Southern Style

The founders of Varnish Collection and Elliston House turned Instagram admiration into a colorful collaboration by pairing fabrics and wicker pieces for a debut home collection.

Left to Right: Mary Lovett Beck, Morgan Hood, Anna Garcia, Ally Holderness
Photography by Morgan Duke photography

The Collaboration: House Capsule
Despite what many think, there are some good things that can come from being glued to social media—or as Morgan Hood, the co-founder of Greensboro-based Elliston House, says, “the beautiful world of Instagram.” Morgan and her business partner Ally Holderness went to the Kips Bay New York showhouse and posted about a wicker chair they loved from Varnish Collection. When the co-owners of Varnish, sisters Anna Garcia and Mary Lovett Beck, saw the post and responded to Morgan and Ally, a mutual admiration society was formed.

The two companies teamed up for a winning collection of handcrafted wicker furniture from Varnish and fabrics from Elliston. “We had been exploring the introduction of colored pieces to our line and had recently discovered this Italian paint that imparts a velvety, luxurious finish,” says Anna. “We decided to give it a try, but we needed a fabric partner for the cushions. All four of us were soon on the same page and sending ideas back and forth.” Adds Mary Lovett, “There was this natural synergy.”

“Brainstorming with other creative entrepreneurs is incredibly helpful. Both of our companies have launched online within the past year, and we have faced similar challenges. Having someone to experience the highs and lows with has been invaluable.”

— Ally Holderness

The lively prints from Elliston perfectly complement the new wicker colors. For example, a delicate floral on a pink background pairs with a rich brown occasional chair, and a French blue wicker sofa sports a joyful bird print with citrus accents. But the collaborations didn’t stop with the furniture pieces. “We hosted a party together at High Point, along with rug purveyor Angie Burge of English Village Lane,” says Ally. “People were coming in and asking if we were doing it again next year so they could join in. Our brands complement each other so well, and the fact that we are female entrepreneurs with new businesses also brings us together.”

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“While we are undeniably rooted in tradition, we like to say that this is ‘not your grandmother’s wicker.’ Our goal is to give a fresh look to this traditional artform, whether through new silhouettes, new products, or unexpected styles and colors.”

— Mary Lovett Beck

Backstory: Elliston House

As many new ventures go, Elliston House came from a place of frustration. Ally was helping her good friend Morgan decorate a nursery in her home. “We were looking at fabrics, and they were all so expensive,” says Morgan. “We didn’t want to pay $200-plus per yard or full-service designer fees, which got us thinking and scheming.” Morgan’s husband had connections in the furniture industry which helped, as did the women’s shared love of fashion, color, and pattern. Elliston House debuted in February 2023 with a collection of five fabrics in multiple colorways. The founders continue to come up with prints which an artist renders, and then everything is digitally printed to order in South Carolina. Any print can also be purchased as a wallpaper.

“Our goal was a sweet spot on price per yard and also to be more of a lifestyle brand than a traditional fabric house,” says Ally. “Our social media shows us as moms and that home life can be wonderful but messy! We do a lot of the photography and experimentation in our individual houses.” As a result, Elliston House will debut a second collection in February 2024.

Design Talk with Ally & Morgan of Elliston House

On creating a successful room: Color, pattern, and texture! The mix of varying hues and varying scales alongside something new and something old makes a room feel curated and well-loved. Having rooms that feel lived-in and special is a delicate balance that can make a home feel personal. A rattan chair in the corner passed down from your great-grandmother next to a vintage lamp atop a modern console with an abstract piece of art makes a space feel layered. If you love it, your guests will too!

On mixing colors and patterns: Paying attention to scale and motif are the most important things. It’s always critical for a room to have a mix of large scale, medium scale, small scale, and solid patterns. For example, mixing florals with geometrics and stripes feels unexpected and collected. After that, there are no rules! When it comes to color, we are big fans of picking an overall “theme” for a room (i.e. warm and cozy, moody and quirky, clean and crisp, etc.) and pulling colors that evoke those feelings.

On Southern influences: “We both grew up around heirloom antiques and colorful textiles. We believe that more is more when it comes to decorating a home and are always looking to bring in that next layer to a space, whether through textiles or art and furniture passed down for generations. Our patterns have a very traditional and Southern feel to them mixed with updated elements and colors so as to shine in any room. Having a home that always feels inviting for guests of all ages is important to us, and we want our fabrics and wallpapers to be familiar yet unexpected.

Backstory: Varnish Collection

Mary Lovett Beck and Anna Garcia are two of five sisters known in Columbus, Georgia, as the “Varner Sisters”—hence the name of their company. The sisters grew up with antiques, many of which were well-made wicker pieces that filled the porches belonging to their family and friends. One of the sisters’ favorite pastimes growing up was rearranging the furniture at home, which they continue to do today. “And we pass family pieces around and around and around,” says Anna. “In fact, we have a rule that you have to consult with everyone in the family before getting rid of anything!”

The sisters had longed dreamed of working together, and a chance encounter gave them an idea. Mary Lovett, an interior designer, was sourcing for projects and came across a wicker chair from India that was hand-woven in natural materials. It reminded her of those in her childhood home. Introductions were made, and the business was launched in 2023 with an aim to showcase the beauty and versatility of wicker for interiors.

Design Talk with Mary Lovett & Anna of Varnish Collection

On how to use wicker: As Mark Sikes says, “Wicker always works!” In our own words, a natural fiber like rattan is needed in every room. It is not only a part of the layering process but can also make a big impact as a personality piece or piece of art itself. We love the idea of a bench in an entryway, an occasional or desk chair in the corner, and a drink table or ottoman thrown in the mix. We are continuing to adjust our line to be sure we have pieces that work for the scale of most rooms in the house.

On what makes a successful room: “We believe that every room should be layered with old and new, soft and hard, loud and quiet. Every room should have something meaningful, something interesting, even something weird or unexpected. Your home should be a reflection of your interests. When we find a customer who feels this same way, we have an instant almost familial connection (sounds funny, but true). We have not found a room that could not benefit from a dash of wicker in some shape or form.”

On Southern influences: Our childhood was synonymous with wicker. On the screened porch on our beloved family farm outside of Columbus is where we sat with our three other sisters, friends, family, and the many visitors we had. It was where memories were made and values were passed down. We learned to live in the moment and love our people while seated on those pieces passed down from our great-grandmother. Our early memories of “interior design” were antiquing with my mom and aunts on every trip,
rearranging rooms and layouts (all the time!), and constantly layering.

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