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Q& A With Interior Designer Phoebe Howard

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By Terri Sapienza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phoebe Howard was a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother when she decided to start decorating. Years later, she began taking private clients, and her first project landed on the September 2006 cover of House Beautiful magazine.

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Today, Howard's name is widely recognized in the design world, and her work has become synonymous with Southern style: rooms so comfortable and inviting they make you want to sit down and stay awhile. She has been featured in countless shelter publications, including Elle Decor, Southern Accents and Traditional Home, and images of her soft, pretty spaces turn up almost weekly on design blogs. She and her husband, Jim, also an interior decorator, are owners of eight home furnishings stores in four Southern cities: Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, Fla.; Atlanta; and, as of next month, Charlotte. The next place they set up shop just may be Washington, Howard says.

It all started when Howard, now 51, suggested to her husband that they open a store. Her idea was a place to showcase Jim's design work (he designs the spaces, lays out the rooms, and selects the flooring and lighting) and to show customers how to properly place furniture (the shops are arranged in a series of room vignettes).

"It's all about helping customers figure out the mysteries of scale, proportion and balance," Howard says. The result was a high-end home furnishings shop that opened in 1996 in their home town, Jacksonville. They named the store Mrs. Howard (http://www.phoebehoward.net). "It was an instant hit," she says.

Five years later they opened a more modern and moderately priced shop, Max & Company (named after Phoebe's son). While Mrs. Howard is more classic and traditional, with upscale furniture, upholstery, rugs and antiques, the offerings at Max & Company are more casual and affordable to appeal to a younger crowd. "Max & Company is like walking through a beach house," says Howard, who is the buyer, decorator, stylist and manager for the stores. "Mrs. Howard is like walking through a grand Southern home."

For nine years the self-taught decorator used the stores as a training ground, and the experience eventually led to her taking on clients of her own. "That's how I taught myself how to decorate," Howard says. "When you sell off the floor, you have to fill that space fast."

Howard spoke to us by phone from Jacksonville about decorating and her favorite paint colors, palettes and furniture pieces.

How would you describe your style?

It has a timeless quality, because I mix antiques with modern pieces. A hallmark of my style is that I use color in a monochromatic way. When you limit color contrast, it brings a sense of calm, order and serenity to a room, even if the colors are vibrant.

What is your decorating philosophy?


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