by Marisa Marcantonio

 Photos courtesy of  Mali Azima

Photos courtesy of Mali Azima

I first discovered Margaret Kirkland when she was included as one of House Beautiful's Next Wave designers in the November 2012 issue, and was able to meet her when House Beautiful held an intimate luncheon in their honor. It turns out Margaret was my dining partner, and we happen to know a lot of the same people, small world that it is. Mentored by two lovely designers--- New York and Maine-based Sara Bengur while in New York, and in Atlanta by a legendary dean of Southern Design, Dan Carithers, Kirkland developed an eye for antiques and how to work with them in classic traditional interiors. Creating rooms with elegant appeal, she has been known to attract clients searching for young traditional designers on google searches.  I love that-- it shows that internet exposure can help grow a business, and confirms the importance of a strong digital presence- be it a website, blog or social media channels. Ahead, the work of the Atlanta-based designer, who started her firm in 2010. 

A beautiful minty green/blue painted hall is lined with charming small settees tucked into niches with antique statement lanterns hanging above

An English-inflected living room filled with blue and white porcelains and red touches

Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?

I worked for Sara Bengur in NYC and Dan Carithers in Atlanta. I was lucky enough to have studied at Parsons and to have worked for the very best.

Do you have a design mentor?

Dan Carithers

What did he teach you that you can't learn in design school?

I learned so many things from Dan. To name a few: You can't design from only behind a desk.  A mixing of antiques and different styles is what gives life and personality to a room. There is always room for a check fabric somewhere.

What is the most practical knowledge you learned from working for a master designer?

If something isn't working, don't be afraid to change directions!

When did you know this was your calling in life?

Strangely knowing this career was my calling came a bit out of order for me. I fell into design almost by instinct. One day, I was counting my blessings and realized how fortunate I had been throughout my career with the places I've lived, the people I've worked for and the clients I've had. It was a profound realization to know I was lucky enough to actually be doing what I loved and what I'd always wanted to do.

How did you know you were ready to strike out on your own, and when did you?

After over 10 years working in the interior design field, and when one of my bosses was about to retire I realized I wanted to hang my own shingle.

What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?

Don't second guess yourself. If you feel passionate about something, you will find a way to make it work.

What is the biggest challenge of being your own boss? Has that evolved from when you began?

The biggest challenges are managing people, managing time, and missing the camaraderie of an office. Luckily, things have evolved for me over time. As we have grown as an office, we have hired a great team and this has made all the difference, especially when we balance our weaknesses and strengths.

How do clients find you?

Word of mouth mostly, or as a result of publications. One of our more recent jobs came from our client doing a Google search for "young traditional designer."

Whose work of the past do you hold in high regard?

Dorothy Draper, John Colefax, and Sister Parish are at the top of my list.

What books do you own old and new that you constantly refer to?

It changes but right now I'm really loving Jennifer Boles' new book, In with the Old: Classic Décor from A to Z. It is the best design reference guide. I also refer constantly to Miles Redd's Big Book of Chic, Colefax and Fowler's: The Best in English Interior Decoration, House & Gardens' Best in Decoration and Mario Buatta: 50 Years of Interior Design  

Where are finding inspiration?

It's always a mix. I love looking at all the current and past shelter magazines, and I adore watching films. Right now, we are finding lots of inspiration on Instagram and reading amazing blogs like yours. And I always find inspiration from the stores that I frequent.

What do you think is next regarding trends in color, material, style, influence, historical period and locale?

1980's chintz is back in a big way! Color is coming back around thankfully too. I have clients coming to me asking to update their bland beige decor, which indicates a shift in the visual landscape from five years ago.

Do you have a signature look and how would you define it?

Classic, ladylike, and elegant

Do you have a favorite pattern that you return to?

Cowtan and Tout "The Setter" is one of my favorites. The VP of Cowtan &Tout has joked about my love affair with their chintz, but its scale, color and liveliness is perfect, and seeing it always makes me happy. I also have a serious crush on the new Tilton Fenwick fabric line for is so colorful and fun.

A sun-filled living room embraces the beauty of classic English antiques with comfortable seating areas and restrained accessories

What material do you love?

Linen and cotton are my go-to fabrics. I'm a naturalist.

Where do you shop to get inspired?

I always try to shop wherever I travel to find new and different resources. I'm always inspired by small independent stores that have their own personality. On a recent trip to France, I had a ball shopping in the treasure trove of antique stores of Isle Sur La Sorgue.

What other resources are go-to's?

Atlanta has absolute gems. The Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC), and the antique stores of The Galleries, Miami Circle and Bennett Street are my most frequented spots. Scott's Antique Market is a fun monthly event in Atlanta with hundreds of antique vendors bringing their wares from around the country, and it is a regular destination for me. Shopping online is a great way to cast a wide net for hard-to-find items, and we like 1stdibs and Dering Hall as sites representing many different vendors.

Where are you eager to do a project?

With the summer quickly approaching, we would love to work on a Summer retreat. For several summers in a row, I got to work on different projects in France, and it was fabulous. This year we are open to anything whether it be a coastal home, or cool mountain lodge.


A porch, complete with metal and crisp white painted rattan furniture and fresh yellow accents takes the living room out-of-doors