Text by Karen Carroll
Southern Home (SH): Who first encouraged your creative talents?
Leta Austin Foster (LAF): I was fortunate to grow up in Florida close to my grandmother, and I used to redecorate her house all the time in my mind. Now, looking back on it, I realize I would actually leave it exactly the way it was. Both she and the house were wonderful. She loved setting afternoon tea. And I can still picture her gardening in a printed chiffon dress, a double strand of pearls, and a big hat. She always knew exactly what and where she wanted things planted.
SH: We’re almost envisioning a Nancy Lancaster-like figure.
LAF: Funny you should say that, as my grandmother was Nancy Lancaster’s cousin and a Langhorne from Virginia. I never met Nancy, but I admire her tremendously.
SH: Do you consider Lancaster to be an influence in your work? We can spot a nod to English country house style in some of your rooms.
LAF: Well, I did intern with Colefax and Fowler and the great Imogen Taylor in my younger days, but I probably have drawn more inspiration from Parish-Hadley. A few years ago, there was a published illustrated family tree of American decorators. It starts off at the trunk with legends such as Ruby Ross Wood and Elsie de Wolfe, then it branches into Albert Hadley and Sister Parish and such, and then other decorators leaf out from there. I’m a leaf on the Sister Parish branch.
SH: Sounds like both your family trees—the real one and the imagined—are pretty fine company to be in. How would you describe your own aesthetic today?
LAF: That’s always a bit hard because, as a designer, you go where you’re hired. I’m hired so much for traditional work, but I think my style is more of a blend. You might call it transitional traditional—traditional redone for comfort. You could even say it’s modernism taken back for beauty. It would be hard for me to walk into a room done in all beige or gray and want to live there, although I can appreciate it. But if the only color I’m going to get is from a vase of flowers, then it’s just not for me.
SH: Let’s explore that subject of color since this is our color issue. Do you happen to have a favorite?
LAF: I love blue, but sometimes it’s more about what I’m feeling at that moment. What I don’t believe in is this “color of the year” business, unless it’s one you truly love. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on a room, the last thing you want to feel is that it will be out-of-date the next year.