Meet the Howards

The Howards reflect on their journey in the design world, their 10-year collaboration with Sherrill Furniture, and what it means to be a family business.
Phoebe and Jim Howard stand in a doorway.
Phoebe and Jim Howard embrace their opposite aesthetics because it creates a more timeless design in the end.

What would one day become a family design empire all started in the back of a little shop in Jacksonville, Florida. Designers Phoebe and Jim Howard have been creating sophisticated interiors with a coastal bent for over 20 years. Most recently, they celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their collaborative line with Sherrill Furniture. As they reflect on over three decades in the trade, Phoebe remembers that many parts of their story were unexpected but serendipitous.

After Jim attended Parsons School of Design, he worked for a few other designers before settling down to start his own firm. As Phoebe watched her husband’s business unfold, she “felt like a showroom would be so helpful—a place where you could actually see all the things that, up until then, he was trying to explain on a piece of paper.” Together, the couple fashioned a retail storefront called Mrs. Howard that served as a sort of waiting room for his clients.

Two green sofas, beige chairs, and a quilted ottoman in a beige living room.
The Howards' ten-year collection with Sherrill Furniture has yielded pieces that are fresh but classic, like the Bridgewater Sofa.

As their business grew, so did their family. Phoebe, a busy homemaker at the time with four kids, had no intention of stepping into the interiors world, but she ran the storefront and bought products, making her a designer out of necessity. She carried no formal training but possessed a natural ability to visualize a well-balanced room. The store served as a sort of laboratory where Phoebe could learn and play. As she constantly rearranged, she honed her design instincts.

Round white side table.
Jim's contemporary leanings are always tempered by Phoebe's coastal and traditional tastes. This balance shows up in pieces like the Plaza Sofa and Victoria Accent Table.

Before long, Jim’s client list started piling up even more. Phoebe says, “Jim could no longer handle all the work alone, so one day I said, ‘Today’s the day­­­—I’m going to start decorating today!’ I sat by the door, promising to take the next person that walks in. Within five minutes, this guy walks in and says, ‘Can you do my house?’ ” She agreed, not knowing that this project would land her a feature in House Beautiful and take her on a decades-long career path. Afterwards, Phoebe thought to herself, “Well, that was easy!”

A wood dresser in a green room.
The Howards’ mantra for their furniture line is “Keep it timeless, keep it classic, have it rooted in history, but still be forward thinking.” Here, they mixed an antique dresser with their floral Truex Chairs to create a collected look.

Phoebe’s instinctual and traditional design tastes often harmonize with Jim’s more methodical and modern sensibilities. Many of their clients enjoy this yin and yang balance because it yields a timeless look. They brought this same complimentary eye to their collaboration with Sherrill Furniture. “I give Jim input on what I’d like to see, then he designs all the furniture,” Phoebe says. After the final picks, she creates the showroom spaces to give people a taste of how the Mr. & Mrs. Howard line could fit into their homes. The Howards’ unique approach to design ensured that their collection flourished. Since Phoebe and Jim own their own shop, they see the market with a retailer’s eye. They know what’s out there and what’s missing. Owing also to Sherrill Furniture’s willingness to try new things, the Howards’ line fills that gap. Phoebe says that the team at Sherrill is always up for a challenge and gives Jim plenty of freedom when it comes to new designs. Their openness, along with the Howards’ thoughtful approach and keen eye, has led to a decade-long partnership that has generated a loyal following and well-designed pieces.

Nellie Howard holds a jar of flowers.
Nellie has brought her own youthful spin to the Howard line by adding feminine finishes and pastel colors. Photo by Muriel Silva
A pastel blue ruffled chair sits in a bedroom.
Nellie added ruffle details to several furniture pieces, giving them a distinctly grand-millennial feel. The Hadley King Bed, the Woody Chest, and the Katie Chair all create a light, bright, and airy space.

This following now includes millennials, thanks to the next generation of Howards—daughter Nellie Howard Ossi. Nellie practically grew up at her parents’ store, infusing design in her bones. It was only natural for her to work for her mom, much to Phoebe’s delight. Unbeknownst to her parents, Nellie approached Sherrill about adding her own addition to the line. The resulting collection, Nellie Jane, includes a distinctly grand-millennial feminine touch with ruffles and scallops galore. “My collection first started with the reinvention of an existing Mr. and Mrs. Howard piece, the Casper chair. I modified the skirt to have a gather, and when everyone got excited to see a ruffled skirt again, it all took off from there!” says Nellie. There’s been a growing trend among millennials to gravitate towards traditional style. The line now offers options that appeal to a younger audience, and it already boasts several best-selling pieces.

Nellie draws inspiration from both of her parents, though she must admit that she and her mother see eye to eye aesthetically. They now embrace the term “coastal grandmothers.” For her most recent season, Nellie wanted to bring in more curves and additional details to create a custom look. Many of her designs allude to her parents’ pieces, taking what is already working but adding a practical or playful twist. For instance, Nellie comments that “the Lilly Supper Table is a riff on a Paolo Buffa table, which is usually very mid-century, but I tweaked it to feel more transitional.”

A white couch with a ruffle skirt.
The Nellie Jane line celebrates patterns and intricate details in pieces like her Phoebe Loveseat.

Though Nellie’s flair for the Southern traditional look informs her style, she also has an appreciation for family living that brings a practicality to her designs. She acknowledges that while many of her clients want a beautiful home, it seems that now more than ever, people are really living in their homes. “Because of that, pieces have to be able to hold up to it,” she says. To speak to this, Nellie introduced performance fabrics and hidden storage (the furniture equivalent of finding pockets in a dress). These details provide better options for parents looking for beautiful but pragmatic furniture.

Phoebe, Jim, and Nellie Howard stand together in a room.
Nellie gives credit to both her parents for raising her in the design world, but it's her mom's coastal and traditional aesthetic that she emulates the most.

Nellie has a sense of what a family needs because she has a family of her own. With two young boys in tow, she has more than enough perspective to help guide her design choices towards parents. But she also got her sense of family from her parents, who always allowed her be present in their design world even when she was a child. This sense of connectedness and generational wisdom is what makes the Howard brand so special. It’s also what’s helped them work in harmony with Sherrill Furniture for so long. As Phoebe says, “Knowing that Sherrill has a multi-generational family business just like we do made us feel comfortable in their environment.” She explains that they understand the passion and solidarity that comes with a family name. And when it comes to furniture design, Phoebe feels strongly that it’s best to keep it in the family.

By Carrie Clay

Photos courtesy of Sherrill Furniture