Clean Slate

A photostylist’s job is to enhance a scene, create a vignette, and give a little extra pizazz to the ordinary. Leslie Simpson knows the job well. With a degree in art from The University of Alabama, and a career that has crossed Southern Progress magazine and book titles, Leslie has a trained eye for putting together pieces that work—no matter their era or origin. Often, stylists are privy to prop closets, prop budgets, and trips to market to stay ahead of the curve. So when it comes to their own spaces, careful editing is a must.

With life changes, Leslie found the opportunity to move and redefine her living space for herself and her two daughters. “After 15 years of taking a more conservative approach, I went back to what I liked the most: art and unique accessories. Now my home reflects more of my personality and personal style, ” says Leslie. Leaving tradition behind, she moved from her Crestline home filled with toile fabrics, buffalo checks, and fine antiques. Still, she had a little whimsy mixed in—and that’s what she plays up in her new space.

At her home in Brook Manor, a new development in Mountain Brook Village, Leslie says she didn’t have to do a thing before she moved in. “I needed a spot to land in the Mountain Brook school district, and one of the duplexes was available, ” she explains. “It has been effortless. The quiet street is a hidden secret, and I am grateful for such a lovely spot. There is something to be said for a well constructed new place. It was even painted my favorite white paint color (Glacier White, Benjamin Moore).”

Leslie held on to a few of her favorite antiques, but she reinvented them in fresh ways. “I simply bought 40 yards of white linen fabric from King Cotton and re-covered two French chairs and a camelback sofa that had been wearing a chartreuse toile for 16 years, ” Leslie says. “I also removed the same toile slipcovers off my dining chairs and went with a simple stretched seat bottom. It lightened up the room and basically gave me a blank canvas to do anything.”

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Regrouping her collections, Leslie says she kept what she loves in plain sight. “I handpick all of my own accessories, so they all have a special meaning or a story to go with them. I’m drawn to color, and I also enjoy a little humor in a room.” That humor is evidenced in witty quotes on the living room mirror, pictured at left. Ever changing (Leslie uses a dry-erase marker), the quotes are sometimes poignant, always amusing.

“The introduction of contemporary art in my interiors excited the conservative walls from my past, ” Leslie explains, referring to the fact that she once hung antique botanicals. “One of my favorite pieces is a 4- by 8-foot charcoal by a student from Birmingham-Southern. I bought it off the wall one night while having a glass of wine with a good friend at Little Savannah restaurant in Forest Park. I paid $400 for it.” Another favorite? The large painting by Al Sella, Leslie’s former art teacher at The University of Alabama.

Collections also enliven Leslie’s fresh white canvas. “Probably the most visible and frequently used accessory I have is my Tena Payne pottery collection (Earthborn Studios), ” she says. “Tena and I worked together at Southern Living  25 years ago before her business was an institution like it is now. I use her pottery for everything—every day and every time I entertain. I will never stop collecting it.”

Bar accessories, drink stirrers, and an assortment of cocktail accoutrements are displayed on Leslie’s antique Irish sideboard. “I also have the last 39 Kentucky Derby glasses that I love to pull out for company, ” she says. “And I could not live without my cookbook collection. They are the only books I have displayed in bookshelves. Next, I am going to collect vintage typewriters. I have one red Royal, and I am going to start bidding on eBay soon.” 

Leslie finds comfort in the recognizable accessories that have moved several times with her. “It doesn’t really matter what setting they are in, ” she says. “They are all special to me.”

Text by CATHY STILL MCGOWIN • Photography by jean allsopp

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