Asked to define their signature style, it’s not uncommon for a designer to run around the question, replying with non-committal adjectives like “timeless” or “transitional.” Not Phoebe Howard. The lauded designer and owner of multiple Mrs. Howard stores–plus sibling shops Max & Company–isn’t all that bashful about claiming her mantra, “keep it pretty,” as the underpinning of her success. “I think pretty is a word that can sometimes have a negative connotation, but I see pretty in a pleasing, delicate, uncomplicated way,” she explains.
From that statement, it would be easy to spin “pleasing” as pandering, or “delicate” as fragile, but Howard’s approach suggests otherwise. And the living room of a recently completed Atlanta townhome may just be Exhibit A. One of three, incidentally, sitting pretty behind the Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead, the residence reflects the instincts of a designer who came to know the client and her late husband over more than a decade and three previous projects–a former Atlanta townhome and two New York apartments. “Her style is modern and a little glamorous, but definitely not severe,” says Howard, who knew those characteristics would translate nicely to the interiors.
In less capable hands, the client’s living room–composed of items in varied tones of white–could have fallen flat. Instead, Howard spins a shapely sub-story where the sofa swoops, the contemporary wingback embraces and two vintage Silas Seandel brass coffee tables seem to “spoon.” It’s a subtle sensuality that makes this room pleasing, graceful and, as it happens, pretty.
“Every element was designed to interact,” Howard says. By the same token, the townhomes were part of a longstanding master plan for the luxury property they occupy, anchored by a 42-story hotel and residential tower completed by the firm of Robert A. M. Stern in 2008. The interior architecture for the trio of private “maisonettes” on-site, spearheaded by architect Bulent Baydar and accessed across a manicured courtyard behind walled gardens, was ultimately tackled a decade later.
Moving to a compound of this caliber at one of Atlanta’s most glamorous addresses felt in sync with the owner’s appreciation for finer things. “This is the only property of its kind in the city,” Howard explains. “In addition to being near all the best shops and restaurants, this residence is considered part of the hotel, meaning owners get all the same amenities–like a chef who can cook for you, as well as massages and facials.”
Howard coordinated with Baydar’s firm and general contractor Frank Infantino to carry out revisions to the interior architecture, teaming up with her husband, Jim Howard–an accomplished designer in his own right–for elevated updates. His efforts produced a new marble-clad fireplace, gourmet chef’s kitchen and dramatically curved black-iron railing that ascends the home’s meandering, three-story staircase.
Turning her energy toward the furnishings with a stated goal of “modern with a soft touch,” Howard employed graceful textures such as suede to temper hard-lined materials like limestone and brass. Combining both persuasions in a single element, a feminine fixture above the dining table curves lithely, smacking at the heart of Howard’s decorating philosophy. “I prefer to take the edge off, not put it on,” she states matter-of-factly.
That concept continues with sumptuous materials (silk, wool and fur in the master suite, alpaca and silk on the living room sofa), a mix of metals, and tiny mirrored tiles that bring just the right amount of bling to the bar. “They make the whole area shimmery and festive,” Howard says.
Not to be understated is the impact of the art. In the entry, a painting by Robert De Niro Sr. (not to be confused with his actor son) is the first of many important works, including two Picassos that further elevate the space. Coalescing the elements of the living room, a compelling Andrew Moore photograph puts the viewer right inside Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, while two haunting Zhao Kailin portraits–one in the master suite and another in the office–have a tendency to transfix. The latter space was painted a moody green-gray to complement the hyperrealist painting and tie the room to the garden glimpsed through the windows.
According to Howard, the owner’s knowledge and appreciation of art, combined with her confident personal style, matches both the new environment and the designer’s mantra to a T. “Pretty doesn’t boast, and it’s not loud. It’s quiet and unassumingly lovely,” Howard says. “The owner is pretty, smart and soft-spoken, and her interiors are, too.”