A nimble new lifestyle brand emerged at High Point Market, but the creative forces behind it are far from fresh on the scene. Following 30 years combined at Julian Chichester and its sister brand, Mr. Brown London, Atlantans Palmer Smith and David Ebbetts—who hail from Thomasville, Georgia and London, respectively—were mutually uncertain of their next moves until the gravitational force of their design-industry dynamic brought them back into business together. Their aptly-named South + English combines Smith’s playful irreverence with Ebbetts’ “buttoned-up Englishness.” Below, we get the scoop on the hip-meets-classic venture.
You two seem to have such a natural chemistry. How did you meet?
DAVID: We were introduced by a friend of a friend in High Point 17 years. ago. Palmer would come up from Atlanta to style showrooms, including for a friend of mine. He started buying from Julian Chichester twice a year, then working for Mr. Brown (which I co-founded in 2010) more and more.
After teaming up for so long on those brands, how did you boomerang back to this business partnership together?
PALMER: I paint under the name Linwood. I’d already been hatching a plan to launch a line of reproduction art and was working through the details. Once that started gelling, David and I talked about adding some upholstery to the art mix and the South + English idea grew from there.
So it literally started with the art?
D: It was meant to happen that way, I think. Palmer is first an artist. He wanted to create art, period. South + English grew into a lifestyle brand because we both had something to say. It’s who we are, it’s how we live.
P: Let’s put it this way: If the house was on fire, art would be the first thing dragged out! South + English is a way of combining my true loves: furniture, antiques and art.
Aren’t most of your pieces manufactured in the States?
D: We found some great craftspeople in Ohio, while most upholstery is made in and around High Point. We are importing a few pieces because I haven’t found anyone in the U.S. who can make the kind of metals I want to use. It’s essential to find the right manufacturing partners—regardless of geography.
I’m also intrigued by the dichotomy of your company; how would you define the English and Southern aspects of your brand?
P: I’ve always loved English antiques, and you see those influences in South + English—the forms, the finishes, the bench-made craftsmanship. At the same time, I’m totally a child of the new South: modern, on the move and challenging tradition.
D: It’s a mishmash of English, Italian and modern Southern, but we always put our own spin on things. You see it in the details: the shape of the leg, the arm, the back, the curvature, fabric pairings and so on.
Speaking of, I’m really taken with your Frenchetti Chaise, with its flying arm.
P: It’s a favorite of mine. The arm is based on a midcentury piece I spotted in the English countryside. The original had a horrible back. We redesigned the silhouette and made the proportions more current. That great arm prevailed!
What’s the next big thing for you?
D: Scandinavian-style pieces in natural woods are on the drawing board now. In my experience, this style has more appeal in London, but after talking to industry friends at High Point, we realize that’s something missing from the marketplace. Our goal is to have a few in that style by spring.
PHOTOS COURTESY SOUTH + ENGLISH