How I Convinced My Mom to Break Out of Her Decor Comfort Zone After Divorce
Open floor plan, open mind.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:56 AM
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Lisa Pendergrast didn’t want to let go of her Oriental rug. “I had to practically pry it out of her hands,” recalls interior designer Abby Pendergrast, who took the piece from her mom with good intention. Almost a decade had gone by since Lisa had been living in the same suburban neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, with the same stuff. It was time to shake things up.
“The furniture that she had, we had my entire childhood,” says Abby. “They existed in a past life.” The initial idea was to redecorate the 1,900-square-foot house her mother had downsized to after her separation. But even after reupholstering a few pieces of furniture, the energy was still stagnant. Then, one day on a walk through downtown, the pair stumbled across an old machine warehouse that had been converted into apartments. “Abby looked at me and said, ‘You’re putting the house on the market. This is your vibe,’” remembers Lisa, who was craving a change of scenery. The South Main Arts District—a former industrial area crawling with hip restaurants and art galleries—couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.
The airy loft (which Lisa moved into after a few months of back and forth with the realtor and extra encouragement from Abby) signaled a new chapter—one with a punchy color palette and a refreshed art collection. The beloved antique rug, overly bulky and dark, no longer made sense. “It had so many old memories tied to it,” says Lisa. “But it was freeing when I finally let it go.” Here, the mother and daughter reflect on parting with the past, redefining your style in a new space, and rediscovering a different outlook.
On Adapting to a New Layout…
With its 20-foot-high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and open-concept living-kitchen-dining room, the expansive apartment was the exact opposite of the traditional brick house Abby and her sisters grew up in. Fortunately, for a seasoned entertainer like Lisa, the space turned out to be more conducive to hosting friends. “We’re Southerners—we love to cook,” laughs Abby. Still, carving out a few designated areas was essential to giving the space good flow. Using furniture and rugs as subtle barriers, the designer highlighted three zones: a seating area toward the windows where guests can hang out, a sit-down dining area, and a bar near the kitchen. The arrangement was strikingly different from what Lisa had been accustomed to (there was no longer a formal dining room or den to retreat to; no walls to hide behind). “The open space was an opportunity to try something new,” adds Abby.
On Giving Memories New Life…
This was easily Abby’s most personal project to date. When it came time to part with larger, sentimental items, like two green club chairs her mom had bought when she was just 3 years old, the stakes suddenly became higher. “We would call it ‘green chair time’—like, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you. Come sit down and have green chair time,’” remembers Abby.
Not wanting to lose that feeling of home, the pair found creative ways to keep meaningful items with a family history in the mix. Although the duo knew the club chairs weren’t the right shape or texture for the modern apartment, they bought two vintage wingbacks and swathed them in forest green fabric as a nod to the originals. Case in point: She drew the line at parting with her china and serveware collection, which is now stored in a salvaged locker from a 1800s cotton factory that makes use of all the apartment’s vertical space. “You can take the old with the new,” says Lisa
On Switching Up Your Palette…
Inspired by their new surroundings in the South Main Arts District, the duo filled the space with works by local artists. A vibrant painting by Memphis artist and close friend Kristen Rambo, now hanging in the guest room, set the tone for the floral-heavy, female-driven collection. “I was energized by it. I felt younger,” says Lisa. The pops of turquoise, orange, and yellow are a far cry from the deep reds, dusty browns, and heavy golds in her old place. “I was like, ‘Mom, just because you’re 60 and single doesn’t mean you aren’t fun or lively. You need to reignite that side of yourself,’” says Abby. An ultra-bright color scheme helped spark that creative side.
On Bringing the Feeling Full Circle…
Getting yourself unstuck is one thing. Getting used to big change is another. “It took me about six months to catch my stride,” says Lisa. Slowly, she learned which restaurants were the best; which shops matched her style. She even started volunteering at the farmers market and meeting new people outside her 25-plus-year relationships. “She threw an open house happy hour for all her new neighbors and hosted over 30 people,” says Abby. “Some are now her closest friends!” Two years post-move-in and Lisa doesn’t miss a thing. Not the comfort of suburban living. Not the luxury of a separate dining room. Not even the rug.
“I’m learning that you have to constantly reevaluate what it is that you want,” says Lisa. “Your home can be a representation of that.”
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