BayouHome | Curating A Joyful Home
article by Vanelis River
photos by Kelly Moore Clark
Interior Designer Julie B. Mays working with homeowner Tina Newton to transform her two-story, French country-style home into a space indicative of her forever home.
For the most part, interior design is aesthetic. It aspires to please the eye with colors, patterns, shapes, and attractive layouts. Of course, as an art and science, this branch of study is meant to achieve beyond aesthetics. Professional designers have spent years honing their craft and, when seeking to enhance a client’s space, tend to consider usability and function. What seems like a rudimentary undertaking then becomes a carefully curated project, one that prioritizes establishing a cohesive vision. A cognizant designer is always asking hard questions and seeing more than what meets the eye. Such a vision is what Julie B. Mays brought to the table when homeowner Tina Newton was in search of transforming her two-story, French country-style home into a space indicative of her forever home.
Five years ago, Newton and her husband bought the sizeable residence from a friend. Though drawn to its tucked away location in the hilly, Northeast Louisiana woodlands, they noted facets that they wished to custom-fit to their personality and lifestyle. Cue in, Mays’ expertise: “My mantra is ‘Let’s wait for the right thing.’ Don’t use ‘BandAid’ areas because you’ll end up fixing them.” Newton chimes in, “I did do that,” adding, “We worked on almost every room. And I’m happy with it. It was worth the wait.” The synergy between the pair feels like they’ve known each other for a long time. In fact, they attended high school together but ran in different circles. It seems that this chance meeting of the minds brought them closer together, so much so that they consider each other dear friends. “That’s why this all works out,” says Mays, referring to the rapport built one design decision at a time.
It was not necessarily a bumpy road to the finished product, but Newton quickly realized there was more to design than selecting a few pieces. “I’ve learned less is more,” she laughs, reminiscing about her past interior design choices. “Every nook and cranny had something,” she explains, referring to her tendencies to mix too many colors, patterns, and styles. “Together, we made everything cohesive,” explains Newton. Not only did she develop a deep trust in Mays, but she refined her own instincts and started trusting herself. “My taste has changed for the better,” says Newton. As a result, she now lives in what Mays describes as a calm, comfortable space that is not so busy that your eye stalls. That’s to say, each room has a flow with a few standout pieces, but not too much interruption.
Selecting pieces for such a large space is no simple task, but Mays lives for the challenge. “I try very hard not to have a favorite selection to present to clients. And I will never show them anything as an option that I have a question about.” She spends a considerable amount of time examining an item’s size, finish, and whether it is within budget. “It’s a lot of thinking through,” says Mays, adding, “I’m all or nothing, I’m not a warm, in-the-middle girl.” This tends to be tough for clients who expect a long line of options. While Newton wouldn’t categorize herself among those, she did push back on a few decisions which she soon after yielded. “You know what you’re talking about. You’re right. That did not fit in this space,” Newton says, playfully recounting her concession speech.
Before conceptualizing a room, Mays has the inclination to consider wall color first. “It begins with the walls because they set the palette and they are the biggest part of the space,” she says. In the primary bedroom, warm gray walls compliment the creamy egg white of the cathedral ceiling featuring exposed wood beams. Natural light floods the space from arched top patio doors revealing an enthralling gated courtyard, complete with a checkered turf pattern surrounding a three-tier floor fountain. Needless to say, the centerpiece of the room is the bed, a striking four-poster bed with an antique grey finish and gold leaf accents and trim. Two walnut-colored accent chairs are positioned at the foot of the bed and placed over a beige abstract rug. In one corner, an oversized Baroque mirror leans on the wall. Here, Newton admits, is where her husband usually rolls out a tee turf mat to practice his golf form.
“I’m on a lifelong treasure hunt,” says Mays, as she confidently stands in the foyer; behind her, the wood, arched double doors of the main entrance. She turns to the dining room, nodding past the wood top, tulip base table toward two large frames showcasing reflective, silver-gray chinoiserie-style paintings. “I knew that Tina wasn’t in love with birds in art,” says Mays slyly, admitting that she nudged Newton towards the images with the hope that she would fall in love with their glimmering presence. Her subtle approach worked, and Newton agreed to try them out, later admitting that she didn’t even quite notice the birds. The lesson—subtle pieces can still make a statement.
“This is my life,” declares Mays, who started tinkering with design when she was sixteen. Her craft begins with her intuition, and an impressive ability to see the possibility of a space. Take the room across from the dining room. It was initially a closed office, but Mays opened it up, transforming it into a cozy parlor. A clover-shaped, tufted linen ottoman centers the space while four, aged leather, olive accent chairs circle around. “It’s nice when it’s cold outside and you have the fire on, just to cozy up with a blanket,” says Newton, who enjoys sitting in this room for game nights or by herself, contemplating the outdoors from the nearby window.
“This is an example, again, of how everything flows. Your eye doesn’t stop,” says Mays, whose gaze etched past an archway leading toward the living room where a white, cerused oak and brass coffee table is the gravitational pull of the spacious room. Surrounding it is an off-white linen sofa, two curved high-back accent chairs, and two asymmetrical, twist-base stools. Beyond the living room, where once existed an enclosed patio, is a remodeled second dining room featuring a billiard-kitchen table combo, perfect for family gatherings. Accenting the space are two padded and woven armchairs, illuminated by two white, geometric light fixtures. Beyond the foldable glass doors, the long rectangular pool and jacuzzi are visible, as well as the impressive outdoor kitchen area, which is fully furnished with woven patio furniture and high-end appliances. Adjacent to this roofed space is a large rectangular firepit area punctuated by two black and white, vertically striped ottomans. “We like to have dinner out here. We light the fire out here even when it’s hot,” says Newton enthusiastically.
For both women, it’s hard to pick a favorite room. For Newton, the places where her family gathers—kitchen and back patio—are hard to beat. Yet, Mays has an affinity for one of the smallest rooms in the house, one that tends to crystallize a first impression of the home for any guest. “My theory is that the powder bath is the diamond of the home. It needs to be just amazing,” she says; after all, it is the first place a guest occupies where they have time to truly take in details. The powder room of the home is located off the “friend entrance.” Glowing from the light of a geometric, glass-paneled candelabra reflected on grasscloth wallpaper, this petite space features a gold-trimmed vanity mirror and a white-centered stone top sink. The lasting impression here is that of elegance and calm.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little more effort to find the right thing rather than just settle,” says Mays who believes in curating a timeless space that can translate into each period of a person’s life. In fact, Mays makes a distinction between a “pretty” space and one that elicits joy. That’s why she tends to “dig deep” with clients in order to find what is true to them. Her kind but firm approach is what helped further establish Newton’s trust in her. It’s been five years in the making, and thanks to Mays, as well as builder Richard Heard, Newton finally has a home she feels proud to pass down to her children. Clearly, when it comes to curating happiness, the results are worth waiting for.