As the old saw goes, “Write what you know,” and if there’s anything Kristy Woodson Harvey knows a little something about, it’s interior design. A blogger and novelist, the Salisbury native didn’t train in the discipline, but “grew up with a mother and grandmother who were always tweaking and doing things. I was always at the fabric store or Home Depot,” she recalls.
An early creative channel of Harvey’s was the written word. At 16 years old she had her own column in the Salisbury Post and occasionally contributed to its gardening column, “The Garden Game.” “It was about vegetables or weird things that people grew in their yards,” Harvey explains, but she soon discovered that readers weren’t as interested in “the giant squash or whatever, but that these people had an interesting story that needed to be told.” She’s since come to believe the same principle applies to people and their homes.
In 2010, with a journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill in hand, Harvey and her mother, Beth Woodson, started their own blog, Design Chic (mydesignchic.com). A celebration of all things that make a home beautiful, “candles and flowers, molding and music, and using your fine china every day,” the blog, which now boasts more than 140,000 followers, offers decorating ideas from Instagram, posts from guest bloggers, links to shopping sites and tons more.
Harvey has interviewed designers, architects and various mavens in the industry, and has seen trends come and go. “It’s funny. Looking back, we were writing a lot about French furniture; everything was very decadent and rich,” she laughs. “I think now we’re definitely seeing a movement toward a more minimalist kind of look. Even in upscale places where everything is beautiful, with fine china and antiques. Things are cut down a notch.”
Harvey says her own aesthetic parallels this trend, a departure from her mother’s and grandmother’s tendencies toward more formal, “very accessorized, very done” interiors. Like so many of her readers, Harvey’s style choices are driven by lifestyle.
She and her husband, William, live in a restored house built in 1905 in Beaufort, N.C., where they are raising their toddler son, also named William. “We bought this house as a beach house and I wanted to preserve the integrity of it, but I didn’t want you to walk in and feel all jilted, like you were in a different time,” Harvey says. But, she continues, “I wanted people to feel like they could walk in off the boat with sandy feet, and not think, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m on this antique rug in the hallway!’” So Harvey compromised, blending some antique pieces of furniture with seagrass floor coverings. “I love them anywhere,” she says. “I would use them in the most formal of dining rooms.” And in a move that might seem counterintuitive to a mother of an energetic 5-year-old, Harvey also opted for a white leather sofa. “They have a lot of texture,” she observes, adding with a laugh, “and you can spray it with Windex, and the smear will go away!” A plus, when entertaining guests with preferences for red wine and rearing a toddler eager to express his artistic urges with a Sharpie.
The desire to make spaces more livable fuels another trend that Harvey is fascinated with: “the whole new closet/office thing,” she says, referring to the current vogue in transforming walk-in closets into home offices. “It’s an age-old situation: a room of one’s own,” Harvey observes. “It’s what we’re all looking for.” Especially if you’re a blogger and novelist who’s penned pieces in Starbucks or in the backseat of a car. In 2015, Harvey’s first novel, Dear Carolina (Penguin Random House), debuted and was well-received. Set in the South, it chronicles the story of a baby girl with two mothers, one adoptive and one biological — and it just so happens that one of them is an interior designer. On the heels of Dear Carolina came another novel, Lies and Other Acts of Love, in 2016, a generational tale set in Raleigh. This spring, Harvey will introduce a third novel, published by Simon & Schuster, Slightly South of Simple (see excerpt below), at the Codarus showroom at the High Point Market on April 23. The book’s main character is, yet again an interior designer.
“Design is kind of a metaphor for everything,” Harvey says, explaining that the main character, Ansley, is able to navigate life’s changes and hurdles because of her design background. “You kind of see in the story the way that design has helped her redesign her life. And that coincides with redesigning spaces. That was interesting for me to write,” the novelist says. It will be the first in a series about a family of characters — all strong Southern women — and the series is a first for Harvey.
“It’s a fun new challenge,” she says, “to write a story that’s bigger. I have a lot more pages to get to these women. One of the most fun things was to see what these women have gone through and the ways they remember them. Something I was really fascinated by was how memory plays tricks on us.” Somewhere, between writing the series, running Design Chic and raising a family, Harvey is finding the time to collaborate with a designer on a coffee table book, which she hopes will be published in the next couple of years. At 30-something she is living her best life, which as her own blog proclaims, “begins at home.”
The Not-So-Simple Life
An excerpt from Slightly South of Simple
Oh, the energies and tensiosn that fi ll an all-female household — especially amid upheaval! In “The Tide Rolls In,” the second chapter of Kristy Woodson Harvey’s Slightly South of Simple, the newly widowed protagonist, Ansley, has just moved from New York City with her three young daughters, Caroline, Emerson and Sloane, to her small hometown of Peachtree Bluff, Georgia. There, she begins the arduous task of rebuilding her life.
I love pretty much every quirky thing about my town. The weird people and the weirder traditions, the over-the-top celebrations and beautiful old homes. I love that I can feel like I am completely at the end of the Earth but then, two bridges and twenty minutes later, enter an adjacent town large enough to have everything I need. I thrive on the quiet and privacy of the off-season but the summer vacationers who feel free to photograph my home and sometimes even peek in through my windows have never been my favorite thing.
And Caroline has never been my favorite child. I know that’s not nice to say, but it’s nicer than saying she’s my least favorite child, which is really the truth. I love her to pieces. I’d take a bullet for her. I’d sooner die than see something bad happen to her, and I would never, ever want to live without her. But she is . . . tricky.
So I guess that’s why I didn’t answer the first time she called. I was in Sloane Emerson, my interior design shop, which, yes, I did name after my other two, more favored children. It’s a bit of a family joke, actually. When we moved to Peachtree Bluff, Caroline kicking and screaming in her designer jeans the whole way, I acted casual about opening my store. I acted like it was something I was doing to take my mind off of my beloved husband dying, like it was something I was doing to assert myself. In actuality, I’d had to go back to work because, while we were told we would be receiving millions of dollars in life insurance, we hadn’t. I thought it would intensify the general panic and nightmares and PTSD around our new, very large, very potentially haunted home if my girls knew that.
So when I announced that I was getting back into decorating, my darling jewel of a daughter Caroline had said, “Oh, good. I hear the camper-trailer design business is really flourishing right now.” And when I enthused that the business was going so well that I thought I would open a storefront, my sweet-tempered, well-adjusted child snapped, “If you name it Caroline’s, I will die.”
So I didn’t name it Caroline’s. I named it Sloane Emerson. It was the first thing I had done in quite some time that my eldest daughter thought was funny.
SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE by Kristy Woodson Harvey. Copyright c 2017 by Kristy Woodson Harvey. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.