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A Designer's Colorful Home Dressed for the Holidays

Cheery hues, cherished family traditions, and warm Southern hospitality make Christmas bright at designer Tobi Fairley’s Little Rock home 

Written by Sally Finder Weepie
  • Nancy Nolan

    Consider color the bow atop the package, one piece of the fun at Tobi and Carter Fairley’s house. Christmas means something here—love and sharing, sentiment and caring. And friends and family can’t help but get swept up in the joyful exuberance.

    Lighted evergreen wreaths dressed with red bows offer a welcome from every window. “I like unique color stories against a traditional background,” Tobi says.

    Photography: Nancy Nolan

    Interior designer: Tobi Fairley, Tobi Fairley & Associates, Little Rock, Arkansas; 501/868-9882; tobifairley.com

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    Come on In!

    “I’ve become the person who brings family together,” says Tobi, a designer known for her bright, bold, tailored interiors. “After church on Christmas Eve, we used to go to my mom and dad’s to spend the holidays, but now my mom is passing the torch to me. I’m hosting Christmas dinner for both sides of the family—and this house is really a wonderful place for that.”

    Wallpaper “Palace Maze”: Cole & Son Wallpapers, Inc.; cole-and-son.com.
    Stair runner custom: New River Artisans, Piney Creek, North Carolina; 336/359-2216; newriverartisans.com.
    Flooring “Times Square” in black and white: Emser Tile; emser.com (for a retailer near you).
    Paint for stair risers and spindles “America’s Cup,” paint for front door, baluster, hand rails, and posts “Stout”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).

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    Black-and-White Entry

    When Tobi renovated the home that she and Carter share with daughter Ellison, it was important to her to reshape rooms in a way that would make them welcoming—for everyday living and for big gatherings of friends and family, particularly during the holiday season.  

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    Colorful Details

    “I like to do a single type of flower for my arrangements,” Tobi says. “I get tulips from my favorite florist—even at Christmastime. I also have forced bulbs for a fresh look.” 

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    Graphic Pattern

    “At Christmas, it feels comforting to me to be in our house planning meals, setting the table, and cooking for days,” Tobi says. “When I was a child, my mom put so much time into making things special and making people feel loved. She passed that down to me, and I’m passing that down to Ellison.”

    Designer Tobi Fairley’s Christmas tree is a beacon of color amid black-and-white elements, including a Cole & Son wallpaper. “I prefer graphic pattern in a two-story space instead of art, which can feel forced,” she says.

    Flooring “Times Square” in black and white: Emser Tile; emser.com (for a retailer near you).
    Wallpaper “Palace Maze”: Cole & Son Wallpapers, Inc.; cole-and-son.com.
    Stair runner custom: New River Artisans, Piney Creek, North Carolina; 336/359-2216; newriverartisans.com.
    Pendant lantern custom “Rothesay” lantern: Tobi Fairley Home; tobifairley.com.
    Paint for ceiling, trim, stair risers, and spindles “America’s Cup,” paint for baluster, hand rails, and posts “Stout”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).

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    Dining Room

    Just as Tobi served as her mom’s “sous chef” when she was a girl, Ellison is now mom’s top assistant in the kitchen. “She loves to cook,” Tobi says. 

    A cake recipe from Carter’s stepmother ranks as Ellison’s favorite. “She likes to quote Julia Child: ‘A party without cake is just a meeting,’” Tobi says with a laugh.

    “I love to transition colors from one space to another, like the pink that threads from the entry to the dining room—there’s flow, continuity. It makes sense,” Tobi says. She re-covered dining chairs from her previous house in pink fabric and chose a splashy Clarke & Clarke wallpaper with a nostalgic feel she loves. 

    Wallpaper “Floribunda” in Sorbet, fabric for dining chairs “Palais” in Rose: Clarke & Clarke; clarke-clarke.com (for a retailer near you).
    Ceiling paint “Belle’s Nose,” trim paint “America’s Cup”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).
    Hardwood flooring “Traders Junction” in Wheat Penny: Shaw Industries; 800/441-7429; shawfloors.com.
    Chandelier “Nessa”: Arteriors Home; 800/338-2150; arteriorshome.com.
    Drapery fabric “Tiber” in Lemongrass: Designers Guild, New York City; 212/967-4540; designersguild.com.
    Drapery trim “Aristotle Greek Key” in Classic White & Black: Samuel & Sons, New York City; 212/704-8000; samuelandsons.com.
    Drapery hardware “Luster Finial” in Polished Chrome, fabric for tub chairs “Spencer” in Black and Créme: Duralee; 800/275-3872; duralee.com.
    Mirror at sideboard “Soleil Round Mirror”: Hickory Chair Co.; 800/349-4579; hickorychair.com.
    Lamps on sideboard “Venetian Lamp,” similar available: Jan Showers, Dallas; 214/747-5252; janshowers.com.
    Rug custom: New River Artisans, Piney Creek, North Carolina; 336/359-2216; newriverartisans.com.
    Dining chairs, table, sideboard: homeowners’ collection.

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    Blue Living Room

    Designer and daughter also tap into other family treasures. “I get out the old recipe boxes with recipes from Carter’s mom and grandmothers,” Tobi says. “Last year, I made their old-fashioned boiled custard. That was really special.”

    Blue, seen throughout the home, comes to the forefront to set a calm mood in the Fairley family hangout. 

    Wall paint “Cronkite,” ceiling paint -“America’s Cup”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).
    Hardwood flooring “Traders Junction” in Wheat Penny: Shaw Industries; 800/441-7429; shawfloors.com.
    Fabric for drapery “DP61317-193” in Indigo, from the Blue Bayou Prints & Wovens collection, drapery hardware “Luster Finial” in Polished Chrome, fabric for tub chairs “Spencer” in Black and Créme: Duralee; 800/275-3872; duralee.com.
    Area rug “Octagon 1003” in Desert Night from the David Hicks collection: Prestige Mills, Inc.; prestigemills.com.
    Fabric for blue sofa pillows “Kashgar Ikat” in Indigo and Slate: F. Schumacher & Co; 800/523-1200; fschumacher.com.
    Ottomans “India”: CR Laine; crlaine.com.
    Fabric for ottomans “Cassia” in Cobalt: Designers Guild, New York City; 212/967-4540; designersguild.com.
    Fabric for lampshades “Antoinette Satin” in Amethyst: Donghia, Inc.; donghia.com.
    Statues on secretary: Rod Moorhead; Oxford, Mississippi; 662/234-9328; rodmoorhead.com.

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    Stockings Hung by the Fire

    Tobi has made it her mission to draw out cherished memories of Christmas from her husband, whose mother died when he was 17. “That had made the holidays hard for him,” Tobi says. “I wanted the season to feel special again.” To that end, she re-created stockings from his boyhood, hanging them over their mantel, and she whips up sausage pinwheels like his mom used to make on Christmas morning. 

    Distinct seating areas are tied together with a custom, room-size rug. “If you get a standard size, it’s often too small, and you end up using only a portion of your space,” Tobi says. She includes “floater” pieces like the blue ottomans, which can be pulled wherever they’re needed as seating or as a spot for a tray of drinks or nibbles. “When furnishing a room, plan for both every day and special occasions,” the designer says. “Think about the times you entertain, but don’t forget about the other 350 days of the year. This living room feels comfortable if there are three people or a big gathering.”

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    Classic Kitchen

    Guests also share in the heartfelt spirit, which is readily apparent at the dining table. “I entertain the traditional Southern way with china and linens,” Tobi says. “I layer pieces, like my traditional Christmas china with pink-and-white salad plates that I got from a friend for my 40th birthday. It’s about being creative. There are chinoiserie placemats and Kate Spade napkins—a mix of old and new, inexpensive and antique.”

    “There are so many white kitchens in the world. I went with a fresh take that’s still serene,” Tobi says. The floor is Daltile glass tile, and countertops are Dekton by Cosentino, a surface more durable than the marble that was used on the backsplash. A Thermador range handles all of her holiday meal-making.

    Wall, ceiling, and trim paint “America’s Cup,” cabinetry and island paint “Slinky”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).
    Flooring “Uptown Glass Mosaic Tile,” Flower Pattern, in Carrara and Matte Ebony: Daltile; 800/933-8453; daltile.com.
    Countertop “X Gloss Halo”: Dekton by Cosentino; 877/532-6394; dekton.com.
    Backsplash “Casa Bianca Marble” honed with beveled edge: Speartek Tile & Stone, Atlanta; 404/537-5981; speartektile.com.
    Cabinet pulls “Brass Cup Pull” in Polished Nickel, cabinet knobs “Norwich” in Polished Nickel: Emtek Products, Inc.; 800/356-2741; emtek.com.
    Island pendant “Massena” in White and Polished Nickel: Hudson Valley Lighting, Inc.; 800/814-3993; hudsonvalleylighting.com.
    Sink “Dickinson,” faucet “Parq Kitchen Faucet” with side spray, pot filler at range “Artifacts” in Vibrant Polished Nickel: Kohler Co.; 800/456-4537; us.kohler.com.
    Range “48-Inch Professional Series Pro Grand Commercial Depth Fuel Range”: Thermador; 800/735-4328; thermador.com.

  • Nancy Nolan

    Breakfast Area

    Always included is the sterling silver flatware that tells another family story. “My grandmother started my collection when I was a teen,” Tobi says. “By the time I got married, I had the whole set. I’m so glad now that I have it. Every time I get out these things it warms my heart. For me, sharing all of this is sharing the love with other people.”

    Tobi chose the calming C2 Paint color “Slinky” for the cabinetry in her kitchen and breakfast area.

    Breakfast chandelier “Cristol Tiered Pendant” in Polished Nickel with White Strie Glass shades: Visual Comfort & Co.; 866/344-3875; visualcomfortlightinglights.com.
    Breakfast chairs and table: homeowners’ collection.
    Fabric for breakfast chairs “90950” in Winter: Duralee; 800/275-3872; duralee.com.
    Framed photography at breakfast table “Flower Maiden Fantasy”: Kristin Hatgi Sink, represented by Gildar Gallery, Denver; 303/993-4474; gildargallery.com; kristinhatgi.com.

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    Cool Den

    The “Elle” chair from the Tobi Fairley for CR Laine collection is named after Tobi’s daughter. The room’s color palette continues the calm hues that Tobi used in the kitchen and bar area.

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    Ellison’s Room

    “Ellison had a big say in how her room was decorated,” Tobi says. “She wanted cobalt blue with some turquoise elements, with white on the walls and the bed. She leans toward a tailored look.”

    Walls, white ceiling stripe, and trim paint “America’s Cup,” blue ceiling stripe “Raindrop”: C2 Paint, Amherst, New York; 716/853-5776; c2paint.com (for a retailer near you).
    Hardwood flooring “Traders Junction” in Wheat Penny: Shaw Industries; 800/441-7429; shawfloors.com.
    Bed “Bradley” in Soft Touch Snow: CR Laine; crlaine.com.
    White bedding with blue stripe “Standard Sham” in Cornflower Blue and White from the Orlo collection: Sferra; sferralinens.com.

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    Sleepover Spot

    The skinny, branchy, retro tree has been around for years. It used to have monkey ornaments, which Tobi has tucked away. Now it’s outfitted in cobalt and turquoise balls for a more grown-up look. 

    A daybed with a trundle bed underneath means Ellison has the most popular sleepover space among her friends.

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    Pretty Perch

    A poster bearing Ellison's favorite quote is prominently displayed on the wall above a tufted back chair.

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    Fairley Family

    Tobi, with husband Carter, daughter Ellison, and canine companions Beckett and Izzy. 

  • Nancy Nolan