Interior designer Margaret Kirkland's dining room in 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 talked with Atlanta interior designer, Margaret Kirkland, to find out how the history of the iconic magazine inspired her designs.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's dining room in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

Margaret Kirkland: I had the dining room and outdoor terrace to decorate and envisioned a family using the spaces for family meals, entertaining friends and loved ones. I wanted the spaces to feel both festive for special occasions, but not too precious to be used daily.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's dining room in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

MK: I loved working from the archival photos and reinterpreting classic southern design. I really took inspiration from all of the photos — there were these elaborate window treatments from an issue from 1989, and modern art incorporated into a room in an issue from 1976. There were also several images of walls with trellis paper. We decided to update that look by using an appliqued trellis fabric only under the chair rail as a type of wallcovering, so the room would still feel very light and airy.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's dining room in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

MK: We always love using color and prints in our designs, and never shied away from mixing different patterns together. I believe in rooms with personality that have multiple layers to keep your eyes interested. More than anything, I believe in the power of pretty.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's dining room in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

MK: Southern hallmarks to me are bright colors, using wallpaper, mixing different finishes and materials, and a general mix of high and low throughout the room. I used all of these components in the dining room, but tried to do it in a fresh and new way to make it feel exciting and current. I used embroidered wallpaper and fabric on the walls for a textured feeling. For me, southern design also means honoring tradition by using things that we’ve inherited, so we made sure to include silver, china and crystal in the room. I also layered in antiques, like the chandelier and the demilune consoles, with new furniture, like the table and chairs.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's outdoor space in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

MK: Ballard was a great fit for my vision of mixing antique and new pieces together in a room. It makes the room practical, because the new table and chairs can withstand daily use. The upholstered chairs are so gracious and comfortable — it invites people to linger over their meal and conversation at the table. We loved using the Emberton Side Chairs. We used two Coventry Benches as banquettes at the end of the dining room as a spot for people to have drinks before or after meals, as well as a place to curl up and read a book and just enjoy the beautiful light of the room during the day. They could also be pulled up to the dining table for a different seating arrangement.

We loved the Party Cabana on the outdoor terrace as a fun party venue and a place to escape the sunshine. We also used pieces from Suzanne Kasler’s outdoor collection for their comfort and great lines.

Interior Designer Margaret Kirkland's outdoor space in the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel, Alabama

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

MK: Every project you do has learning experiences, and I was so happy with the way the end product turned out. I loved painting the dining room ceiling a color to pull out the aqua in the other fabrics. I purposely went a shade lighter than I wanted to, because color on a ceiling tends to turn out brighter than a small color swatch that one sees in a paint deck. I also had a lot of fun playing with all of the different shades of the same color tones throughout the room with the aqua and the coral. Using lighter and darker tones of the coral in the chairs, table linens and lattice fabric under the chair rail make the room more interesting.

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.