The New Traditional

Story: Rosemary Hallmark  |   Styling: Diane Carroll  |  

At Home in Arkansas: Carita and Bennie Ryburn and their two daughters, Halley and Madison, are a young, active family. How did they amass such an impressive collection of antique furniture?

Designer Tobi Fairley: This house belonged to Bennie’s grandparents, and he was very close to his grandmother. When she passed away, she left the house to him and his family. It was full of her antiques—wonderful old furniture, with many pieces from Hickory Chair and Baker. The Ryburns left things intact for a little while, and when they were ready, I came in and helped them with the process of determining which items to keep. Many items were sentimental to them, but they wanted the house to feel modern and updated for their children—someplace they could live in for a long time.

Once you began the remodeling process, your initial plans were derailed a bit.

After we finally decided which items to keep, I picked up all the antiques, moved them to my warehouse in Little Rock, and began refinishing and reupholstering them. Once we began the remodeling process with the contractor, the house caught on fire due to some old electrical wiring in the sunroom. A few things in the house had to be restored. We didn’t lose much, but we had to completely start over on the renovation. That was about four years ago, so this has been a five or six year process.

A young family can grow and change a lot in six years. How did you integrate his grandmother’s antiques with pieces the family could grow into?

So many of the pieces we began with were very traditional, and the Ryburns are comfortable in a very traditional environment. Plus, the lines of the furniture as well as the molding and millwork details in the house dictated a somewhat traditional approach. But the Ryburns are young—not just young, but active—and the design needed to reflect that. We showed them how to take the pieces they had in their own home, blend them with his grandmother’s pieces, and then add new pieces to make sure it felt updated and functioned well, because many antiques are very pretty, but not functional.

How did the execution of the design differ in rooms that received a more traditional touch and those that are more family-friendly?

In some of the main areas, like the girls’ den and the sunroom, we used mainly new furnishings because those spaces receive the most wear and tear. We used durable fabrics in bright colors that don’t show stains, and rugs were inexpensive so that spills are less of a concern. We tried to use things that look great but are hassle-free, so they wouldn’t have to worry when they hang out in those spaces.

Yet the home seems very cohesive. Was it difficult to transition from room to room when blending old and new?

I transition with color. One of my favorite rooms is the dining room, which is one of the more traditional rooms in the house. It has an antique dining table, buffet, two china chests, a silver chest and a very formal chandelier. I mixed those pieces with chartreuse trellis wallpaper and a purple ceiling. And then I carried that fun color palette over to some of the really traditional pieces in the living room. I like to have a subtle repetition of color throughout all my spaces, so if you begin in the kitchen, you see the dark green and chartreuse, which moves to the chartreuse dining room, and then to the chartreuse and terra cotta formal living room, which goes into the terra cotta and aqua sunroom. In your mind’s eye, when you encounter the next room, at least part of the palette was used in the previous room so it doesn’t feel like a complete departure. 

It sounds like most of the renovation involved decorative surface changes. Was there much restructuring involved?

Even though they had to go back to the solid wood walls of the house, we didn’t change much of the structure. We did a few things to modernize, like add a second laundry room. It doesn’t make any sense to walk all the way to the kitchen to do laundry, because most of your laundry comes from the bedrooms. The original kitchen was small, with a wall separating it from a big, open service kitchen. Neither room was very functional; all the other rooms in the house are so big and open that it just didn’t make sense to have a small, closed-off kitchen. So the entire process was an intentional juxtaposition of old and new, contemporary and traditional. What you end up with is the blended look of something that feels classic in its form, but looks modern in its execution.


Design Resources

Interior design Tobi Fairley Interior Design, Little Rock, (501) 868-9882,

Contractor Tom Priest Construction, Monticello, (870) 367-7389

Cabinets Merritt’s Custom Cabinets, Star City, (870) 460-0001

Cabinets—bathroom R&B Cabinets, Sheridan, (870) 942-0983

Cabinets—faux finish Berryman Painting, Monticello, (870) 367-3690

Draperies, bedding Mountjoy’s Custom Draperies, Mabelvale, (501) 455-2216

Flooring C&F Flooring and Rug Gallery, Little Rock, (501) 399-9909,

Furniture finishes Angelfish Studios, Little Rock, (501) 960-4826, 

Rug, sunroom Cobblestone & Vine, Little Rock, (501) 664-4249, West Little Rock, (501) 219-3676, 

Upholstery Robby Chism, Little Rock, (501) 257-7932



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