We often say that the goal of decorating your home is to express your personality through furniture, art, and accessories, and walking into interior designer Maggie Griffin’s home, it’s evident she’s done just that. Her 1940’s brick cottage is layered, inviting, warm, and has an irresistible Southern charm that draws you in. She masterfully uses wallpaper throughout the house, has curated a gorgeous collection of art, and mixes family heirlooms with recent finds.
Ballard Designs: It’s hard to even know where to start because there are so many things to love about your home! One of your strengths is obviously mixing patterns and colors together. You do it fearlessly. What’s your secret?
Maggie Griffin: My house is always changing. I love adding a new pillow here and there, rearranging art work, or swapping around my lamps. Keeping my upholstery pieces neutral is key. I love a light, linen-textured upholstery fabric on my big pieces — it allows me to change up other accessories in the room. Also, basic floor coverings are beneficial, like large seagrass rugs. I swap my runners around and my cow hides too. I think it keeps things interesting and plus, its fun!
BD: I have to say, in your living room, your TV trick is so clever. You’re hiding it behind an old painting that folds open. You say this is where your whole family — which I have to add includes your two young sons — hangs out. It’s so classic and put together for a family den.
MG: Hiding the TV with the split Chinese screen was a trick I’ve been trying to do forever! My contractor helped me obtain my vision, and I’m so pleased with it. The screen was an inexpensive thrift store find and happened to be the right size to cover the television. We never used this room before we installed the TV, but now, its where we all hang out.
Nothing in our home is too precious, although its all covered in a few layers of Scotch Guard to protect it from little hands and feet! I’ve used durable surfaces that don’t detract from my aesthetic. The seagrass rug hides a multitude of sins, and you literally can’t hurt the hide rug. The wood coffee table has been wonderful for PlayDoh, Legos, and puzzles.
BD: One thing that really struck me in your living room is how your furniture arrangement is mostly asymmetrical, but you bring in tons of symmetry too. Talk to us a little bit about that.
MG: Symmetry puts my mind at ease. I always say that nothing makes me happier than a pair! I do love creating symmetry where I can, but so as not to make things too rigid, throw in that asymmetrical element, like the chair near our fireplace. I had the pair of bookcases built and wired with the library lights, to bring in scale and a place for my design books, family photos, and my coral collection. The long butcher table, with a pair of lamps, gives me a place to tuck baskets underneath for toys and blankets.
BD: The whole back span of your home is basically an open space. It can be really challenging to break a large room into smaller, purposeful zones. Tell us how you’ve done that here and what types of things we should all consider when we’re doing that ourselves.
MG: This back space of our house is where the majority of our living happens. Having the three distinct spaces (breakfast, keeping, and kitchen) allows us to be together in a room that has many functions for our family. Using the rug in front of the fireplace clearly defines that space and warms that spot. I am not a huge proponent of rugs under dining tables since i have messy little ones! But the breakfast table is where we eat in the winter months when its too cold to dine on the porch. We use the fireplace a ton in these colder months. I love to cook, so the keeping room area lets our guests relax while I cook. The settee belonged to my grandmother, and I’ve used it in all of our kitchens over the years.
BD: I love the way you use serve ware and plates as wall decor. Talk to us about collecting these pieces and how you create just the right arrangement.
MG: Mixing high and low is my jam! Arround the TV in the breakfast room, I have several pieces of antique English creamware mixed in with antique store finds and Target platters. I’m also obsessed with the oyster plate collection in my dining rom and felt it needed to be seen. Hanging them in symmetrical arrangements on our grasscloth walls creates a little wow factor. One can only have so many paintings, prints, and mirrors on the wall, and using plates as wall decor is a nice break from so many square objects.
BD: You’ve used a warm, caramel colored grasscloth wallpaper in your dining room, and in fact, you’ve used grasscloth in several different rooms. Why not just paint the wall. What’s special about grasscloth?
MG: I love a grasscloth! My college condo had grasscloth, and the texture was so fun! In my own home, I love that it provides a neutral, warm backdrop without adding another large scaled pattern. Although, as you can see, I do love my wallpaper too! The dining room grasscloth is a fun contrast to the white shiplap below. Dining rooms can often be cold, so I felt it cozied up the room. I used a printed grasscloth as an accent wall in the keeping area, kind of distinguishing that spot from the other two sections of the room. I used a grasscloth with a little sheen for fun in the powder room too.
BD: Can I just say that your table settings are dreamy! What’s the first thing you do when you’re setting a table? How do you start?
MG: Setting my tables makes me so happy, and I am so grateful for my mother and grandmothers teaching me to do it. I have 6 china patterns so I love mixing them in different combinations. I usually begin with the charger/plate/salad plate combination and add in a fun linen napkin, interesting flatware, and pretty glasses. The centerpiece is the finishing touch, depending on how much room I have left on the table. I love my tortoise glasses from Ballard, as they add a handsome, textural element to my table. I found a huge set of brass and wood flatware at an antique mall last year, and love combining that with the tortoise glasses and my simple white dinnerware. Throw in a printed linen napkin and I am a happy girl!
BD: You’ve got tons of colorful art in all sorts of styles. How do you build a room with so many different styles and colors and still create a cohesive space?
MG: Speaking again to the neutral furniture and rugs, I love combining styles of art. I truly believe if you have a beautiful thing next to a beautiful thing, the combo always works. The mix is what makes it “ours” — anything from antique landscapes, reproduction prints, or contemporary abstracts. I used our tiny foyer as a gallery space, where sentimental family pieces hang next to works I’ve found or are by my many talented friends.
BD: I’ve noticed that most of your upholstered pieces and even your rugs are pretty neutral. How do you know when to choose something subtle and where to make a statement?
MG: I love throwing in patterns on my comfy pillows and soft window treatments…nothing too bold but perhaps a bit interesting. Adding a trim detail, or contrast fabric can go a long way in making a statement on those soft accessories. After all, “the love is in the details!” Using classic patterns like chinoiserie, toile, check, or stripes keeps things from looking trendy.
BD: You have a lot of vintage pieces. Where do you shop for them, and how do you approach mixing old and new pieces together?
MG: I am thankful to have amazing family pieces that have been handed down to me. I feel like I hit the jackpot when my mother offers me something! Along the way, I have also gathered pieces that I love, mostly from small antique shops and from Scott’s Antique Market. Pieces with a little scratch or patina give character to a house. I am uncomfortable in spaces that feel like a showroom, and want our family and our guests to feel comfortable when they visit.
BD: Of course we love the Antelope Rug in your nursery. Tell us about decorating this sweet, little space. Was it challenging to work around the sloped ceiling?
MG: The sloped ceiling is one of the many characteristics I find charming about our 1940’s cottage. Adding the grasscloth to the walls only accented them, to create a cozy space for my 6 month old Samuel. I wanted his room to be comfortable, and to grow with him, like I did for my oldest, Henry. I was able to reuse all the baby pieces from Henry’s nursery, like the bed, bedding, the pram, the glider and ottoman. Adding the antelope rug on the floor warmed the space and gave us a place to play. I grabbed a pine dresser from Scott’s Antique Market and found a few vintage paint-by-numbers for the nursery and his bathroom.
BD: Your upstairs guest bedroom is so serene and put together. What sorts of things should we focus on when pulling together a guest space?
MG: We love when our families come to visit, and wanted to make them a space that was both a retreat and fun to stay in. I created a room with both masculine and feminine elements, and a spot for them to read – although when grandparents are here, there’s no relaxing. My boys love to play with them! I believe that a comfy bed, soft sheets, fluffy towels, a nice candle, and a few fresh flowers will keep your guests coming back. If you have room for a chair or two, and a television, I think its an added bonus!
BD: We can’t forget to talk about your incredible porch. You must live out here. Walk us through the space. How did decorating your deck differ from decorating your living room?
MG: Our porch is why we bought this house! We fell in love with it from the get-go and spend a majority of our time there. We eat breakfast and dinner there in the summer and love hosting football parties there in the fall. It has enough space to relax, host a gaggle of kiddos, and a fun spot for my husband to grill. I found our sectional at a very reasonable price, and did the cushions in a light taupe. They’re easy to wash and treat for stains. The bamboo coffee table was a $10 antique shop find, and the big farm table is from Scott’s. I had the lamps made from cypress knees that my brother cut for me, adding marble bases so they can withstand a little wind.
BD: I love the way you’ve mixed two different styles of chairs on your outdoor dining space. They’re opposites, but they come together so effortlessly. How do you know when two opposite will harmonize?
MG: I find that the combination of pieces makes our space unique, but I always try to be kid friendly too. The metal trebuchet chairs are easy to wipe down, as are the bamboo chairs. The metal chairs with the cleaner lines are a nice juxtaposition to the more detailed bamboo chair style. Having one simpler silhouette mixed with a busier pattern makes it work. The larger bamboo chair belonged to my grandmother, while the small one is from Ballard – a piece from my college days.
BD: Something we’ve talked about on our podcast and that you do so perfectly is bringing charm into your rooms. When we came to shoot your house, you had candles lit and flowers scattered around. What are those final flourishes you bring into you and your client’s home that really make it feel welcoming?
MG: A fine candle and a few photos of your family’s smiling spaces make your house a “home.” Books about things you’re interested in, a comfy throw, and even a few simple green stems pulled from your yard deliver charm into anyone’s home. Layered rugs make me so happy, and pretty window treatments too. A basket tucked next to a chair with blankets or magazines, a little music playing….that last “layer” of personality. For my clients, I encourage them to do the same…to add elements that speak to who they are and that make their families comfortable.
Be sure to listen to our podcast episode with Maggie. We talk about ceiling fans, decorating around TVs, how to corral your kids toys, the question of televisions in the bedroom, and much more.