Certain aspects of being southern seem to seep into the skin through osmosis. It’s as if the summer heat wriggles into our DNA, the perspiration beading on the forehead a sign that the bloodstream has become infused with the ethos of lushness. Woodlands and pastures are in on the game, as are towering peaks and the undulant gashes of slow-moving rivers.
A Symbol of the South by Barry Dixon
Harbingers are disparate but strangely intertwined: torrential downpours that explode in violent rushes are of a piece with the wafting fragrance of magnolia blooms in the fog-laden air afterwards. Mornings are filled with birds that sing and wasps that sting, and from within great swaths of swamplands cicadas wheeze as long beards of Spanish moss sway in the breeze.
The Magnolia in Eudora Welty
These elemental attributes are so pervasive they are exuberant characters in the fiction born in the region. In Eudora Welty’s story The Wide Net, it is the southern thunderstorm that rages as humans cower beneath “the leathery leaves” of a massive magnolia tree. Her character Doc has just declared it the loudest tree in a storm when all hell breaks loose:
- The rain struck heavily. A huge tail seemed to lash through the air and the river broke in a wound of silver. In silence the party crouched and stooped beside the trunk of the great tree, which in the push of the storm rose full of a fragrance and unyielding weight.
The Magnolia in Margaret Mitchell
In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, it is the antics of two of our most popular southern birds that give the nature beyond Scarlett O’Hara’s bedroom window a curtain call:
- The mocking birds and the jays, engaged in their old feud for possession of the magnolia tree beneath her window, were bickering, the jays strident, acrimonious, the mockers sweet voiced and plaintive.
Either setting could have been wrested directly from my childhood spent languishing in Tennessee. I paid close attention to it all—as any writer would—so I am not surprised when references to a drawling Mother Nature crop up in my work. But I have watched another Tennessean in the design world for a while now and have been puzzled that his artistic endeavors are sometimes just as imbued with this flavor because he is far from the typical southerner who spent his formative years steeped only in the unhurried droop of time that permeates everything below the Mason Dixon Line when experiencing days from a child’s perspective.
The Magnolia for Barry Dixon
His name is Barry Dixon, and he is as well traveled a designer as a person comes, his parents making it possible for him to experience a culturally diverse world during his youth—a practice he has continued throughout his career, which I believe speaks to his capacity for executing such a panoply of sophisticated styles.
I knew he was a fellow Tennessean from reading his books, and I’d interviewed him for magazine features before but I never found the right opportunity to mention we shared the birth-state so I was excited to have a chance to finally speak with him about our roots in person. The occasion arose during an event at Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth as he debuted several new collections during the Spring Market in High Point, one of my favorite pieces in the showroom that day inspiring the snippets by Welty and Mitchell I chose early in this post.
It’s a southern bellwether, which the authors included in their narratives—the magnolia tree. Famous for its aromatic blooms in summer, its autumn yield brings a less celebrated but equally important flourish in its seedpod, the symbol Barry used as inspiration for his Magnolia Pod pendant. The beautifully handcrafted lighting fixture calls to mind walks through fields spiked with goldenrod on chilly fall afternoons as wood-smoke permeates the air.
We were seated on his new Aloysius sectional as we discussed certain aspects of southern-ness, such as how ya’ll is as important a word to those of us who hail from the south as it is maligned in the rest of America.
I had a clear view of the pendant while we talked and I was captivated by the fixture, which is manufactured by Avrett, a Charleston-based metal fabricator that produces lighting and furniture Barry designs in styles that range from classically minimal to lushly metaphorical—as is the case with the Magnolia Pod. Presented alongside his decidedly comfortable and roomy Aloysius, and his nods to Anglo Raj in his Yin and Yang chairs and nail-head studded ottomans, the fixture dangled jewelry-like in the space.
I suppose, as Barry and so many of our famous authors prove, being southern simply comes hand-in-hand with a mandatory sweet spot for the magnolia. Read on for details about Barry’s new releases and be sure to check back here next week when I will feature an exuberant post highlighting the books on Carmen Natschke’s (The Decorating Diva’s) summer reading list. Thanks to Barry’s lead, I’ve added a few southern authors to mine. What titles are you making your way through as the season progresses?
Design Details of Barry Dixon’s High Point Market Debuts
Barry Dixon designed the Aloysius to defy gravity by leaving its bottom edges cantilevered. He explained that this subtle but important detail gives the sectional a bit of heft, making it seem to hover. But, he quickly pointed out, “just because it levitates doesn’t mean it is delicate.”
I can vouch for the fact that it is anything but slight. Having tested it, I would say the sectional easily handles anything from a catlike curling up with a cup on tea and a sable throw upon waking to a post-slumber-party free-for-all of passed-out tweens.
Many of his upholstered pieces, including the Aloysius, have wood accents, which can be finished with hues from Barry’s C2 Paint “Naturals Collection.” He illustrated how the change of color number can morph the style: “Pick pale gray for a Gustavian flair or dark brown for a Georgian look, or choose a hue mimicking red lacquer to call Chinoiserie to mind.”
Barry now has 14 dining chair styles with Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth, his entire repertoire including over 250 possible combinations thanks to the different styles of furniture, the C2 Paint options and a choice of fabrics he designed for Vervain. “I’ve been working with Tomlinson for seven years,” he explained. “We’re pretty much completing each others sentences by now!”
Where Barry Dixon’s New Products Can Be Seen*
Barry’s new upholstery and Avrett releases can be viewed in person in the following showrooms: Tomlinson/Erwin-Lambeth in High Point; John Rosselli showrooms in the Decoration & Design (D&D) Building in NYC, the Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA) in Dania Beach, and The Merchandise Mart in Chicago; Hewn in San Francisco; R Hughes in Atlanta; Cory Pope in Dallas; the Shanahan Collection in Denver; and the Icon Group in the Boston Design Center. They are also available through the J. Lambeth & Company showroom in the Washington (DC) Design Center—look for the unveiling of their new space in the WDC on November 12, 2014, where you will find Barry’s designs front-and-center.
*Be sure to check with these showrooms before you go if you are not a design professional because many of them are to-the-trade only, meaning you have to be a licensed design professional to shop with them.
The Modern Salonnière and this DesignStudio entry © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.