Do you recognize this woman? Maybe you have seen her lifestyle segments on the “TODAY” show. Or you read her column on decorating and design in The Washington Post. You might have her book, FLIP! for Decorating, on step-by-step decorating. Perhaps you remember her name from all of the favorite magazines she has worked for: House Beautiful, REAL SIMPLE or Woman’s Day. Currently, she is the Editor-in-Chief for Draper James, the clothing and lifestyle brand founded by Reese Witherspoon. Although this Louisville native has not lived in her hometown for many years, she always carries Kentucky with her in her heart, as evidenced by her Southern hospitality and practicality. With her new job, you’ll find her commuting between her home in New York City and the Draper James locations in Nashville, Lexington and Dallas. Meet our distinguished FACE of the South today: Elizabeth Mayhew.
You have been gone from Louisville for quite some time now, but you say that you brought Kentucky with you on your very impressive career path. How has Kentucky influenced your career?
I would not have my position at Draper James if I were not from the South. My job is to oversee the tone of the brand, so knowing what life is like in places like Louisville is crucial. There is a friendliness about the South. At Draper James we talk about the grace and charm that is distinct to the South — where you say “hi” to people as you pass them in the grocery store or on the street. It’s not that people in other parts of the country aren’t nice, they just don’t have time or go out of their way to engage.
I also think that longtime relationship with “TODAY” is due in part to my Kentucky upbringing. People always say that I am approachable and relatable — again it’s about that friendly Southern attitude that was ingrained in me from my childhood, growing up in Louisville.
What do you think differentiates you from other lifestyle experts?
First of all, I really do everything I talk about — I cook, I decorate, I clean, I organize, I parent and so on. I have basically made a career out of doing the things I love. If you see me do something on television, I will 100% stand by it. I also think more practically than other lifestyle experts — just because you can make your own olive oil from your own olive tree, does not mean you should. No one I know has time to do everything, so I always look for shortcuts. For me it’s about elevating the ordinary, but only by one notch, not 12.
You have been in the media world for quite a long time. What have been the most impactful moments or turning points in your career?
Two moments come to mind. The first was my introduction to television. I started doing segments on the morning shows when I was at “REAL SIMPLE.” Over time I became a regular on “TODAY.” I guess I just clicked with the talent and the producers, which is really the most important part of the job; they know that when I come on, they can trust that I will deliver the content.
The other big catalyst in my career was the idea to do my book. You need to understand that up until 2005 or 2006 all photography was still being shot on film. It wasn’t until about that time that photographers started to use digital cameras. Now we are so used to taking bursts of photos with our phones, but then it was novel. I remember being at my first digital photo shoot and clicking through frame after frame with just a click on a computer keyboard, which created a flip book effect on screen. I had just left “REAL SIMPLE,” where I had spent many years breaking things down into easy steps so people could understand them, so the idea of breaking decorating down, step-by-step, seemed very doable given the new technology. Hence the idea for FLIP! For Decorating!
You have a regular column in the Washington Post, you’ve published a book on design and you have your own interior design business. What advice would you give someone looking to decorate their house without becoming overwhelmed?
Look to your closet for inspiration. Usually the colors you wear, the types of patterns and style of your wardrobe is translatable to your rooms. Also, pay attention to lighting. It’s one of the most overlooked aspects of design. Lighting can transform a room, make it cozier and more appealing. Whatever you do, install dimmers on all of your switches!
What is the most difficult thing about your career? What is the easiest thing?
Writing is the most difficult. I hate doing it, but like having done it. And I would add that coming up with new original ideas is really hard. The easiest thing about my career is that I get to make my own schedule. I work every day including weekends, but I do it on my own time.
If you were not in your current job(s), what would you secretly love to do?
I would be in theater — ideally a Broadway producer or director!
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I married my high school (one and only!) boyfriend.
What are three words that describe you?
Friendly, generous and warm. (If you asked other people they would say organized, but I never feel that way!)
What advice do you treasure?
I am not a big advice or quote person, but a couple things come to mind. One is that you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time. For the most part, I think this is true, especially for women. It’s really hard to be super good at your job, keep up with your friends, take care of your family and take care of yourself. For years, I did not exercise in favor of rushing home to be with my kids. Now that they are grown, I go to a yoga or barre class regularly.
The other thing that often runs through my mind is something my husband says about our family — he always talks about us as a team. In fact, we have a group chat that’s called Team Mayhew. The concept reinforces the idea that we need to work together and help each other out.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my ________.
Hmmm…can I have two blanks? Coffee. Can’t live without it. I have never been a drinker or smoker, but I must have coffee. And I am picky. At home, I use a Nespresso machine (black and purple pods only). I am not a Starbucks fan, but I will have it if that’s the only option. When I am in Nashville, I get my coffee at either Barista Parlor or Frothy Monkey. I have yet to find my fix in Louisville or Lexington. And a book. I am a huge reader and ALWAYS have a book with me (I do not read on a Kindle or other device!).
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Where to begin!? I have several favorites from the past few years — A Gentleman in Moscow, Lincoln in the Bardo, The Underground Railroad and every book by Elena Ferrante. But I just finished an old book called My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (I binge-watched the BBC adaption of the book and its sequels on Amazon Prime called The Durrells in Corfu and became obsessed, so decided to read the books). And I also just read a great book about famous rivalries in the art world called The Art of Rivalry. I am currently reading another older book called The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine. I think it should be required reading for everyone.
What are three of your favorite things right now besides faith, family and friends?
Amazon Prime, because my life would not be possible without it; cauliflower rice — I did a segment for “TODAY” featuring five recipes, because I am just obsessed with the vegetable’s versatility; and Draper James’ Orange Blossom Special Candle — I have one in every room, and it’s the only thing my daughter asked me to get her for her college apartment.
Meet more amazing women from the South — check out our FACES archives HERE.