Paula Deen’s life story is a classic American tale of unprecedented success earned after years of struggling against adversity. A Georgia native, in just over twenty years she has parlayed a $200 investment and a few modest dreams into a multi-national empire that produces hit television shows (she has four running on the Food Network concurrently), cookbooks, food, cookware, bakeware, kitchen tools and accessories. Paula Deen is an iconic and beloved ambassador for American values: Home, family, and a lot of laughter and good food shared around the kitchen table.
Her latest venture is Paul Deen’s Savannah Style, an illustrated guide to gracious decorating and living, Southern style, throughout the year. Deen reports that some members of her organization were skeptical when she announced plans to broaden her brand. But she was of the opinion that Paula Deen belongs in every room of American homes — not just in the kitchen. Paula Deen’s Savannah Style proves her right.
Welcome to Pump Up Your Book’s Virtual Book Tour for Paula Deen’s Savannah Style
It might as well be an audio book, because if you have ever heard Paula Deen speak, it is impossible to read Paula Deen’s Savannah Style without hearing her distinctive voice in your head. The Introduction begins with “Hi, Y’all!” setting the tone for a delightful, “down home” look at some of the most beautifully decorated houses in the Savannah area, including Deen’s own.
Deen moved to Savannah in 1987, opened her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, there in 1991, and refers to it as her “forever home” because she and the city have a lot in common: “Savannah embraces quirky characters (thank the Lord!), likes things with a little bit of age to them, and loves its Southern traditions.”
It is a “coffee table book” — the kind you give a friend or relative for a special occasion or splurge on for yourself because you simply cannot leave the book store without it. It is not the kind of tome that is generally read cover to cover. In my case, though, that was easy to do after I got comfortable on my patio one recent evening. As a gentle, comforting breeze blew softly through my oak trees, I lingered over the book with a glass of wine, savoring the beautiful photography, and dreaming about one day incorporating some of the decorating tips and advice into my own home’s decor.
Brandon Branch, Deen’s co-author, is her personal assistant and creative director. He also authors a column, “Style Secrets with Brandon,” in her monthly magazine. Throughout the volume, “Brandon’s Style Secrets” are highlighted. For instance, he suggests that, in order to dress up old porch furniture, slip covers are an attractive alternative to restoration, especially since they can be pulled off and laundered, as necessary. In the photo above, Deen’s own dinnerware, the design inspired by marsh grasses visible from that porch, is featured and she notes that the large water goblets “hold water and fragrant lemons.”
The narratives and photos are full of details, making the book a delight to return to time after time. For instance, I just loved the section about porches. In California, we spend our time in our back yards, focusing our energy on the landscaping, gardens, and patio areas so that we can relax there on cool evenings. But in Savannah, many of the homes in the historic district feature porches on the front or side of the house that serve as gathering places. More and more, porches are being included in new homes, as well, keeping that Southern tradition alive, much to Deen’s delight.
Deen says that when spring arrives, she “pull[s] a couple of blankets out onto the porch to air out and soon find[s] that a porch swing, a book, and a blanket are my new best friends.” In the photo on the left, the greenery is lush and the chairs inviting. Deen recalls how “my granddaddy loved his sleeping porch” where he tried to escape Savannah’s sometimes suffocating summer heat. The first couple of times I looked at the picture, I think I was enamored with the adorable dogs because it wasn’t until I read Deen’s description that I realized the look is “pulled together” by the outdoor rug featuring a fern and flower pattern.
It is, of course, Deen’s natural, easy Southern charm that has endeared her to millions. And it is that uncomplicated, pragmatic approach that sets this book apart from the rest. You will find yourself laughing out loud frequently when Deen answers the questions she must have known you would find yourself asking as you gaze at the photographs, pondering the practically of some of the decorating choices. For instance, just as I found myself questioning the feasibility of keeping a rug on a front porch clean, Deen notes, with her typical candor, that she loves “these outdoor rugs because they are so pretty and yet they can be scrubbed and scoured without hurting them at all. Great for dogs and kids!” In fact, she even claims that she “takes a hose to” them!
These days, Deen lives about ten minutes outside Savannah on Wilmington Island. The region is characterized by homes with decks and docks “because Savannah is full of a whole bunch of creeks, streams, and marshes that empty into the ocean.” Deen’s home features a covered deck behind the house, complete with a fully-appointed outdoor kitchen, where her family gathers. And, as the photo to the right shows, an outdoor fireplace can increase the number of evenings each year that the deck can be utilized — and make for a warm and cozy area to have an intimate conversation with friends or family.
As these photos illustrate, the book is replete with observations and tips, some of which are placed right on the photographs for emphasis. This tiny breakfast nook was transformed into a comfortable, inviting corner — “the family’s favorite place for everything,” including visiting with the chef while she prepares a meal.
The Autumn and Winter chapters feature discussions and photographs about comfort and music rooms, book nooks, collecting, pantries, flea market treasures, and, of course, holiday decorating and tables. The book concludes with a section on — what else? — “Southern Hospitality,” including pictures of Deen’s own 650 square foot guest house where her friends and family stay when they come to visit her. Few of us are fortunate enough to be able to afford a guest house, but the ideas can be implemented in your own guest room or even the room you convert (such as your office, den, or one of your children’s rooms) when company arrives.
None of Deen’s commentary feels forced or phony. Rather, as I noted at the outset, reading Paula Deen’s Savannah Style feels more like having a conversation with a personable old friend. Despite all of her accomplishments and fame, Deen has frequently stated in interviews that she never forgets her more humble beginnings or the obstacles she has overcome, including a decades-long battle with agoraphobia. Thus, it is not surprising that she sums her her approach to decorating this way:
The best advice I can give you about how to decorate a home is to create one that feels family-focused, comfortable, and fun. Find the sort of furniture that you feel comfortable living with — things that don’t look new and shiny but have the loving patina of age. Look for one-of-a-kind pieces that you can mix and match with a lot of different styles.
In other words, find your own unique style, embrace, and celebrate it! Paula Deen’s Savannah Style could very well help you do that.
Summer is waning. The busy autumn months will soon be followed by the holiday season. Reasonably priced and full of 200 pages of exquisite photographs, Deen’s latest book might make your shopping easy this year. Pick up a few copies for family and friends, and then spend some time in Deen’s favorite room, the kitchen, with a pot of coffee, considering which aspects of Deen’s Savannah style might best be incorporated into your style. After all, it never hurts to dream! Paula Deen is living proof of that.