Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Meet Fifi O'Neill author of Romantic Prairie Style

Interiors stylist Fifi O'Neill grew up in Paris France. A move to the United States took her to the great plains, where comfort, simplicity, and harmony with the earth became the foundation for her own style, Prairie Style. Here, Fifi explains where she found inspiration for her new book Romantic Prairie Style and what makes the prairie such a special place.

Can you describe romantic prairie style for us?
Romantic prairie style is, above all, unpretentious. It can include some newer items as long as they are on the simple side, but traditional farmhouse-type furnishings and accessories (no fancy antiques) are the best fit. Romantic prairie style encompasses much more than decorating. It highlights the values of an honest lifestyle. It is about family, traditions, respect for the earth and the past, animals – small and large – and the appreciation of handmade and homemade. Keep the palette subdued and accessorize with items with pleasing shapes and harmonious hues. Sometimes an abundance of similar things – like a massive bouquet of one type of flowers in one pitcher, or several vases of varied sizes holding identical flowers – will make a stunning statement. In these cases, repetition (and simplicity) create visual unity and harmony. That said, it doesn’t mean you have to opt for a bare look. Just don’t clutter. Let things stand on their own.

 You say in the introduction to the book that you’ve always been a prairie girl at heart. How and when did you first discover a love of styling in this way?
I have always loved the simplicity inherent to country life. Especially nature and animals. I was born in the city (Paris, France) and enjoyed some of the glitz and glamour, but I am basically a loner and don’t like crowds. So, I can only take big cities in small doses. Show me wide open spaces, pristine ponds, towering mountains and meadows of wild flowers and I come alive. The lifestyle associated with country is also much more attractive to me because it’s real, unlike city life, which is much too often superficial and status-oriented. The romantic prairie style concept came to me while I was in the process of transforming my old garage into a guest house. A friend asked me what the style was and the question triggered memories of the little old houses I had become acquainted with when I lived on the Canadian prairie. That rustic look was the springboard for the style but it morphed into a softer, more romantic look.

What inspired you to write a book about romantic prairie style?
In spite of the numerous (beautiful) decorating books available, none featuring the prairie lifestyle had ever been produced and, for me, it was a logical one to create. I set out to find the homes I had in mind and also demonstrate that, though one cannot always up and move to the country, the style and lifestyle are adaptable wherever one lives.

How can we bring some prairie style into the home on a small budget?
Like many things in life, the way we live is a choice we make. It’s always a matter of values. Romantic prairie style lends itself to beauty on a budget because most of us  already have access to second hand or family pieces that they can easily revamp and re-invent; repaint something, make a new slipcover, use an item in a way that it was not intended for. The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination and creativity.

Can you give us some tips for bringing prairie style into a city home?
Because decorating is a very personal choice, any interior, regardless of location (and even exterior appearance), can reflect one’s preference. When it comes to infusing elements of prairie style into a city home, it can be as easy as mixing soft fabrics like faded florals with more rugged textiles such as raw linen, wood items with iron ones, pottery with glass, keeping things rustic but a little refined – nothing so beat-up that it feels like it’s ready for the trash.

You describe prairie style as a way of life as well as a way of decorating. How can we incorporate prairie style into other areas of our lives?

For better or for worse, I have never fit in a ‘mold’. I guess you could say I live my life my way, may it be in the way I dress or decorate. It’s always the result of a feeling, never a trend. I happen to love rugged and rustic mixed with soft and feminine, though not the kind of feminine that I’d call ‘chichi-pompon’, which you can translate as overly frilly and busy. However, I must confess that I am also a ‘girly-girl’. I do love to pair faded and relaxed fabrics, such as old jeans, with beautiful ones, such as intricate lace and ethereal organza). The concept is that even if your pocket book won’t allow extravagant purchases, you can find inspiration from many sources and create your own look, both for your home and your wardrobe. And that goes for food as well. Marrying textures and flavors makes for a tasty combination.

What’s next for Fifi O’Neill?
Well, another ‘prairie’ book, of course.  I am also working on a prairie home accessory line as well as a clothing line.

Romantic Prairie Style by Fifi O'Neill, CICO Books,  photography by Mark Lohman


  1. I love, love, love it! Prairie style sums me up perfectly! It is 100% on the mark; I have been wanting this book for a year! Great job.