There and Back Again

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A seasoned designer’s time abroad inspires her downtown abode

Photography by RICHARD LEO JOHNSON

THE LIVING ROOM of Deborah Morcott’s downtown Savannah home boasts all the characteristics of a curated gallery. Figurative portraiture, embroidered pillows and touches of gold and silver give the space a historic, European effect. Each piece is its own statement with its own story, a past waiting to be told. 

It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that Morcott is the principal interior designer of DDM Designs, a Savannah-based firm with decades of experience designing and decorating spaces like Drayton Tower, The Haven at Indigo Square and numerous private residences. What does come as a surprise, however, is that her distinguished brick townhouse isn’t something circa 1880. But in Morcott’s capable hands, the 2012 build feels as historic as any on Gaston Street, Jones Street or even farther afield in places like Washington, D.C., or London. And, of course, that’s by design.

“I’ve always lived in big cities,” she says, ticking off time spent in capital cities like aforementioned Washington D.C. and London, plus New York, Vienna and Brasília, Brazil, not to mention scores of exotic locales she’s visited, if not outright called home. Morcott’s well-traveled past is apparent right here in Savannah, with pieces around the house alluding to her life abroad. A runner in the hallway is from Morocco, a sculpture hails from Mexico and a quirky little painting in the powder room (the canvas is a miniature ironing board) comes from an artist’s studio in Scotland. 

“I like people to be surrounded by things that have meaning,” Morcott explains of her design philosophy. “Your home should be a reflection of you. You should have interesting pieces that you’ve collected throughout your life because you were attracted to them for some reason.” And pieces don’t need to be expensive to be special. To wit, consider Morcott’s “ABC Chair.” When she first began her design career in the nation’s capital, she spotted a $40 chair at a sidewalk sale. Since then, she’s had it re-upholstered in a playful alphabet print, and it’s now a centerpiece of the primary bedroom. 

With a keen eye for shape and design, Morcott has imbued her home with a collector’s aesthetic — a real sense of each room being created over time, with an intentional assortment of eras and styles. In the dining room, a striking Victorian folding screen is suspended on iron chains that feel practically Medieval. The triptych, several feet tall, is a decoupage from the 1870s, with black-and-white images meticulously cut and glued together to create a sort of pastoral toile: farm animals, musicians, leisurely boaters and carolers all comingle together. It’s the kind of piece one could ponder for hours, and with such high ceilings, she says, its vertical volume is a great way to use space. The accompanying dining table is one of Morcott’s favorite pieces, an original Eero Saarinen Tulip table that her grandmother — featured in a painting above the living room fireplace — purchased in the ’60s and passed down to her. Such an iconic design is best left alone, but Morcott isn’t afraid to add her own stamp to other heirlooms, like a hand-me-down coffee table from her mother. It was previously a shade of oxblood red, Morcott explains, but she had it upholstered in a faux python vinyl. Like the ABC Chair, it’s gotten a new life, and a new name: Slither. (It lives in the living room.)

For Morcott, everything in her home is so much more than just furniture. These pieces are reflections of Morcott’s family and past, things that are repurposed, reused and given lasting value. With so many special objects in her oeuvre, choosing what’s on display is an ongoing process constantly in flux. It’s the most difficult part of the trade.

“There’s nothing worse than an interior designer designing their own home,” Morcott says, laughing. “It takes twice as long because by the time you get to the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is design some more.” Plus, she says, an eclectic inventory can’t just be thrown into a room and expected to work. Morcott needed to create cohesion through precise layouts and careful compositions. Palette, too — tones of grey or silver, in this case — helped bring it all together.  “Using color, scale, and texture, you can get things to work with each other that might not be the same period or style.”


 “Using color, scale, and texture, you can get things to work with each other that might not be the same period or style.”
— Deborah Morcott


Back in D.C., where Morcott first got her start, the Smithsonian Institute’s 19 museums and galleries display only about 1 percent of their full collection — but it’s a very intentional 1 percent. Morcott has similar operating procedures. She’s got much more in her full collection, she says, but she doesn’t plan on changing her decor or fussing with the existing furniture too much. After all, each piece is personal and tells a story, and many are handmade and vintage, therefore built to last. This philosophy of non-disposable, cherished items is something Morcott says she felt strongly while living in Brazil. 

“It’s a different mindset in terms of the disposable versus using what you have,” she says. “We made do with what we had. If we had beautiful things, we put them out. We used them.” 


DETAILS

Year built: 2012
Year purchased: 2018
Square footage: 2,200
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1 powder room
Interior designer: DDM Designs / Deborah Morcott
Paint/wallpaper: Phillip Jeffries, Momentum, A Street Prints at Brewster Home 
Wallpaper hanger: Mike Holcomb
Lighting: Circa Lighting
Furniture: Mostly antique or vintage; Baker, Eero Saarinen, Hans Wegner, Bernhardt, Uttermost, Curry & Co., Robert Abbey, Regina Andrew

Textiles: DesignTex, Lee Jofa, Donghia, Pindler, Opuzan, Beacon Hill, DDM Designs
Upholstery in textiles from DesignTex, Lee Jofa, Donghia, Pindler, Opuzan, Beacon Hill
Recent Furniture & Lighting by Bernhardt, Uttermost, Currey and Co, Circa Lighting, Robert Abbey
Upholstery: Davis Upholstery
Art: “Violin Player” by Max Ferguson (living room), “Silent Night” by Harold Town (kitchen), Victorian Decoupage Screen (dining room), “In this Land” by Donald Mackenzie (powder room), “Heraldic Series” by DDM Designs (Master Bedroom), Antique print of Nuremburg Germany (Master Bathroom)


All details supplied by homeowner