Five-on-Fridays: Beth Webb

In Atlanta, Southern hospitality is a must and designer Beth Webb's style epitomizes gracious, elegant interiors. Beth shares her secrets for Modern Southern style: inviting entertaining spaces, great quality and a cold glass of sweet tea!

Q. Your style is really neutral and soothing, but never boring. What are your tips for making a neutral room interesting?

A. I have a dear friend here in Atlanta who asked me why I don’t do color. I said that it’s like a French woman's wardrobe: you have some basic pieces... you dress it up and dress it down. I've always edited that way; I think it's my Scottish heritage. I tell my clients that I'm Polly Practical. I always like having a neutral canvas to work on.

I don't like to think that anything I'm doing for someone is going to be out of fashion in another two years. So, in order to make it interesting, I think you have to layer it with texture.

When you think texture, you think multi-layered, but patent leather can be a texture, too. On a recent trip to Paris, I was fascinated by one chair where they had juxtaposed a rough tweed with a silk sateen. Although it was a dead neutral gray palette, it was interesting because it modulated your eye; it changed how your eye sees the piece of furniture. It actually turned a Louis XV chair into something that was totally modern.

I also love the collected look that you build over the years when you travel. Every time I add one thing to my house, it startles me and I have to get used to it. It reminds me of what Coco Chanel would do: put everything on, but then take one thing off.

Jackie O Table
Click to learn more about Jackie O Table
Luna Globe
Click to learn more about Luna Globe
Flaunt Rug
Click to learn more about Flaunt Rug

Sitting room with bronze O-ring table

Q. As Southern style evolves into a more modern look, what would you say defines this kind of "New Southern" style?

A. I know a lot of people who were wedded to that sort of traditional Southern interior, but with global commerce and access to so many things, people really want a little more eclecticism in their interiors. I think this is molding the "New Southern." They want to have more contrast.

Southerners really live in our houses, probably more so than other places. We’re big on hospitality. Everyone wants their home to be inviting, but most of all they want it to be comfortable. I refuse to do a room that's not comfortable. I want my clients to sit on every piece of furniture that we purchased for them. It’s rare that I have bought upholstery for a client that they have not sat in personally, because everyone’s derriere is different!

Vintage Flaxseed Scraper
Click to learn more about Vintage Flaxseed Scraper

Q. Do you feel like your clients are gravitating more towards contemporary art?

A. I think because of my background as an art dealer and art history major, I find that is absolutely the most eclectic way to update.You can take 19th-century paintings, juxtapose them with a contemporary work on paper and transform them all.

There has also been a whole influx of mid-century modern, and so many of those pieces can be transitional and elegant. I’ll take an antique French chair, pair it with a mid-century modern piece and really change up the mix.

Q. What are a few things that you encourage people to invest in when people ask for that "New Southern" look?

A. I do think that we will have that return to elegance, quality and luxury. I often will take clients to the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center and tell them to look at a piece of Gregorius Pineo, then I take them to another store so they can see the difference in the finishes. I encourage them to look at a French polish as opposed to a plain old stain.

In France and Berlin and Prague, you see exquisite craftsmanship everywhere you go. Value engineering was not in anyone's vocabulary when they were building those five-star hotels. Today, we have gotten into “fast food decorating.” Our immediate gratification culture is evident with the way our clients are working with us.

However, I see the pendulum swinging back to wanting a custom piece of furniture and willingness to wait for quality. There's great design at a low level and then there's fabulous design at an extraordinary level. For instance, the designer Muriel Grateau... when I saw her work on the Left Bank in Paris, I stopped dead in my tracks. Her things were riveting and exquisitely beautiful.

What I saw on my last trip to Paris is going to influence everything I do for the next year. I’m tired of "do it yourself," of compromising quality for the sake of value engineering. I convey to every one of my clients the importance of doing it right the first time. My advice: don't succumb to immediate gratification; hold off on spending your money until you can buy exactly what you want.

Q. What are your favorite space-defining elements that you see consistently running through Southern interiors?

A. There's a pivotal part of every Southern house and that is a sunroom or a loggia. So much of our design hinges around that outdoor room because we spend a great deal of time there, except around late August and early September, though we do spend time there at night. And because we live in a town that has four real seasons, you can literally have the living room outdoors if you have an outdoor fireplace.

I get invited to more people's homes here than anywhere else I've lived. The dinner party is a dying art, but I consider it the greatest luxury in the world to have my friends over for dinner. I love to cook and I especially love to do Sunday supper. I prefer a round dining table and comfortable dining chairs are a must. I think that’s part of Southern hospitality.

Again, I'll stress the comfort factor. Southerners don't like things to be forbidding. You go to a Park Avenue house in New York and you're afraid to sit down on the sofa. But in almost all of the Atlanta homes I visit, there's not a room that you walk into, even a formal living room, that isn’t comfortable.

My mother hosts Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. She has 50 guests for lunch on Christmas Day. I grew up in Tennessee and we have a farm in Alabama. The two most important parts of the farm are the screened porch and the huge, long dining table. The table is the heart of the home, where all the conversations happen and where all the stories are told.

Gear Table
Click to learn more about Gear Table

Grey velvet with African wood stool

Southern must: a comfortable sunroom

Beth's Words of Wisdom:

  • I love a round dining table and very comfortable dining chairs because if you've gone to all that trouble to do dinner, you don't want them to just jump up!

  • Don't succumb to immediate gratification. Do what the French do: don't put it in until you can buy exactly what it is you want.
  • I refuse to do a room that's not comfortable. I want my clients to sit on every piece of furniture that we purchase for them.
  • The dinner party is a dying art. I consider it the greatest luxury in the world to have my friends over for dinner and I think that is a really Southern thing.
Luna Globe
Click to learn more about Luna Globe
Clarksdale Screen
Click to learn more about Clarksdale Screen
Solid Pewter Cocktail Shaker
Click to learn more about Solid Pewter Cocktail Shaker
Charlton Wall Light
Click to learn more about Charlton Wall Light