Often, the proverbial coffee table book enjoys a prominent position as a featured home accessory, but falls short of actually being read. May that not be the case for The Joy of Decorating: Southern Style With Mrs. Howard, by Phoebe Howard with Susan Sully, as it is both display-worthy and content rich. It is a must-read on the subject of interiors. It is truly an education. I devoured this lovely work as if revisiting a classic novel and felt a sense of hesitant anticipation when nearing the last page. I didn’t want it to end.
If you enjoy interior design, you will resonate with Howard’s quotable observations of the anatomy of a well decorated room. With photographs that embody her design principles, this coffee table book should not only be appreciated for its aesthetic exterior (on the dust cover is a photograph which graced the cover of House Beautiful featuring a foyer she designed), but also for its detailed wisdom on the universal subject of decorating.
For decades, “Mrs. Howard,” as clients fondly call her, has built a career on helping people create HOME. “The personality of the occupants needs to be expressed in the decoration. It should look and live like they do,” she asserts.
Phoebe Howard, one of the foremost authorities on Southern style, together with her husband, Jim, owns five Mrs. Howard and Max and Company interior design stores across the South.
In this picture-rich treasure, she writes effortlessly about a subject in which she is well versed, inviting us into the homes of clients in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Bermuda, and New York..
The book affords glimpses into spaces which are inviting, inspiring, timeless, graceful, tranquil, casual, and comfortable. Those are the titles of flowing chapters which connect these sought-after design elements with exquisite photographs of Howard’s personal design projects. With a keen eye for design, exquisite taste, and an unwavering commitment to the marriage of “beauty, practicality, and comfort,” Howard expertly shares and shows the reader her design process. In this marvelous book, we see the resulting spaces materialize with life.
“An inviting house embraces you. It’s never intimidating or overdramatic.” Mrs. Howard’s words dance across the two page spread that opens the first section of her book and centers on “Inviting.” Phoebe Howard’s stunning hardback, with substantial pages and award-winning interior photos, incorporates a featured quote by the author every few pages. In Mrs. Howard’s view, creating an inviting home is of the utmost importance because “no one wants to live in a house that feels off limits.” She desires the spaces she curates and edits to convey the message: “Come on in and sit down.”
On the pages of her book, we learn that inspiration is germain to Mrs. Howard’s design approach. It “surrounds us all day, every day. You just have to learn to see it.” While she and many of her clients have traveled widely, she astutely notes that “you don’t have to leave home to be inspired.”
Clouds and water, mood and texture, color, shape, and light are nature’s offerings of endless design direction and decor ideas. On the subject, Mrs. Howard recalls fondly, “I onced worked for clients who took me to the railing of a boat off the coast of Mustique and said, ‘Look down, look up. This is what we want in our house.’”
As you read The Joy of Decorating, I trust that the joy of decorating will be restored to you as it was me. How easy it is to get waylaid by distracting advice and unimportant trends. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of the sense of wonder and open-ended creativity which decorating affords. For those reasons, Mrs. Howard’s book is a welcome guide. She offers principles to follow while teaching us how to see and what to look for. “Identify what pleases you,” Mrs. Howard advises, and “trust your instincts.”
By applying her quintessentially “Mrs. Howard” design keystones, readers come to understand her definition of successful decorating: “being so sure of your choices that you continue to love them year after year.” We do well to remain mindful of her mantras such as: steer clear of “overdecorating,” “avoid themed decor “ (think “shell everything” for a beach house), and “keep an image of your favorite hotel room in mind” while designing the guest bedroom.
“When all the rooms in a house suit the needs of people who live there, comfort naturally follows,” says Mrs. Howard, and the home accommodates everyone, homeowners and guests alike. “There should be plenty of places to put your feet up…and just as many places to put your drink down.”
I highly recommend that you put your feet up, put your drink down, and pick up Phoebe Howard’s The Joy of Decorating. This magnificent book, a copy of which is on its way to my Mother for Mother’s Day, invites a welcome escape into the joy of decorating.
To use Mrs. Howard’s own words, just as “every room is a discovery,” in interior design, so too, is each of the 253 pages in this exceptional book on Southern interior design.
If you appreciate this book, check out this list of other books on Southern design from Amazon:
A Place to Call Home: Timeless Southern Charm by James T. Farmer
With a devotion to salvaging the past while accommodating modern living, interior and garden designer, James Farmer, of Perry, Georgia, relishes and celebrates his Southern heritage through his inspired Southern style. On display in this attractive book are eleven very different homes in the deep South where his refined design work comes to life.
Without hesitation, he schools us in the art of thoughtful design, the pursuit of mixing old with new, the delight of including the found and the repurposed, and the practicality of incorporating the high-end and the ordinary.
Using stunning photographs alongside personal life stories, this fine book takes the reader on a captivating journey that gives us a glimpse into the heart of James Farmer’s life and work.
Southern Spaces: For Beautiful Living by Kathleen J. Whaley
In her beautifully formatted book on Southern decorating, Kathleen Whaley offers pictorial inspiration for every room in the home. She takes the reader on an exploration of interiors and exteriors through a collection of distinctive homes in the South.
Her tasteful Southern style appeals to the senses and gracefully blends beauty with function. Drawing from experts in her field as well as the experiences of real homeowners, Whaley presents a host of ideas for architectural and interior style.
The corresponding images tell the story in a most charming fashion making Southern Spaces worthy of perusal.
The Southern Cottage: From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Florida Keys by Susan Sully
The Southern Cottage artfully examines the characteristic design elements of this cozy dwelling place and getaway common in the South. The author surveys the timeless details shared by Southern cottages, such as the oversized porch swing, inviting afternoon napping, and heirloom furniture, offering form, function and a respectful nod to family lineage.
Inside the pages of this carefully organized Southern decorating book, you will tour purposefully appointed, yet relaxed, cottage retreats in popular destinations including the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, the mountains of North Carolina, the island of Key West, Florida, and the coast and islands of South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Romantic, yet refined, intentional, yet inviting, Sully’s spaces offer design inspiration with application reaching far beyond the charming Southern cottages on which the book is centered.
Southern Coastal Living: Stylish Lowcountry Homes by J Banks Design
Southern Coastal Living showcases real Southern living on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and in nearby coastal towns, like charming Bluffton. J Banks Design Group has been helping clients with interior spaces for over three decades, garnering international acclaim for masterfully decorating spaces which combine the homeowner’s aesthetic with sensible design choices.
This book offers a thorough look at luxurious style designed to exude casual elegance with an inviting, comfortable feel.
J Banks Design Group “gets” Southern coastal living, as is evident on the pages which picture lunch at Joni’s house complete with views from her dock and a Lowcountry shrimp boil.
This beautiful book delves into achieving graceful, classic Southern design reflective of the homeowner’s lifestyle and personality. Joni shows us how relaxed, Southern style, achieved using textiles, upholstery and materials made to withstand sun and sand, extends quintessential Southern hospitality and the freedom to enjoy the place you call home.
Coastal Blues: Mrs. Howard’s Guide to Decorating with the Colors of the Sea and Sky by Phoebe Howard
It’s no surprise that renowned Southern interior designer, Phoebe Howard, chose to write a new book about using the colors of sea and sky in decorating. And it’s no surprise that this book is an addition to our review of The Joy of Decorating!
For more than thirty years, Mrs. Howard, as clients affectionately call her, has been employing this design approach for clients in Florida, multiple Southern states, Bermuda and New York. She skillfully incorporates hues from nature as she decorates the home to fit its broader environment. She understands and shares with her reader that the blue color palette affords a surprising array of stunning color choices.
In fact, Mrs. Howard uses them to title her chapters: Sea Glass, Indigo Bay, and Ocean Mist, to name a few. Phoebe Howard inspires readers with captivating photographs of new projects she unveils for the first time.
Beach houses, coastal retreats, cottage getaways, and upscale manor homes by the sea grace the pages of this instructive book replete with Mrs. Howard quotes spoken with her almost enchanting writing voice. Use this book to guide design decisions in your own home, while taking Mrs. Howard’s own advice to “trust your instincts.”
Tracery: The Art of Southern Design by Paige Sumblin Schnell
Founded by Paige Sumblin Schnell in 2004, Tracery Interiors is a design firm which seeks to fuse the interplay of design elements and the central importance of listening to clients.
Designing from her clients’ aesthetic visions and lifestyle needs, Schnell’s signature style fills page after page of this important design book. She infuses timeless style in the spaces she influences.
Her tasteful approach is seen clearly in the five sections of this beautiful book with corresponding photographs that take your breath away. Section by section, her book explores Enduring Style, Spirit of Place, Crafted with Care, Along the Waterfront, and In Harmony. She invites the reader into 19 homes located in various spots around the country.
You’ll want to see for yourself why Tracery is a nationally recognized interior design firm. You’ll find delight and inspiration in this stunning book which centers on The Art of Southern Design.
Cozy White Cottage: 100 Ways to Love the Feeling of Being Home by Liz Marie Galvan
For homeowners and apartment dwellers alike, and for those in urban or country settings, notable blogger, Liz Marie Galvan, ushers her readers into the worthy pursuit of making a house a home. Having transformed a Michigan farmhouse built in the 1800’s into a home for her and her veteran husband, Jose, Liz knows of what she speaks.
Regularly, she helps people define their personal style in the home décor boutique which she co-owns.
Encouraging personal style and offering ample inspiration, Galvan offers 100 ways to add coziness to your home no matter your budget. She shares doable DIY projects for readers interested in taking inspiration and running with it.
The photography alone makes Cozy White Cottage: 100 Ways to Love the Feeling of Being Home a wise book purchase. Couple that with the fact that it is full of actionable takeaways and you have a fine addition to your collection of decorating books.
There you have it. While this list of Southern decorating books will never be complete, I hope you can find something that will appeal to you and your design style. As I mentioned with The Joy of Decorating, these are not just books to grace your coffee table. While they will function beautifully there, and be a constant attraction to all of your guests, I believe these books will also serve to inspire you as you add different design elements to your home. It truly is a worthy pursuit: to make your house a HOME.