Southern born and bred, James Farmer is a professional garden, floral and interior designer, cook, author and lifestyle expert. His signature interiors respect Southern heritage while freshening the look for today. As a result, his work is classic, timeless, and oh so beautiful. I am such a huge fan, and it is an honor to have James join us today for a Q&A!
James is the author of The Wall Street Journal best-selling A Time to Plant, A Time to Cook, A Time to Celebrate, Sip & Savor, Porch Living, Wreaths For All Seasons, and Dinner on the Grounds. His most recent publication, A Place to Call Home, is his first interior design book which features eleven homes from Sea Island to Atlanta to St. Louis (you can read my review here). James is featured regularly in magazines, and he is a frequent speaker and guest on television. A true Southern gentleman, his grace and warm personality light up any room. Welcome, James!
Q: Tell me about your childhood growing up on a farm in Georgia and how that experience helped shape your passion for food and décor.
A: My grandmother, Mimi, instilled in me the mantras I live by: One is that we eat with our eyes first. Second is that we feed people, body and soul, when they are at our table. Growing up on the farm allowed me as a young child to experience the best of the seasons outside and then utilize them for tabletop decor and food inside. I owe so much of my cooking and table setting acumen to my Mimi.
As Southerners, we are a very hyper-seasonal culture. For example, its not just peach season, It’s specific. It’s four months of June Prince or Elberta or freestones. I’ve also been known to brake for a roadside stand, and if they are selling shelled lady peas…lets just say I keep a cooler in my suburban.
Q: How did you begin your career, and how did you evolve into the powerhouse interior design and lifestyle expert you are today?
A: I studied art history and landscape design at Auburn University and actually started my business in college. From there, family, friends, and word of mouth still proved to be the best advertising…as well as good timing with social media and the blogosphere. The “powerhouse” is really the team behind me—I’m just the creative engine. They are the ones who keep me on track and taught me how to use a spreadsheet 🙂
Q: How would you describe your design aesthetic, and how was it influenced by your Southern upbringing?
A: I always like to say my aesthetic is traditional with a twist. The twist may be adding something of high style to a casual room or something rustic in a more formal setting. I’m truly unapologetically Southern, which is reflective of my upbringing and in my aesthetic. I never apologize for mixing styles or time periods. I do like being proper to a point, but never shy from wonder or whimsy…or something extraordinary that could be cherished every day.
Q: Where do you continue to find inspiration?
A: I still have stacks and stacks of old magazines like Southern Accents that reignite the passionate flame of when I saw them 15 years ago. And I have commend my friend Margot Shaw with FLOWER magazine as it is consistently pretty and inspiring.
Digitally, Instagram and blogs, of course, are the immediate sugar rush for instant gratification and inspiration. You still can’t beat a good design book…we all have that stack that we constantly refer to. But, too, I travel a fair amount for my work, so seeing how people live in different regions of the country, going to antique malls, and observing the seasons ultimately meld together and inspire me.
Q: How do you go about tying in your interiors to the surrounding environment? Why is it important to bring the outside in?
A: We all have the notion of being outside, but we love WiFi and the AC more. So, it’s great to give the opportunity to be in true luxury and comfort while still surrounded by beautiful and natural elements. For example, in design, I feel like a room should be neutral enough that a blue and white jar always feels apropos, whether filled with magnolia and ilex berries during the holidays or hydrangeas in the summer.
Q: Do you have any particular objects you enjoy collecting, and what are your most cherished family heirlooms?
A: I’m afraid I’m a borderline hoarder, so I collect collections. Specifically, I have an affinity for blue and white, chinoiserie, and glazed pottery. And for some reason, I’m on a pagoda kick right now…how many pagodas does one person need?? I also love odds and ends silver pieces and probably have more ice cream forks and gumbo spoons than one person really needs. Because then, if you have all of those pieces, you’ve got to have all of the monogrammed linens to go with them! It’s a slippery slope! One of my favorite possessions, though, is a painting of the post office that my cousin painted which served as the inspiration for my home, Farmdale.
Q: What is the primary reason clients flock to you, and how do you work with them to create personalized interiors?
A: At first, my clients were all relatives so I guess they felt obligated to use me! But, word of mouth and friendly circles are still the tried-and-true way to get great clients. I think our clients appreciate fine homes that are comfortable, stylish, and chic, but still “homey,” Since I practice what I preach, the way I live is a way for them to interpret their home’s aesthetic.
While developing their personalized style, I like to shoot from the hip and remind my clients that I’m providing a professional service that requires our process and development, and their trust in that. In order for our team to best serve the client, that trust factor is what makes a project truly successful. When a client trusts your taste and design prowess, the creative process doesn’t feel constricted or forced. Instead, it allows the God given talents of my team to truly flourish.
Q: In today’s hectic 24/7 world, how do you go about incorporating beauty and nature into your daily life? What does a typical weeknight dinner look like at your home?
A: I always have fresh flowers in the house and rarely are they from a florist – they are from the land, the garden…or an obliging roadside or bank drive through… 🙂
Weeknights at Farmdale often consist of scrambled eggs or Special K. I’m also not against a pint of Talenti with a silver ice cream fork for dinner. It’s harder to cook for one person than it is for twenty! I have a large and proximate family, so I do the “heavy cooking” when we gather. Since I live in a small town, our fine dining options are limited. I’m grateful to experience amazing restaurants when I travel, and it’s a known fact that I’ll have to order half of the menu when I do!
Q: What are some of your favorite family traditions?
A: I’ll have to say, many families have amazing traditions that involve travel, sports, games, or civic routines, but I’ve yet to meet a family that can hold a candle to our astounding tradition of eating. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon! I think we are a classic Southern family that revolves every event around food. That doesn’t make us special that we like to eat, we are just not that athletic! So, if there was a trophy for being a food champion, our shelves would be lined with them.
Q: What projects are you working on now, and what does the future hold for James Farmer Designs?
A: Currently, we have projects in St. Louis, Connecticut, Georgia, and every state touching Georgia. Each one is unique and an amazing opportunity for a kid from Perry AKA “Perrydise.” Our team is also working to develop the next book, which is exciting. Who knows what else may come my way, but I’m very blessed and grateful to be where I am and who I am today.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you, James, for joining us today, what a delightful Q&A! James is a fresh voice for his generation, and a genuinely nice person. He is truly an inspiration. For additional information, please visit www.jamesfarmer.com, and check out his books:
- A Time to Plant
- A Time to Cook
- A Time to Celebrate
- Sip & Savor
- Porch Living
- Wreaths For All Seasons
- Dinner on the Grounds
- A Place to Call Home
Spitzmiller and Norris designed the woodwork and mouldings in many of these interiors. Photography credit: Emily Followill