Akin to a baker's dozen, my Farmer's Dozen is a quantity of a dozen or so questions - a series of questions with fellow designers, authors, tastemakers, friends and Southerners alike.
When I think Bottega in Birmingham, I think about fabulous food, amazing atmosphere and my buddy Lindsay Bierman. Whether it’s entertaining new ideas for Southern Living or just catching up, any meal shared with Lindsay Bierman, or any time for that matter, is an absolute treat. Our conversations range from food to fashion, architecture to design, down to just “how’ve you been today.” And while this Farmer can usually count on being one of the best dressed gents at any given event, Lindsay Bierman will always give me a run for my money.
It’s an honor to work with Lindsay as an Editor At Large for Southern Living, but truly the pleasure is being able to count Lindsay as my friend—he’s the perfect sounding board, mentor, and inspirational pal. Ladies and gentleman, we are happy as a duck on a june bug to have Lindsay Bierman with us for the Farmer’s Dozen.
FARMER'S DOZEN: LINDSAY BIERMAN
1. You went to undergrad at Georgetown and grad school at UVA, two of my favorite college towns. Describe some of the similarities and differences between the mid-Atlantic South and the "deep" South.
It’s kind of like the difference between France and Italy, which struck me on a train ride I took from Paris down to Venice. As we began to roll out of a station near the border, late at night, the groggy French passengers remained quietly seated, but the Italians jumped up and called out the windows “Partiamo! Partiamo!” to no one in particular. In the American South as in Europe, the personalities and contrasts seem to get bigger the farther South you go. Whether you’re talking about food, fashion, architecture, politics, sports, or religion, the mid-Atlantic states (if you’ll forgive my generalities) have much more reserve and restraint. Alabama’s rougher around the edges, but that’s not always a bad thing—that’s what gives it so much soul and charm.
2. If you were a color, what would you be and why?
Chocolate brown. It’s deep, earthy, and intense.
3. What are some of your favorite heirlooms? What do you love about them? How have you incorporated them into your decor?
There are serving pieces and other things, but the old family photos mean the most. I’ve framed about a dozen of them to create a gallery in the hall upstairs; they evoke powerful memories every day.
4. What's your favorite room in your home?
My study. It’s my version of a mancave—a smallish bedroom furnished with a mohair daybed, corduroy club chair, heavytattersall curtains, dark brown grasscloth wallpaper, and the most beautiful mid-century burled wood desk. No TV, no sound system, lots of books. It’s where I work, meditate, read, and chill.
5. You're a true Southern gentleman in every way. What are some of your favorite fashion essentials that every Southern gentleman should have in his wardrobe?
#1 on my list: a navy suit from Sid Mashburn. For $995, you get a good-as-bespoke four-season rig to wear anywhere, anytime. The jacket can be worn alone with jeans, khakis, or grey flannels. The cut is perfect, slim but not skinny. I have them taper the pants and crop them to show a bit of ankle (no socks, ever). I’d add to that the very best pair of brown leather wingtips you can afford—look for the chunkier heel varieties from J. Crew, Alden, or Sid Mashburn; they’re as good with jeans as they are with suits. I’d also say that every modern Southern gentleman should visit Billy Reid’s flagship store in Florence, AL to stock up on shirts; this may sound strange, but he does the best collars.
6. Where is your favorite getaway?
I just built a tiny cottage on Smith Lake, an hour north of Birmingham. It’s a modified Southern Living plan with four rooms and a huge screened porch. A friend of mine who has a giant house in the Hamptons asked me about the restaurants in the area—I told him about the gas station pizza and breakfast biscuits from a little store called Country Mall. This ain’t Southampton, and that’s how I like it. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, only the ritual of making a mint julep upon arrival, no matter how late it is.
7. What's growing in your garden?
Anemic azaleas, leggy cherry laurels, and ill-placed arborvitaes. I miss my old garden, with its boxwood parterre filled with herbs and hydrangeas and the friendly alley cats who still call it home. My new yard remains in a sad state of limbo. Atlanta landscape architect John Howard, one of the most amazing designers I know, drew a brilliant master plan for the yard that I hope to afford someday, even if it has to be done in 12 phases. It involves a wildly romantic mix of all white-blooming annuals and perennials, lots of boxwood, a pair of maples flanking the porch, and the magnolia I’ve always dreamed of at the corner of the driveway. John, if you’re reading this, I swear I’m on it!
8. We first met at Bottega, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Birmingham. Though we have bonded over Southern culture as a whole through our work at Southern Living, I love that we bonded first over Southern cooking. So, tell us, what's yourfavorite Southern meal?
It changes with the seasons and what’s cooking in our Test Kitchen, but since the day I made it for the first time I’ve had the same craving for months: Southern Living Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Salad over a bed of kale. I make my own mayo, and roast fresh chicken breasts with salt and pepper in the oven first. Best. Salad. Ever.
9. You get to work with some of the greatest talents in the South (including the most wonderfully hearted woman, Mrs. Nellah). Could you share some highlights you've experienced during your tenure as Editor in Chief at Southern Living?
Besides working with Nellah, who keeps me on track and knows absolutely everything that’s going on around here, every single issue is a highlight when it first comes off the printer—even if I’ve seen a picture or a layout 1000 times, or notice a lot of things I wish we’d done differently, it all feels fresh and new and inspiring each month. I was especially proud of December 2012, which had been in production all year long, and jumped from my chair and shouted in the hall when I heard it was our best-selling issue since 2004. That kind of newsstand performance is a really big deal in the magazine business, and the best way to end the year after our September redesign.
10. Who inspires you?
My colleagues and coworkers—I’m lucky to be surrounded by so much passion, talent, and expertise. Our team energizes, excites, and inspires me every day.
11. What do you call your grandmother? Share a story about her... maybe something you've inherited from her.
My maternal grandmother was born in Lebanon, so I called her Sito, the Arabic word for grandmother. She called me Sito too. She raised five willful children in a house that could fit inside my living room. On Sundays in the summer, a dozen of us would gather for supper in her tiny kitchen—I loved that she would cut up watermelon and let us eat it directly on her Formica table without plates or anything. She never seemed bothered by the sticky, watery mess. That was my Sito.
12. Favorite scent?
Woodsy, cedar-y scents like vetiver.
13. What's on your coffee table right now?
Books by two of my dearest friends, designers Steven Gambrel and Phoebe Howard, a faux bois mid-century ceramic plate, and an empty brass cachepot that’s crying out for spring blooms.