Susan Ferrier creates rooms that are the visual equivalent of a Gregorian chant. They’re dusky and glinting, tranquil and exciting. Her slipcovers even evoke the simplicity of monk’s robes. Bright color is banished – she’d rather play with extremes of light and dark. Small furnishings are kept out – she’s more interested in the mysteries of exaggerated scale. The contours she likes are often sleekly modern, but her accessories include architectural fragments recalling the past. It all adds up to a cohesive atmosphere – a trance, really – that’s a sensual and velvety soft as it is dramatic. “I’m not afraid of power and strength,” says the Atlanta-based designer. “I want to make rooms that hold you and make you feel safe, that you don’t slip through.”
For every house she takes on, Ferrier derives fresh inspiration from her clients. But in designing the interiors of this 1925 Tudor situated on nearly an acre in Druid Hills, the historic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed neighborhood in Atlanta, she finally got to be her own muse. She and her husband, Adrian, a technology consultant from New Zealand, bought the house, which was in foreclosure, a few years ago. It had been an abandoned wreck.
After renovating, she decorated it in her signature style but with one key difference: Working for herself, Ferrier felt much freer to embrace risk and engage in fanciful flights of self-expression. For instance, she used a living room mirror so artfully distressed it’s more like a black pool. She made still lifes out of stacked vintage suitcases just because she loves them.
The payoff is obvious. Ferrier has conceived a house that’s richly personal – one with a commanding, believable spirit.
Even for someone who loves oversell accessories, the gilt crown hanging above the dining table is audaciously huge. It was once the topper to an antique tester bed, and after discovering it in a French shop, Ferrier turned it upside down, added a drum shade, and hung it from the ceiling. Silvery chain-mail curtains offer space-age contrast and act as sheers, filtering the light. “Metallics are neutrals for me,” Ferrier says. “If you don’t go crazy with colors, you can go crazy with metallics.”
Then there’s the book-packed library, which doubles as a room-size cabinet of curiosities. “My most concentrated insanity,” Ferrier says with a laugh. This is where she corrals her charmingly idiosyncratic collections and one-of-a-kind wonders: old postal scales, chunks of pyrite and quartz, a lobster shell carved out of bone, desiccated sea horses, portraits of English and French gentlemen. A chandelier inspired by antique armillary spheres suggest Ferrier’s devotion to natural history – but it also might be a depiction of her whirling brain.
Ferrier tends to lavish the most attention on bedrooms, and she was able to make her own master suite into a sumptuous, theatrical rendition of herself. Soaring, 13-foot high bed curtains and a painted vanity help set the mood. Old French chairs wear their original teal velvet, now decrepit with holes. She found the elongated Italian lantern in London, thinking it would be great in another house she happened to be working on.
“I showed it to the client, but she was uncomfortable with its size,” Ferrier recalls. “I mean, it’s big – probably five feet high.”
A setback? Perhaps. But Ferrier knows a windfall when she sees one. “I said to her, ‘You don’t want it? Too much drama for you? Well, I know someone who can use it.'”
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