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Decorate with love: Incorporating treasured items always in style

Story by Molly Morris
Photos by India Garrish

Sure, every season brings a host of trends — light linens in the summer; warm and cozy colors in the winter — but for Mary Gardner and Sheila Owens, decorating your home should be more about surrounding yourself with items you love. 

The pair of friends co-owns Southern Willow Interiors in New Bloomfield and stocks their storeroom with pieces — most of which they embellish, upcycle or completely build — in what they call “rustic elegance” style. 

Best friends and Southern Willow Interiors owners Mary Gardner, left, and Sheila Owens stand in their New Bloomfield store.

After purchasing furniture or decorative items through estate sales, auctions, Facebook Marketplace and antique stores across the state, Gardner and Owens start the process of breathing new life into the old pieces.

“We love the old furniture; it’s such good quality and made so beautifully,” Owens said. “And when we work on pieces, we think ‘Oh, for some little lady, this was something she really loved and had in her house.’ So we fix anything that maybe doesn’t work right and make it functional again and try to make it so it will go in today’s homes.” 

To do that, the duo gets creative. 

Maybe it’s a fresh coat of paint on a table or new hardware on a chest of drawers, or sometimes, it’s marrying two pieces together to create something entirely new — adding feet to an ornate framed mirror creates a table tray, or topping a candle holder with a flower pot and greenery builds height. 

While not everyone may be interested in reconstructing their home décor items, the experts at Southern Willow shared their tips on how to style a space with the pieces you love.

When decorating her own home, Owens started with the main pieces — a sofa and two chairs in neutral colors.

“All my furniture is neutral,” she said. “I do my colors with pillows or chachkies or wall color or art,” which she noted are often easier and cheaper to change than bigger furniture if craving a new look. 

Once you’ve established the base, now comes the fun part: adding the items you love, even if they don’t necessarily “go” with the rest of the décor, Gardner said, pointing toward a small white and cobalt blue ceramic elephant surrounded by pine cones and other traditional autumnal decorations in orange, brown and dark greens.

“People wouldn’t think that you can add those pops of color and keep it cohesive. As long as you don’t add too much, just here and there, it works out,” she said, explaining art pieces in a different color than the rest of the décor stand out more than if everything were too similar. 

Once equipped with the main pieces and treasured items, Owens and Gardner recommend paying attention to height and textures to tie the space together.

For example, varying the size and shape of items on a mantle — floral arrangements, knickknacks, candle sticks, etc. — creates intrigue, making your eye linger on an area a bit longer to take it all in. 

And mixing different textures in pillows and blankets — think a tweed pillow against a velvet blanket — adds contrast to the design and can soften a space. 

A trend Owens suggested is adding a fabric element, like a burlap table runner, to a coffee table to add texture and combat the sometimes harsh-looking wood or metal.  

Other looks en vogue this fall, according to Owens and Gardner, are white pumpkins, pops of cobalt blue or sage green, and muted color palettes.

Logs painted white make for a fall “pumpkin” look.

“There’s trends and styles, and those go in and out. But if it’s your home and it’s something you love, then it doesn’t really matter as long as you can keep it cohesive,” Owens said.

And remember to have fun with it, the duo noted.

In their own homes and in the Southern Willow storefront, pieces are constantly moving and evolving with the season or just when the pair are in need of a change. 

Taking a favorite lamp from a bedroom and moving it to the living room, for example, brings attention back to a piece that may have gotten overlooked after years in the same spot. It gives it a new function. 

Owens said they also like to create looks that can be built upon throughout the year. Pine needles and pine cones are a constant throughout the fall and winter months with other pieces interchanging. Once Thanksgiving has passed, pumpkins are replaced with pops of red berries or bows, which then can be removed after Christmas leaving the still-appropriate piney elements for the remainder of winter.

 “That’s what we love: bringing old things to new life,” Gardner said. “That is just exciting to us.”

Southern Willow is open the first and third Saturday of each month at 9130 Old U.S. Highway 54 in New Bloomfield. Check their Facebook page for possible additional hours. The rest of the month, Owens and Gardner — along with help from their husbands Gary Owens and Monte Trisler — are busy shopping for and creating their one-of-a-kind pieces.

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Molly Morris

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