More than anything else, it’s the layers that speak to Caroline V. Smith.
“I love going to estate sales,” says the Southern-born and -bred designer. “It’s fun to add layers, and that’s the thing with interior design — you’re never done. There’s always more.”
And so, when she got the chance to design her own family’s home, Caroline took a layered approach. First, she prepared a clean palette. Next, she added timeless basics, like a buffet scored in an Atlanta antiques store and a clean-lined, neutral sofa from Hickory Chair. And finally, she layered in warmth and color through the use of unique, well-curated accessories and original art.
It helped that she truly was starting with a clean palette. Five years ago, Caroline and her husband, McCown, moved to Memphis after spending eight years in cramped Manhattan apartments.
“Coming from New York, we had absolutely nothing,” says the Atlanta native. “We donated all our furniture that was up there. We came with a couple of flat screen TVs and that’s about it. We bought most of the basics right away — draperies, upholstery. It’s been really fun over time to add to it.” During her years in Manhattan, Caroline developed more than her resume. She also developed a signature style.
“I worked for AD Top 100 designer Mariette Gomez,” says Caroline, who moved north straight out of design school at the University of Georgia. “She’s very clean, white walls, but loves modern art. So she was very influential in my design aesthetic.”
In the eight years she spent in New York learning and honing her craft, first under Gomez and then on her own, Caroline met fellow Southern transplant McCown. Halfway through their time in the Big Apple, they got married. Like so many others, when they learned they were expecting their first child, the couple decided they didn’t want to raise a family in the midst of the urban jungle, and they chose to build their nest back home in the South.
After debating Memphis vs. Atlanta, the Smiths chose to return to McCown’s native city. And that’s when Caroline was charged with putting her skills as a designer to work in an entirely new way … in her family’s own sprawling, traditional home that would soon be filled with children and laughter.
Ironically, the Smiths found their new home in The Village – not Greenwich Village, but The Village neighborhood in East Memphis. Although Caroline was itching to put her stamp on the space, she and McCown were pleased to find a home that didn’t need major work.
The thought of designing for herself didn’t intimidate Caroline. Growing up in an Atlanta home with a mother who loves design and appreciates nice things, she’d been doodling designs since she was old enough to hold a sketchpad.
“People say it’s really hard to decorate for yourself, but I completely disagree,” she says. “I knew exactly what I wanted pretty early on.”
The Living Room
Starting with the living room’s clean-lined, neutral sofa and subtly patterned draperies, Caroline began playing with form and texture to give the space a timeless, classic presence with that layered look she loves. “I like to design rooms that will grow with you over time,” she says. “Sort of timeless – I don’t follow the trends.”
Above the fireplace is an ethereal abstract in smoky blue hues painted by Atlanta artist and friend Kiki Slaughter. Across the room in a cozy conversation area, are pieces Caroline spotted at La Maison. “I saw two of them, and I commissioned the artist to do two more,” she says. “Inexpensive art framed nicely can make a statement.”
In one corner, an antique umbrella stand holds one of Caroline’s unique collections. “I got that pretty brass umbrella stand, but modern-day umbrellas do not look good in an umbrella stand,” she says. “So I have been collecting canes in various places, and it’s just been a fun thing.” Similarly, she’s been collecting Creamware for years, and an antique Creamware footbath rests nearby.
“It’s timeless, again,” she explains. “Servants used it — like in ‘Downton Abbey,’ that’s what they used for china. I’ve always just loved it.”
The Dining Room
With its rich, chocolate brown walls, the dining room is the home’s one splash of bold color. “I love an intimate dinner party, and it’s just warm and cozy,” Caroline says. “In candlelight, it really works well.”
Above the antique buffet hangs a mirror Caroline originally spied at Catherine Harris Interiors and Antiques. When she asked to take it out on approval, however, she learned it had already sold. “It turned out my mother-in-law had bought it for me for Christmas,” she says with a laugh.
Above the dining table, a family heirloom, hangs a lantern from Pottery Barn Outlet. “I’m all about mixing,” Caroline says. “When you have really nice things, you can mix in inexpensive things here and there.”
The Kitchen & Den
The kitchen is the one space in the home Caroline and McCown chose to thoroughly renovate. Keeping within the original kitchen’s footprint, they opened the room to the den and gutted the space, adding clean, white cabinetry, integrated stainless steel appliances and dark quartz countertops. A mirrored backsplash and lighted, glass-front cabinets along one wall further open the space and give it sparkle.
In the den, Caroline shifted a window to bring in loads of natural light and borrowed square footage from a guest bathroom to expand the room. She also added a wall of built-ins, creating space for an enviable collection of design books.
Though the house is streamlined, neutral and well-edited, it’s also a home the Smiths live in. The kids’ rooms, like every room, include family heirlooms and pieces found at estate sales and antiques stores. As Caroline did as a child, she wants her own kids, ages 5 and 2, to grow up surrounded by beauty and history.
Practicality comes into play in the home, as well. The formal living room is more of an entertaining space than a family space, but it’s Caroline’s favorite spot in the house. “It makes me happy every time I walk in,” she says. “It’s just clean and light and elegant, and yet not fussy.” In the den, where the family spends much of its time, she was careful to use wear-proof fabrics and finishes. “When I’m designing for a family, I like to use durable, washable, indoor-outdoor fabrics,” she says.
She’s also budget-minded, especially when designing for young families. “All of this is very expensive,” she says of renovating and decorating. “And that’s why it’s so important to have great basics and then, over time, fill it with those special layers from estate sales or travels along the way.”
While her children are young, Caroline’s primary focus is on her family. Practicing her beloved profession in her spare time, and in her own home, is a fun way to stay connected to her career, she says. It also allows her to take her time and be choosy.
“That’s the fun of design to me, is that it’s a process,” she says. “Not just buying to fill the space.”
Special thanks to Julie Wage Ross for today’s beautiful photographs.
Want to find your next home purchase? Check out our SB App for the best of Memphis! Click here to download.