When you’re leading one of the country’s most influential design magazines, you’re bound to possess a special kind of style wisdom. Elizabeth Ralls, the editor-in-chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, not only has extensive editorial experience, but also an awareness of the world of design that only those with exquisite taste can articulate.
We recently caught up with Ralls to talk about the thriving antiques scene in the South, the importance of relationship-building in our business, and some of her favorite antiquing anecdotes. Read on.
You’ve been Editor-in-Chief at Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles for more than two years now, how has the ride been so far?
It’s been non-stop! There’s never a shortage of design talents or resources to cover because of our incredibly talented design community. When I returned to AH&L in late 2013, Atlanta was on the cusp of post-recession recovery. Today, we’re back in full-blown boom mode. Our designers, architects, landscape architects and builders have never been busier.
How do you find the daily inspiration for each issue?
It’s important to our entire team to get out in the field, so to speak. To touch and feel the new fabric lines from all over the world that are being revealed at ADAC (Atlanta Decorative Arts Center) showrooms; to spend time at antiques shops at Miami Circle or the Galleries of Peachtree Hills, and to walk residential construction sites with architects, designers and builders—to really understand how the design industry is impacting Atlantans on a daily basis.
These are things you can’t fully grasp from behind a desk or computer—and the relationships you make in the process are priceless. I’m constantly learning from the genius of our local design community, whether it’s the way hand-tied springs on a custom, bench-made piece of furniture increases its longevity or the exquisite, one-of-a-kind romance of a hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper adds to a space.
How do you scout new designers to feature?
It all goes back to the relationship factor. Many times we hear about up-and-comers from seasoned photographers who are hired to capture their work, and they feel compelled to let us know it’s something special. We also hear from the folks in their networks– such as the showroom owner who’s impressed by the quality (and the volume) of a particular designer’s work, or the architect/landscape architect who enjoyed working with that designer to create an incredible end product for their clients.
Let’s talk about our favorite topic: antiques. The antiques scene has always been impressive in Atlanta. Why do you think that is?
Atlantans, and Southerners in general, are partial to traditions. We share an almost intuitive appreciation for fine things—and often times, it’s the most unexpected or quirkiest of things! Antique walking sticks, hat stands, corner chairs, English water filters—you’d be surprised by how many Atlantans might be serious candidates for Hoarders. We love our collections, and we love adding to them. There are definitely a few prized antique “scenes” in Atlanta proper–think Miami Circle, Galleries of Peachtree Hills and 2300 Peachtree, and these are businesses that have stood the test of time—that are serviced by second-generation families who grew up in the business and whose relationships almost carry more weight than the items they carry.
What’s your outlook on the antiques industry? From your point of view, where do you see it going?
I love that there’s a real pendulum swing towards embracing independent artisans and storefronts in the design industry—and that this desire to connect with the personality behind the brand extends to antiques dealers as well. There’s this fantastic return to “brand” loyalty—and an appreciation for the story.
I also think that in a world where visual marketing is key, from Pinterest to Instagram, that there’s never been a better time to be in the antiques industry. Sure, there are things like Insta-sales where provenance is not necessarily taken into account, but there’s also major connections being made in the most unlikely of places. And there’s a real desire to purchase pieces with not just history and quality materials but also with flaws—like a home, it conveys the feeling of a time-honed treasure.
Do you have any personal antiquing stories or favorite antique pieces you can share with us?
Last month, I participated in a guided tour of Marche Paul Bert Serpette at the Paris Flea Market with The Antiques Diva, Toma Clark Haines, and her Paris counterpart, Danielle Pelletier. I was totally fascinated by their relationships with the local dealers—a sentiment Atlantans Hal Ainsworth and Winton Noah shared when they realized one of their favorite longtime dealers was no longer at the market during Paris Design Week.
My husband and I are lucky enough that each of our parents appreciate both fine art and the decorative arts—and we’ve been fortunate to “inherit” some of their wonderful pieces through the years. I have a love for chairs – in our family room, we have an antique children’s rocker as well as an amazing pair of French bergeres upholstered in a red-and-white check that I’d probably carry out of the house in the event of a fire, and I’m also partial to a French Provincial chest that’s served as china, crystal and silver chest as well as a TV console in various houses. Regardless of where it holds court, our children get a kick out of trying to open the drawers with its various keys.
What makes Atlanta such a special place for design?
Atlanta has established itself as the design mecca of the South, and that’s in part because we have such wonderful access to impeccable resources at our fingertips. ADAC brings international, national and regional brands to a forefront for our design community, and Americasmart houses the world’s largest single collection of home, gift, rug and apparel merchandise. But we’re also one of a few major American cities that boasts a generous amount of land to support our residential designs. When it comes to our houses, Atlantans share an affinity for great proportions—but we also employ the professionals and the craftsman who know how to do it elegantly and graciously.
What is your favorite part about being Editor-in-Chief?
Every day is different! There’s never a dull moment. And of course, there’s the adrenaline of a monthly deadline—and the relief that ensues when another issue is ready to hit the printer. What I never anticipated was that bringing the brand “to life” would become such a big part of the job. We accomplish this through show-houses, tour-of-home sponsorships, panel discussions and more—and it’s an amazing way to get up close and personal with our audience.