A Master of Detail
World-renowned Tulsa interior designer Charles Faudree celebrates a fabled career.
What kind of career might Charles Faudree have had if his mother had not let him paint the family’s shuttered, Dutch-style front door, when he was only 10 years old? Every year, with Ruby Faudree’s blessing, Charles experimented with a different color – Wedgewood blue, pink, apple green.
“I got that out of my system early on in my career,” he recalls. “Now I much prefer black.”
That was the genesis of Charles’ interest in interior design – a fascination with colors, fabrics, textures, accessories and details that has made him a beloved icon in the world of French Country designs.
It was inevitable that Charles would gravitate to a design career that would allow him to travel to Paris and London often to enjoy the nuances of French-style design. He finds incredible antiques and structural fragments at the Paris Flea Market. He favors London’s Portobello Road for smalls.
“The French don’t have small accessories, and I do love Staffordshire, Majolica and English tea boxes,” he notes.
He was in London with close friends and clients for his 50th birthday. Paris was the scene of his 70th birthday, an event that drew quite an entourage.
“Given my French name and heritage, I have always been drawn, almost charismatically, to elevate French Country to a fine art. I am an avowed Francophile, and I love the French carving so typical of French Country furnishings. There is a simplicity, a gentle softness to these furnishings I find very calming and soothing. French Country is a working class style and I believe it wears well,” he wrote in our first book.
Charles and I grew up two doors apart in a modest neighborhood on East Side Boulevard in Muskogee. When he was 8 years old, and I was 6, he announced, “When I grow up, I want to be so famous I want someone to write a book about me.” My response was quick. “That will be me. I am going to be a writer.”
In 2003, the first of three books we wrote together was published: Charles Faudree’s French Country Signature. Two more followed: Charles Faudree’s Country French Living in 2005 and Charles Faudree Interiors in 2008.
Charles graduated from Northeastern State University in the early 1960s, as I did. NSU honored him in 1998 as a distinguished graduate.
One of Charles’ first jobs was teaching art in Kansas City, later in Oklahoma City. I was a journalism student at the University of Missouri then and sometimes rode the train to Kansas City so I could ride with Charles to Muskogee. As I recall, we often talked about decorating. Charles left teaching for retail ventures in Oklahoma City and Dallas.
“In 1978, when I was about to turn 40, I gathered the courage to leave my sales position and move from Dallas. I wanted to pursue my dream – interior decorating – and chose to move back to my childhood home, Muskogee, to open my first design studio and antique shop,” Charles notes.
Muskogee was an incubator for greater things ahead in his design career. His sister, Francie, was among his first clients; she let him experiment with several of her homes. In 1979 he opened a shop and studio in Tulsa and began expressing his love affair with French-inspired homes for his appreciative clientele.
In his newest, and sixth book, Charles Faudree Home, written with Francesanne Tucker in 2012, Francie noted, “I like to tell Charles I taught him everything I know about decorating. In reality, my suggestions for designing come with the advantage of years spent watching Charles work his decorating magic.”
Editors have long gravitated toward Charles’ designs. The late Nancy Ingram discovered Charles and was the unofficial president of Charles’ “fan club” while she was editor of Tulsa Home & Garden. Every time Charles moved to a new home, the magazine featured some aspect of each new address.
When Ingram passed the editorship of Oklahoma Home & Lifestyle to me and became a regional scout for the Meredith Corporation, she encouraged their editors to write about Charles’ designs. Other shelter magazines took notice, and Charles’ reputation flourished. Ann Omvig Maine, editor-in-chief for Traditional Home, wrote the foreword for our first book.
“Charles has a wonderful way with a room,” Maine noted. “He infuses a space with freshness and vitality, making it elegant and inviting – but most of all – personal. In each home – and in an amazingly short amount of time – Charles puts his own stamp on the place. Every one of his houses is uniquely his – replete with his prodigious collections, spilling over with comfort and exuding a sense of his having lived there forever.”
Karen Dewulf Nickell, editor-in-chief of Better Homes & Gardens, called Charles’ designs, “a seamless sonnet of a life that’s well lived and also well appointed.”
Lisa Newsom, founder and editor of Veranda magazine, which had featured six of his houses by our third book, wrote, “(Faudree) believes favorite colors and hues repeated throughout an interior can produce a harmonious environment.”
Charles has shared his joie de vivre with audiences across the country. He often quips, “Each one of my homes is like Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands – my best and my last.” Friends and clients quickly learned that comment often signaled another move.
I especially loved his 1923 Dutch Colonial house – a somber saltbox on the exterior – near Philbrook. A French chateau was another favorite. I adored one of his “Roost” dwellings at Spring Creek – a rustic cabin he gave a welcoming personality.
Initially, Charles defined French Country as an “excessive, exuberant style” that fostered his favorite design principle – too much is never enough. That philosophy is still obvious in his homes but changing times and shifting tastes have encouraged him to recognize the pared-down trend in lifestyles.
“All of my clients and friends are aware of my love for French Country. I still consider it one of my strengths. But the winds of change touch all of us and a sparer look is having its way,” he wrote in our third book. “I respond to the idea of paring down, too, but I like my simpler life to include my favorite collections and a great mix of fabrics and furnishings,” he stated recently.
Charles recognized early that recycling, or repurposing, is part of the design process. He thrives on change – it’s part of his DNA. His good friend, artist Jimmy Steinmeyer, calls Charles “a serial mover.” Charles responds, “Moving often has allowed me to be ready for the next design challenge as soon as the last renovation is complete, and frequently, has shown me how to assign new uses, new settings and new clothes for old furnishings.”
The “mix” has long been part of Charles’ design philosophy. Asked often his secret for creating rooms with that certain French élan, he says simply, “It’s all in the mix, not the match. Hopefully that mix is always artful, eclectic and inspiring.” For Charles, that means mixing past and present, old and new, even blending accents from other eras, other countries.
“I like to create inviting rooms that express a casual, comfortable feeling. I am often guided by my belief there are no rules about where you can use things. That’s why French Country design has a pleasing, fluid quality and an appeal that is timeless,” he says. In the mix, his penchant for blending fabrics, colors and textures becomes pronounced.
“With a taste for the eclectic, I would like to think I have mastered one of the main tenets of this style – combining traditional prints, patterns, colors and textures with just the right furnishings,” he says. “It’s magic the way fabrics play off each other and off the contrast of the woods. I’m always inspired by new fabrics and I think that’s what keeps this style fresh.”
Charles believes the first impression of a home begins with the front door. He says, “If the exterior of a house entices, the interior – especially the entryway – must enthrall.” One magnificent piece of furniture is often the first hello guests encounter. “An entry not only welcomes and wows your guests, it defines your design aesthetic as an individual,” Francie noted, in her introduction to Charles Faudree Home, his sixth book.
Study Charles’ design magic and symmetry becomes apparent. He teaches clients to think in pairs. He loves dynamic duos. A pair of Chinese export porcelain vases adds interest above a mantle. Two antique Staffordshire deer vases accent an English bull’s eye mirror. A trumeau mirror is enhanced with matching bronze wall sconces.
His fascination for collections is legendary, from his white Staffordshire cows to dog memorabilia, a tribute to his three King Charles Cavaliers. “I love using my clients’ collections to create interesting tablescapes and wallscapes. Collections can be especially pleasing when they complement the fabrics in a room.” He adds, “Traveling and collecting are natural companions.” Collections and ideas for displaying them abound in his fifth book, Charles Faudree Details, written with Francesanne Tucker.
“My rule of thumb for deciding if something is a collection is simple: one is good, two are usually a pair. Three are definitely a collection,” he says.
“Details may seem like a small subject, but these finishing accessories are by far the most important part of decorating. People’s lives are expressed by little details. They give a room its soul.”
Early in his career, Charles hoped to elevate French Country to a fine art. He quickly surpassed that goal, creating settings that have all the elegant trappings of a French country estate, without any of the traditional French pretentiousness.
His career has provided many design credos for his fans to savor. My favorite concerns collecting. Charles believes: “If you find something you love, nothing else matters.” I also love his client Linda James’ comment in Home. Her philosophy about entertaining: “When you open your home to others, in a sense you open your heart.”
Fans of Faudree
“Charles Makes Me Laugh”
Toni Garner, owner of Toni’s Flowers and Gifts
Co-author with Charles Faudree/Text by Francesanne Tucker, Charles Faudree Country French Florals & Interiors
Toni and Charles have been friends for more than 15 years and share an intense love for fresh flowers and status as Northeastern State University alumni.
“We just clicked the first time we met,” Toni remembers.
Fresh flowers, occasionally silks, are featured in almost every setting Charles designs. If the locale is Tulsa, Toni is there. “For Charles, flowers are the ultimate accessory,” Toni says. “Charles comes to the shop, picks out something and says, ‘Shove some more things in here.’ He makes me laugh. There’s never a dull moment with Charles.”
Charles suggests an idea for a floral bouquet, and then lets Toni use her design magic. “He gives me the confidence to do special things. You look for someone like him for approval. He’s got the eye.
“I know he always wants flowers to be elegant and have flair. Sometimes he will pick one flower and mix it with the soft colors he loves.”
This past Christmas, John and Julie Nickels’ home, which Charles decorated, was on a tour. “We went to the home Saturday evening to review every room and my flowers. While we were in the powder room, Charles showed me the Fortuny wall coverings. Everything was so beautiful, we both got teary-eyed. It was a special moment.” – M.V.
“Charles Is One Of A Kind”
Jody Kerr, owner of Jody Kerr Antiques, Oklahoma City
When Jody Kerr talks about Charles, she always speaks in superlatives.
“He is a precious man,” she says. “Any time his name is mentioned, I get a huge smile on my face. I even smile just when I think of him. He has more talent in his little fingernail than most of us.”
Charles has scouted for antiques often in Kerr’s distinctive antique shop. He suggests her collections to his clients – most recently, a young couple just beginning to furnish their Faudree-inspired home.
“I have friends who knew Charles when he taught in Oklahoma City. Students loved him because he was so positive, kind and supportive,” Jody says. “He has such a knack for design. His rooms make you feel so welcome. I’m a devotee of ‘too much is never enough,’ like Charles. He teaches us about beauty through his designs. His work is spectacular.” – M.V.
Charles’ Clients Learn By Example
Gayle and Frank Eby
Cashiers, South Carolina
After Gayle and Frank Eby bought the 2010 Cashiers, North Carolina Designer Show House, they invited Charles to add some character to their home, which embraces the beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
“Perhaps because of his upbringing in the wooded landscapes and sunny pastures of eastern Oklahoma, Charles has a keen appreciation for the wonders of nature and an unerring ability to incorporate that feeling into his interior designs,” Gayle notes.
“Charles may use outdoor statuary in an entry hall or put a fauteuil chair meant for an elegant living room on a porch. And he makes it all work.”
The setting is so magnificent, Charles now has an elegant country home in Cashiers. – M.V.