Designer Spotlight: Leah Atkins - Finding Inspiration in Southern Traditions and Family
Atlanta-based interior designer Leah Atkins likes the classics — with a twist. “Many of my clients are traditionalists, but they also want something highly personal,” she explained. “It’s more than just the iconic pillars and the graceful front porches and the formal dining rooms with the great chandeliers. I help my clients really get at what makes them happy.”
Atkins' fascination with home décor began early in life. When she was little, she always wanted to redecorate her room and she and her mother would paint the walls and do DIY projects together. “By the time I was in second grade, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was ‘interior designer.’”
When she became a senior in high school, an interior design course was introduced. Each week the class held contests, in which students sketched a piece of furniture or designed something. Atkins came in number one frequently. This inspired her to study interior design at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Within a year of graduating college, she went from working at a furniture store to starting her own interior design business, Leah Atkins Design.
Creating Designs That Focus on Hospitality
Her design work takes inspiration from all sorts of things, including the South, family and her travels. “The South inspires my work by encouraging me to really focus on hospitality in my designs,” she said. “I want to make sure that all of my spaces make people feel welcome and that we also bring a lot of focus and attention into the entertainment and guest areas of the home.”
A consistent component in Atkins’ life and work is the love of family. Generational legacy figures are part of the American South aesthetic, and creating a genteel and welcoming home is paramount. While Atkins appreciates such traditionalism, and even describes herself as being in a “white walls” phase, she likes to encourage her clients to experiment, especially with color. “I kindly, gently, lead people out of their comfort zone,” she said, “but not so far that they can’t find their way back.”
For example, she sometimes suggests using black, either for trim, as a sofa color or used to cover an entire room. “Every single time, they question the choice,” she said. “But every single time, they fall in love with the final product.” A bit of bravery, she offered, nourishes self-confidence. Atkins' favorite place to visit is a tie between India and Greece. “Both are stunning, but so very different,” she said, and she likes to use the cool, calming blue-and-white hues of Greece and the bold lotus-pinks and saffron-oranges of India in her designs as well.
This bedroom was designed with spring in mind. A pitcher, glasses and fresh flowers on the bed tray are sure to make guests feel welcome.
Bringing Nature Into the Home
Nature is another major theme in her decorating. “Many of my clients love entertaining out by the pool,” she said, “and flowering plants as well as mature trees are especially prized in the backyards of many Southern homes. They’re gracious, and cooling.” Atkins, too, loves the great outdoors.“I love driving my convertible with the top down on country roads, or in the mountains, not knowing where in the heck I’m going. My favorite part of a new project is walking in the door meeting a brand-new client and having no idea what I am getting into.”
This master bedroom is the definition of southern comfort.
The Details of Designing
Atkins enjoys socializing — and she especially loves the relationships she forms with her clients — but her alone time provides much inspiration for her work. “Solo trips to the beach bring me so much peace and inspiration and allow me to ‘reset,’” she said. “Browsing art galleries is one of my favorite pastimes and it brings me so much inspiration to see all of the beautiful colors and textures. Choosing a piece of art is a great place to start a design.”
Her design process from the initial client meeting to project completion typically takes about 12-16 weeks. “There are so many challenges that come along with being an interior designer,” she said. “Dealing with vendor lead times, discontinued or damaged items, overly choosy clients and working with uncooperative sub contractors are just a few.” Her future goals include taking on larger projects and designing show homes.
A gallery wall is the perfect way to bring art into a room with high wainscoting.
Adding a Bit of History in Decorating
In her own space, Atkins balances modern convenience with warmth and comfort. She lives in a connected house, “where computers do everything,” she said. She favors furnishings that feel well travelled, infused with a sense of history. She mixes these with modern and contemporary pieces to give each space a curated impression.
Family is important. Atkins has two children: August James, 2, and Clementine Eloise, 6 months. Her children are adopted and Atkins maintains a close relationship with their birth mothers. “We talk to the birth mothers every day, and they have become two of our closest friends, as well as becoming amazing friends with each other,” she said. “It truly is a beautiful story about adoption and motherhood and how yes, it does take a village. My husband and I always want our children to know their stories, and to hopefully always have relationships with their birth-mothers and biological families.”
Having a family has changed Atkins' perspective as a designer. “I have learned what all to take into account when designing for a family with children,” she said. “You can study and learn what those things are, but you really don’t fully understand or learn certain tricks until you have kids of your own.”
A little red can go a long way. See how the apples offer a pop of color.
If you enjoyed this article, read another profile on Casart Coverings owner and designer Ashley Spencer.
Photo credit (rooms): Deborah Whitman Llewelyn.
Featured photo: Painting the arched window and adding wood paneling to the ceiling in this room really created a “wow” factor.
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