Alabama-based interior designer Ashley Gilbreath at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

This year’s 2016 Southern Living Idea House is a celebration of the magazine’s 50th anniversary. Set in Southern Living’s hometown of Birmingham, AL, and built from the ground up by a team of designers with roots in the south, this year’s house celebrates traditional southern design with modern detail.

We got a chance to speak with interior designer, Ashley Gilbreath, to find out how the history of the iconic magazine inspired her rooms.

Interior designer Ashley Gilbreath's entryway in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

Ballard Designs: What rooms were you assigned and how do you envision a homeowner using this space?

Ashley Gilbreath: We had the downstairs foyer, upstairs foyer and bedroom. The downstairs foyer had the function of setting an introduction to the house as well as serving as a drop spot for shoes, purses and other items when you walk in the door. The foyer shouldn’t steal the show, but introduce you to the spaces around it. We tried to create a natural vibe and play off the design that Bill had created in the architecture by pulling in lots of texture and character with items that don’t really scream color or make too much of a statement on their own.

The upstairs foyer needed to be a gathering space. It doesn’t have a set point like a living room or bedroom; it’s just a neat little space off the bedroom. We added a table and banquette to create a spot where you can sit down and relax.

Interior designer Ashley Gilbreath's entryway in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

The bedroom is this unique space with these clipped ceilings. The challenge was that there really wasn’t a dedicated space to put a bed or wall space to hang art to draw your eye up, so we had to get super creative. We wrapped the walls in a blue linen and tented the space to give your eye a reason to look up. In doing so, we created these little nooks. Because there wasn’t any space for nightstands, we made these custom brass wall sconces as an extension of the headboard to have something where you can set a glass down or turn the light on. This room could work as a guest bedroom, a bedroom for a teenager or for a child. I could see a 5-year-old camping out in that little nook.

Designer Ashley Gilbreath's tented guest bedroom in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

BD: You were given archival photos from past issues for inspiration. How did you reflect the history of the magazine in your rooms?   

AG: One of the images we were given was a series of built-ins along the wall. They used to do a lot of built-in cupboards and that sort of thing. That’s where the tenting came in — to reinvent this idea of built-ins along the wall. Also, mustard was a huge color during that time, so we added touches of it in the bedroom — on the chair, the flange of a lumbar pillow and the skirt of the bed.

Designer Ashley Gilbreath's tented guest bedroom in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

BD: How did you go about designing for the specific parameters of the project while adding your own signature stamp?

AG: I’m always striving for a timeless look that also represents the client. As a designer, I don’t want someone to come back to me and say, “Why did you talk me into this? It’s so dated and I have to redo my house, because I’m stuck with this.” So we kept it timeless and elegant, but another factor is comfort. I don’t like rooms where you walk in and you think you can’t touch anything. I have three little ones and a messy husband and I like to drink red wine, so the interior has to be durable as well.

Designer Ashley Gilbreath's tented guest bedroom in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House

BD: What are the hallmarks of every southern house that you felt compelled to include?

AG: Southern interiors are relaxed and not so stuffy. You want to walk in and feel comfortable. So I used touches of linen for a lightweight, airy and casual feel. We also added in a few well-placed antiques. There’s so much of that stuff that is handed down in the south and has sentimental value, so that’s something we push very, very hard. And when I think of the south, I think of big magnolia leaves and fresh-cut flowers from the yard. We love to bring our cuttings in and make that connection with the outdoors, because we have those pretty outdoor gardens almost all year round.

Detail shot of the upstairs landing in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House designed by Ashley Gilbreath

BD: How did Ballard fit into your vision for your space?

AG: Ballard has a wonderful eye for what’s going on right now — and at great price points. So whether it’s the texture from baskets or a beautiful upholstered chair or a chest, all of it works so well in any job we do. I especially loved those Bunny Williams baskets with the scalloped liner on them. They’re timeless and tastefully done. That’s a detail that’s not easy to pull off.

BD: Was there anything you learned with this project or you had fun with that might influence your next project?

AG: I had so much fun working with the other designers. It’s been nice to see some of these designs come together, to see it from a different point of view of another designer. You think, “What are they doing over there? I don’t know if I would have done that.” And then you watch it come together and it all looks really amazing. So it was fun to collaborate with other designers and see their vision come to life.

Take the full tour of the 2016 Southern Living Idea House, see more interviews with the designers, or shop all of the products featured in the house.

Learn more about visiting the Southern Living Idea House, and find the full resource guide.

See the last two Southern Living Idea Houses: the 2014 Idea House at Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina designed by Suzanne Kasler or 2015 Idea House designed by Bunny Williams in Charlottesville, Virginia.