Living in Color
Some call Sharon Heath brave for living in such bright pigments, but her motivation and inspiration have been what we should all aspire to breathe into our own lives—the primal, God-given need to express our authentic selves, completely and unapologetically.
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
In a world inundated with minimalist décor trends—clutter-free spaces, neutral tones, functionality over style, and accessorizing with restraint—one Rayville resident is going rogue and filling her crisp-white, southern, Acadian-style home with opulence in color and texture. With such a traditional exterior, walking into the home of Sharon Heath is a jolt to the senses, akin to Dorothy opening that door and stepping into a wondrous land of color, in combinations most homeowners might shy away from. Some call Heath brave for living in such bright pigments, but her motivation and inspiration have been what we should all aspire to breathe into our own lives—the primal, God-given need to express our authentic selves, completely and unapologetically.
Sharon and husband Tyler Heath grew up in the area; she was raised in Start and he in Rayville. The couple began as high school sweethearts and married young, moving their lives to Jackson, Mississippi, where Tyler worked as a respiratory therapist while pursing a doctorate in dentistry. There, Sharon was managing a couple of boutiques, gaining a stronger foundation of color and texture combinations. As if preparing for her dream home, the pair would antique shop fervently, storing pieces of furniture away. “We’re pretty traditional people, so we knew what kind of home we’d eventually like to have.” On her 30th birthday, her hubby gave her papers to the three acres that would become their forever home. A serene plot facing the majesty of the bayou is what they have been waking up to now for close to sixteen years. While the house was built by BRACO Construction Co. some parts of the building process were a little more intimate. The shutters on the front porch were built by her father-in-law Tom Heath and the white shutters inside of the foyer and den were from the Women’s Ministry Union Building, affiliated with First Baptist Church of Rayville, a building dating to 1927 and later renovated in the early 90s. “That is something I have tried to fill my home with over the years. I love art and furniture that may tell a story or has special meaning,” she says.
“Obviously, I love textures,” Sharon laughs as she glances around her dining room filled with pops of bright shades streaming from walls, furniture, paintings, and an impressive collection of uniquely created ceramic pieces by the talented “Seedsters” from the Mustard Seed, a Christian community for adults with developmental disabilities based in Brandon, Mississippi.
Ironically, Sharon doesn’t usually wear a lot of bright clothing, but she dresses her home with it. “My eyes are just drawn to color,” she says. In her home, a variety of hues compel the senses, beginning with her walls which are a delightful pea green. “It goes year-round with everything,” she says, but most importantly it makes her happy. One of her first color influencers was a designer from Neiman Marcus who visited the boutique she worked for at the time. He would take the weekend to decorate the windows, changing the palette and aesthetic given the season. “I learned a lot with him because I did not go to school to be a decorator,” she says, though she confesses that as a child when her parents left her home alone, they’d come back to a completely rearranged home, compliments of a restless impulse and a creative mind that would forever have an instinct for design. “I loved to play house,” she adds, taking a pause to remember a quote by Iris Apfel, American interior designer and color queen: “When we were small children we all played dress-up and everybody had a good time. So why stop?” That childlike fancy has translated to having dishes out at the ready (as if a party could be in tow at any given moment) and decorating the space with other beautifully designed dinnerware.“I love MacKenzie-Childs,” she says pointing to the black and white checkered ceramics inhabiting the dining room’s wide bookcase hutch and kitchen area.
A natural attraction to a variety of shades and tones will usually lend itself to art. “Whenever we go on a trip, I always look for a local gallery with local artists,” Sharon says proudly, taking me to a small hallway adjacent to the dining room and kitchen, whose walls are brimming from top to bottom with a gleeful assortment of art of all sizes. “This is from an artist in Florida. This is from an artist in Mississippi,” she pauses at each allowing them to be rightfully admired. She stops at a portrait of a young girl with bubble-wide eyes. “She has an interesting story,” she says, referring to the artist. In the heat of battling cancer, Lila Graves went to Mexico to die. There, she occupied her time by street painting. Months went by, and she realized, “I’m not dying.” Heath pauses to reflect on the tale before joyfully continuing to point out pieces as she name-drops states from other past artistic hauls: Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia.
Accumulating home furnishing has been Sharon’s specialty and one that is best admired in the piano room. The cozy space located close to the entryway is hallmarked by bright tan walls with a light-green undertone and features a wood piano adorned with family pictures, a velvet, forest green sofa, and a whitewashed brick fireplace decorated with whimsical figurines by Moni McKee of Sharon’s favorite animal, the bunny. The color combinations crescendo at the living room, where a number of pastel hues mingle with bright bursts of lime green, canary yellow, and guava pink. Sharon often gets asked whether her husband minds the pink. “He does not mind at all,” she asserts. “His mother decorated with pastels.” Accent pieces in the living room include two custom-made, bright pink upholstered lounge chairs and a vintage, light-chartreuse green upholstered loveseat.
Unlike the rest of the home, the only room that is understated is the one made for winding down, the couple’s bedroom. The neutral tones include the greyish-taupe walls, eggshell-white headboard and wall-length curtains, and elegant dark gray, Bella Notte bedding. At the foot of the bed two antique lounge chairs with chocolate-brown fabric and leaf cut-outs complete the soft-spoken, leisurely feel Sharon was envisioning for the end of her day.
Another kick-back area of the home is the backyard, an idyllic panorama of the bayou, manicured lawn, clusters of beautiful Sweet Drift rose bushes, and a few patio sectionals to mellow out and enjoy the majesty of nature like their grand outdoor brick fireplace where, particularly during cool evenings, the family tends to congregate to make campfire favorites like s’mores, which is a “big deal” for them, and hot dogs. The pool area is naturally frequented by their grandkids, as well as the black and white playhouse that once belonged to one of their daughters. Closer to the water, a shady arbor is perfect for decompressing, romantic evenings, or fellowship with friends. When not laying back in their many areas of relaxation, the family tends to enjoy the land by way of their golf cart: “We were actually running around last night on the golf cart and we saw an alligator in the middle of the lake.”
When Sharon was living in Jackson, she worked with about a dozen women she ended up referring to as her “Mississippi mamas.” This group of creators and decorators became Sharon’s bedrock for her approach to design. “They introduced me to the arts.” While their influence is palpable around the house, there is no denying that much of Sharon’s know-how is a gift she has always possessed. “And I’ve always been told I just have a natural eye for things, you know… I think that I might see colors different than other people,” she says adding, “and some colors just appear more vibrant to me. I don’t know, I get really excited about textures and prints and color.” The key to her selective intuition is an affinity for what she sees: “I always tell my girls if you do see something and you don’t just love it, put it back. Don’t buy it.” There’s an unmistakable joyous emotionality to how hues flow from one room to the next. Even when considering where to place the number of art pieces she collects, it’s all based on gut feeling and a simple motto she learned from her “Mississippi mamas:” “If you like it you better get it and you’ll find a place to put [it].”
While there is something to the adage less is more, visiting Sharon’s home almost acts like a rebuttal. Many of her friends, those same admirers that have called her “brave” for coloring outside the lines, have come to embrace the overstimulation that always results in joy. At Sharon and Tyler’s home, there is always something to eat and music playing from Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga. “They’re happy. Everybody’s happy,” Sharon says about those that benefit from her hospitality and love for entertaining. “I wanted people to come in and feel special. And, you know, that’s always been my word for years. Special.”