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There’s a new gal in town, folks, and although based in small town Arkansas, she’s taking over the design world one shelter magazine, show house, decorating blog and speaking panel at a time. Who’s that girl, you ask? The Natural State’s own Tobi Fairley, a tastemaking interior designer whose crisp, tailored style is knocking the socks off of editors, decorators and designers everywhere.

The southern belle first caught my eye with a cerulean living room she designed which made the cover of House Beautiful (March, 2010: The Color Issue). After reading the article, I was hooked. Next came her blog which hooked me even more.

A few hours later, after clicking up, down and all around the Interwebs, it seemed impossible to choose a favorite Tobi Fairley project. Each space is like a master class in tailoring, color, scale and proportion. Overcome with inspiration, I decided to reach out to the It Girl myself and find out exactly how she does it. From art and upholstery to drapes and accessories, here’s the 411 on all things tailored, all things timeless and all things Tobi.

BPF: You seem to do a lot of framed print groupings in your spaces. Is there a reason behind this? Any tips for people looking to hang groupings?

TF: I love to group artwork, especially if it is a series of work. It’s a great way to fill a large wall and often less expensive than one giant painting and also more versatile if you move to a new house and need to break up the set to fit a different space. Although it can be challenging to hang them, it’s worth the trouble. Just remember to measure, measure, measure and make sure that you check where the hangers are placed on each piece. As far as how to hang: You can either leave the same amount of space all the way around each piece ( I recommend 2-3 inches) or you can have them touching. I would say that you typically want the center of the grouping at eye level and the average eye level for most Americans is between 60 and 66 inches.

BPF: Not to sound like stalker/decorator dude or anything but my seamstress and I often play around on your site for fabric and upholstery inspiration. What’s your secret for properly covering furniture in regards to both aesthetics and durability?

TF: I have a 5 year old daughter and I’ve found that linen is very tricky to keep stain-free with kids and pets; however, I’ve had great luck with wools, cottons, and cotton velvet in solid colors (especially dark colors like black and chocolate) for major pieces of upholstery. I also often have cotton prints vinyl-coated for barstools, banquettes and other areas where there may be food and drink spills. Keep in mind there is such a thing as too much pattern! I recommend layering in patterns of different scale in a room along with some solids. The more you use a pattern, the more it acts like a neutral in the space.

BPF: Kinda like the relationship between Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, your sitting-there-in-the-background window treatments often unexpectedly become each room’s breakout stars while the familiar, trusted upholstery lays low and sits pretty. What’s up with that?

TF: I love letting the drapery do a lot of the “talking” in the space, so this is a place where I often bring in exciting color and pattern. Keep the upholstered pieces neutral and they’ll work with any color scheme. One of my favorite places to use a large scale floral or print is on drapery, but you can drive up the cost because the large repeats require more fabric for pattern matching. So if your budget doesn’t allow for this, try getting a bold statement out of your drapery using bright, fun colors in inexpensive cotton duck. There are also some gorgeous solid color silks available in great prices too. I love using wide tapes on the leading edge of drapery to get a bold look but this can also be pricey. Try creating the look of a tape by using solid color fabrics applied in 3-4” wide strips as banding instead. If you can find an inexpensive trim, like a grosgrain, it is fun to make geometric patterns with it to create a lot of drama.

BPF: Your kids’ spaces make me wish I was a super rich six-year old who could hire you to do my room. What’s your signature window treatment trick in spaces for little ones?

TF: For kid’s rooms, I love to use roman shades and balloon shades. They use a fraction of the amount of fabric that drapery panels require and they stay cleaner since they are off the floor in areas where kids play. Also try the tricks of contrast banding and decorative tapes to jazz up your roman shades.

BPF: Both your personality and your spaces are lively and colorful; however, many of your spaces are actually somewhat neutral. What is it you do that makes your tame neutrals or muted colors so fun and un-beige?

TF: I love using colors as neutrals! For example, I often layer in shades of one color like aqua or mossy green as the backdrop for walls and major pieces of furniture. It truly becomes the “neutral” of the room and I sometimes then add one accent color for a bit of contrast. When doing this, I think the key is keeping the color you choose soft and muted for it to act neutral and any bright accents are used in small doses.

BPF: Although I fancy myself a rather good decorator, many times I want to punch myself in the face to escape the agony of accessorizing. Accessories are tough! How do you make it look so effortless?

TF: The key is balance and an editing eye. I like symmetry and it’s quiet easy to create a tablescape that has a pair of lamps with a gorgeous accessory or work of art in the middle. When creating an asymmetrical vignette, try to balance the visual weight of what is happening on one side with a similar weight on the other side. Then fill in with various sizes of elements in between for an interesting look. I think creating a great vignette is also like dressing, before you leave the house, edit out one accessory. Try this with your tablescape too for a cleaner and simpler look.

BPF: I’m a flea market junkie and from the looks of your work, figured you’d never stepped foot into a second-hand store before; however, it turns out your spaces have a number of flea market finds. What’s your trick for making $20 finds worthy of $2,000 price tags?

TF: Almost anything can be made new again with a fresh coat of paint or a new fabric! Take a good look at things before you throw them out. A collection of dated, broken, and mismatched picture frames can become a work of art if unified by a trendy color. As far as refurbishing furniture, the same rules apply. It is all about the lines of the piece. A neat chair or desk with a gorgeous curved leg can look like a million bucks painted in bright lacquer paint.

Scale is key to a piece looking expensive. Make sure lamps you buy are the scale of most modern-day lamps so that they will look appropriate on your furniture. I would suggest 28”-33” inches high for most table lamps including the shade and finial. Also look for styles and shapes that are similar to current trendy looks like gourds. Even if the lamp has a metal base, if the shape is great, the right primer and several coats of paint will make it great!

32 Responses

  1. Johnna says:

    Thank you for the fantastic article! Tobi is incredibly talented and refreshingly open. I cannot wait to see what is next.

  2. make my day says:

    being inspired by someone's creations is a good thing. It can thanks for a lovely article. Tobi is definitely a bright spark and I'm looking forward to enjoying and soaking up her style! cheers kari

  3. Great interview Brian. I LOVE Tobi Fairley's work – it is fresh and crisp and I want to be in every room she designs. Her sense of color is delightful and is the inspiration for my Christmas decor this year (tangerine & turquoise). It was a pleasure to read this article – great questions / great answers and tips. Thank you HGTV.

  4. Kristin Wood says:

    Loved the article! Tobi's work is an inspiration. What a truly talented and remarkable woman.

  5. Beth says:

    Great interview. This will be marked as a favorite, for sure.

  6. Robyn Zumwalt says:

    I love, love , love Tobi's use of color! So fresh, makes me want to re-decorate my own home, again!!!

  7. pam Kelley says:

    Enjoyed the interview! Keep up the good job of picking interesting guest with lots of great ideas just like Tobi

  8. Debra Moore says:

    Tobi's work is terrific. What city/town in Arkansas is she from?

  9. Nikki says:

    Thanks for the reminder about the window treatments in kids' rooms. Almost all of the curtains in our home are pillowed at the floor except in our kids' rooms where they end just under the window–for the very reason you noted–to keep the drapes clean! We also hung them higher for safety reasons–so the kids wouldn't be tempted to tug at or hide in or otherwise get caught up in the drapes!

  10. […] Read Brian Patrick Flynn’s interview with Tobi Fairley […]

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