It’s no surprise that Marcelle Guilbeau’s calming interiors are reflections of her calm demeanor. Her passion for spirituality and place, coupled with her appreciation for clients’ individual aesthetics, are the driving forces behind her work. Marcelle obtained her interior design degree from Watkins College of Art, Design and Film prior to launching her own studio, Marcelle Guilbeau Interior Design, and receiving accreditation through NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Designers Qualification) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Today, Marcelle talks spirituality and place and their role in the creation of soul style.
Tell us about your experience and background in design.
I have two loves in life: spirituality and place. Spirituality is about connecting to the heart — all the good things in life that we cherish. Place is the embodiment of everything we love — the earth, our hometown, our home. It’s that which gives us roots and meaning. I studied philosophy and religion, with a goal of becoming a professor, but for whatever reason, I didn’t love academia (too much research!). So I asked myself, “What else do I love?” And that was “place.”
So I come at interior design through a deep and abiding love for place. For me, the two (spirituality and place) are interconnected. But for some reason, I “took” better as a designer (I love working with people and creating things!).
What is your design aesthetic and how does it set you apart?
I am good at dialing into what’s in my clients’ hearts and helping them translate that into their own aesthetic and lifestyle. I call that their “Soul Style.” Then I, and my team, in collaboration with my clients, turn that into a beautiful home interior over time, one layer at a time. That is what I call a “Soulful Home.” In general, though, I lean a bit sensual; I am Cajun French after all! To me, the home is all about hospitality – comfort, making good memories, feeling good.
What are the key principles in curating a soulful home?
First, discover your Soul Style. You are either modern or traditional. Modernists value “openness and innovation.” Traditionalists value “roots.” And, you are either practical or sensual. Practicalists value “purpose.” Sensualists values “nurturing.” So you are a combination of either modern or traditional and practical or sensual.
Second, build a timeless and classic base. Establish what the building blocks are for your project. For example, if you’re furnishing a living room, your building blocks are the sofa and two chairs, or the like. This is where you need to spend a good amount of time and money to get it right.
Third, finish it with layers. Layers are the aesthetic components that can be added on (or changed out) over time. In, say, the living room, this can be the rug, the wall paint color or wallpaper; even the side tables, lighting and artwork. That way, you can react to the space as it is coming along and finish it well.
What steps do you take to help a client discover their own soul style?
The very first thing we do is “get visual,” to let the clients’ creative, emotional sides take over. We might flip through interior design magazines and flag images they like, or they can bring their Pinterest or Houzz boards to us. With each image, we ask, “What do you like about this image?” We can ascertain from there (and with the clients’ agreement) whether they are traditional or modern in style and practical or sensual. From there, we get a sense of their aesthetic (the things that make them feel alive) and their lifestyle (the things they love to do).
What has been your most challenging project to date, and why? How did it help you grow as a designer?
About 15 years ago, while working for a large firm, I was the interior designer for the Justice A. A. Birch Center, the newest Metro and State Courthouse downtown. There were a lot of politics going on! The justices wanted this, and the clerks wanted that, and the Metro architecture team wanted something else. Oh, and the contractor’s subs didn’t want to take orders from tiny little me! And back at the office, we struggled not to get on each others’ nerves … I tried very hard to please everyone, but it just wasn’t possible. I learned that that was not the end of the world. It got done, and it was great!
What has been your most rewarding project to date, and why?
I really don’t know if I can pinpoint one particular project that was the most rewarding. Design is love, and I think I just am addicted to the fact that I get to make people a little happier and more comfortable in life every day. And to know themselves and their purpose a little better — to have that reflected in the space they dwell in.
Do you have a favorite space in the home to design?
I think I love the main living area because it is the place where people spend the most time. It is where they are most likely to entertain others and interact in some way with the kitchen, dining room and the outdoors (a patio or a deck). For that reason, it is more complex than it seems and has a lot of problems to solve. I love the diversity of things different people do with it. It is endlessly fascinating what two different people will do with the same room.
What is a favorite room in your home, why?
Mine happens to be the living/dining room because they are open to each other, very spacious and light-filled, and with views and access to the outdoors. It is all about that view of the long, lush yard with a 60-year-old dogwood tree in its center. When we get our addition finished (pending!), there will be a little keeping room off the dining room, where you could either view the yard or sit and prop your feet up at the fireplace.
Where do you take chances in design?
I love to introduce my clients to more sensual and unique elements, such as rich rugs, wallpaper and drapery. However, I don’t try to force any bold ideas on the front end, but let the project unfold. Except when a bold move is just obvious on the front end, these sparks of “wow factor” emerge over the course of the project. It is more authentic and organic to capture them this way.
For instance, I recently worked with a client who loves color. She and her husband were moving into a beautiful historic home in East Nashville. We jumped into renovating and adding on to the home, while at the same time inventorying her existing furniture, recovering and repurposing some, and identifying what new furniture to get. While my client was anxious to figure out where the “color” should go, I assured her there was plenty of time to figure that out along the way. We found some rich teal velvet chairs and colorful velvet pillows while shopping for furniture; the color palette in it would guide the whole project. Then we built out our timeless and classic base with the furniture selections. We layered in a teal overdyed vintage oushak rug in the dining room. The wow factor culminated in the drapes. Towards the end of the project, we selected a robin’s egg blue linen, which just takes the whole decor to whole new level – and is totally unique to my client.
The end result looks elegantly casual and lived in; there is no way that would have happened if we hadn’t approached it, collaboratively, as a “layering” process.
A little birdy told us you have written a book. Can you tell us more about this?
I have! It is called The Soulful Home: A Guide for Authentic Living. It is currently in the hands of the development editor but hopefully will be out soon! It will be a photo-illustrated guide showing, step-by-step, how to understand and connect with our own personal Soul Style and bring that sensibility into the rooms and spaces in which we live.
By introducing the “Soul Style Compass” (also found on my blog), my book will help the reader discover their Major and Minor Soul Styles (all are a combination of traditional, modern, sensual and practical). It will guide the reader to acquire their “classic and timeless base” and to build from there the individual layering pieces, over time. Thus, my book will give people the tools to design their homes, in a manner that genuinely reflects their own individual humanity.
What/who is currently inspiring you?
Wall tapestries: Discovering Society6 for those and for inexpensive throw pillows
Layering with plants — lots and lots of plants
Color-saturated walls; rich, deep colors
A book I recently purchased: Inspired by Color by Clinton Smith of Veranda. One of the smartest books on color to come out in a long time.
The reclaimed wood local artwork of 1767 Designs
If you could choose one designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?
StudioIlse. Ilse Crawford was doing Hygge before that word ever came into being in America, and I am quite partial to her upscale bohemian, eclectic European aesthetic.
If you could design one person’s home, who would it be?
Lauren Hutton’s – she’s got such a natural, effortless style. Plus, she lives in Taos in a prefab steel home designed by Bill Katz (industrial chic art gallery designer). I would love to get to see that!
What are three household items you couldn’t live without?
A wine opener, Tide (to keep up with my husband’s and son’s clothes), my fuzzy robe
Thank you to Marcelle for answering our questions and confirming our crush!
See more of our current crushes here!