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When it comes to emulating a style, many of us want an easy-to-follow formula: shiplap + matte black accents + an oversized wall clock = modern farmhouse, for example. But there’s a difference between emulating and embodying a design philosophy, and the latter is what Alyssa Rosenheck embraces in her upcoming book, The New Southern Style. It’s less about getting the look; more about how people use the items they’ve collected to tell the stories of who they are and who they want to become.

“We don’t pretend the South has reconciled itself,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “We are committed to having the uncomfortable discussions, telling the truth and letting our curiosity fuel questions, in the name of moving civil liberties, gender equality and race relations forward. I am merely a photographer and storyteller, but my goal is to shine light on the idea that art and creativity reveal that we are far more alike than different. I am committed to helping change the narrative.”

The New Southern Style features the homes of entrepreneurs, artists and activists throughout the South, eschewing design formulas for uncovering the “palpable humanity within the four walls of a home” that we can all connect with. Here are some of the key takeaways she found.

new southern style living room hero
Alyssa Rosenheck/ABRAMS

1. The Coffee Table Is the New Mantel

“Traditionally, Southern style has had a strict formality to it. There’s almost an air of exclusiveness to it, with things meant to be seen and not touched,” Rosenheck says. While that approach to design still exists, she’s not seeing it as often in people’s homes these days. “Now, it’s about showing up and embracing vulnerability and ease and comfort.”

To that end, she’s deemed the coffee table the “new mantel.” People are putting more of a focus on styling the space they gather around with friends and family, loading it with things that tell their story—and spark conversations in the process. “On mine, I have a large peace lily and several inspiring books, like Lalah Delia’s Vibrate Higher Daily—looking at one of her items in my home is grounding for me,” she says. “It’s really a place to show where you’ve been and it’s representative of who you are.”

new southern style dining room
Alyssa Rosenheck/ABRAMS

2. Bar Carts Are Replacing China Cabinets

That old wedding adage about wearing “something old, something new” could easily apply to your home as well. Rosenheck encourages people to get (slightly) less precious about their family heirlooms, trading out their china cabinets for furniture that’s more accessible and inviting, like a bar cart. “China cabinets are meant to house things passed down for generations, and you typically use [the items in] them once a year. Why not take one or two out that have emotional value, pair them with something giving you joy, and display them?” she asks.

3. The bathroom should be spa-like, not stark

Your home’s a sanctuary from the stresses of the outside world, but it’s also a place to inspire you. To that end, Rosenheck has found that it’s important to create self-care spaces. “You’re going inward and looking at the things that bring you joy,” she says. Putting them on display keeps them front of mind and reminds you to keep moving toward that goal of who you’d like to be each day.

For Rosenheck, that's meant creating a spa-like bathroom setup. Instead of simply clustering everything she needs for a relaxing bath in a basket—or along her tub—she placed a small cart in the room that holds bowls to store her bath salts, a vintage whiskey decanter to house bath oil and and a concrete platter to display her soaps and crystals. It creates a more soothing ambiance, setting the right tone as she gets ready to unwind.

new southern style bedroom
Alyssa Rosenheck/ABRAMS

4. Put Your Latest Hobby on Display (Literally)

At this point, you might be thinking, but I’m not creative! How can I create a space that inspires and motivates me? It’s a question Rosenheck faces often, especially from clients in the corporate world, and her response is simple: “Creativity begets creativity, just like love. The more you create, the more you’ll be inspired.” It’s a trial-and-error process of learning what you like and don’t like.

She encourages clients to start the creative process by shifting their mindset, starting each day with a reminder that they have the capacity to be inspired and to create. From there, she asks them to pay attention to the things that energize them and get them excited.

“Those are hints—follow that path,” she says. “Go for walks, try a new recipe, start a garden—try something new.” It could inspire you to look at your home in a whole new way. Maybe your newfound love of tennis convinces you to hang up vintage rackets as wall art. Or the meandering path on an afternoon stroll convinces you to rearrange your furniture so everything's not pushed up against the walls.

Ultimately, that’s the basis of the new Southern style: No matter how you decorate your home, it should reflect your voice, your history and your future.

Reprinted with permission from The New Southern Style by Alyssa Rosenheck; Photographs by Alyssa Rosenheck; ABRAMS; Fall 2020

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