Elizabeth Ralls has what some would consider a dream job. As Editor in Chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine she is at the helm of Atlanta’s only monthly home and garden publication. In the three years since taking over the helm from its longtime editor Clint Smith, she has strived to carry out her vision for the magazine which she defines as to “shine the spotlight on one of the top design markets in the U.S. — in a way that not just recognizes but elevates top talents by demanding attention, both regionally and nationally”. In my humble opinion she has done just that and much more. A quality publication month after month, it is one I look forward to receiving in my mailbox each month. My favorite part, seeing so many talented Atlanta designers I know and adore.
I met Elizabeth a few years ago and I distinctly recall her calm yet elegant presence. The more time I have spent in her presence I have learned that her calmness has an incredible depth to it allowing her to transition from elegant cocktail party to dog whisperer on a photo shoot without even blinking. I have amazing respect for Elizabeth and was overjoyed when she agreed to chat with me about her background and role as editor, business woman and creative.
First of all, tell me about Elizabeth Ralls …. what about your childhood and education brought you to the position you hold today, Editor in Chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles?
I always, always, always, had a book in my hand as a child. I wrote spin-offs of The Babysitters Club books at age 9, and I think I secretly read my parent’s copy of The Firm that year too. Even in college, my roommates joked that I was the only student who read the Wall Street Journal every morning. While I definitely “fell” into the shelter category (my first internship was with Southern Living Custom Publishing, and my first job with Southern Accents and Entréemagazines), it seemed like a natural fit.
My childhood home was professionally decorated, and my parents held a deep-rooted passion for fine and decorative arts, history and travel; each year they traveled with a group from the St. Louis Art Museum to countries as remote as Turkey and Egypt to get their cultural fix. I think they instilled a love of learning and discovery in our family at an early age.
My mom, a native Lousianian, held fast to traditions, and all special occasions were marked with fresh flowers and a meal in the formal dining room, complete with china, silver and crystal. To be able to not only draw upon those experiences but also cover that lifestyle and that appreciation for finer things was initially both surprising and fulfilling.
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
While I certainly wish I could have traveled a bit more before entering the “real world”, I knew that the opportunity to work at Southern Progress in Birmingham after college was a once-in-blue-moon opportunity I could not pass up. Looking back, I am impressed by my sense of adventure. And by that I mean moving to a new city knowing literally not a soul at age 22. There is something to be said, though, for breaking out of your comfort zone, and I think having done that twice (I moved to Atlanta two and a half years later for my now husband) has given me great perspective.
The publishing industry, like so many other industries, has witnessed some amazing shifts in the past few years. I know at one point as a part-time editor for a city magazine in 2012, I wondered if I had made a mistake pigeonholing myself into print, as I was one of the few from my Southern Progress internship class still working in the industry. However, it’s my passion, and I’m thrilled with the way our particular brand, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles (with the help of Esteem Media) continues to transcend industry trends and reinvent itself for the next generation.
Share two people who have influenced your career and why?
Ultimately, my mother. She influenced my love of the written word from an early age. She also sifted through my Boston College course catalog and helped select liberal arts classes (a requirement) in disciplines like architecture, fine arts and decorative arts that would expose me to to a broad appreciation of the world around me. She also, thankfully, talked me into dropping a psych major (I was failing), and encouraged me to major in English, as I’ve always loved literature, which in turn fueled my interest in journalism.
The other major influencer(s) would have to be Karen Carroll, my first boss at Southern Accents magazine, and Clint Smith, my predecessor and first boss at AH&L. Karen taught me the value of a powerful cover image, not to mention compelling heds and deks. She groomed our entire team to be sticklers for detail down to every last comma. She graciously presided over a well-oiled machine and provided an invaluable foundation for my career. Clint allowed me the freedom to explore my creative side, both through pitching and producing story ideas. I learned a great deal by simply shadowing him on shoots, and how every last detail mattered. He also introduced me to some incredible Atlanta creatives, with whom I’ve maintained relationships to this day.
What inspires you to create an incredible magazine month after month?
Elizabeth on location at a photo shoot …
I am sure many, as I, see your job as an incredible and glamorous position … what is one thing people would think would be part of your job but it is.
There are many not-so-glamorous facets of the job, particularly the “heavy lifting” required on photo shoots. In the past few months (we shoot at least twice a week in the spring), I’ve shoveled doggie doo doo, hand-blown front lawns and porches with what we refer to as a “condo blower”, moved two twelve-person shuttles around a driveway and shot in a nearly pitch-black bathroom using a phone flashlight to direct our assistants with styling and lighting equipment.
Atlanta was recently called the “South’s cultural capital” by Vogue Magazine and nothing shows this more than AH&L’s newest project, the inaugural Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens. Serving as an arbiter of southern style, AH&L gathered designers to design rooms for the more than 20,000 square foot home located in Atlanta’s Tuxedo Park.
Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles has just produced its first spring Showhouse. Can you share that journey with me?
We now produce two Showhouse events each year, our Home for the Holidays Showhouse in November and December, and now the Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens in the Spring. It’s a massive undertaking to build a house from scratch (the Southeastern Showhouse is 22,000 square feet) and work with nearly 30 designers and their teams to create a project that we’re not only proud of, but also runs smoothly and is an enjoyable experience for our guests from start to finish. In a way, it’s like childbirth. You forget about all the headaches and labor pains it took to get there the minute you see how beautiful it looks and feels.
What room or rooms do you connect with most?
I love a romantic bedroom, and Phoebe Howard’s master bath is such a testament to her quiet, but luxurious elegance. Suzanne Kasler’s dining room makes such a statement with the high-gloss lacquer and her signature blues.
The guest house has been a huge hit with our guests, and I think because it’s a bit more relatable–not everyone has 28-feet ceilings in their house!
Laundry Room – AH& L Home for the Holidays Showhouse 2013
It’s funny but I keep referring to the pool house of this year’s house as the “laundry room” of the Showhouse. And that’s because in our previous houses, our guests have gone bananas for our laundry rooms. And I think that’s because it’s a relatively small investment, and is a place you can start small and fairly immediately when you’re taking away such amazing inspiration from a house.
Favorite item on your desk/creative area.
Fabric swatches! They hide an otherwise ordinary table and add wonderful color to the space. I don’t mind that they’re not organized–they remind me that there are infinite possibilities.
What is your favorite way to unwind?
With a cocktail or good glass of wine–preferably outside.
Five must haves:
In the summer, monogrammed silver julep cups for everything from flowers to icy cocktails. In the winter, a tailored but comfortable throw. In the fall and spring, tall vases for flowering branches. Always–your next hair appointment on the calendar, and a vacation to look forward to, even if it’s just one day to rest and recharge.
My absolute favorite thing about doing interviews is peeling away the layers of such creative and influential people and learning so many interesting things about them. I love hearing Elizabeth talk of her family and all they did to mold her into the woman, mother, and creative she is today. I can’t picture her as a Pysch major and I am sure she is incredibly grateful she closed that door. That may shed some insight into her relaxed and calm demeanor. Thank you Elizabeth for the honor of getting to know you more. As someone who had the privilege of watching the Showhouse come together in the last days I can say it was an honor. I am confident I am not the only one who immensely enjoyed the incredible home and its impressive list of contributing designers. Each room and space was stunning! It was a huge success, just like every other thing you, and the magazine, put your mark on.