Podcast, Episode 21: with “The Professor” Phil Lancaster

"The Professor" Phil Lancaster joins the podcast to share all his knowledge about furniture and antiques

It took some persuasion, but we finally got our Senior Director of Merchandising Phil Lancaster, or “The Professor,” on the podcast! Phil knows it all, teaches us some furniture history, tells us all about how furniture is made, what you need to look for, and generally schools us on the nitty gritty details of furniture and antiques. If you’re wondering how to look for quality in your next furniture piece, this is the episode you need to listen to.

The table setting from Caroline’s ‘triumph’

What You’ll Hear on This Episode

  • We start off with a furniture lesson on modern vs. contemporary
  • How does modern differ from mid-century modern?
  • What’s going to make it from the furniture being created right now? How do we know what will last?
  • There’s a lot of innovation around lighting right now in new types of light bulbs
  • We discuss light bulbs and why the color they give off is so important
  • What’s the difference between an antique and vintage
  • We talk about his 100 year old house, how he bought it from the original owners, and how he loves the hunt
  • How important it is to talk to antique dealers when you’re out hunting for things
  • What we look for when we’re going on one of our big antique shopping trips
  • How to shop for a wooden antique — open the drawers, look at the back, examine the construction to know whether it’s well-made
  • We ask Phil about his favorite interior designer and artist
  • We talk about furniture styles, how the style Ballard is known for differs from Phil’s own aesthetic, and the fact that good design is good design
  • We talk about why we use MDF to manufacture furniture and why you shouldn’t assume something made from MDF is poor quality
  • Taryn tells us a story about a mahogany table she sent to a furniture show and why real wood isn’t always better
  • We talk about kiln dried wood — if you remove the moisture from the wood, it’s less likely
  • We talk about teak and why you remove the moisture from teak
  • We dive into upholstery and the four main parts — the frame, the suspension, the cushion, and the cover
  • Phil jumps on his soapbox about the pitch of upholstery and why it’s the most important quality about your furniture piece’s comfort
  • We talk about what 8-way hand tied is and why you don’t need it anymore
  • Phil tells us about cushion construction and what’s on the inside of your sofa

Decorating Dilemmas

Hello Ladies of Ballard,

I absolutely adore your podcast, y’all are so fun and have such great insight! My decorating dilemma is that we live in a 1910’s house that has a central bath with no windows. The bathroom serves as both our primary powder room for the living space and also our guest bathroom. The bathroom is arranged with a toilet/vanity area (a “Powder Room area”) with a shower area beyond separated by a wall and glass door, the shower itself is quite cavernous! We are getting ready to do a full renovation of the space and I’m looking for ways to make the space feel lighter and brighter while keeping the space period appropriate. I should mention a skylight is out of the question. Do you have any ideas on how I can make this dark, dismal bathroom feel lighter and more luxurious for our guests?

Keep up the great work with the podcast! 


We all agree that you need tons of lighting. Taryn mentions how lots of hotels have bathrooms without windows because they’re on the interior of the window. They’ll have strips of lighting around the mirror in addition to decorative sconces right at eye level. Phil mentions certain types of ceiling lighting that almost look like natural light. Focus on lots of lighting, and lots of different types of lighting. Recess lighting, sconces at eye level, and maybe even the lights behind the mirrors are all great ways to increase the amount of lighting. Phil mounted his sconces on top of a plain mirror so that the mirror reflects the light back into the room. 

Of course paint colors and tile colors are important to help the space feel light and bright. Even consider a wallpaper with metallic in it or a very reflective glass subway tile so that the actual wall material will reflect the light from all of your beautiful lighting that you’re putting in!

Definitely put a dimmer in this bathroom so that when guests come over they feel warm and cozy.

Phil Lancaster's 100 year old Craftsman home in Atlanta

Show Notes:

Please send in your questions so we can answer them on our next episode! And of course, please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes so you never miss and episode. Of course, you can always check back here to see new episodes, but if you subscribe, it’ll automatically download to your phone.

Happy Decorating!

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.


  1. Reply


    February 18, 2019

    Phil is my favorite guest so far. I learned so much. I too was getting annoyed by the interruptions.

  2. Reply


    July 23, 2017

    Oh my goodness, please have Phil back! I love the podcast, but this one was just particularly informative and interesting. Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

  3. Reply


    June 23, 2017

    Your “chattiness” is what makes your podcast! Often I love the banter between you three more than the guest! Don’t let that comment change anything…I love the three of you and how you interact with each other. I feel like I have learned so much from this podcast. I would hate for the three of you to restrain yourselves just because of a hateful, catty comment. Love you ladies.

  4. Reply


    June 23, 2017

    Five stars for Phil! What a wealth of knowledge. I agree with previous review…interruptions very distracting. Favorite guest on podcast thus far!

  5. Reply


    June 15, 2017

    I give this Phil Lancaster’s contribution to this podcast five stars because of his depth of knowledge, ease of conversation and graciouslness. I must say, however, that I was quite distracted and annoyed by the number of times he was interrupted mid-sentence by a question that would have been answered had you allowed him to simply finish his response. So, I give whoever kept interrupting him a definite one star, and respectfully ask that in the future you try to hold your questions to the end and ask them only if they have not already been answered.

    I listen to your podcasts because your guests offer a wealth of knowledge which they very generously share with your listeners. The lead in chatter can be tedious to get through, and I often feel as though I’m listening in on a conversation among members of a sorority who have already split a bottle of wine before they started their chat. This detracts from the helpful hints you often bury amidst the conversation.

    Excuse me if this seems harsh, but I assume you are looking for constructive criticism, and this is my honest opinion.

    • Reply

      Caroline McDonald

      June 15, 2017

      Phil does have an incredible wealth of knowledge, so I’m glad you enjoyed this episode.
      Thank you for your candid feedback. You’re totally right, we often do get too chatty, so we will take that constructive criticism to heart.
      Thanks for listening!