How designer Alaina Michelle Ralph transformed the interiors for her maximalist client who wanted “grandma chic”
Peach-colored pears entice fanciful birds, while spotted dragons frolic along a river filled with fiery orange fish—and that’s just in the dining room. This fantastical scene plays out along walls covered in Andrew Martin “Mythical Land” wallpaper, which is more than a subtle nod toward the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. The theme of that book—that imagination can take you anywhere—is a fitting one for this South of Broad home, where high style and modern sensibility are tempered by a healthy dollop of whimsy.
For the 30-year-old who retreated into this magical realm after long shifts as a medical resident at MUSC, as well as two months volunteering at a Ukrainian refugee center in Poland, the home has been a much-needed respite. “It’s nice when you’re working so hard to have a sanctuary like this to come home to,” she says.
The charming, three-bedroom 1920s colonial—with original inlaid oak floors, high ceilings, four gas fireplaces, a Loutrel Briggs-designed garden, and a classic floor plan—proved to be the perfect fit for the Nashville native and her French bulldog, Stuart. An added bonus: a separate cottage in the garden provides a great getaway for visiting friends and family. While the property was in good condition, a few tweaks were needed to fit the homeowner’s lifestyle, including renovating the large primary bedroom suite, updating the kitchen, and pulling all of her dream design details together.
TechniColor Dreams: The sumptuous living room sets the tone for the house. North facing, it can be dark, so Ralph mixed shades of pinks, oranges, and a splash of chartreuse to give it a bright, energetic feel.
For this task, she turned to Charleston-based interior designer Alaina Michelle Ralph, who had worked on her parents’ home in Tennessee. “This is her first time as a homeowner, and she was excited to define her own style and give the house a little more personality,” says Ralph. That aesthetic is distinctly “grandmillennial”—a very traditional look with a distinctly modern bent. “I call it ‘grandma chic,”’ says the homeowner. “Old fashioned, layered patterns, a lot of chinoiserie and mid-century pieces, but also mixing in florals, brush fringes, and stuff—lots of stuff. What can I say? I’m a maximalist,” she explains with a laugh. “It’s a recent trend especially popular in her age group,” Ralph says of the style, “a rebound from the modern, minimalist look.”
Numerous family heirlooms, as well as the homeowner’s collection of souvenirs from her travels—pillows from India, a blanket from South Africa, and trinkets from Chile—laid the foundation for the decor. To this, Ralph added vintage upholstered furniture, antique rugs, paintings, a plethora of brass and crystal lamps, and light fixtures (including a circa-1880 Genovese gold-leaf chandelier in the dining room), accented by plenty of fabulous fabrics from Brunschwig & Fils, Rogers & Goffigon, and Soane Britain, among others. The result is a youthful and daring mix of bold colors, layered patterns, and plenty of personality.
But first: the renovations. Ralph started with the floor plan, remodeling the primary bedroom suite to maximize closet space and transform the bathroom into a more luxurious environment. “We reworked it entirely,” says Ralph, who enclosed part of the upstairs porch to add another closet and created a separate room for the bathtub and toilet. The bathroom, which sits between the bedroom and the porch, now boasts a large vanity and separate Carrara marble-tiled tub.
In the bedroom itself, the focus was on creating a cozy space in the oversized room. Ralph crafted a distinction between the sleeping area and the open, walk-in closet by weighting most of the furniture on one end. A pair of bachelor’s chests frame the dramatic brass bed, and a Brunschwig & Fils green floral fabric, used for the floor-to-ceiling curtains and to cover the antique Sheraton settee at the foot of the bed, ties the room together. The homeowner also enjoys the serenity of the sleeping porch. “It’s a beautiful place to sit and enjoy the hydrangeas in bloom,” she adds.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, Ralph added a cleverly concealed space for the washer and dryer. She also updated the paint, countertops, backsplash tile, and cabinet hardware. The classic cottage-style kitchen is right at the heart of the home, situated between the family room, dining room, and the entryway. “The kitchen is my favorite room,” says the homeowner, who loves to bake.
Terracotta floor tiles continue into the adjoining family room, a previous addition with a large bay window looking out over the garden. Blue and white china pieces complement the Quadrille “Bali Hai” curtains, and a sofa covered in a Brunschwig & Fils leopard print fabric clashes comfortably, anchoring the room.
Fit For a Queen: A quieter color palette in the primary bedroom creates a soothing, luxurious space. The delicate design of the Brunschwig & Fils “Bird & Thistle” toile fabric for the curtains and the antique Sheraton settee, the brass four-poster bed, and vintage Murano glass lamps combine to produce a light and feminine feel. The theme continues in the bath with a white Carrara marble tiled tub and vanity highlighted with accents of Kelly green.
Moving from the family room into the dining room is like crossing continents, from a classic English garden room with Asian-influences to the bold New World. The whimsical fantasy scene plays out on the walls, where canary yellow Jonathan Adler chairs surround an early American dining table beneath the showstopping Genovese chandelier, which Ralph procured in a New York antique shop.
Peach-colored raw silk drapes segue into the next space, the formal sitting room, and arguably the home’s showpiece. Deep orange silk drapes provide the backdrop to a room with bold color combinations that speak to the homeowner’s originality.
Vintage and contemporary equestrian art, an antique writing desk from her family’s farm, and two hot pink club chairs opposite a gorgeous green sofa upholstered in Sabina Fay Braxton fabric combine to produce a space that’s simultaneously vibrant and relaxing. Ralph’s layering of color, pattern, and texture adds interest, while soft undertones and inviting furniture invoke feelings of calm.
For the homeowner, the design is everything she had hoped for: a much-needed sanctuary, as well as a place to express herself. “I love to shop and collect things and then put them together and see how it falls,” she says. For the three years since she moved in, she’s continued to tinker with the design and make it even more uniquely hers. “I don’t think it will ever be a finished product to me,” she says. “I love using it as my creative outlet.”