterns in grand entrance halls. Furniture settles into a traditionalist modernism that balances delicately on the past as it moves it forward. Modern light fixtures reference legacy decor, yet proudly proclaim the 21st century. With this comforting home decor style, you’ll know that you’re standing in a space influenced by both history and the clamor of our times.
Shabby Southern Chic
Known to many as the People’s Republic of Austin, this mid-Texas city is where the hipsters once roamed. It was these spirited souls who advanced the decor style that has developed into shabby Southern chic. Coming from all over the USA and beyond, they created a counter-cultural beachhead and a live music hub beloved by music aficionados.
In this decor style, distressed furniture, comfort and the Southern penchant for storytelling meet and make lifelong friends. Ornate, lightly distressed pieces are favored, with color palettes ranging from pastels to deeper, richer hues. Dress your furniture in striking throw pillows for a look of carefree, unstudied chic that prioritizes gathering with friends to lounge.
The Color Of History – Haint Blue
In the South, it’s not unusual to see a green-blue color adorning the ceilings of porches, wooden shutters and window frames. This is “haint blue,” the legacy of the Gullah Geechee presence in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Gullah word for “haunt” (or spirit) is “haint.” Thus, the color is strategically used in those locations which might let evil spirits enter if not painted haint blue.
In today’s South, haint blue has been resurrected as a Southern home decor impulse, gracing doors and other exterior entrance points. While painting these areas haint blue may no longer be expressly practiced to keep out ill-intentioned spirits, it’s a Southern wildfire trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Add it to your decor in fabrics and objects of significance as a rich historic reference or paint the porch ceiling! Choose bed sheets with good fabric quality, different sizes and designs to match the rest of your home decor.
Because of the enviable weather enjoyed in most Southern states almost year-round, outdoor living is a favored practice to which the deep porch is central. Creating flow between indoor and outdoor spaces can be achieved in several ways to add Southern style savvy to your decor signature.
Depending on your decor scheme, French or sliding glass doors can create the flow you’re going for. Or pull interior decor colors into your exterior spaces to tie them together seamlessly. Try doing this with rugs in similar patterns and colors or use seating fabric and throw cushions to pull it together, creating the picture of Southern charm.
This brief guide to home decor styles of the Southern states includes key impulses and historic detail I hope you’ll find inspiring. Whichever style you choose, don’t forget that pitcher of sweet tea to add the unique flavor of the South.
Marshall Bone is a writer, copy strategist and all-around stylish guy who has been following trends in GQ for more than two decades. Voted best-dressed both his junior and senior year, Bone has continued this legacy and can be found covering various topics from men’s fashion to self care and grooming. He enjoys reading and is based in the greater Los Angeles area.
I want to thank you for pointing out the history behind haint blue! My dad always loved this house from his childhood that had a pale blue porch ceiling, and now we know why it was so special.