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Material instinct: a Jackson interior designer's eye for color and pattern guides her growing custom textile design business.

"Traditional with a twist!"

That's how Jacksonian Jane Shelton describes both her decorating affinity and her exclusive line of custom textiles now being sought after by a worldwide clientele.

Over more than two decades, Shelton's name has come to be synonymous with a certain brand of traditional elegance, comfort, pizzazz, and color in residential interiors. The clients with whom she works tend to share certain preferences: for the eclectic in fine antiques, for lots of light, for sumptuous fabrics, and for a certain shade of cadmium yellow.

This sunshiny hue suits the personality of Shelton herself. A vibrant Grace-Kelly blonde with a flashing smile and boundless energy, she has parlayed her skills into one of the most successful design firms in the state.

In recent years, however, her career has evolved from straight design into an exciting new field: marketing her own line of custom textiles. Jane Shelton, Inc., a line of exquisite interior fabrics, can now be found in the finest showrooms around the nation. Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco are just a few of the high-end to-the-trade venues where Shelton's fabrics can be selected by professionals for their clients. Overseas, she is represented in the Simon Playle House of London.

"Fabrics have always been my passion," comments the Cleveland native, who has an education degree from Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women). "I started my own line after having the opportunity to select fabrics for another line. There really wasn't any big epiphany--I just kept one foot in front of the other!"

Shelton's first mill run was in 1988. These days, her line runs to some 600 patterns and is frequently selected by the country's most prestigious decorators when they want a certain upscale, traditional look.

"I'm not really an artist," Shelton asserts. "I do sketches which other artists then interpret for me. I buy old documents and reinterpret them by adding background or re-scaling or coloring them to suit our line."

Her own house in Jackson, which she shares with her husband and business partner Tom, is a crucible for her design philosophy and a showcase of her textiles. When the family relocated to the capital city from Indianola about 10 years ago, they found a spacious, vaguely French-flavored house and "just basically took it apart," laughs Jane. "I love to move walls, close up doorways, rearrange the footpath. I even changed the ceilings!"

Aided by her good friend and kindred soul, architect Lewis Graeber, she reconfigured the 3,900-square-foot house to suit the couple and their two children then still at home, Jane Alexander and Tom. An awkward front hall that ran horizontally from the bedroom wing to the dining room was made more gracious by eliminating an off-center doorway and replacing it with a huge centered cased opening leading into the sitting room. The slanted ceiling was reshaped into a gently rounded barrel arch, subsequently glazed a sunny yellow to draw the eye upward. Identical pairs of painted consoles and contemporary octagonal mirrors flank this doorway, giving an early indication that Shelton favors symmetry.

The sitting room is divided into two distinct conversation areas. One is centered about the cast-stone fireplace. Graeber, who executed the intriguing twin white chinoiserie bookshelves here, also designed all of the architecturally detailed doors and cabinets throughout the house. The other seating area features a sofa and armchairs comfortably arranged beneath a life-size 18th-century portrait. An English ancestor, perhaps? "No," Jane smiles, "we just call her 'the lady.' I found her years ago and love having her on the wall!"

"The lady" is one of many oil paintings and prints that fill almost every square inch of the Sheltons' walls in every room. A large portrait of son Tom hangs behind the grand piano, done by family friend Equen Rhodes. Hanging in the birch-bark-papered passage from the kitchen to the small rear den is another of Rhodes' charming portraits, that of a very self-possessed dachshund. "That's our Oscar," says Jane, recalling a late much-loved family pet.

The dining parlor, glazed a bracing spearmint and given a subtle spatter finish by decorative painter Tammy Cook, is a bit unusual and harks back to prior centuries when such rooms were used for relaxing as well as eating. A large round Regency table, surrounded by painted French chairs covered in a tangerine velvet, occupies an aviary-like triple-windowed nook at the far end. A sitting area makes up the room's other half but allows space for a second table if required for large dinner parties.

On the opposite side of the house is the bedroom wing, with the spacious master and a little suite of two rooms formerly occupied by daughter Jane Alexander, who recently graduated from New York University with a journalism degree and now works as her mother's right-hand assistant. These two rooms are connected by another rounded-ceiling hallway, evocative of secret passages in ancient English and French castles, and an excellent example of the designer's attention to even the smallest details.

Another local residence, the home of Madalyn and Steve Hindman in Meadowbrook Highlands, also shows the work of Shelton at her best. A neoclassical Palladian-style two-story home also designed by Graeber, its graciously proportioned rooms lend themselves to a mannered approach, and its many sunny rooms showcase the designer's cheerful style.

The Hindmans had previously owned a larger home in Rankin County, but with children grown, they decided to simplify a bit. Their present house features a welcoming, expansive formal plan that allows them to live on one level, with rooms for visiting children up a leopard-print-carpeted staircase.

The entry passage is painted in a Provence-yellow strie and centered by a painted cabinet over which hangs an overscale painting of bright red poppies. Straight through a large cased opening is the sitting room, which runs to the rear of the house and opens onto a manicured terrace. Painted a soft pale butter yellow, the room is filled with art, beautifully upholstered seating, books, and bibelots. A huge tapestry over the nubby deep-cushioned sofa anchors the traditional space and provides balance against the weighty stone mantel and large circular gilded Regency mirror opposite. Underfoot, there is a contemporary woven banded wool carpet in a cross-striped pattern. The effect is formal but light, mixing French, English, and Italian influences with a dash of modern sensibility.

The adjoining dining room, with its chocolate-brown walls, also sounds a formal note, but with furnishings kept to a functional minimum, the effect is welcoming. Further into the family living quarters, a more relaxed den adjacent to the kitchen serves as the daily spot to relax. Pale custard walls, an eclectic mix of comfortable seating, and all the necessary media gadgets have a home here.

On the opposite end of the first floor, the pale-olive-toned master bedroom provides a serene hideaway, with separate his-and-hers dressing rooms on either end.

"I met Jane through friends, "says Madalyn. "Every time I visited a home she had decorated, I just fell in love with the look and atmosphere she created with colors and fabrics--calming yet stimulating. Her interiors and fabrics just put you in a wonderful mood."

While their expanding fabric business frequently calls Jane and Tom to their representatives and fabricators around the world (their textiles are milled in France, Italy, and China as well as in the United States), their operation is centered right here in a warehouse and office in Pearl. Here, they receive and ship orders and see to the myriad daily details of supplying their wares to a growing global market.

Running a successful business is time-consuming, but the Sheltons are grateful for an able support team. They employ a national sales manager who handles the bulk of the showroom work, and each individual showroom has a representative for the Jane Shelton line. "We try to get to each showroom once a year to gauge our progress," says Jane.

New lines are introduced twice yearly, in spring and fall, and there are always new projects on the drawing board. A recent development is a line of trim to complement the fabrics. The fabrics themselves are colored and planned to make a comprehensive group which include wovens, prints, stripes, and trim, which all work together.

It's a busy life, but an immensely fulfilling one for this Delta-bred designer-turned-businesswoman and her family.

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Author:Jones, Brenda Ware
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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