She was always called the Lady, says freelance interior designer Gwen Howard, referring to her mother who passed away three years ago. I hope I have acquired her grace and ability to make everyone at ease.
While sitting and talking in Howard's living room, there is no question Howard is her mother's daughter. Not only has Howard inherited her mother's grace, her home wraps around a visitor like a warm hug.
Gwen Howard's favorite room in the house, the living room, has a sense of formality without the slightest hint of stuffiness. It is more a feeling of formality from the past, like you would expect to see Frank Sinatra standing in the room, or at the very least, his music playing in the background.
Her home has a history and so does its furnishings. The house was built around 1933 by an accomplished builder who took great pride in his work. Howard intentionally designed the interior to keep with the theme of the house. She relied on the moldings and height of the ceilings to help her determine the furniture style -- something she uses in all the homes she works on. Because her house has tall ceilings and traditional crown moldings, Howard followed suit with traditional furnishings. Thankfully that was the style of furniture Howard had acquired.
Much of that furniture came through her parents. Her dining room furniture was in her childhood home along with the lamps that flank the sofa in the living room. Perhaps these particular pieces especially invite a visitor to sit and enjoy -- while holding the mysteries of a lifetime of family gatherings.
Looking back on her childhood, one thing stands out. We had plenty of love around us. My father was a minister and he was always teaching us how to treat people. We were always taught to be respectful, says Howard. The respect wasn't always returned in kind. Sometimes acts of racism were directed toward this African-American family. Our parents did everything to shelter us. There was so much love around us we didn't pay too much attention to it.
Howard says it wasn't too hard since she grew up in an African-American neighborhood. I was brought up in a time where everybody was respectful, although there wasn't a lot of co-mingling. When something was directed out of hatred, the family learned how to deal with it. It's not a good feeling, says Howard. I just chalk it up to being unintelligent. I just move on.
Howard has taught her three grown children the history of slavery so they will be aware of it. My children haven't had to experience as much of it [racism], but it is still present.
She adds, There are still people who do not accept us as equals and as human beings. I want [my children] to be aware so they will go to places that are safe for them, so they will not be confronted.
On Howard's part, she tries not to judge others. I try to accept each person as an individual instead of putting them in a category. That attitude is the basis for her career as an interior designer. She focuses on the clients likes not her own. In fact, Howard asks her clients, Tell me your dream [for your house] and how do you want it to turn out.
Once the design is completed, Howard expresses a sense of satisfaction. To see their faces light up when they see it all come together. They cannot visualize so they really have to put their trust in me.
Howard puts that same trust in herself. When describing her talent as a designer she says, It's probably innate and also from my parents and grandparents, and how they put their homes together. When she was a girl, her mother decorated their house and involved the family. We always helped. Everybody had an input in it, says Howard. Realizing how special her mother was, Howard says, I had a great mom. She was such a lady.
Holly Gregor profiles interior designers in Louisville and Southern Indiana.