Nestled in the heart of the Nashville suburb of Belle Meade lies Heirloom Artifacts, designer Stephanie Sabbe’s response to the clamor of quick-and-easy, space-filling interior design and disposable décor. Its location in an unassuming strip mall often surprises customers as they open the door to find a well-curated collection of pieces that imbues a sense of place. Stephanie likens the space to her own experience of growing up in a spec house as a child—the bones are just a place to start. In her mind, there is no need to be limited by the plain, white-box beginnings.
As founder and principal of Sabbe Interior Design, a full-service design firm, Stephanie has spent more than 15 years working in both residential and commercial interior design. The Nashville native began her career in Memphis, working for Gresham Smith and Partners and then Hnedak Bobo Group, where she focused on commercial interiors.
But it was her unexpected move to Boston that helped hone her vision and the aesthetic that now resonates with her clients. “Because I grew up in a home with very little architectural integrity, the move to Boston really opened my eyes to historic interior architecture,” she says. “From that point on, I could never unsee the possibilities within four walls. When I returned home to Nashville, I brought this mindset with me because we have so much opportunity here for the same type of creativity.”
Stephanie set to work putting this ethos into practice as she transformed a former local insurance agency outpost into a tightly edited retail space that serves as a hub for her eponymous design business as well as an extension of her own home. “You can have a strip mall or you can have a spec house, but the outside does not have to limit what you do with the interiors,” she says. Riffing on her affection for moody British spaces, such as the ones created by deVOL Kitchens, the designer painted the walls in Benjamin Moore’s “Brewster Gray.” She then added interior windows and transoms to wash the space with natural light. “When I was in Boston, I did a lot of work in brownstones, which are so charming from the outside but can be rather gloomy on the inside,” says Stephanie. “They only have a light source at the short end wall, which is similar to how this was originally set up. I knew I wanted to build out a space where my staff would get to see natural daylight.”
From there, she affixed molding painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Knoxville Gray” to lend a little residential interest to the shop. Inspired by an image of an antique pharmacy cabinet, Stephanie engaged a local cabinet maker to build pieces that can be moved around based upon the seasons and the designer’s whim. She painted the pieces the same color as the walls to create a consistent backdrop for the candles, pillows, books, baskets, glassware, and other creatively sourced home goods. “I don’t usually like matchy-matchy,” says the designer, “but I quickly realized that in a space this small, I needed to work from a firm palette so that pieces did not stick out in an odd way.” She also recognized that, unlike larger retail spaces that can house several vignettes, this smaller shop can only display one. “That’s why there is a lot of color similarity between the textiles, candles, and other things we sell,” Stephanie says. “I felt like the space didn’t work if I didn’t create some sort of jumping-o point palette-wise.” The colors she naturally gravitates toward—blues, greens, muddy oranges—have become her personal default choices in the shop. As a result, the tapers play o the linen aprons which play o the lampshades which meld beautifully with the accent pillows. “Customers come in and say it feels like a warm hug in here,” says Stephanie. “That description actually feels like a hug to me.”
Displaying a decidedly moody British palette, Heirloom Artifacts offers a tightly edited array of textiles and useful goods for everyday living—think woolen Bronte throw blankets from UK-based Abraham Moon & Sons, ticking-striped bedding from Taylor Linens, thickly quilted Euro shams that hold their shape, French linen napkins, and those Fermoie pleated lampshades which are having a hot moment right now. But the one item Stephanie might be most excited about is something all her own: a small tabletop cordless lamp with a hand-turned wooden base. The two-tone wood design is an homage to the Jenny Lind spindle bedpost, part of a bedroom design which really launched this chapter of Stephanie’s career. The simple Scandinavian-influenced lines play well with a number of styles, while the cordless aspect works in a bookcase, on a tabletop, or beside a bed.
While in Boston, Stephanie found great connection through adult education. “I had been working in commercial interior design for five years and was just really burned out,” she says. “I wanted to do something different.” She took a weekend job teaching classes at the Boston Center for Adult Education, which not only fostered new connections but also inspired her desire to host classes of her own at Heirloom Artifacts. Once a month (or more often as schedules allow), the broad farmhouse table at the heart of the store is cleared of merchandise and set for creativity and connection. Small groups of fewer than 10 participants gather to learn the art of calligraphy, floral arranging, knitting, or needlepoint. As hands get busy developing skills that create more than simple handicrafts, the literal and figurative walls seem to fall away. It’s that sense of community that fulfills Stephanie and keeps her customers coming back.