Interior Designer Mark D. Sikes in his living room designed for 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 chatted with interior designer, Mark D. Sikes, to find out how the history of the iconic magazine inspired his designs.

Mark D. Sikes' living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

Mark D. Sikes: I was assigned the living room, which was very exciting. It’s a magnificent room — the largest room in the house. What’s nice about the space is that there are two pairs of French doors that connect the room to the outdoors to the porch. The space also is attached to the master bedroom, which I initially thought was odd, but once I was in the space, I loved the flow. The positioning of the room near the master plus the sheer size had a lot to do with how I laid out the furniture plan. I really wanted to make it a multifunctional kind of space that the homeowners would want to use.

On one end of the room near the cozy fireplace, I added a few chairs to make that space more like a sitting room for the people who use the master bedroom. On the other end of the living room is a larger seating space that accommodates more people. It’s more like a traditional living room where the family can watch TV, have a conversation or gather with guests at a cocktail party.

Mark D. Sikes' living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

MDS: The particular image I chose for inspiration was a room done from the late 80’s. The palette was very clean and you couldn’t tell if it was a southern room from today or 30 years ago. So the first thing I decided was to create this neutral palette. I also wanted to create a room that was organic in nature to reflect the outdoors and the neighborhood, so I used lots of texture.

Mark D. Sikes' living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

MDS: Going with a very neutral room created a blank canvas for me, which I love, because there’s so much you can do with texture in the finishes of the furniture, the textural quality of surfaces, such as using raffia wallpaper, the subtle patterns of different scales and the layering of rugs.

Mark D. Sikes' neutral living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

MDS: When I think of southern homes, I think of a home that is welcoming and comfortable and a place where people love to spend their time. The home is the center of the family, where they entertain and cook and enjoy having company. So, most importantly, I wanted it to be comfortable, casual and useful — a place you’d want to spend time in. I think that’s most reflected in the gracious seating in this room.

Mark D. Sikes' neutral living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

MDS: I formulated my furniture plan, and then I looked to Ballard for the great accessories, such as bowls, baskets and faux ferns. There is a particular item that I loved, which was the fluted wood pedestal. I used those in the front windows, and they’re really chic and I love what they added to the room.

Mark D. Sikes' neutral living room at the 2016 Southern Living Idea House in Mt. Laurel outside Birmingham, Alabama

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

MDS: Every project you learn something, but what I always find interesting is that the ideas that are hardest to execute are often the first things you give up on. In this particular project, I had picked out a wallpaper for the room and it was discontinued. It was this striped raffia wallpaper. I was deadset on having that subtle stripe be the background of the room, so I got a normal raffia wallpaper and I had an artist come in and hand paint the stripes on the walls. It was a very tedious, expensive process, but at the end of the day, I think it’s truly what makes the room. So what I learned is that sometimes the most difficult things turn out to be the best things, so you should find a way!

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.