Before we begin, everybody take a deep breath. That’s your preemptive sigh of relief when you realize that one of the South’s lifestyle luminaries James Theodore Farmer III has given you the green light to go red. Red Solo cups at a dinner party? Mon dieu! But, yes, it can be a very good thing, indeed.
“We had some good friends who moved to town,” Farmer says, calling from Georgia on the eve of a book launch party. “And we were helping them redo their house, and they said, ‘We’d love to have everyone over, but we don’t have a dining room table and chairs.’ And I said, that doesn’t matter; we can just sit on quilts and order pizza and drink out of red Solo cups. It’s about the joy of being together, and that’s what I want people to realize.”
See? Thank you, we feel better already, James.
Farmer’s acclaim is as fast-rising as one of those homemade biscuits he’ll tell you he made in the kitchen beside Miss Mary, the family cook he’s known all his life. With the launch of his eighth book, A Place to Call Home, as well as being an editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine, and a network of friends (Jenna Bush Hager and Al Roker) and clients (“There’s not a client who’s a stranger”), Farmer’s stardom seems destined for the bright lights. But not so fast—he’s more than happy living, working, and thriving where he’s been his entire life: Perry, Georgia, with a whopping population of 16,200.
Farm(er) to Table // Grab one of James Farmer’s books, or meet the man himself, at the Antiques, Fine Art & Design Weekend at the Greenville County Museum of Art, October 13–15. James will be the keynote speaker at the Friday luncheon. Visit gcma.org for more information.
Farmer is more Julia Sugarbaker than Martha Stewart, anyway. “What I loved the most about Julia’s character, and about Dixie [Carter] as a person—I’ve read her book and I’m just obsessed,” says Farmer, “is that she was just unapologetically Southern . . . The South has always been the redheaded stepchild.”
His background and upbringing are not just parenthetical. They are the defining trait and character assignment to the gentleman who spent his childhood canning, jamming, and putting up peaches on the family farm, learning from his beloved Mama and his Mimi (grandmother) the ways and means and manners of moving through the world. “I come from a family that entertains,” says Farmer, “so my sisters and I grew up knowing we were the serve staff. If Mama and Daddy were having friends over, we weren’t the kids that were put away, we were put to work. I love that because the art of entertaining is really a lost art.”
And the legions of ladies flocking to wherever he’s speaking adore him for paying attention. “I owe my career to Garden Club,” Farmer says. “I was a design student in college, and those ladies asked me if I could help them get their pots ready for a living room, or hang these plates, or rearrange their living room.” After graduating from Auburn University, James launched his landscape design firm in 2005, his design and antiques store in 2013.
Farmer—with his wit and quips—sounds like a man of some vintage. At 35-years-old, it’s neither a put-on nor a pretense. It is, simply, who Farmer is, unapologetically. “What my grandmother would tell me is that the best dish that a host or hostess can serve is confidence. That really shapes what I do . . . . They might not remember the pork tenderloin marinade or anything like that, but they remember the good time.”
Maybe call it the “farmer effect.” Sometimes it’s not that you can actually go home again, but that you never left home in the first place.