Learn How Designer Mel Bean Is Redefining Southern Comfort
From handsome architectural details to rich wood accents, there is something undeniably charming about Southern style. You’re immediately filled with a sense of ease and comfort. But something that doesn’t often come to mind with more traditional interiors? Graphic wallpaper, showstopping art and punchy fabrics. Designer Mel Bean is flipping formal design on its head, embracing quirk and personality along with the rich architectural history of Southern abodes. Here, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based designer shares her tips for mastering formal yet comfortable style.
House & Home: How would you describe your design style?
Mel Bean: This is one of the ideals I am most passionate about in interior design: no two homes should be the same as no two families are the same. My role is to curate an embodiment of the lives lived within the home. Often our clients come to us with familiarity and appreciation for interiors and are able to communicate a baseline for us. We use this as the launching point for our creative process and always push beyond their boundaries in terms of the expected.
H&H: Your style is more traditional, but there is this comfort and liveability to it. How do you make rooms feel fun, without being stuffy?
MB: I always seek a liveliness in my designs, typically seen through a lens of deliberate editing. Layers of materiality are so important! This architecturally simple bedroom in a client’s lake home plays up the connection to the outdoors and beautiful views by limiting the use of color with the exception of the gorgeous antique rug and playing up natural textures: pale and distressed wood console, rough linen bedding, sleek wood elements and original art with a sense of depth and vitality.
H&H: Many of your projects have gorgeous architectural elements. How could someone who is on a budget or in a more modern home get a similar look?
MB: I believe interior design should always show a respectful consideration of the home’s architecture but not necessarily fall in line with it. Of course, not all of our homes come with vaulted ceilings of reclaimed wood or meticulous paneling, but there are other ways to add architectural interest!
MB: In this living room, we played up the simplicity by painting the walls, trim and ceiling all the same color. The drapes imply an element of architecture by using repetition and taking them high and wide. This also created a more appropriate proportion for the space, which we played up with more large-scale items, like oversized lamps.
H&H: How do you find the balance between formal yet comfortable design?
MB: For me, this balance is largely intuitive. In some cases, the architecture or furnishings are more formal, so I will opt for more casual, textural materials and lighthearted elements, such as art or lighting. However, form is not above function! It’s so important that our interiors are up to the challenge of real life: whether rough and tumble kids (such as my own boys!) or formal entertaining. This family room is a great example of this, with it’s oversized sectional in an indoor/outdoor fabric, ample seating and an adjacent banquette area (far left) with a table for homework, art or meals.
MB: I love bold choices but also believe restraint can be just as powerful. This powder bathroom is an example: by sticking to a black and white palette, we were able to play with drama in terms of the wallpaper, vintage tile, glamorous vanity and contemporary lighting.