Phoebe Howard is a major force in the design world. In addition to being a well respected interior designer and one of the foremost authorities on Southern Style, Phoebe is a keen business woman with a strong business acumen. In 1996, she and her husband, Jim opened their first store, Mr & Mrs Howard in Jacksonville, Florida in a building that had previously been a grocery store. Their hope was to demystify the design process for their customers while showcasing Jim’s architectural talents and Phoebe’s aesthetic and expertise as a merchandiser. The store was a hit and the Howards opened their second store, Max & Company five years later. In the years that followed, they went on to expand their stores to Jacksonville Beach, Atlanta, and Charlotte.
Phoebe has also penned two books, The Joy of Decorating: Southern Style with Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Howard: Room by Room and has a third one in the works! When I am in High Point, I always make sure to visit the Mr. & Mrs. Howard showroom to see the latest offerings in their beautifully executed furniture collection with Sherrill. I admire Phoebe for many reasons– she is gracious and always makes you feel welcome; she has a wicked sense of humor and is completely down to earth, she exudes Southern style, and she is a wonderful example for so many. She is self-taught and has built an illustrious career through hard-work, talent, and the inner wisdom to know which risks were worth taking. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Phoebe a bit more today!
Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style?
Phoebe Howard: I am a traditional Southern decorator, keeping my focus on creating timeless, classic, comfortable, and beautiful interiors. I like to mix different periods, and my rooms always contain a mix of old and new. I am a color controller. I love to mix patterns and play with scale, but I usually keep my color palette restrained to just a few colors per room. I love to create rooms that are tranquil and peaceful, rooms that take the edge off. I am not trendy, but my rooms might contain a trendy object or two. I want to create spaces that will be appropriate and valid in twenty years, not something that bears an expiration date. Most of all, my style is really my client’s style, I am just a vehicle that is used for their self expression and happiness.
PC: Has living in the South influenced your aesthetic in any way?
PH: Absolutely! Southerners are very serious about decorating and keeping a proper household. The hallmarks of any great Southern home are that it is clean, welcoming, comfortable, and usually with a relation of indoors to outdoors. Having a beautiful and hospitable space is a way we show love to one another. We love our family heirlooms, as well as the rituals that are passed from generation to generation. I think our homes just mean a lot to us, maybe more so than in other parts of the country. I like to say that decorating in the South is a blood sport!
PC: What does your home say about you?
PH: Our home is fairly neutral, full of art, books and our favorite objects. Every room is comfortable and intended for us to enjoy it whether we are alone, or with our large family. We moved two years ago to be closer to our kids and grandkids, and we now have the needed toy areas, high chairs and play pens. Jim and I want our house to always feel like a happy house, so whenever the kids come to visit, we make sure all the lights are on, and that it feels inviting and special.
PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?
PH: Mostly to nature. I was raised on the beach in Florida and I think that people who grow up on the water are different. I am very rooted to the sand, water and sky that was so much a part of my life as a child, and I think it shows in my work every day. I think every color, pattern and texture can be found in nature, so that is where my mind usually goes when thinking about where to start with a new project. I know that a lot of people say they are inspired by travel, but travel usually just wears me out. I can find inspiration all around me every day, you just have to look.
PC: Who are your personal style icons?
PH: I love great Southern female decorators: Jackye Lanham, Bunny Williams, Charlotte Moss, Suzanne Rhinestein . Especially those who carry the torch of Southern decorating in other parts of the country, and never lose their roots.
PC: What is your guilty pleasure?
PH: Jelly beans and Pinot Noir!
PC: Who or what has been your greatest professional influence?
PH: My husband Jim. We have been married for 30 years and business partners for 20. We have learned over the years that working together has become a mutually rewarding and inspiring experience. Jim is always there for me for help, or advice, or just support. He always listens and is careful with his replies, he is a very thoughtful and purposeful man. I am lucky and I know it.
PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?
PH: Actually the simplest of things: being with my family at a Sunday dinner, enjoying time with our parents, or just sitting on the beach at sunset with our toes in the water, having a cocktail. I am a person who travels a lot and I love to be home not doing very much at all.
PC: What can we look forward to next from you?
PH: I am currently working on my third book, Coastal Blues: Decorating with the Colors of the Sea and the Sky. It will publish in Spring of 2018. It is all about the color blue, beach houses, and the many complexities and variations of blue and all of it’s combinations. We continue to grow and expand our line of furniture: Mr. and Mrs. Howard for Sherrill Furniture. They have been wonderful partners for us and we continue to create furniture that we find is not in the marketplace, and we buy it not only for our stores, but also for our projects as well. Heading to High Point for our new launch as we speak. Our stores, Mrs Howard, and Max and Company, continue to flourish and are a never ending source of pleasure and inspiration for our loyal and very appreciated customers. I am currently working on decorating projects in Palm Beach, Boca Grande, Jacksonville, , New York, Reno, Charlotte, Atlanta, Asheville, just to name a few. We are heading to Europe for an antique buying trip in a couple of weeks, and also plan to visit our new granddaughter, Violet! We can’t wait to meet her!
Go-To Outfit: black pencil skirt and a silky top, and they need to travel well!
Style Mantra: Keep it simple
Scent: none, I am allergic to most fragrance
Piece of Jewelry: my heart shaped wedding ring, we got married on Valentines Day
Color I Never Tire Of: Blue
Flower: light pink peonies
Indispensable Design Element: antiques
Era for Design: I love the heyday of the 80”s Mario Buatta times, with all the chintz and tasseled pillows. I miss the exuberance of that decorating style.
Dream Project: Working for clients who are experienced and trusting, and who know what they want
Fabric/Textile: My two favorite companies are Cowtan and Tout, and Rogers and Goffigon. They are my go to’s.
Hostess Gift: I usually take a nice bottle of wine
Meal: grilled salmon and a green salad or vegetables
Drink: I love my two friends Ketel and One
Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: Drink
3 Things I Love About My City of Jacksonville, FL: The water, the casual attitude, and the close proximity of most of my family
Weekend Destination: The Hamptons
Hotel: I love the Mark in NY
Museum: The Louvre
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: anything by Al Green
Actor: Maggie Smith
Prized Possession: a stone bear that my brother Wade carved
Risk Worth Taking: Buying really fine antiques for the stores
Greatest Extravagance: Buying expensive cars, its so worth it
Go-To Color Palette: Soft grey blue green and ivory
Rule to Break: Don’t spoil grandchildren
Movie Set Design: Somethings Got To Give
I can never have too many…Books