Charleston designer Quincy Forester’s affinity for the industry came rather unexpectedly. Though the Myrtle Beach native grew up with a building-enthused mother, the spark didn’t start to catch fire for Forester until she was a newlywed, many moons ago, renovating her first house, a Charleston single on Queen Street. As the years ticked by and she tackled additional renovations, friends and colleagues began to notice Forester’s great taste—which includes an affection for colorful ethnic textiles and an eye for diamond-in-the-rough antiques. Forester gradually began to lend a hand to their projects, until her design business materialized more officially, producing jobs not only in the Charleston area, but as far afield as Winston-Salem and Jackson Hole.
Forester’s work is a contradiction of sorts. While it’s always pared down and expertly edited, it has a consistently personal and collected feel. “I like to think that outfits, beds and homes always look better with the more layers you have, added over time,” she says. “Just be sure you’re only adding in things that you use and love—books set just where you’ll read them, a suzani thrown over the back of the sofa.”
But Forester’s furnishings are always considered, never fussy. Throughout her travels, she picks up contemporary pieces at such stores as Jonathan Adler and Design Within Reach while, back home in the Carolinas, she combs antique malls like 17 South and South Windermere, along with Zinn Rug Gallery and Elizabeth Stuart Design (known colloquially as ESD). “If I see something great, I buy it!” says the designer, who’s notorious for keeping containers of objects-in-waiting, like those gleaned from a recent trip to Morocco.
For her clients, Forester always does one thing first: pose questions. “If I don’t know how someone lives…I ask them,” she says. “Is this room comfortable to you? Are the sofa and chairs comfortable? How many people do you normally have for dinner?” She then tailors her approach accordingly. “It’s my job to put together a room that’s pretty, comfortable and works.” And if you leaf through the designer’s portfolio, you won’t discern “the Quincy Forester look.” There isn’t one; it’s all about the clients.
Such was the case when she revived the residence of a Sullivan’s Island couple she had known for 25 years. Its owners, well-known builder Patrick Ilderton and his wife, Cheryl, had constructed the home with charming details like clapboard walls and French doors. But in recent years, the beach house had become tired, uninspired.
A small sitting room that had been relegated to the ranks of storage closet was the first room Forester addressed. “You should love and spend time in every room in your home,” she says, describing how she turned the space into a mainstay for everything from morning tea to afternoon TV. After installing fresh floors, she added an enormous console table, a wicker chaise and a roomy sofa—all in a soothing palette of neutrals. Color came in the form of removable pillows and throws, while eras and aesthetics converged with midcentury lamps, skirted armchairs and suzani pillows.
Next, the living room’s cane chairs were refreshed with high-quality Belgian linen, as Forester showcased the pretty views via undressed windows that let light pour indoors. An antique campaign desk now offers a place to pen notes or fire up a laptop. And in the eat-in kitchen, a custom heart pine table, constructed by local wood craftsman Ray Elish, is joined by a Chinese altar table and a pair of lamps constructed from antique tortoise shells.
Back on the peninsula, examples of Forester’s work preside in neighborhoods than run the gamut from bohemian to genteel. For the home of an architect and friend, she created a multipurpose room perfect for dining, games, homework and more. Here, a tufted velvet banquette is paired with a handsome drop-leaf table and Eames chairs that look like they were plucked right out of a schoolhouse.
Forester outfitted an equally urbane one-bedroom on Chisolm Street for an established local attorney. The condominium—housed in a historic school building—had been purchased on a bit of a whim. “I don’t think he knew what he was getting into. It’s very small and had to be totally renovated. We had to move walls, the whole deal!” In the process, Forester uncovered an expanse of crumbling plaster behind the existing sheetrock. Instant character! There was no way she was covering that up.
Embracing the light from the existing casement windows, she also installed antiqued mirror panes above the mantel, which visually expand the space and bounce light around the room. Across the way, a small seating area combines a chic mirrored coffee table, diminutive chairs, a metal offering table on casters and a two-seater sofa draped with a striking suzani. It’s just one of multiple seating groups within the space, which also squeezes in a dining nook formed from a built-in banquette and Eames chairs from Design Within Reach. “That old metal table base probably weighs 500 pounds!” she laughs. “I had the custom top cut from a slab of marble. It’s fantastic.”
“I only talk in adjectives and superlatives. If I like something, I love it; if I don’t like something, I hate it,” Forester concludes. “Sometimes I call and say, ‘How’s the paint color look?’ If they say, ‘Fine,’ then I say, ‘I don’t what that they means.’ The next time I call and ask, they say, ‘It looks fabulous.’ And I say, ‘That’s what I want to hear! Those are words I understand.’ ”
Kate Abney is a lifestyle editor, writer and photo stylist based in Atlanta, Georgia.