By Keysha Drexel
When Elizabeth Knight Hubbard decorates her Mayfair Drive home for the fall season, the Homewood artist usually starts by throwing all the traditional guidelines out the window.
“When it comes to outfitting your space, you have to make it your own, and that means following your own rules,” Elizabeth said.
As an artist, Elizabeth embraces a suspension of the rules. And as a woman who was born with 95 percent hearing loss, Elizabeth said she’s learned to follow her own path. That philosophy is something Elizabeth said is reflected in how she decorates her house, not just in autumn but year-round.
“Be who you are, flaws and all, and use what you love–I think that’s what my house says about me because that’s really where I work from,” she said.
Elizabeth’s home features an eclectic mixture of new and old, edgy and traditional, found and bought.
“I have my great-grandmother’s silver set sitting next to a funky lamp I found at an art show,” she said. “Those things are not something you’re going to see put together in catlogs or showrooms, but they work together in my home because that’s who I am,” she said.
Elizabeth said she has always embraced who she is, even during the difficult teen years when part of her yearned to be just like the other kids from Mountain Brook.
“Back then, a disability wasn’t as acceptable as it is today,” she said. “I really started feeling different when I reached middle school age.”
Her parents wanted her to live as normal a life as possible, so Elizabeth never learned sign language.
“I will have people with hearing problems come up and start signing to me, and I have no idea what they’re saying,” she said. “I learned to read lips, and I think it forced me to really learn to pay attention.”
That attention to detail is something Elizabeth says has served her well as an artist.
“I think when one sense is taken away, the rest of your senses become sharper,” she said. “I’ve always noticed details and felt like I could see everything with my eyes even more than other people because of my hearing.”
Elizabeth’s artistic eye served her well when she went away to college in Gainesville, Ga., to earn a degree in commercial art.
“I’ve always dabbled in art, always had that love of art, but I wanted to do something artistic that would allow me to make money, so that’s why I started out in commercial art,” she said.
Elizabeth spent four years in commercial art, doing everything from designing lottery tickets to creating renderings for new housing subdivisions.
“It was a good experience, but after four years, I said enough of that and moved back to Birmingham (from Georgia)” she said.
Elizabeth then spent some time working in the Cook Store, which used to be owned by her mother in Mountain Brook Village.
“Working there really gave me an appreciation for beautiful things that can be useful,” she said. “I can remember getting really excited when the new merchandise would come in and we had to figure out how to move everything around in the store and find the best way to present it.”
Elizabeth even taught cooking classes at the store and discovered she really liked working with children.
“it was a great experience, but it was around that time that I decided I wanted to go back to my first love–working in clay,” she said.
In college, Elizabeth took a sculpting class and fell in love with clay work.
“It’s hands-on, it’s all about your creativity and your imagination. I missed it when I wasn’t doing it,” she said.
So after her stint at the Cook Store, Elizabeth took a leap of faith and decided to try to earn a living as a clay artist.
She said she was worried about supporting herself as a full-time artist but was encouraged by her husband and her family.
“My family keeps me going, and they’ve always inspired me,” she said.
To get started on her new career, Elizabeth needed the right supplies.
“I drove to Atlanta to buy 1,000 pounds of clay, came back home and set up my kiln and started working on raku pottery,” she said.
Raku, an ancient Chinese firing process that uses natural resources like fire, air and water, helps Elizabeth create one-of-a-kind hand-built decorative pieces.
The process as much as the finished product is important to Elizabeth, she said.
“It’s full of surprises. You’re using all these natural elements, and it’s an intense firing process that causes a lot of smoke,” she said. “I guess my neighbors have been wondering all these years what in the world I’ve been doing in the backyard.”
It has been about 12 years since Elizabeth started creating the raku pieces, which include crosses, bowls, yard art and necklaces.
In her raku pieces, Elizabeth continues her love of mixing the old with the new to create something unique.
She uses family lace to roll a pattern in the bottom of the raku bowls she creates.
“Each piece has its own unique story and history, even though it is a new object,” she said.
Her creations are all original ideas that started out in Elizabeth’s imagination, she said.
“I have a big book beside my bed where I write down all my ideas. They come to me mostly at night when I’m getting ready to go to sleep,” she said.
Elizabeth said she is also inspired by the other artists she works with at The Studio in Homewood. The Studio offers space to rent for all sorts of artists, she said, from stationery artists to jewelry designers like Janie Meyer.
“Being around Janie and all the other artists at The Studio constantly inspires me,” she said. “I’ll see something they are working on and it will give me an idea for my own work, and I think it works that way for them, too.”
Elizabeth said she has always been intrigued by abstract paintings and loves their strong, simple design and muted colors. She said she’s dabbled in acrylic paints for the past few years and is developing her own style.
She teaches painting classes at The Studio and is getting a chance to work with children again.
“I always tell them that there are no mistakes. Your tree doesn’t have to look like my tree–they are all trees and are beautiful in their own way,” she said.
Finding her own version of beauty is something that transcends Elizabeth’s work and has taken up residence in her home.
“That’s the way I approach decorating, too–the same way I approach art,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to love it.”
Elizabeth said she advises those looking to revamp their home decor to think outside the box.
“Things don’t have to match,” she said. “The colors in your sofa don’t have to match the painting hanging over it. Everything blends together perfectly when you are using objects that speak to you and that reflect who you are.”
Elizabeth said she tells people to shop for art for their home at local art shows and craft shows instead of at large galleries.
“That’s where you’re going to find unique items at much better prices,” she said. “There’s decorator art and then there’s original art.”
Elizabeth said her rule of thumb is that if a piece grabs her eye at an art show and she’s still thinking about it when it’s time to leave, she knows she must have it and incorporate it into her home decor.
“If you love something, it doesn’t matter if it matches a thing in your house, it will look good because it is something that caught your eye–and your heart,” she said.
Elizabeth said she also has a “less is more” viewpoint when it comes to decorating for the fall season and other special events.
“Some people will just completely overdo it,” she said. “I like to keep things simple.”
In the fall, Elizabeth loves to use burlap, gourds and pumpkins to create unique displays in her home.
“It’s all about using what you have in a different way,” she said. “And I love to use elements from nature, especially during the fall.”
For example, Elizabeth had two trees in large planters that had died by the end of the summer. She decided to use them as part of her Halloween decorations by spray-painting them.
“Everything old can have a new purpose. I hate shopping, so I will try to use things I already have in a new way,” she said.
Elizabeth said she relies on help from her friends to get her fall decorations in place. This year, Janie Mayer helped her spray paint the pumpkins on her kitchen island. She also got pumpkins with pansies planted inside from Sweet Peas Garden Shop and incorporated three metal pumpkins she borrowed from Frontera into her fall decor. Frontera also helped Elizabeth design a candle chandelier featuring miniature pumpkins with votive candles.
“Sometimes, it take a village,” she said.
To Elizabeth, fall decorating is all about transition.
“I think we feel in our minds and in our bodies a natural transition between the summer and fall seasons, so it’s a great time to reflect and gather those things around you that represent who you are,” she said.
Elizabeth said the key to her decorating style is seeing the possibility in every object.
“I tell people to be original, embrace the things they have, embrace who they are and reflect that in your home,” she said. “It’s your home and it should reflect the true you and all the parts of your life.”
Elizabeth said she also advises people to not plan too far ahead when it comes to fall and other seasonal decorations.
“Of course you are going to pick up ideas and objects that catch your eye along the way, but I’d rather be more spontaneous about what I’m going to use,” Elizabeth said. “My husband calls it procrastinating, but I call it being spontaneous.”
Elizabeth said her house is an ever-evolving art gallery, no matter the season.
“Nothing is ever permanent. I’m always moving stuff around, mixing that crazy painting I found at an art show with family photos and things I got from my mother and grandmother,” she said.
Here are Elizabeth’s top tips for home decorating:
1. Less is best. Don’t try to cram too many things into one space. Change the items out from time to time as you are inspired to do so.
2. Don’t be afraid of color. Everything doesn’t have to match, and it might look better if it doesn’t.
3. Think about ways to use old things in new ways. Recycle and repurpose items for seasonal decorations.
4. Remember your house is a home. It’s not a showroom and, like you, your home should evolve over time.
5. If you love it, use it.