Elizabeth Ralls is the epitome of style with a depth that is hard to describe. In 2013 Elizabeth was appointed Editor in Chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Atlanta's only monthly home and garden publication with an impressive tradition dating back to 1983, replacing its longtime editor Clinton Smith who left the publication for Veranda Magazine. The seamless transition is a tribute to her strong sense of style and leadership skills.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, November 2015
When I first met Elizabeth a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by her strong, quiet calm demeanor blended with an undeniable precise elegance. Over time, I have learned there is a depth to Elizabeth that allows her to transition from Editor in Chief all the way to supporting the team as child or dog whisperer on shoots. Her Southern roots and keen sense of design have allowed her to carry out her vision for the magazine which she says is to "shine the spotlight on one of the top design markets in the U.S. -- in a way that not just recognizes but elevates top talents by demanding attention, both regionally and nationally".
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth recently. I was truly thrilled when the opportunity presented itself. We chatted about her start in the business, her role as Editor in Chief and the magazine's exciting new project, the inaugural Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens.
I truly enjoyed your podcast with Million Dollar Decorating. In it you share that you credit your mother and grandmother for "instilling in you a love for fine and decorative arts". How did the exposure you had growing up bring you to the position of Editor in Chief?
It’s especially poignant right now to think of my mother and grandmother’s influence on my career path as my grandmother recently passed away. Harnessing her joie de vivre in my own life, as well as passing it on to the next generation, feels so important!
I would say creating a sense of occasion is the biggest thing I learned from both of these venerable women. Every birthday, every holiday (even if it was Mardi Gras!) was spent in our formal dining room, but there was always a special project we were tasked with, from retrieving the linens and silver to locating the holiday china or vases for flowers. Entertaining—and more importantly, lively conversation and story telling—was of great importance.
I don’t think it was until I landed a job at Southern Accents magazine in Birmingham, though, that I started to realize how that sense of occasion and appreciation for beauty had influenced the meaning of home in my career. Both recognizing and writing about good design seemed to come naturally. The shelter category was never a niche I imagined pigeonholing myself into but I couldn’t get enough of it.
Even better, though, being in Birmingham brought me closer to my grandparents, who were now just a short drive away. I adored being able to both appreciate the good life with them (they had an amazing art collection, among others), and also being able to share a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a major publishing company, as Southern Living counted my grandmother as one of its original subscribers.
Ultimately, being in the South brought me to Atlanta, where I met my husband. I moved here without a job (or a ring!) and, ironically, was hired by Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles in 2006.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, August 2015
How would you say AH&L has grown since you took over in 2013.
Let me start by saying that I was fortunate enough to “inherit” a gorgeous product from the magazine’s previous longtime editor, Clinton Smith. There was nothing broken about it—AH&L has been esteemed in our marketplace and design community for about as long as it’s been around, since 1983—so my biggest challenge was filling those impeccably tailored, shiny shoes.
Initially, I kept asking myself, “What would Clint do?” Of course, I’ve since gained my own sense of confidence in taking ownership of the brand, which I think has gone a long way towards earning the respect of both our audience and the design community.
While I certainly think the biggest compliment I’ve received is that the transition between editors has been “seamless,” I would say the magazine—and its reach—has evolved naturally, but strategically. We redesigned our website last September, which has exponentially expanded both our audience, and the level of engagement, from minutes spent on the site and newsletter sign-ups to hits directly from Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and of course, blogs like yours!
One of the biggest changes as a brand has been the result of new ownership. Esteem Media, the owner of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, was established by media influencer/entrepreneur Adam Japko in late 2014. Our “sister” entities like the Design BloggersConference and the High Point Market Design Bloggers Tour, and even our relationship with New England Home, has afforded the magazine incredible visibility on both the regional and national stage.
What would you say would be your stamp on the brand?
My hope is that my particular stamp is two-fold…that there’s real “meat” to every story that runs in the magazine, but that this comes across in a polished and sophisticated way. Of course it’s impossible to please everyone, but my goal is to convey an appreciation for great design, regardless of style, and not to put the design community on a pedestal but to let their body of work speak for itself through evocative photography and interesting narratives.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, March 2016
What is your favorite regular feature of the magazine?
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Home Feature
Our “Home” features are definitely the bread-and-butter of each issue, and where we devote the most hours, resources and pages to showcase Atlanta’s top interior designers, architects, landscape architects, artists and more.
These features represent Atlanta decoration—and collaboration—at it’s finest. It’s as if they’re modern-day patrons of the arts, commissioning local blacksmiths, carpenters, upholstery workrooms, artists and artisans to transform their client’s lives in a beautiful but completely customized way.
The gratification we receive from these features is fairly immediate upon publication too—it’s so gratifying to see audiences from across the U.S. and around the world respond to these features through social media, through hits on our site, and requests for print or digital subscriptions.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, Home Feature
You see so many different design styles as an editor, what would you say are five aspects of good design?
Texture ... Make good design palpable - to you, your family and your guests. Is there anything better than the soft touch of an alpaca throw, a cut velvet or a flokati rug? The details aren't just details, they make the design!
(Not my quote!)
Fine Art ... Invest in only the best pieces, and that includes matting and framing. Anything less will make you sad.
To quote Miles Redd, “Buy the best and you only cry once.”
Honor collections ... Stamps, pewter, china, pitchers, oyster plates, sculpture, porcelain.
Find a way to showcase it in a manner that excited you, whether it’s a creative shadowbox frame, or a stylized shelf
or wall hanging. Have it tell a story that is meaningful to you—in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Books! ... And not just on the coffee table.
While many of us can't devote either the space or the resources to a library/study, there's nothing worse than a home
full of TV's - with nary a bookshelf in sight. I LOVE a book nook in an unlikely place, carved out from a stairwell
or built into a hallway, or even an office or kitchen island. Even better if there’s a ladder to reach them,
or custom book covers that make a best-seller look more interesting.
Homes that tell a story, and keep it personal.
I’m not talking about a contrived narrative, but about deliberate choices, whether high or low.
We all have pieces that are of much greater sentimental value than tangible value.
Embrace it—and challenge your designer to think, and be creative with solutions for incorporating
them into your home.
Anything people should refrain from adding to their rooms?
Terrible, cheap, lifeless pillows! We’ve all fallen victim at one point, I’m sure!
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Holiday House 2015
Kitchen by Robert Brown Interior Design
What is your favorite design style?
Truthfully, great design just sings—even in terrible scouting shots! Whether it’s a penthouse in a high-rise, a country house in Milton or a classic in Buckhead, all the points above regarding good design apply. There’s an unwritten formula for individual style that some designers/homeowners not only possess but portray so deftly it’s practically an art form. I’m lucky enough to spend time learning from, photographing and featuring, their design genius on page.
Atlanta was recently called the "South's cultural capital" by Vogue Magazine and nothing shows this more than AH&L's newest project, the inaugural Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens. Serving as an arbiter of southern style, AH&L gathered designers to design rooms for the more than 20,000 square foot home located in Atlanta's Tuxedo Park.
You are currently working on producing the Southeastern Designer Showhouse. What inspired you to tackle this huge project?
Yes! We’re chomping at the bit to debut the inaugural Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens in the heart of Buckhead—this Friday, April 23rd! We’re an ambitious bunch at AH&L—and this was quite an ambitious project, with a 20,000-square-foot main house, plus a 2,500 square foot guesthouse on a five-acre property!
It’s a statement-making house, and one we simply could not pass up as we launched not only a brand-new event in Atlanta, but one with a broader scope. In this Showhouse, interior designers from Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Miami and Charleston are all represented. Each of those designers frequent Atlanta for our incredible design resources, from ADAC to Americasmart—so it was a natural but strategic next step.
We all know Atlanta is the mecca for design—but we’re excited to shine the spotlight on the incredible talents from our “neighbors” as well! Plus … is there anything quite like April in Atlanta?
Elizabeth gave me three sneak peeks into the house as they were shooting it for the magazine ...
Elizabeth in the Great Room by Barbara Westbrook
I know my design style and fashion style are basically the same. Would you say your styles collide or are different?
It’s all about the mix, in both fashion and the home. Our family home leans heavily towards the traditional, in part because we’ve “inherited” so many beautiful pieces from family members through the years, but also because I’m a sucker for well-made, character-rich pieces that also have a story behind them. From a fashion standpoint, I get my kicks (and stay fairly in budget) by adding trendier pieces from Zara or Top Shop to more tailored staples from Rebecca Taylor, Tahari or Vince.
What is the last thing you bought?
Gilded rococo sconces in Paris on a shopping excursion with Toma Clark Haines, the “Antiques Diva!” Next up, I need fish bowl stands in various diameters for my porcelain planters, and then to reupholster a settee upon which our German short hair has taken up residence!
Any current obsessions?
This time of year, I contract major garden, yard and porch envy! Our front yard is mostly ivy, and the back is in dire need of a manicure. My husband is tired of me talking about the merits of pea gravel, pine straw, black mulch and boxwoods!
Three words to describe Elizabeth Ralls.
Down-to-earth, practical, poker face.
Five things about you most people don't know.
1. I spent 18 years in Catholic school. My graduating high school class was just 74 girls. We wore uniforms, we were taught by nuns, and they actually lived on the third floor of our school—which, by the way, is gorgeous. It’s circa-1928, was modeled after a French chateau with twin towers and the campus is about 60 acres. There were secret “tunnels” hidden in the most unlikely of places, beautifully decorated “parlors” for special occasions, even a log cabin original to the property used for things like retreat. In short, it was such an amazing place to explore, imagine and learn.
2. I played Division 1 athletics for two seasons in college–field hockey. I’ve always been competitive! But I will say I was probably the only one on that field donning pearls…
3. I wrote a spin-off series of The Babysitters Club at age 9, and always wanted to be in book publishing/editing. I am still itching to see my byline on a hardcover book.
4. My husband and I are proud parents to three darling boys. They keep us busy (and sometimes after-hours in the E.R.!) but, in all the chaos, we oftentimes find ourselves learning from them—their curiosity, their spunk and their unbridled enthusiasm.
5. I had zero interest in Legos as a child but get obsessive about organizing my boys’ bricks by color, part and function. (Until my two-year-old dumps my hard work all over the play table!)
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis
I pinned this quote to my home office bulletin board when I was passed over for a job that I thought would transform my career—one month before I was offered the job as Editor-in-Chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.
My absolute favorite thing about doing interviews is peeling away the layers of such creative and influential people and learning so many interesting things about them. I love hearing Elizabeth talk of her family and all they did to mold her into the woman, mother, and creative she is today. I am doing all I can to picture her playing field hockey, the vision of her in a uniform in pearls is priceless. Every time I see her she is donning an amazing outfit at an event.
And yes, she is usually wearing a pair of pearls.
Thank you Elizabeth for the honor of getting to know you more. I can't wait for the Showhouse to open on Saturday morning. It will be a huge success, just like every other thing you, and the magazine, put your mark on.
Plan your visit!
Thursdays - Saturdays
10:00 to 4:00 pm
Sundays 1:00 to 4:00 pm