Bunny Williams, the Southern Living Idea House, & Me

Marian ParsonsDecorating16 Comments

I learned a long time ago that checking my e-mail can be exciting at times.  Yes, usually it’s sorting through spam and questions and action items, but sometimes it’s an exciting opportunity, proposal or offer.  So, when I got an e-mail entitled “Southern Living, Bunny Williams & Miss Mustard Seed”, it immediately caught my attention.  I thought it might be a “which one of these things doesn’t belong in the title of this e-mail” sort of joke, but it was actually an e-mail asking if I’d like to interview Bunny Williams, the designer of the 2015 Southern Living Idea House in gorgeous Charlottesville, VA.

Here’s a peek at the outside…


photo via Southern Living

I love how it’s styled after an old stone farmhouse and can’t wait to see more of the inside.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know we love the Charlottesville area and have visited there for the past couple of years.

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We stayed at the historic Clifton Inn and ate at local farm-to-table restaurants, hiked, hit a few antique shops.  It’s just a gorgeous area…especially in the fall.

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And, Charlottesville is special to us, because my Opa, who our oldest son was named after, is a graduate of the University of Virginia.  We use to visit there often and even had season tickets to the football games at one point.


So, if Bunny Williams and Southern Living wasn’t enough to keep my attention, the fact that the house was in Charlottesville put it over the top.

Now I had to come up with questions to ask Bunny.  I hope she doesn’t mind if I call her Bunny!  (It feels like the time I called Bob Dole, “Bob” and when I told my dad he just about choked.)

I sat at my keyboard, a little unsure what to ask her.  My decorating seems so humble and simple and low budget compared to the stuff she does.  What could I ask her that would be relevant to me and my readers?  She’s been interviewed by a lot of bigwigs, who I’m sure, asked very intelligent, highly technical design questions that sounded much smarter than anything I was about to type.

I then realized that I was coming at things from the wrong direction.  Good design is good design.  Period.  It doesn’t matter the budget or the setting or the accolades or the years of experience.  There are things that are universal…texture, patterns, color, scale, arrangements, finishing touches, furniture placement…that can be achieved on any budget and in any home.  So, I asked questions along those lines.  What can we, the non-professional, shelter-magazine-loving, “home girls” learn from Bunny?


photo via Bunny Williams

When designing a room that is a blank slate, where do you usually start?

You need to know what’s going to happen in this room and it’s important to study the floor plan and really understand the scale of the room so you that you can shop smartly. You should not make any decorating decisions until you know the sofa’s not too deep or the chairs are not too small.

Which piece in a room usually takes up the biggest chunk of your budget?

Spend money on good upholstery. Quality upholstery will last – if you tire of the fabric, you can always recover the piece.


photo via Bunny Williams

For those who love the 2015 Southern Living Idea House, what is the best way they can capture this look and put it in their own home?

Homes are meant to be used and lived in. I don’t believe living rooms should be reserved for parties and dining rooms should be fallow except on holidays. This house incorporates beautiful upholstery and antiques, but nothing is too precious – it’s ready to accommodate a busy family, kids, dogs, and guests. To do the same in your home, put a throw or interesting textile over the sofa to make it pet-friendly, use indoor/outdoor rugs, and use patterned fabrics sparingly such that if one chair needs to be recovered, the whole room doesn’t fall apart.

gottwald, richmond, virginia

gottwald, richmond, virginia

Photo via Bunny Williams

What are your go-to accessories for finishing off a space?

Bedside tables need a little tray, tissues in an attractive container, a bottle of water and a notepad. I love beautiful baskets or porcelain bowls to hold cotton balls or Q-tips in bathrooms. Always have wonderful cachepots around so you can quickly add a plant and make a room come to life. Use hurricane lamps, so at night you can light a candle which gives atmosphere and romance to a room. With this house, we were lucky to have great antique shops nearby to find some of these details.

You said you like to mix antiques with modern furniture.  Are their certain antiques you look for specifically?  Or do you design around whatever you find?

Just as I like to mix antiques and more modern furniture, I like to mix styles of antiques. If you have a more ornate table, that’s when it’s really special to have a more modern piece next to it. It gives texture and lets each piece stand out on its own.


photo via Bunny Williams

For the rest of the interview and a video of Bunny Williams talking about designing vs. decorating, visit The Daily South

Bunny Williams, the Southern Living Idea House, & Me

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16 Comments on “Bunny Williams, the Southern Living Idea House, & Me”

  1. When I click the link to The Daily South, it says the article is not available or has been removed.

  2. What an exciting opportunity and honor for you! I appreciated the approach you settled on, and her thoughtful and helpful responses. Congrats Marian!

    1. Ha, well… my husband used to work in Washington, DC. One day, he was on a lunch break and was talking to me on the phone. He stopped our conversation and said, “Bob Dole is walking right towards me! He’s gesturing for the phone…” and then Bob Dole was on the phone with me. He greeted me and I was so stunned that I just blurted out, “Hi, Bob.” We had a brief conversation about where I was from and the recount happening in Florida at the time and that was that. I was always told to call adults, people in authority, “Mr” and Mrs”, so my dad couldn’t believe that I called him Bob!

  3. Wow! What an opportunity! I love Bunny William’s style. Classy, but relaxed. Great questions and great answers.

  4. I’m glad you realized that good design is good design…..and you are one of the best! You can take the most ordinary thing and make it beautiful and with character. You have earned this!! What I want to know is…did you call her Bunny or S. Rabbit? Just kidding

  5. I am one of Bunny’s loyal followers- not only do I have every one of her books, but I give them as gifts to those I particularly love.I just enjoy her designs so much- there’s heart and spirit and utter comfort within her own rooms, as well as luscious colors, and atmosphere that tells me this is a room for people who love life and want to share it with other.
    Everyone should buy her wonderful book..”An Affair with a House” It is my bible..:-)
    Great interview!! Thank you!

  6. Good for you, for overcoming your own fears and rising to the occasion! That takes such inner strength, Marian. Well done! And what an amazing experience. I may have to pop down there and check that place out. Love that white chair with the black “flames” stitched on it. Can’t wait to read the rest of the interview.
    All the best,
    The Other Marian

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