The Pretty Way Home
Myrl Talkington grew up in a shack in rural Oklahoma, a world apart from her elegant Vendome apartment. Her advice: No matter where you are headed, always take the prettiest roads in life.
The house sat miles into the Oklahoma woods. It was dirty, she remembers, with no electricity or running water. The one bedroom slept all nine people, on the floor, on pallets. Sometimes they lay down outside.
“The stars were so big in the country sky,” Myrl Talkington says. “Somehow, I saw so much beauty where there wasn’t any.”
The hills of Lequire, just across the Arkansas line, and the trials contained within them presented choices, surprisingly. For Talkington, excruciating poverty imbued her sense of self as a young child, rendering her fortified, rather than overcome.
|The shape and scale of a significant silver service is softened in a bed of bay leaves, its height and ornamentation enough to add flourish to the baby grand. Silk draperies flank the balcony doors, a lush contrast to Talkington’s past. “We had no treatments, just screen doors hanging off the porch.”|
“School was three and a half miles away, by foot, and I hated that dirt road. I wanted to go through the pastures,” she remembers. “I wanted to walk the pretty way home.”
The notion that “pretty” existed and could in fact be touched and felt drove Talkington each day, bolstered with cornmeal mush or white rice with sugar, cooked atop a wood-burning stove. “At school, I stuffed my pockets with things the other kids didn’t eat, and with those big old hot rolls, I made my mother a sandwich with commodity cheese,” she says from her ninth floor apartment on Turtle Creek Boulevard, with dramatic views of the city beyond. “I look back with incredible gratitude. I am privileged to have grown up like that in this country, knowing that joy is there for the taking.”
Now at 60, Talkington’s tough childhood is far behind her, and her career in interior design is flourishing. At home, the style is old-world, a usable opulence that incorporates tortoise shell, bamboo, and animal prints. Her work portrays a keen eye for scale and proportion, a knack Talkington developed early. Thirty years ago, she convinced a local designer to let her shadow him and learn. After a year, she transformed the small cottage on McCommas Boulevard where she lived into a showplace and attracted her first clients. Bought with earnings from 13 years of flying the world for Braniff International Airways—“my education,” as she describes it—as well as salaries from running a showroom at the World Trade Center and modeling, the house “is still the prettiest on the block.”
The desire to make things beautiful also came early. In the soil under a persimmon tree, 4-year-old Talkington used to build dollhouses, using rocks and sticks and string wire, she recalls, for the fence. She decorated the houses with green fruits that had fallen or wild berries and plums found nearby. Back inside, she’d look at photographs in magazines sent from her grandmother. “That was the beginning of the visual for me. It was a stirring,” she says. “I knew I would have beauty in my life, and it could have been in a one-room trailer house or the Vendome. And I still stack magazines in piles on the floor. It drives the maids crazy,” she laughs.
|Dining in front of the fireplace is cozy, especially at holiday time. Two smaller tables rather than one large one create the intimacy of a salon and a less formal look.|
In her balconied, 1,800-square-foot apartment, Talkington has layered rich fabrics and textures with objects found here and there, chosen for their charm, patina, or elegance. There is an intimate parlor feel, a lush comfort that is welcoming and full of home. On a bedside table, a little girl in a white frock sits inside a frame, with cut-off bangs and a straight-ahead stare.
“My mother,” Talkington says. “A pioneer woman.”
Ill for most of her life, her mother took care of the children single-handedly. “At Christmas, mother managed to have something for each of us, a little something. And there was always a snow, so we had snow ice cream,” Talkington says. “A teaspoon of vanilla, eggs, and snow…and mix it all up.”
Talkington returned alone to Lequire 20 years ago, trudging on foot the half-mile of dirt trails to the front door. A woman came out with floured hands, wearing an apron.
“This is where I grew up,” I told her. “She told me to sit as long as I liked. ‘You’re not the only one who has come here,’ she said. My brothers had come back, too. I had no idea.”
Flowers For Christmas
Floral designer Christopher Whanger chose red viburnum berries and purple and white flowers to dress the apartment for a holiday brunch.
• Sophisticated blues, lavenders, and light greens pair with Talkington’s cut-glass blue reindeer plates. Silver and white chargers and dinner plates from RSVP Soirée add a wintry feel.
• On the mantel, Whanger kept it simple with a bay leaf garland and matching wreath suspended from ribbon over the mirror.
• On the porch, Whanger filled Talkington’s tall garden planter with ivy and surrounded it with seeded eucalyptus, hydrangeas, and roses. By bringing forgotten objects from other areas, you can sometimes discover the perfect place for favorite things, he says.
Myrl Talkington’s Decorating Passions
“I love the way animal prints pop a room, the way they add texture and drama. I swore I was going to stop, but I just can’t.” Even Sadie, the puppy, has a faux leopard collar. Talkington uses a cape from a 20-year-old jacket to underpin a sparkly collection of glass and silver on a living room sideboard.
“I use mirrors whenever I can. They bring magic and mystery to a space.”
“My approach to decorating is fast. I love to go in, walk out, and know my clients are squealing. I decorated this apartment in two days.”
“Spatial sense is most important to interior design. You can fill a small space with many things, but you have to know how and where. I call it ‘bulk on the waistline.’ It doesn’t work any better in a living room.”
While Talkington has no family heirlooms to speak of, she has gathered her own throughout her life. She hunts for objects that hint at her past, old fruit jars, for instance, reminders of her mother’s canning.