Southern Comfort

During the holidays, designer Tammy Connor decks the halls of her atelier with chic style and good cheer.

By Frances Schultz
Photos by Francesco Lagnese Interior Design by Tammy Connor

Perhaps Better than anyone else, interior designers are accustomed to integrating work and home, and they appreciate the importance of making both pleasant. Decorators also understand the modern reality that many of us live where we labor, and vice versa. Designer Tammy Connor, who divides her time between Charleston, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, has fashioned her Birmingham office into a stylish pied-à-terre crossed with a cozy cottage. Entertaining clients and friends there for the holidays is a natural extension of Connor’s domestic inclinations.

Like her chic interiors, her parties are beautifully designed, down to the last detail. Both embrace what Connor describes as “yin and yang—a mix of fine things and more natural, casual, and simple objects.”

Upon entering her realm, her guests experience a sense of quality. “I want everything to feel hospitable, inviting, and comfortable,” she explains. “Something people can relate to without anything seeming overly fussy or formal.”

For an afternoon open house, Connor and her team stash away sumptuous fabric memos and richly colored wallpaper and rug samples into well-organized wicker baskets, replacing them with a bountiful buffet of fruit, nuts, and sweet treats. These edible delights are laid upon two large worktables that have been pushed together, with a bar set atop a French draper’s table.

Artwork mingles with bits of coral, greenery, and new and heirloom crystal and silver, evoking the feeling of a 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. Comestible temptation calls from pitchers, plates, and stands positioned at varying heights for drama and ease of access. (Connor is never one to sacrifice form over function.)

And on a particularly chilly Alabama afternoon, a crackling fire welcomes all with open arms. “It’s kind of neat to bring clients and friends into the space and have them see where we essentially live for 40 hours a week,” Connor says.

Other flourishes, however, remain long after the guests’ last swill of Champagne. Throughout the season, an enormous magnolia-leaf garland is draped jauntily across an antique Italian commode acquired from the Bunny Mellon estate, as if it were some extravagant boa. Hand-painted Gracie wallpaper accepts with equanimity (not that it had a choice) the society of Rebecca Vizard miniature stockings pinned to it, each containing a wish or an inspiring quote for the coming year. And maybe best of all is the antique Swedish chair with a lambswool-upholstered seat that looks as though it should have a name, if not a leash. That piece has a permanent spot in Connor’s atelier 12 months a year. “I told myself, I’m buying this chair, and when I get stressed, I’m just gonna go and pet it,” she says with a laugh.

Self-assurance is a comfort during the holidays, as is not taking things too seriously. That, as much as anything, may be what makes Connor’s rooms a success, and her parties a delight.