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Phil Lancaster, Senior Director of Merchadising at Ballard Designs, has made a career out of staying ahead of trend. So it’s no surprise he bought a house in a hip, historic neighborhood in Atlanta decades before it became one of the most desirable places in the city to live. Buying in 1978 meant he was way ahead of the big housing and renovation boom that transformed the neighborhood. The Craftsman bungalow, purchased from the original owner’s daughter, had been left largely untouched since it was first built in 1909. And this suited the avid antiques collector and his wife, Zoë, just fine.
With the familiar architectural details of a Craftsman home intact, including unpainted, varnished wood trim and paneling throughout and a red brick fireplace in the living room, the home provided the perfect backdrop for the many antiques Phil and Zoë had slowly amassed since their art school days in upstate New York. “When we were in college, we used to go to antique auctions as entertainment,” he told us. “We learned a lot about buying antiques then.”
The first thing you notice when you walk into Phil’s home — if you’re lucky enough to score an invitation — is this enveloping feeling of warmth. The interesting contrasts in wood tones and the abundant combination of textures lend a real sense of richness and depth. And then there are the antiques, in every room. It isn’t all Mission furniture, as you might expect. Rather, a range of styles is represented here, from Shaker to Georgian to Victorian and, yes, Arts and Crafts. But the leather sofa and coffee table that reside in the living room? Those are contemporary. And, suddenly, you start to marvel at how it all fits together so seamlessly. So we decided to ask Phil to share a little bit about his decorating style and love of antiques — and hoped we’d gain some tips along the way.
Ballard Designs: How would you describe your personal style?
Phil Lancaster: I would certainly say that our style is very eclectic. We’re big collectors of all kinds of things. In fact, we have the best yard sales in town.
BD: Your front door opens onto your living room, with a smaller sitting room to the right, and you can see straight into the dining room. So you really have this open space of adjoining rooms, just like many modern homes today. How do you create a cohesive flow and feel to it all?
PL: Yes, it’s really a big L-shaped space. Everything somehow needed to relate. There’s a Japanese term called wabi-sabi, that basically means finding the beauty in imperfection, such as an object made by hand. That is the kind of aesthetic we are attracted to. We like things that are handmade or look old or feel old. And you could say that is what pulls all of this together — it all has some sort of patina.
BD: So the thread running through these rooms are these antique pieces with a natural patina to them. Yet they hail from different time periods and have vastly different styles. Does that even matter?
PL: I don’t have any problem mixing furniture styles. It’s not like you walk out and buy everything new when you move. You have an armoire that belonged to your grandmother, a table that belonged to your parents, and then you went to the store and bought something new, and all of that somehow fits together. It’s different styles, because it all came from different time periods. But it’s a more organic way of decorating a home than running out and buying all new furniture. In the dining room, we have a French buffet that’s 200 to 300 years old sitting directly across from an Arts and Crafts piece from 1915. I don’t ever think about the fact that they’re different.
BD: Between the dark wood molding in every room and the wood furniture, there is a lot of different wood tones happening. What is your philosophy on mixing finishes?
PL: It doesn’t matter to me. Not everything is made out of oak or pine. It’s going to be a lot of different woods. That being said, I probably wouldn’t have a contemporary bleached or light-colored wood finish, because that might be a little tough to blend in. But, in general, all kinds of wood tones work together.
BD: What is your favorite piece in the house that you could never part with?
PL: That’s darn near impossible to answer! I’ve had the dining table for 40 years and that’s something I’ve liked a lot. A big table like that is super useful.
BD: Tell us about it.
PL: We bought it at an auction in Syracuse. It’s Eastlake Victorian, which is the tail-end of Victorian and not as ornate. It doesn’t come off as Victorian, but it’s not the straight lines you’d get in a Craftsman-style table. This was a farmhouse table, so it has eight leaves. We currently have six in place. We matched it with Stickley chairs that we’ve collected over time.
BD: Not everyone would think to match Arts and Crafts chairs with a Victorian table. Even though you have a houseful of antiques, do you continue to shop for them?
PL: Always. It’s what we do. But that’s why we have garage sales. In order to buy more stuff we have to get rid of some of the stuff we have!
BD: So where do you hunt for antiques?
PL: We shop a lot at Scott Antique Market, of course, and just about every in-town antiques store. And whenever we go out of town on a trip, we shop antiques stores.
BD: You could say it’s your job and your hobby. It’s a natural extension of what you do for a living, isn’t it?
PL: Yes, it’s part of what I do at Ballard. We just got back from a lighting show in Dallas and we went to six or seven antique stores on the half day we had left.
BD: Do you have any helpful tips for shopping antiques?
PL: For me, it’s not really the level of importance or authenticity of the piece. It’s whether or not I like the piece. It’s not like you’re going to casually find a piece you see on Antiques Roadshow that’s worth $50,000. Someone else owned it. Those just don’t get found in your attic. So it’s really about, do I like the color, do I like the wood, do I like the footprint of the piece and do I like the style? If so, then it works.
BD: And what about bargaining?
PL: You should always ask for less! It’s expected that you’re going to offer a better price. The only other advice I have is, collect what you love and somehow it will all work out, because you like it.
Thank you so much, Phil, for letting us share your home and your sage decorating philosophy with us!