I’ve spent my life in various parts of the South—from Appalachian North Carolina to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the coastal empire of Georgia. While cultural differences certainly exist among those locales, they’re all part of the Southern fabric. The thread of commonality is stitched in the thresholds of the houses peppering their landscapes.
The essence of Southern homes is elusive. Is it the smell of home cooking? The sight of meticulously preserved family heirlooms situated among modern buys? The feel of a well-worn quilt? Or perhaps the sound of family and friends filling the space? From log cabins to coastal retreats, Southern homes are sensory experiences—sonic, tactile, aromatic, visual—designed to embrace visitors in the residential equivalent of your grandmother’s hugs.
Whether you live in a new-build home or a centuries-old charmer, Southern homes tend to feel like they’ve always been there. That evergreen feeling often stems from architectural elements. A wraparound porch. Floor-to-ceiling windows. An elevated foundation. The list goes on and on. These facets are not only beautiful, they have their roots in practicality.
In the days before air conditioning—gasp!—large porches served as a space to comfortably entertain guests in the heat of the day, and the space also sheltered the structural walls of the house from the glaring sun. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed more light and air into the home and acted as both a window and a door. Elevated foundations helped eliminate issues with flooding, and visually made the home appear to be on a pedestal of sorts.
Maybe you don’t have the budget to replace all the windows in your house, but why not incorporate a few smaller elements? Decorative corbels give instant charm to cased openings in your home. Glass or cast iron knobs transport your doors to another time. Wainscoting paired with a chair rail in the dining room elevates the feel from basic to cozy. Even outside, a classic “haint blue” porch ceiling and engraved door knocker usher good vibes into your home time and time again.
It’s no secret that Southerners love to share stories, so naturally that predisposition informs our interior design choices. From family heirlooms to historic memorabilia, these touches of the past give Southern homes a feeling of warmth, of being larger than life. Recently, my father called and said, “You’ll never guess what I found in the shed. An old wooden ox yoke, passed down from my mom’s side of the family, it seems. I think I’ll hang it in the kitchen!” Not long before that, I helped a family friend vet options to display his collection of Confederate currency. If an object has a story, you can bet it’ll find its way to a Southern home, so that story can be told and retold for visitors to come.
To infuse this feeling of generations past, look no further than your grandparent’s attic, your local antique store, or a flea market. A large stainless steel bucket holds towels in your guest bathroom. A porcelain vase transforms into a utensil bin in the kitchen. A collection of antique plates creates an eye-catching art installation in the dining room. Each piece is a conversation starter.
Let’s be honest, I can’t talk about Southern style without mentioning personalization. It’s unlikely you’ll find many Southern homes that lack personal touches. It’s this character, this lived-in feeling, that makes your visitors feel comfortable. Generally speaking, people don’t enjoy homes that feel like a museum, so infuse personality in your space.
From monogrammed slipcovers on dining chairs, to wooden door hangers with your last name, to family photos and portraits scattered around the house, it’s easy to let your guests know they’ve entered a home, and they can kick off their shoes and get comfortable.
IT’S NO SECRET THAT SOUTHERNERS LOVE TO SHARE STORIES, SO NATURALLY THAT PREDISPOSITION INFORMS OUR INTERIOR DESIGN CHOICES.
Above all else, a Southern home is designed for entertaining. Whether it’s neighbors coming from down the block or relatives coming from across the country, our homes are curated for optimal guest comfort. That hospitality takes many forms, depending on the length of the visit, but it all comes down to convenience.
If I think back on my visits to various Southern homes in my life, themes immediately emerge. Candy dishes on the coffee table. Fresh pitchers of sweet tea at the ready. Hand-sewn quilts draped across the foot of the bed for an unexpected nighttime chill. Cozy couches and front porch rockers that beg you to sit a spell. Conversations so engaging that everyone perches around the kitchen instead of using those comfy couches and chairs. Southern homes are all about community—creating spaces for family and friends to enjoy fun and fellowship.
The welcoming aura of a Southern home is manifest in the physical objects, but it’s the people in the home that exude true Southern style. So, go ahead, wrap your visitors in a big Southern hug and create the full sensory experience.