For Southern designer Ashley Gilbreath, design and family go hand-in-hand. She believes “spaces are where memories are made” and that emotions can carry a room more than any texture or color. Here she helps us see how she designs for families with different needs and sizes.
Can you share how your design sensibilities for your own space changed when you became a mom?
I have wanted to be mom for so long. You only get to do this mom thing one time, and I wanted to make sure I was intentional about how it was remembered. I had a friend tell me a long time ago that children come into your life, you don’t come into theirs. That said, the only changes we have made to our spaces are the seemingly never-ending toys spread around and no space is totally put together anymore. HA! I am a big believer of living life the way you envision it, with the pieces and things that make you happy. There are so many kid-friendly, dog-friendly, red wine-friendly products out there…You can have the best of both worlds!! The main thing we have changed is how we have learned to enjoy the chaos…it would sure be lonely without it!
For people who are not looking for a complete redesign but are experiencing family changes (like the arrival of a baby or the departure of a grown-up kid), what do you recommend as small design revamps?
I think this is the same concept as above, that “a baby comes into your life, you don’t come into theirs.” They need to enter a scene that is still very much you. I don’t think it’s an overly redesigned anything, it’s just “make a little room for baby,” and get excited. People and relationships are a gift for us to enjoy for a moment in time. Do you; the rest will fall into place.
A constant thread in your work is the importance of family and how an interior can be a vessel through each memory created. In your opinion, what makes a room the perfect family room?
I truly think the coolest part of my job is knowing the spaces created for our clients will be a place forever written into their memory. It’s an intentionally designed place where their loved ones will remember life. Their living room will be a “feel good” of memories for years and generations to come. How cool is that!!?! For me, every space needs to have a welcoming feeling, a mix of old and new, sentimental and quirky. You should want to sit down and maybe even prop your feet up and stay for a while. Nothing has to be overly perfect.
Does a family room have to always be a version of the living room? In other words, can the kitchen serve as a family room?
Absolutely! I think the kitchen tends to be the preferred family room, although it isn’t always planned that way. Today’s kitchens are where life happens. Our kitchen island is for meals, homework, to-do lists, work and cooking. Honestly, cooking may come in last place.
What do you think is the biggest design challenge for any mother with young kids?
Finding and investing in pieces that last – investing in versatile pieces you can grow with as a family. Don’t go with the super quick fix; be intentional. A tailored slipcover, a treated fabric or an antique piece rather than a reproduction will last. You CAN have nice things. You can have a family and a dog and red wine and dirty shoes all at the same time. It just takes being thoughtful in your choices to make sure it will stand the test of family life. What’s better than passing the table, where your children have grown up having breakfast, on to your grandchild one day?! That doesn’t happen with a quick-fix table.
If you could wish for anything (really anything), what would be the ideal Mother’s Day gift?
More time! More time in the day. More time in the mornings with my babies. More time at night…anyone know where I can find this?
As someone who juggles work and family, what is your “there should be an app for that”? Something that doesn’t exist, but should (in our list, it used to be the glass holder for the bathtub). It could also be a genius design invention you just found out about or has changed your life.
This is tough!! Here are two quick thoughts:
One thing we have done for years I think helps moms make a good investment, while also keeping up with family pics, is a gallery wall. We frame out about 15-20 photos with large mats and hang them in a creative way. BUT, the cool part is if you want to change the professionally framed and matted picture, it is just like an old-school picture frame. You don’t have to take it to the framer to have a new pic popped into it. You can change the pictures yourself at home. This makes for something great-looking on your wall, as well as sentimental and ever-changing.
A cool invention or app for the design world would be a SEARCH tool for fabrics based on description. It would be great if all of our favorite fabric lines could participate. I would love to search for a “small-scale geometric print in mint green” and have my options from each vendor pop up. Even better if stock and pricing could come along with it. Way better if a sample could be mailed next!! My hours digging through our studio fabric bins could turn into hours at home!
Can you share a few images or projects (ideally three different projects) where there was a family challenge to solve and how you solved for them?
Project 1: Alabama – Kitchen/Keeping Room
• The kitchen is the busiest part of this home, and with a family of three young girls, everyone wants to be where mom is – which is often in the kitchen.
• We designed a custom 10’ banquette for this kitchen, which helped us create both a space to eat together as well as a place to curl up and read a book or do homework, while still being together as a family.
Get The Look
Project 2: Georgia – Home Office
• We needed a space for a home office for a sweet client who plays mom full-time while also running a successful business.
• We designed a cozy nook in the office for those nights when mom is working late, but also helping two teenagers study for a big test.
Get The Look
Project 3: Tennessee – Kitchen/Keeping Room
• Creating a space where the whole family can all congregate together as a family in the heart of the home – the kitchen!
• Bar stools around the island plus a seating area adjacent to the kitchen offer plenty of seating space for the family of five (three being teenagers).
Get The Look
Project 4: Alabama – Girls Bedroom
• Creating a bedroom fit for a teenage girl, but also suitable for her most trusty companion – her dog!
• The design – the “nightstand crate,” with an entrance on the side and a decorative panel to fold down at the front to disguise it.
Get The Look
Biggest design mistake:
Working directly off a plan without measuring the site. This happened once, and once only.
Your design crush:
Bunny Williams – always has been and probably always will be.
Most valuable décor possession:
Every time I find something really great, I end up putting it in a client’s house! But I have kept a great antique mirror with a fabulous blue frame I got for a steal at a design show. I’m keeping it forever.
What is currently on your: nightstand, Spotify rotation, Netflix list?
Tons of magazines on the bedside table.
Peppa Pig on the TV in morning, whatever sport is in season at night.
Most underrated quality for an interior designer?
Communication… learning to set expectations upfront.
Design trend you wish would go away?
The overdone Shiplap!
If you had all the time in the world, you would…
Spend time with my husband and little ones!
Love the look? Shop our assortment of Ashley Gilbreath-inspired pieces, currently available on Sotheby’s Home.