The Country Living Fair brings a contemporary edge to the classic, rural lifestyle
Produced, written and directed by Brian Patrick Flynn with photography by Christina Wedge
A few months back, I crafted a snarky Facebook status update about my personal hell-on-earth hue, beige. The smartass words garnered a comment from shelter magazine superstylist, Annette Joseph, stating “Now, now, Mr. Flynn, there is a place for every color”. Nine well-crafted, inevitably-deleted attempts at a reply later, I kinda found the talented Ms. Joseph’s prose insightful. Design is all about reinterpretation; therefore any hue, material or style snobbishly voted off the island may, in turn, oust its naysayer at a surprise, twist-of-fate elimination round. No tried and true design style is more surprisingly sophisticated these days than country.
Since starting a career in shelter-related media, I’ve looked up to two, triple-named cool cats as professional idols: Sara Ruffin Costello [Creative Director, Domino] and Sarah Gray Miller, the current Editor-in-Chief of Country Living. In fact, my very first Decor Demon article was all about Sara with no H, and ever since I’ve been dying to get up-close-and-personal with the H-inclusive, super smartypants Sarah Gray. KAZAM! The stars magically aligned and I found myself in Stone Mountain, Ga., getting a first-hand look at the magazine’s mega-event, The Country Living Fair, with the Editor-in-Chief herself.
While zipping around the grounds like a six-year-old at Yo! Gabba Gabba On Ice, I took in the eye candy that is the new look of all things country. Chickens, heart pine and doilies galore? Nope. Rustic textures, objects with character and schoolhouse industrial tables aplenty? Yes! While Sarah Gray [she has TWO first names] had to restrain herself from buying dozens of vintage dresses, I tricked my brain into thinking my debit card was broken to avoid going home with a Volvo full of mason jars, storefront signs and wire baskets. As we walked booth-to-booth, I learned some prop styling no-no’s from the Editor-in-Chief herself: one-turned-up-one-turned-down heels by the closet is considered cliche, half-eaten croissants/newspaper/coffee combos are insanely overdone. In fact, the sultry-voiced First Lady of Country had so many valuable things to say, my short attention span dubiously grew longer, eagerly awaiting every word.
Lucky for you, my photographer tagged along to capture a small slice of the magic that is The Country Living Fair, Country Living Magazine and the people behind it. So, Taylor Swift and Faith Hill, move over. There’s a new country star in town, and just like you, her talented team is reshaping the look and feel of country, one hit—or issue—at a time.
Not only does the magazine’s editorial staff spend a full year putting the look and feel of The Country Living Fair together, they also get down and dirty, literally, to bring it all to life. Managing Editor, Gyna Soucy, gave me the lay of the land—starting with the entryway’s massive collection of pumpkins and gourds. Aside from Soucy’s everyday focus on budgets and logistics, the pretty lady and her colleagues [including Executive Editor Shelly Ridenour] temporarily assume roles of cashiers in the fair’s general store. Did I try to charm Gyna with the hopes of scoring a free baby pumpkin? No. Did I brazenly grill her for insight on the world of editorial? Hell yes.
You know how some people go bananas over megastars like Charo, Justin Bieber, Ricardo Montalban and Sandra Bullock? Well, I geek out for art directors and stylists. During my initial scout to check out the goods of The Country Living Fair, I witnessed a pair of shelter magazine propsters in action. Country Living style contributors slash creative services masters, Richard Koliath and Edward McCann, were at the tail end of bringing their countrylicious looks to life. After a quick little stroll through the entrance, visitors are greeted by Koliath and McCann’s stunning vignettes including affordable, country-friendly retail items such as the Country Living line of dinnerware from Kmart, Wisteria’s “Interlocking Rings Stools“ and “Louis XVI Dining Chairs“ as well as West Elm’s Walnut Veneer “Stackable” Chairs.
Believe it or not, both The Country Living Fair and the updated country aesthetic are manclusive. Just steps from the fair’s entrance, there’s presentations by expert dudes who cook and carpentry dudes that kick ass. Aside from the live, animated antics, there’s guy-ish, inanimate objects galore—sure to tempt even the beerguzzling-est man’s man to drop some cash. Not in the market for anything country just yet? It’s still worth the small entry fee simply for the amazing ideas you’ll get scanning each booth. From spray painted taxidermy to typewriter-keys-turned-into-magnets, there’s much more for men to do at the fair than simply hold their lady’s purse.
Grow Old Gracefully
From French Country to vintage industrial to tiny touches of needlepoint, the new look of country is big on texture—many times through age. Something else the fair’s vignettes go to show is that country-style decorating is all about perfection in imperfection. You know what else was perfection? Every damn minute spent at The Country Living Fair. For next year’s dates and locations, be sure to check out CountryLiving.com.
After multiple book signings, a personal walk through the fair and demonstrations on stage, Sarah Gray took a breather to say goodbye and spend quality time with her Dachsund, Otis. PS – how cool are those boots?