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Ashley Gilbreath Is Ready for the Return of the Traditional Floor Plan

Words by Morgan Goldberg
a kitchen with pink cabinets and a chandelier

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

Ashley Gilbreath has a special way of making traditional style feel current.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based interior designer embraces classic, elegant design, with tufted upholstery, rolled-arm seating, and ornate moldings, but avoids any hint of stuffiness with playful palettes and a casual flair. The result is nothing short of timeless. “My spaces have a refreshing sense of history,” Ashley explains. “I design homes that hopefully stand the test of time.”

This updated traditional approach is woven throughout Ashley’s debut book, The Joy of Home, which comes out on April 18. Its beautifully-photographed pages showcase how she’s applied her warm, Southern touch to a variety of different projects around the country, while prioritizing her clients’ taste and needs.

“A home needs to look like the person that is going to live there and not like me,” says Ashley. This book specifically includes projects that don't all look the same, that vary in style, location, and client demographics. “It's a good taste of the realm of possibilities within our little firm.”

Here, Ashley shares some of the secrets behind her design process, from the architects she admires to the color she’s obsessed with and the underrated material she loves to use.

a white bathroom with a blue and white vase on the floor

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

The architectural style that inspires me most

I'm pretty classical at heart. The works of Gil Schafer and Brandon Ingram are amazing. I've gotten to work on some projects with Brandon and I would love a project with Gil at some point because he is so pure in what he does. I love older homes, too. The arts-and-crafts style speaks to this very classical type of architecture while still being really timeless. It doesn't date itself.

The color I’m loving right now

I cannot get enough of green. I've always been a fan, going as far as pulling off green trim throughout a whole entire house. The deeper jewel tones like Kelly green and emerald are drawing me in at the moment.

a table lamp with a white shade on it
PRBGertrud Lönegren Table LampSHOP NOW
a green and yellow rug with trees on it
Lee JofaArley Paper WallpaperSHOP NOW

My go-to design reference books

I have a few favorites. Mark Sikes’ books are always beautiful and so enjoyable to look through. I love Billy Baldwin, he is so classic and his older books are beautifully done. The old, classic Bunny Williams books are wonderful.

a living room filled with furniture and a chandelier
a dining room with a table and chairs

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

A design trend that needs to be retired…and one that should make a comeback

Shiplap needs to go away. It's been overdone. I would also like to see a return to a more traditional floor plan. I'm not saying that the kitchen has to be tucked away in the corner by itself—but I love the concept of a less open layout, where rooms are not overflowing into the next, they actually have four walls, they're contained, and they feel like individual spaces.

a white chair with a red flowered pattern on it
ChaddockLilac ChairSHOP NOW
a small wooden table with two drawers
Rose Tarlow Lily Side TableSHOP NOW

The first thing I do when designing a room

The very first thing I play with is the furniture plan. It starts the roadmap for the rest of the project, and I try to make sure that the client signs off on that entirely before proceeding. That way, I know what pieces to shop for and what scale is going to work well in the space. From there, I dictate a color palette that everybody is drawn to before moving on to shopping.

My go-to finishing touches to elevate a room

I have to have unique, one-of-a-kind pieces—the quirky antiques and the small little knick-knack things. Greenery, too: it completely and totally brings life into a space, whether it's florals or cutting a branch from the yard. It makes a world of difference. Cocktail table books are really important, too. It’s the icing on the cake.

a couple of candles sitting on top of a wooden table
The Expert VintageJosef Frank Friendship Knot Brass CandlestickSHOP NOW
a ceramic vase with a fish on it
PRBHarald Östergren VaseSHOP NOW
a living room filled with furniture and a chandelier

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

What I always make custom

Drapery. One hundred percent. Windows are the most important thing in a home, so you have to dress them accordingly. The details are so important. Rarely are there two situations in a home where the curtains are exactly the same: the returns, the overlaps, how they function, the formality of the pleating, how they hang... It doesn't have to be big, heavy, patterned drapery, either. It can be as simple as a sheer that still lets light come through, but it is a texture and it draws that visible line from the floor to the ceiling and it allows your eye to travel up.

An underrated material I love to use

A sheer. People often go, ‘Oh my gosh, is this your typical polyester, JCPenney-style sheer from the eighties?’ I'm like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. It has nothing to do with that.’ You get the sense of privacy, but you still get this beautiful filtered daylight. And you also have the option of layering a decorative fabric that's blackout-lined so you can actually sleep past the sun coming up if you like to.

a floral wallpaper with birds and flowers
SchumacherAnshun FabricSHOP NOW
a white textured fabric background
LizzoLienzo FabricSHOP NOW

What I always buy vintage

Typically, the casegood and wood furniture I use are vintage, whether it's a buffet in a dining room or a cocktail table. I try my best to hide a TV, so I sometimes purchase a very old armoire that I take to my cabinet shop to pocket the doors. It adds a sense of patina. The wood tones vary a little bit. It's okay that they're scratched some—it looks loved and it doesn't look like it all came from a furniture set. It has a little bit of character.

a kitchen with a marble island and wooden chairs

Photography by Emily Followill; Courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

Where I splurge and where I save

I splurge on the old pieces because they’re the one-of-a-kind things that you're not going to necessarily find a replica of. I sometimes save on the rug choice. A natural fiber rug can go in just about any space and it's not going to break the bank. There’s always the option of layering a softer or vintage option on top so it's not quite as big. It just frames the seating arrangement.

a wooden stool sitting on top of a wooden floor
The Expert VintageElmwood and Pinewood StoolSHOP NOW
a brown rug with a pattern on it
Rush HouseRush House Original RugSHOP NOW

The hotel that represents ultimate luxury to me

One of my favorite places in the whole world is Playa Grande Beach Club in the Dominican Republic. The setting is incredible. It's very organic and beachy. It's not over the top luxury, dripping in crystals, but it's thoughtfully well done. This casual beach lifestyle speaks to my soul. It’s all open air. Celerie Kemble designed it, who is incredibly talented. It's very Caribbean meets South Beach. If I have my people with me, it is my little slice of heaven.

What’s next

We are doing a book tour. It's been so much fun to see the excitement around it. We've got lots of wonderful projects in the works, as well, but the book is the biggest excitement for sure.

a woman sitting on a couch in a living room

Photo courtesy of Ashley Gilbreath

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