Rivers Spencer has a knack for Southern sophistication.
Spencer, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, weaves her trifecta of interests with a design aesthetic that she calls “sophisticated Southern.” Whether she’s showing off her beloved collection of antique mirrors at her Magazine Street shop, meeting with clients to “fluff and puff” their living areas or applying a unique finish to a white oak dinner table, Spencer stays true to clean, elegant lines, and creating balance and symmetry in the home.
Spencer’s store, Rivers Spencer Interiors, has called Magazine Street home since Aug. 2012, though it moved to its current renovated space in July 2014 after outgrowing the original location. The store is laid out like a home would be: with a formal living room, dining room and bedroom (and with a lighting gallery in the back).
Throughout, Spencer shows off a huge library of fabrics and custom drapery in addition to fine upholstery and furnishings from brands like Verellen and Hickory Chair or brought back in a container from her trips to Europe. Antique mirrors don each of the store’s nine mantles.
“I have an obsession with antique mirrors, so I buy about seven a month,” she says, laughing.
Antiques play a role not just in the furnishings in Spencer’s store, but also in decor recommendations for her clients through her full-service interior design consultancy, through which Spencer has been transforming homes since 2011.
Spencer works with her project manager to craft designs for clients based on photos, measurements, preferences and goals expressed by the client. Sometimes this means redoing an entire home, sometimes a single room and sometimes a “fluff and puff,” which Spencer describes as a light makeover that involves simple changes like new drapery and new accessories.
Where Spencer distinguishes herself is in the relationships she develops with her clients over the long-term. Many clients want to redesign their home piece by piece over months or years, which gives Spencer the opportunity to learn her clients’ personalities and design preferences.
“Things are expensive because they’re quality pieces, but I don’t expect somebody to hire me to do a whole house for every project,” Spencer says. “I like working with people for an extended amount of time. … People think that I will only take on projects that are big, and that’s just not true.”
As much as she enjoys consulting and running her store, Spencer’s true passion is designing furniture pieces, stemming from a love of faux finishing antique furniture, which she taught herself to do in her grandmother’s garage in Jackson. Once a hobby, finishing and creating furniture pieces inspired her to “read everything I could get my hands on about design,” she says.
As one of her proudest accomplishments, Spencer licensed 20 original pieces to Tritter Feefer, an Atlanta-based furniture manufacturer, in exchange for a royalty. The designs — “transitional furnishings with elegant, clean lines, all made in America,” she says — launched this October at High Point Market in High Point, North Carolina, where the line has been well received.
“I also design and manufacture furniture that is made in New Orleans,” Spencer says. “I’m very big on made in America, or antique or vintage pieces, just for quality purposes.”
Quality is as important to Spencer’s work as her design aesthetic itself, and she recommends that people choose quality over quantity when making furniture and decor purchases.
“You want to collect and curate rather than just throw a bunch of stuff into a room that’s affordable at that point in time,” Spencer says. “It’s better to live without something than to buy something that’s in real poor quality just because it fits in your budget. Layer and collect good quality pieces as you go along.”
While she doesn’t consider “sophisticated Southern” to be formulaic, she does offer tips as to how people can infuse this style into their own home: a neutral color palette; clean-lined upholstery; distinct antique pieces; custom drapery; and classic patterns that have been reworked and updated.
She also recommends not getting swept up in design trends.
“I try to avoid trends at all costs,” Spencer says. “To me, you’re spending a lot on your home, and I don’t believe in being frivolous and changing things out all the time. It’s good to collect things that have staying power and not get caught up in a trend.”
Rivers Spencer Interiors, 3909 Magazine St., (504) 609-2436, riversspencer.com