Southern Living Idea House 2013

Southern Living handpicked an all-star team to design, build, and decorate the ultimate Southern farmhouse on the grounds of Fontanel, just outside Nashville, Tennessee. The former home of country legend Barbara Mandrell was the perfect fit for the grounds, which features a main house, two guest houses and bunkies that overlook a main courtyard. Ballard Designs provided décor for the large outdoor spaces, a prominent feature of the house. We got together with Idea House designer, Phoebe Howard, to chat about the décor.

Ballard Designs: Congratulations on the 2013 Idea House. It’s beautiful. What inspired your decorating choices?

Phoebe Howard: Thank you! First and foremost, I wanted the house to be southern in feeling, of course, and as old fashioned as possible, but to function as a modern house. So I wanted to bring in classic elements of southern design – hospitality, comfort, warmth – and at the same time offer the technology and efficiency that a farmhouse couldn’t have. 

BD: What are some of the highlights of the house for you?

PH: I love the layout of the grounds, the way the houses wrap around this beautiful courtyard in the middle. It’s designed in a way that you can go off and have your privacy or you can gather together in these large main spaces. The plan is for it to become a bed and breakfast, and it’s well suited for that.

BD: The outdoor spaces, for which Ballard provided most of the décor, are a very prominent feature of the Idea House.

PH: The covered porches are very, very large – there’s 2,800 square feet of porch space! These great outdoor spaces lead into the indoor spaces, so it really invites indoor/outdoor living. That’s the way it should be. In the south we have the ability to enjoy a porch for so much of the year; it’s really a luxury. So why not enjoy it? 

BD: The front porch is amazing. It really sets the tone of the house. What was your strategy for decorating such a large space?

PH: The porch is the first thing you experience when you walk into the house, so it’s very important to the design. Such a large space gave me the opportunity to create different areas for relaxation and entertaining. My goal was the same as it was for decorating the indoors – to  design spacious areas where large groups can comfortably congregate as well as smaller, more intimate areas where a couple can go off together and have a little privacy. So there is a mix of seating and dining areas with a couple of chaises for relaxation.


Idea House 2013

BD: We have to talk about the Sunday Porch Swing. We love how you embellished it – what a great idea.

PH: It’s definitely one of the main features. A swing is such a quintessential element of the southern porch. This one is kind of a miniature version of a Charleston bed swing, which is perfect. It’s so comfortable, too. Everybody is crazy about it. In fact, we had more remarks about that porch swing than about anything else in the house! And, yes, we twisted plain rope around the chain for added detail and texture. 

BD: Let’s talk about the back porch. The space is a bit more intimate.

PH: The master bedroom, dining room and living room all open onto this porch, so it’s very much a part of these rooms. You get the feeling that after you have dinner you want to head outside and have your dessert out there or maybe a glass of wine – or sit out there in the morning and have a cup of coffee. It’s very much an integral and inviting part of the house. 

BD: There are actually two separate spaces. How did you outfit them?

PH: The dining room opens onto two facing sofas that provide lots of seating and a pretty teak coffee table with an X base, which will hold up very well outside. We also added your nesting tables that you can pull apart and move around.

On the opposite end of the porch is a TV room with four chairs arranged around a coffee table. It’s a great conversation area and a great place to watch TV. We used an indoor/outdoor rug in both areas because they’re so carefree. 

BD: Most of the main seating pieces are from our Sutton Collection. Does it suit the rustic look and feel you were going for?

PH: I think the weathered gray finish of the Sutton Collection is very pretty. It’s soft and natural and blends well with the outdoor scenery. The landscape is so lush and pastoral with rolling green hills and bright blue skies, so you’ve already got a very pretty backdrop. It’s also very comfortable, which was one of my other goals. I did mix in some accent pieces from your other collections. You have such a huge assortment of outdoor furniture, and they all mix and match easily with one another. 

BD: Speaking of Sutton, the guest house porch features the sectional. It’s nice to have a private space for guests to unwind.

PH: That sectional is so big and comfortable, so it’s perfect for lounging. I also used your ceramic coffee seats in lieu of a coffee table, so you can move them around and put them wherever you need your drink to go.


BD: Can you talk about the color palette for the porch spaces? The seat cushions, pillows and rugs are all in neutral tones – cream, taupe and mushroom.

PH: Yes, we went with big gray and white stripes on the seating and solid and print pillows to complement it – and matching rugs. I took my cues from the exterior wall paint and trim shutter color, but I love how the palette also blends with the rustic views of the landscape. It’s a very soothing and relaxing palette. 

BD: The bunkies have much smaller front porches, so not a lot of room for furniture.

PH: I added your cute café tables and chairs. They’re the perfect fit for the small porch space. The space has just enough room for a couple to sit out there for coffee in the morning. Or if you’re staying there and you’re waiting for your partner to get dressed, you can go outside and relax. It’s very pretty overlooking the courtyard.

Do you love the 2013 Idea House as much as we do? Share your feedback in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of Southern Living

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Reply


    January 28, 2021

    What is the color of the walls in the dining room?

    • Reply

      Abbey Nolte

      February 4, 2021

      Unfortunately I don’t have information on the paint. I would suggest showing this picture at the paint store and they can match it for you.
      Best of luck!

  2. Reply

    Nancy Vincent

    September 21, 2013

    Just an awesome house! What a creative idea with using the 3 sides. A beautiful home and a beautiful location.

  3. Reply

    Betsy OShea

    September 21, 2013

    No color!!its done in Sepia tones. Sorry, dont care for it. And wheres the INDIGO your email spoke about w a link to Phoebes boring space?

  4. Reply

    Linda Gass

    September 19, 2013

    I visited the Idea House last week and found every room of every building to be utterly beautiful, serene, and welcoming. The colors, textures, and patterns chosen were fantastic. Great work Ballard and Southern Living!

  5. Reply

    Sofie Kellogg

    September 19, 2013

    I love this idea house. So warm and inviting.

  6. Reply


    September 3, 2013

    I can’t wait to see the idea house! I hope to be there in two weeks!

  7. Reply

    Cynthia Malecki

    September 1, 2013

    I really love the beautifully decorated Idea House 2013. I especially love the wicker furniture and porch. The furniture chosen for the Idea House 2013 were all of my favorite styles. I love the relaxed style, the warmth, the neutral colors, the open feeling, the brightness, and the happiness it created in me when I saw this home. I would love to decorate my home just like the Idea House 2013. It gave me many ideas, and I am glad to know that Ballards is the source for these available products.

  8. Reply

    Ella Roundtree

    August 7, 2013

    Love this Ideal House. The open spaces are great. I like a lot of breeze ways and the porches take my breathe away. I can see my self walking across the wide court yard. Excellent job.

  1. Reply

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