Tobi Fairley proves her prowess with a palette in her family's Arkansas home
When it comes to color muscle, Tobi Fairley is trained, toned, and unafraid to flex. In the Little Rock home the designer shares with attorney-husband Carter and 5-year-old daughter Ellison, Tobi parades a powerful palette with poise. Colors flow effortlessly from the black-and-white entry to the emerald-green living room to the adjoining family room, where green meets black to the applause of energetic orange accents. And that's before even crossing the center hallway, much less ascending the stairs.
"To live with me, you have to love color," Tobi says. "Ellison totally gets it. When she was just three years old, she got my mother on the phone and said, 'Bebe, you have to see my new draperies [lavender-and-gray toile trimmed in black fringe]. They're fabulous,' " recounts Tobi, accentuating the FAB. More than any other design element, it's color that stamps Tobi's signature on the 1976- vintage suburban home. "When we moved here four years ago, I wanted to make the house our own with a fresh color palette."
Creating that palette wasn't a simple matter of slapping on new paint and paper. The floor plan presented a challenge. "Carter and I were drawn to the house because of its interior traffic flow. We love to entertain, and all these rooms open up to each other. It's a wonderful floor plan for parties," Tobi notes. Yet the confluence of public spaces that aids in circulating guests can bog down color flow. With a combination of intuition and expertise, Tobi handled each transition with ease.
Black and white, long favored by the designer for graphic impact, was a given--and Tobi's opening gambit, decorating the entry. "But I hadn't used green before, and I was loving the wonderful variations that were popping up over the past three or four years."
She infused the living room with clear kelly green, taking it to the windows, chairs, and custom rug, then sprinkling it on accents. From a black-and-white entry to a green living room sounds like a leap, but the designer bridged the distance with ample amounts of white. She painted the living room's walls a neutral buff, covered the sofa in a white raw silk, and flanked it with two white consoles. One of the primary sources of green--the fabric on the draperies and club chairs--features a green pattern on an airy white ground. Ditto, the rug.
The most concentrated doses of green appear on a striped fabric on pillows and the geometric pattern on the pair of wing chairs. The perky green pattern isn't the only update for the chairs: "I love the great cabriole legs on these wing chairs," says Tobi. "They're so traditional but so clean."
In addition to the new bright greens, Tobi introduced a more traditional hunter green on the living room lamps. "I enjoy using colors that trends say are out. When people say teal or burgundy are done, I like to prove them wrong," confesses the designer.
A large, open doorway leads from the living room to the family room--and both spaces feed off the black-and-white entry hall. For continuity, Tobi brought the living room's green and the entry's black into the family room. Then, to give the room its individual character, she added zest with orange. "I hadn't planned on using orange in this house, but I like the infusion of citrus stories," she explains. "Then I found these orange lamps I love." An orange-lacquered bench followed, and her latest addition to the room is an orange-upholstered wing chair with white welting. To hold its own with the citric orange, green goes a little tart in this room. The designer painted the bookshelf wall between the family room and kitchen more of a true lime green than the richer green in the adjoining living room.
"We brought some black elements with us from our other house, so that was our jumping-off point for the family room." The room's black coffee table is a special piece built by Carter's grandfather.
"When we married, we got rid of almost every furnishing Carter owned, but we kept that," chuckles Tobi. "It's one of my favorite pieces. It's timeless and weighty, and I love the shape of the feet, which remind me of a Greek-key motif.
"I know green, orange, and black in one room sound kind of wild," she admits, "but it works. People come over and want to stay because they feel comfortable. The guys stay in the family room and watch TV, and the girls go in the living room and drink wine."
Ellison, meanwhile, is likely playing upstairs--in her fit-for-a-princess bedroom with its canopied daybed and toile French chair, or in the house's brightest space of all--her fuchsia-accented playroom.
Design: Tobi Fairley, Tobi Fairley Interior Design, 5507 Ranch Dr. Suite 103, Little Rock, AR 72223; 501/868-9882, tobifairley.com .
Photography: Werner Straube
A Schumacher paper on the entry walls creates a graphic first impression.
The entry's graphic impression is continued with the black-and-white serpentine chest from Hickory Chair. Plenty of white in the green-infused living room--glimpsed through the doorway--makes for a smooth transition.
On the opposite side of the entry from the living room, Duralee's kiwi-green vinyl on the seat cushions of chairs by Hickory Chair provides an energetic shot of color. Chair backs are covered in a Cowtan & Tout fabric.
Homeowner/designer Tobi Fairley enlarged the mantel shelf in the family room and painted it. "I left the beams unpainted because it made the room homey." Tobi painted the backs of bookcases green to balance the room's orange and black-and-white.
A black-and-white Schumacher fabric is used for draperies and on chairs by the black sofa. The shell prints are from England. The wood geode sculpture on the coffee table is by Arkansas artist Robyn Horn. "I don't like a lot of accessories as filler," says Tobi. "I like pieces to be objects of art or have meaning."
Tobi and Carter Fairley's house in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In a departure from the bold palette, the kitchen is calm, clean, and white. Tobi replaced the 1970s island with one twice its size, and she refaced all of the perimeter cabinets.
A niche in the kitchen was "just calling for a banquette," Tobi says. She chose black-and-white houndstooth fabric for the banquette, and covered chair seats in easy-to-clean-up black vinyl. The Hickory Chair chairs were recently re-covered in crewel.
A Hickory Chair crewel fabric brings subtle pattern to the back of the chair.
A mastery of color means knowing when to tone it down, as Tobi did in the slate blue master bedroom. She grounded the room with a Tamarian rug that "is restful but still displays interesting use of color."
The master bedroom's walls feature Kelley Wearstler's "Modern Trellis" wallpaper from Schumacher. Celerie Kemble's "Hot House Flowers" is the printed linen on the bed. The small bedside chest is from Hickory Chair.
The vividly patterned and colored guest bedroom features a Ruby Green floral fabric on the bed and curtains.
For her 5-year-old daughter Ellison, Tobi designed a room fit for a princess who longs to be all grown up. A daybed pleases Ellison with its sofa-like adult look while the dramatic canopy that drapes down from the center of the wall above it delivers little-girl fantasy. The pale lavender walls and mint-green ceiling team up on the Clarence Hill toile Tobi used at the windows.
In Ellison's bedroom, a Manuel Canovas toile covers a French chair from Tobi's grandmother that offers a comfy spot for snuggling. The large mirror from Roma visually increases the bedroom's size.
Tobi Fairley with 5-year-old Ellison.
We predict Tobi will be like Cher. Or Oprah. One of those women for whom one name says it all. Already, Tobi--a blogger as well as a designer--is frequently tapped as a speaker for talks on the power of the design blog and social media. She also just designed her first product line for New River Artisans that debuted this spring at High Point. And she has her eye on more projects for the furniture industry. With an MBA as well as a design degree, Tobi is always up to something. Her newest local hit is Design Camp, classes at which hobbyist decorators can learn the tricks of the trade from one of the industry's brightest rising stars.