High Style Neutrals
Interior designer Phoebe Howard’s professional name, Mrs. Howard, conjures images of dowager designers: Sister Parish, Dorothy Draper, Elsie de Wolfe. But the Florida-based design maven is far from dowdy; this hip, self-taught designer’s first project landed a 12-page spread in House Beautiful. That was 14 years ago, around the time she and her husband Jim opened two retail stores—Mrs. Howard and Max and Company—in Jacksonville, Fla. They now have stores in Atlanta, Charlotte and Jacksonville Beach, and Howard continues to refashion interiors with her signature “neutral classic” style. Here, she talks about one such transformation.
CH&L: What was the genesis of this project?
Phoebe Howard: I’d worked with this couple before, and when they moved from Washington, D.C., to Cherry Hills, they asked me to design their home’s interior. Though the exterior is stone and timber, the couple did not want an obvious mountain vernacular—the gorgeous views cover that design element. Their existing furniture simply did not work in this space, so picking the right furnishings was a large part of the project.
Tell us how you curated the right mix.
The furniture we chose is clean-lined. Classic but modern. Above all, it is comfortable and covered in natural fabrics—linen, silk, leather. The client liked the idea of using neutrals, so everything is covered in solid colors that are subtly related. The sofas in the living room are upholstered in oatmeal-colored linen, the chairs facing the fireplace a blue-gray linen, the ottomans a cream-colored leather. Even though the house is quite large, none of the furniture is oversized, and each conversational space is defined by an area rug.
The look is very elegant, wouldn’t you say?
Elegance is in the fabrics and details. You’ll notice that throughout the house, some chairs have skirts, some do not. Some have angular arms, others have curved ones. The key to creating elegance—especially when the color palette is so neutral—is variety in shape and size, all balanced for the space the furnishings occupy. Also, in every room, the furniture arrangements are symmetrical, even though some of the rooms themselves have curved walls.
How do accessories play in?
Accessories make or break a room. I tend to remove things and keep only what’s necessary so the room doesn’t look overthought. In the living room, for example, Kudu horns on Lucite boxes add height to a narrow mantle and provide the perfect frame to the piece of modern art. Teardrop table lamps juxtapose thin brass floor lamps.
Though the home’s color palette is low-key, the design is high-impact. How did you pull that off?
You can hide a lot of design mistakes behind bold colors, but when the color palette isn’t edgy, the home must have good architectural details and great accessories that are thoughtfully chosen. I actually removed some of the existing crown molding in places where it was just too much. Then the furniture is classic and comfy. In the end, this house is like a beautiful cashmere sweater. It looks great—and it feels even better.
CURTAIN INSTALLATION Susan Gransden, The Window Treatment Experts, Centennial, CO, email@example.com CUSTOM AREA RUG (cut and installation) Bill McLean, WD McLean, Arvada, (303) 667-5664, firstname.lastname@example.org LIVING ROOM ART, ACCESSORIES, LAMPS, PILLOWS, BOOKS, CURTAINS All available through Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net SMALL SIDE TABLE Century Furniture, style #SF5185, centuryfurniture.com TWO WOODEN END TABLES J. Alexander, (323) 753-9239, jalexanderfurniture.com SUTTON SOFAS Hickory Chair, fabric #2399-14, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com SKIRTED CHAIRS Lee Industries, product #1906-01, upholstered in Patton Pebble, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com TWO SIDE CHAIRS Lee Industries, product #5300-41, upholstered in Moonstone Blue by Kerry Joyce, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com COCKTAIL OTTOMANS Oly, upholstered in Ivory leather, Berkeley, CA, olystudio.com CHESTS OF DRAWERS Noir, Gardena, CA, noirfurniturela.com MIRRORS The Wooden Box, available through Tara Shaw Maison, New Orleans, LA, tarashaw.com AREA RUG Fibreworks, product #470 Jewel, Louisville, KY, fibreworks.com COCKTAIL AREA FOUR CHAIRS Hickory Chair, product #7637-24, upholstered in Toccata (#92507-07) by Rogers & Goffigon, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com OTTOMAN Lee Industries, product #9203-90, upholstered in Faux Silk Cream, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com AREA RUG Cowhide rug by Outpost Original, Pointe-Claire, QC Canada, (514) 687-9000, outpostoriginal.com TRAY, PILLOWS, CURTAINS Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net DINING ROOM MIRROR Soleil round mirror (9799-10) by Hickory Chair, hickorychair.com SIDEBOARD Modern History, discontinued, High Point, NC, (336) 869-9714, modernhistoryhome.com DINING CHAIRS Lee Industries, product #7750-01, upholstered in Pindler & Pindler (main, #7726 Bastogne in Natural; trim, #1656 Kapelle in Flax), Newton, NC, leeindustries.com DINING TABLE Artisan Chamfered Corner Dining Table by Hickory Chair, product #0140-71, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com CHANDELIER Festoni, style #CH-I/508, Houston, TX, festoni.com AREA RUG Safavieh, style #TOB716B in Morocco Fawn, New York, NY (212) 683-8399, safavieh.com LAMPS, SHADES ACCESSORIES Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net GREAT ROOM PILLOWS, ACCESSORIES, BOOKS, LAMPS, SMALL END TABLE Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net ANTIQUE CHEST Mrs. Howard, Atlanta, GA, (404) 816-3830, phoebehoward.net CLUB CHAIRS Lee Industries, product #3057-01, upholstered in Rex Linen, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com SKIRTED CLUB CHAIR Sherrill Furniture, product #DC-60, upholstered in Hickory Chair #2303-16, Hickory, NC, sherrillfurniture.com OTTOMAN Custom design upholstered in Hickory Chair #2303-16, Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net SMALL OTTOMANS Sherrill Furniture, product #DC-2, upholstered in #7415-399 Stockbridge Plaid/Straw Multi by Twill Textiles, Hickory, NC, sherrillfurniture.com COFFEE TABLE Bennett Galleries, style #ELT06 Italian, walnut, Knoxville, TN, bennettgalleries.com ROUND END TABLE Century Furniture, style #SF5249, centuryfurniture.com PRINTS By artist Claude Lorrain, 1774, Trowbridge Gallery, trowbridgegallery.com AREA RUG Woodburn Lake in Beige Green by Stanton Carpet Corporation, Calhoun, GA, (706) 624-9385, stantoncarpet.com UPSTAIRS SITTING AREA SOFA Lee Industries, product #1296-33 with custom skirt, upholstered in Patton Mushroom, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com PILLOWS, LAMP, SHADE Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net SMALL END TABLE Century Furniture, style #SF5201, centuryfurniture.com AREA RUG Outpost Original cowhide rug, Pointe-Claire, QC Canada, (514) 687-9000, outpostoriginal.com OTTOMAN Cocktail “Egg” Ottoman, product #7617-30, Hickory Chair, upholstered in Dudley/Taupe by Lee Industries, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com CHAIR Lee Industries, product #1844-01, upholstered in Hickory Chair #2822-18, Newton, NC, leeindustries.com MASTER BEDROOM ART, LAMPS, SHADES, BEDDING, PILLOWS Mrs. Howard, Jacksonville Beach, FL, (904) 241-1980, phoebehoward.net BENCH Hickory Chair, product #1523-30, upholstered in Napa Pearl #142 leather, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com BED Soho by Hickory Chair, product #2255-10, Hickory, NC, hickorychair.com BEDSIDE TABLES Painted Gustavian Bedside Table in antique grey by Modern History, product #MH251F01, High Point, NC, modernhistoryhome.com AREA RUG Roxie in Dolphin by Stark Carpet, starkcarpet.com