“When you live and work in the heart of horse country, the lifestyle itself is always in fashion, and is reflected even more so in our homes,” says Susan Victor, co-owner of Nandina Home & Design in Atlanta, GA, and Aiken, SC. The proliferation of snaffles, stirrups, and spurs as tasteful home decor has given the equestrian aesthetic broad appeal. However, designing a functional yet fashionable atmosphere suitable for active riders can be a challenge, and the struggle is real for many of Susan’s clients who frequently shed their worn half chaps at the door.
This reality keeps the Nandina team busy composing interior concepts for an array of residential and recreational (read: barn) projects, and recently inspired a photographic collaboration with Outside Rein for a campaign that celebrates the timeless equestrian aesthetic in concert with modern day living. The star of our shoot? A classic wingback chair upholstered in neutral Ikat by Lee Industries that proves as suitable for the sidelines as it does for a dressed up dinner party. The experience prompted us to ask Susan for advice on decorating with hints of our partiality to horses. Below she shares design projects devoted specifically to equestrians, a timely topic as the winter show circuit approaches and home owners spruce up their cottages, barn apartments, and guest rooms for competitive snow birds.
When designing for the lifestyle of horse enthusiasts, do you see a common theme, trend, or idea?
Most of our clients want to lean into equestrian design without fully diving in. They want their homes to be inviting and richly layered but not have every wall covered with classic hunt scenes, and every bookshelf full of trophies. The common trend is to have durable surfaces that can show a little age – hard wood floors, hand knotted rugs, and fabrics that can handle dogs and dust from the barn – but to mix it with modern lighting and cleaner, less cluttered furniture, frames and accessories. We often refer to it as “modern elegance.”
What is the most unusual application of a nod to equestrian that you have incorporated into a space?
We have used old unfinished barn wood in several creative ways – as a feature wall, to clad an island in a kitchen, as a custom headboard, and to fabricate barn door wall cabinets to enclose TVs. We also love modern equestrian art – large oversized black and white photography and bright impressionistic paintings as well as simple graphic etchings. These styles of equestrian art feel fresh and work in both traditional and modern interiors.
How does one embrace an equestrian flair without being kitsch?
First you need to understand the characteristics of sophisticated equestrian design and then apply them judiciously into the overall experience of a room. The usual suspects such as vintage horse prints, trophies, leather lined books, horns of any kind, and any classic riding gear can be artfully introduced into a room but shouldn’t be the only accessory you use. In addition to the obvious equestrian touches, mixing rich colors, classic rugs, beautiful leather furniture with modern lighting, and glass and metal pieces really elevates the look without screaming “horse theme!”
How do you you apply all of this to everyday living?
Your home needs to reflect your personality – if you have dogs and muck your own stalls then your home needs to accommodate your passions. Shiny, silver trophies and eating off of precious hunt scene china just doesn’t cut it for the busy lives we have today. Designating a place to collect dirty boots and dog dishes can have just as much design interest as any other part of your home. Open concept living has become ubiquitous to modern living. Most homes don’t have formal dining rooms with equestrian scene murals, but we can introduce fabulous farm style tables and leather and plaid dining chairs that fit comfortably in a more casual equestrian interior.
Can you share a few “don’ts” when incorporating an equestrian influence into interior design?
Don’t bring in things that don’t work with your lifestyle. And you can achieve an equestrian “feel” without spending a fortune on a priceless antique piece that would have come from a country estate in England. For example, vintage horse prints are easy to find in consignment shops … then mix them with bold abstract art or accessories. Think beyond an overt horse theme and instead focus on the elements that draw one toward an equestrian setting: warm, inviting, richly layered, vintage elements, and a variety of textures.