The Art of Living: Autumn in the South

A Conversation with Kathleen Whaley, Editor of Southern Lady Magazine

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography courtesy of John O’Hagan, Marcy Black Simpson & Stephanie Welbourne Steele; Styling by Tracey MacMillan Runnion; Recipe Development & Food Styling by Aimee Bishop Lindsey & Vanessa Rocchio

Autumn—the very word conjures up an invigorating season of crisp air, fall leaves, pumpkins of various shapes and sizes, colorful mums on porch steps, harvest moons and hearty foods.
Kathleen Whaley, Editor of “Southern Lady Magazine,” graciously agreed to an interview about Hoffman Media's special “Autumn in the South Classics Magazine.”

VIP: What’s new in autumn decorating trends?

Kathleen Whaley: Pumpkins are at the center of autumn decorating. It’s hard to get away from the classics. But you’re also seeing people take a new approach to decorating with pumpkins. People are gravitating more toward different colored pumpkins in the specialty varieties that are available. People really do go beyond what’s available in the supermarket. They’re making an extra effort to get to a specialty farm or a Farmers’ Market. They’re gathering all kinds of pumpkins in different shapes and sizes.

In the interior of your home carve a pumpkin and place a candle inside. Create a centerpiece by putting pumpkins on different size candlesticks and placing them on small cake plates. With a larger pumpkin create a centerpiece with a pumpkin on a cake plate and scatter around some acorns and fall leaves. Pumpkins are for indoors and out. For an indoor table look you may create a pretty centerpiece with pumpkins around a lantern.

In a chapter of Southern Lady’s Autumn in the South magazine we have a section called “An Enchanted Evening.” We took some small pumpkins and painted them gold and made them part of the place setting at each table. Or put a pumpkin in a soup bowl until you’re ready to serve the soup. That makes a nice presentation for a fall dinner. You could go a step further by tying on a little tag for a place card or painting names on there so that your guests will know where to sit.

If you do not want to paint the pumpkin, pick some pretty white pumpkins. That’s one of the nice reasons that pumpkins are still at the forefront because there is such variety now that you can find and so many ways you can reinterpret what is a very classic fall idea. It doesn’t get more fall than pumpkins!

I also think that you’re seeing people embrace different color palettes. Maybe move beyond the expected jewel tones that fall in line with the fall colors and do some things that create a really nice contrast. See Easy Decorating Ideas in our magazine where we worked with cotton and some dried hydrangeas. It’s very fall but a more natural look than people might think. It really creates a nice push and pull with the fall colors that you’re seeing in the trees.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.
— Lauren Destefano

VIP: What suggestions do you offer for decorating the exterior of your home?

KW: Place pumpkins in various shades and sizes in an old wooden wheelbarrow. Create a garland from acorns and treasures gathered from nature. Use Spanish moss with pumpkins and mums on porch steps. Hang a lovely fall wreath on a  garden gate with pumpkins on the ground beneath the gate. Stack large flat-bottomed pumpkins and fill an old metal birdcage with striped mini varieties of pumpkins. Create a sitting area nearby. Adirondacks suit the laidback mood and make the chairs cozy with pillows and throws.

VIP: Are there new trends on entertaining in the South for Thanksgiving? Is the trend more informal now like the Sylvan Setting section of your magazine? Is the entertaining mood more rustic, especially in the fall season?

KW: We mostly focused on the fall and on Thanksgiving in our Autumn in the South magazine. You see a variety of trends. Fall has a great dichotomy to it. In some ways it lends itself well to casual entertaining. The crisp air makes you want to cozy up by the fire with some loved ones and blankets and make some warm drinks. It’s a casual family time that invites you outside.
But I also think that there’s a regal side with the way that trees become cloaked in this gorgeous rich fall color. It is also a time to be more formal, more dressed up. Pull out your fall china (like the Autumn pattern by Lenox, suggests Lyda Kay) and paint gold pumpkins for every place setting, silverware, wine goblets and candles. It’s a gorgeous time of the year. It’s all about the mood you’re in.

VIP: Are most families more formal in decorating tables on Thanksgiving Day?

KW: A lot of people, especially in the South, see the holidays as their opportunity to pull out grandmother’s silver and the special china, wedding china or holiday china. It’s their opportunity to really entertain high style whether they do that regularly or not.

VIP: Is there more outdoor entertaining even in November when the weather may be chilly and inclement? If so, one should have a solid rain plan to host an elegant outdoor meal.

KW: That is one thing you have to face when entertaining outside…. It’s not just the more inviting weather, but October (and November in some parts of the South) tends to be one of the driest months in the year. Some hosts have a covered place to entertain outside and some have a screened porch. In our Autumn in the South magazine we pulled an indoor table and indoor chairs outside to create a more dressed-up feel, going toward the legacy factor, trying to play off the richness you’re seeing in the trees this time of year. Do something really high style. Lights in the trees add a nice warmth and are inviting. They definitely say come to the party, come and sit down. Also, it’s practical if you are entertaining into the evening as dusk falls and it is dark. You also have extra light in addition to the candles.

Think about creating some beautiful moments, but also think about practicality and how you really make it work to have some of these parties or use things that you have on hand. A lot of people aren’t going to have outdoor furniture to seat 12 to 14 people. Pull some of your indoor furniture outside or mix and match if that’s the look you’re going for. I really think that there’s a way to try to always find a balance between the beautiful side and what is practical.

VIP: How do we make our home more warm and inviting for the autumn season?

KW: I think it’s in the details. It’s in the way you think about welcoming people into your home no matter the size or scale of your home, doing a few little things here and there that say welcome:  a wreath on the front door, a pretty centerpiece on the dining room table that will last through the season with pumpkins down the dining room table or on a pedestal or some fall scented potpourri. A few little touches go a long way to inviting people into your home and sharing that great Southern hospitality.

VIP: I chose your recipes for Sweet Potato-Sage Soup and Pumpkin Trifles among your many fabulous recipes for the fall. Are they good choices?

KW: Yes. The Sweet Potato-Sage Soup is very good and versatile. Crumble bacon on top of the soup. You could serve as an entrée or with a side salad or serve a smaller portion as an appetizer soup.

There are two things that I love about the Pumpkin Trifle. It’s got the pumpkin and ginger flavor that are very classic for this time of year, and it’s easy to put together. People are a bit more conscious about what they are eating, moving to smaller desserts vs. a big piece of cake. Not only is the Pumpkin Trifle a beautiful presentation and easy to put together, but it really celebrates some really classic flavors of the season.

What To Know

To purchase Autumn in the South Magazine (no longer on the newsstands) go to the online store: If you want to subscribe to Southern Lady or Southern Lady Classics go to the Southern Lady website: