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Design dynamo: whether bringing color, cachet, and charm to clients' elegant homes, raising money for her pet causes, or swatting a tennis ball, Sarah Nelson always gives one hundred percent.

Sarah Nelson, owner of Sarah Jones Interiors, needs no introduction to readers who, over the years, have enjoyed lush photo spreads and descriptions of her many projects throughout the state. Talented design professional she is, indeed, but that is only one of many facets of this tirelessly energetic woman. "She seems to be everywhere at once," a friend remarked recently.

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Creating beautiful roomscapes for clients' homes is her passion as well as her job. But equally important to Nelson is her volunteer work, about which she is also passionate. "I believe in giving back to the community," she states simply. And what an understatement this is, in her case: the list of organizations for which she has served as consultant, board member, or president is quite lengthy.

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Fundraising is her special gift: St. Andrew's Episcopal School and Jackson Preparatory School, where her children went, have benefited from her talents when she chaired the annual fund drives. She remains active in the Jackson community and in Cashiers, North Carolina, where she and husband Phil, a retired radiologist, spend much of the year.

The Junior League of Jackson, the Mississippi Ballet Theater, and the Mississippi Arts Festival have all been beneficiaries of Nelson's time and talents.

Dividing time between their Fondren home and their mountain retreat, the Nelsons are never far from a tennis court. Nelson currently plays in the 4.0 bracket, enjoying playing as a doubles team with her husband. She is a former National Champion from her days playing 4.5. Added to all the other activities is a keen involvement with their far-flung children and grandchildren--three sons, three daughters, and nine grandchildren.

A native of Lexington, Nelson began her working life as a registered nurse, but in 1970, decided to follow her dream of decorating houses. "Even as a little girl, I was interested in homes being beautiful," she notes. Asked about her design philosophy, she states succinctly, "Find out what the client likes, and take it to the next level!"

Working as a team with her associate, Catherine Graeber, whom she praises as "the best interior designer I have ever known," Nelson creates daily miracles for those who entrust their living spaces to her eye and taste.

Recently selected to be a featured designer in an upcoming coffee-table book, Interiors Southeast, her career shows no signs of slowing down.

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When Jane and Frank Yerger decided to move from their native Jackson to Oxford, and build their dream home, their choice of interior designer was easy. They couldn't imagine anyone but Sarah Nelson masterminding the appointing of their new nest, which they share with their three young children.

Not only had Nelson decorated their first home on Glenway Drive in Jackson, but she had also worked with Frank's parents in their Ken Tate-designed house around the corner.

Home designer Frank Tindall drew the plans for the residence, which, in accordance with the clients' desire, is heavily French-influenced. It is situated on approximately one acre in the old Country Club area overlooking the lake at Lamar Park.

"It's very livable," comments Jane. "We use every room!" Four bedrooms with a guest suite over the garage and the children's wing upstairs ensure ample privacy for all ages.

The Yergers credit their interior designer with much of the "livability."

"I requested a basic palette of greens, rusts, and shades of gold," says Jane, "So Sarah selected several large rugs, mostly Oushaks, and pulled the colors for walls and textiles from these."

This color combination marries well with the many rustic elements of the house--cypress cabinets and library paneling, tongue-and-groove ceilings in the kitchen and downstairs game room, beams overhead in the formal living room, and interior brick walls.

This bolder scheme was a change from that of their Jackson residence, where delicate-hued Aubussons called for a lighter approach. Many of their existing sofas and chairs were recovered, and additional antiques were acquired to round out the new spaces.

The master suite is a calm lettuce-green oasis, accented with Jane's preferred warm hues. Nubby fawn-colored chenille armchairs and a matching oversized ottoman provide a cozy spot for reading by the fireplace. The bold- lined contemporary bed is crowned by an architectural panel with a gold-leafed cartouche, from which drapes a half-canopy.

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"This is pure Sarah," laughs Jane. When we were doing this room, she told me to just leave the house one morning, and stay away until fate afternoon. When I came back, the bedroom was all done, and we love it!" This kind of trust is typical of Nelson's relationships with everyone she works with: because she knows her longtime clients well, they are comfortable having her make decisions independently, which suits everyone just fine!

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"When people see Jane and Frank's house, the first thing they say is, 'this is elegant but homey!'" remarks Nelson. "And that's just what we were going for."

Vicky and Mark Hollingsworth are among Nelson's longest-term clients. "We began our relationship with Sarah when we were building our first home, and she was just starting her design business," says Vicky.

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"We were young and knew very little, but Sarah seemed to know everything, and shared her knowledge with us enthusiastically!" The designer/client partnership flourished through the years and several projects including a lakeside cottage and Mark's truck dealership. "She's always up for a challenge," notes Mark.

So when the couple decided to build on an expanse of land outside McComb, an imposing Federal-style residence designed by architect Ken Tate, their first call was to their trusted interior designer.

"We knew this would be a formal, elegant house," says Nelson, "so we selected furniture, fabrics, and appointments with a classic Continental look, to complement the perfect formal proportions Ken Tate is known for in his houses."

The Hollingsworths brought many pieces and artwork from their prior home--most of which were things that Nelson had helped them choose over many years, with an eye towards a permanent collection.

Because the formal rooms open graciously into one another, creating axes of view from one space to the next, a consistent palette was required for harmony and flow. One of the designer's firm policies is, "start with the rugs." In this case, rich-hued Orientals were chosen, with several Sarouks lending scarlets, golds, and deep greens to the scheme.

Textiles on the many sofas and chairs were kept subdued, with muted colors and small patterns. Pops of color appear in the accessories, such as the silk accent cushions in bold damasks and plaids.

The sitting room and dining room are bathed in a pale yellow. Each of these rooms opens via wide round-arched doorways to a sun-drenched rear loggia that runs the length of the main block of the lower floor. This multi-purpose gallery, with an area for sitting, a secretary for letter-writing, and a glass-topped table for cards or informal meals, is painted a dramatic leaf green, echoing the verdant countryside viewed through a bank of arched French doors. This area is a showcase for Nelson's strong preference for eclecticism: twin antique chests flank the sofa, the chairs are contemporary Oriental bamboo, and modern sisal rugs underscore the scheme.

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The master suite is a prime example of the designer's insistence on style paired with absolute comfort. Adjacent to the sleeping area, with its exquisitely-appointed four-poster bed, is an intimate private library, with plenty of shelves for books and bibelots, and a pair of cushioned club chairs for late-night reading and relaxing.

In keeping with the genteel mannerism of the Federal style, cabinetry throughout the house is enameled the same creamy white as the trim.

"Sarah knows our needs, our tastes, our family," concludes Vicky, "and always seeks our input, although, of course, the decisions ultimately become hers! And every project she's ever done for us, this house especially, has turned out even better than we had hoped. We wouldn't change a thing."

"The Hollingsworths wanted an edgy, urban, contemporary look, with just a few vintage pieces thrown in," says Nelson of her client's vision for their Barrington penthouse in northeast Jackson.

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This concept is exactly the reverse of that employed in their main dwelling in McComb. There, antiques predominate, with only a touch of modernism in an accessory here and there. But for their home-away-from-home in the capital city, everyone involved agreed that light, crisp, and up-to-the-minute was the way to go.

Nelson's usual modus operandi is to start with the rugs underfoot, and pull a colorway from these investment pieces. In this case, however, a moonlight-pale plush carpeting was used wall-to-wall, for a clean, sophisticated look. The carpeting throughout lends flow, avoiding a "chopped up" feeling.

The aerie is entered via a marble-floored entry hall, with walls faux-finished in a silvery glaze. A wall of mirrored squares with tiny brass medallions visually doubles the space. From here, the double living area is entered, with a large formal sitting room opening onto a smaller library with a fireplace and additional intimate seating. Tufted armchairs are covered in a bold hexagonal textile whose warm tones echo the marbre jeune of the fireplace surround. A contrasting slate-toned faux marbre finish is used on the mantel and flanking keystone-arched book recesses.

The larger sitting room displays the eclecticism they all wanted to achieve: the clean-lined sofa, above which a large abstract oil is featured, contrasts pleasingly with the large Georgian mahogany breakfront atop which rest three large modern mercury glass art pieces.

Beyond this double salon, the dining room is a coolly elegant space, with the same white walls used throughout the dwelling. A round Italianate table for four glitters richly with its mottledmirror surface and apron edged in gold leaf. A burst of color is provided by an exuberant oil painting of figures in cerulean, persimmon, and kelly green. On the sideboard, a pair of tall all-white drum-shaded lamps is a counterpoint to the old French trumeau mirror.

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The master bedroom, with its stunning city view from the shuttered windows, features a clean-lined grey leather-upholstered headboard, crisp white linens edged in taupe filleting, and twin mirror-clad demi-lune lamp tables.

Off this room, a tiny private reading room accessed via glass-paneled doors provides space for a reading chair and ottoman and a small desk. Three walls of windows provide more views from on high.

If an even higher vantage point is desired, a trip up the spiral stairs to the rooftop terrace affords a breathtaking vista, plus fresh air on pleasant days.

Used on weekends, and whenever a visit to Jackson is needed for shopping or spending time with grandchildren, this lofty urban retreat answers the Hollingsworth's need for a pied-a-terre, or rather, pied-a-ciel, as they are several stories above the city.

SARAH NELSON

Whether working from Mississippi or her retreat in Cashiers, North Carolina, Sarah Nelson always captures her clients' personalities and visions in her designs.
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Author:Jones, Brenda Ware
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:1847
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