Text: Karen Carroll
Southern Home (SH): What’s the most rewarding thing about being a designer?
Mallory Mathison Glenn (MMG): Helping someone feel like their home is the place where they’re happiest and most comfortable. Other than your children, your home is probably the biggest reflection of you. And it’s probably a lot easier to control than your kids!
MMG: I like a house where you know it feels good as soon as you walk in, but you can’t pinpoint one specific thing that evokes that emotion. However, people coming to us will often immediately reference the way we use color. It’s such a powerful tool, and we make sure there is one color or a few colors that appear very subtly or very boldly in every single room to tie the house together. As important as color is, though, so is knowing when to pull it back. We might have really saturated upholstery or curtains and then something softer on the wall, like a warm white that almost recedes into the background. But I’ve never done a fully white house—I don’t think anyone’s coming to us for that look.
MMG: My father was a Methodist minister and my mother, an artist, and I grew up living in parsonages. We weren’t able to do much to renovate those houses, but my mother could transform the kitchen by painting it peacock blue. I remember in one house we had a dining room with black walls, white curtains, and pink chairs. I definitely come from a long line of very creative women—floral arrangers, artists, and hostesses. But my own love of interiors sparked from miniatures and my dollhouses. I’d decorate them with handkerchiefs for curtains, and we’d go to the paint store and thumb through wallpaper books to order samples to paper the rooms. I started working for an interior designer running errands and such while I was still in high school and studied interior design and art history at the University of Alabama. By then, I already knew the difference between a pinstripe and a ticking stripe and a lot of backroom things you don’t get taught in school. For each class assignment, we’d have to create a story around the character who would live in whatever style house we were designing, and I loved thinking through every detail of their imaginary lives. After graduation, I worked for a couple of Atlanta designers—Dan Carithers and Judy Bentley—before eventually opening my own firm. So decorating is the only real job I’ve ever had.
MMG: We have a set of 200 or so questions, and we start out with what memories do you have of a home that made you feel comfortable, nostalgic, and happy? Maybe it was the house you grew up in, or an aunt’s, or a stylish lady who lived down the street. And we continue drilling all the way down to things like favorite color, flower, and scent—elements we can use to speak to that person’s preferences.
MMG: I actually keep a list in my office, but off the top of my head: A mix of art styles, from traditional oil landscapes with contemporary art to abstracts with impressionist watercolors. I can never get enough of blanc de chine. Classical motifs like Greek key. Black lacquered doors—I think I’ve had them in every house I’ve ever lived in. Things that change and age over time, such as natural marble and unlacquered brass. I consider celadon a neutral that works with almost everything. A little bit of ruffles, pleats, and bows goes a long way. Engraved silver or antique embroidered linens—it doesn’t matter if it’s someone else’s monogram. I could keep going …
SH: Your rooms are deftly layered, and we can see you pay meticulous attention to the relatively smallest of details.
MMG: When we’re presenting a scheme to a client, we’re thorough about the big ideas, and then our office gets to work brainstorming about the tiny things that can really elevate the design and special touches the clients won’t usually know about until installation. For example, we recently completed a little girl’s room, and inside the drawer of her bedside table, we had an artist paint the words to her favorite lullaby. If we have something like a hand-painted wallpaper from Gracie, we’ll etch the homeowners’ initials in a tree trunk. Or we’ll line the inside of a closet cupboard with a fabric and embroider their names. These are the types of details most guests will never see, but in this Instagram world where so much is public, having small moments meant just for you and your family feels all the more important.
SH: OK, now we’re tempted to open drawers and peek in closets whenever we’re in a Mallory-designed house, but we’ll try to mind our manners. What are a few of your favorite tricks of the trade that are more immediately visible?
MMG: If you’re going to see a curtain from the outside, we’ll use a little floral print or pinstripe for the lining. On upholstery, we’ll design a contrasting welt on almost every piece—even if it’s the same color family, it will be in a different fabric. And we’re kind of crazy about our lampshades. We do a lot of custom shades with fabric, but we’ve also embellished store-bought ones with a ribbon design on the top and bottom or with a painted edge. Recently for a family studio/craft area/laundry room, we took white paper lampshades and had the kids do handprints around them in different colors. That was fun and personal, and it’s rare to find artists who will work for free!
MMG: I’m sort of a “do as I say, not as I do” person because I have fine things in my house that I let the kids and dogs run all over. I remind myself not to worry; it’s just stuff. I have a linen velvet sofa you can tell every time someone’s been sitting down, because there’s an imprint when they get up. It’s a good thing I love a lived-in look. I also make sure to use a lot of patterned fabrics, as they can hide a lot of sins. However, when someone says they want a maintenance-free house—and I hear that a lot—it’s a worthy goal but pretty impossible to attain. Your body isn’t maintenance free, your car isn’t maintenance free, and your house isn’t going to be either, unless you’re paying someone else to do it for you 24/7.
MMG: Live what you love. That’s kind of it. Sure, I have personal rules that have come through years of experience and realizing what truly works, but I’m always open to a fresh perspective and trying something new. No guts, no glory.
SH: We always applaud a fresh take on the tried and true, but before we go, could you name the one print or pattern you’ll absolutely never tire of?
MMG: Our team plays a little game where we each choose what we call a personality fabric. Mine is one I’ve been obsessed with for over 20 years, Pillement by Brunschwig & Fils [editor’s note: seen in the designer’s portrait]. It’s a colorful glazed chintz, a large-scale chinoiserie that depicts life’s happy times, such as people dancing and playing instruments, a mother with her children, a couple stealing a moment underneath a pagoda. It’s whimsical, filled with joy, and classic. Hopefully, that describes me, too.