The New Southern Shop Spotlight: Rodney Simmons

What was once an old, run-down brick building, now a lush, Tennessean dreamland. On Chattanooga’s Warehouse Row, creative energy flurries—echoed in the hearts of designers like Rodney Simmons. The city’s renaissance reflects the essence of The New Southern— where reinterpreting, reinventing, and reimagining flourish.

Rodney envisioned REVIVAL as a place where opposites abound. “I approach design – whether food, music, interiors, or garden – as a series of ‘calls and responses.’ For every matte, something shiny. For every grand, something humble. For every loud, something quiet,” he says. Like the rolling Smoky Mountain hills that encompass this Chattanoogan boutique, there’s no lines to be followed; there’s curves and flexibility, allowing opposites to shine.

Showcasing a hybrid of styles, Rodney allures budding artists and artisans, and we can’t help but be captivated by his embracement of differences. A testament to The New Southern, his brick-and-mortar is a safe haven for creatives to design with an open mind, beckoning those who walk in its doors to look for the beauty in the unexpected. Rodney is the Traditional New Southern, weaving a sense of heritage and sophistication throughout his space, while honoring the past to give meaning to the present.

We chatted with Rodney to uncover how REVIVAL speaks to The New Southern and his thoughts for female entrepreneurs as Southern style shifts in landscape.

Alyssa Rosenheck: Tell me about REVIVAL. 

Rodney Simmons: REVIVAL is a modern, Southern purveyor of antiquities, home furnishings, lighting, curious objects, and luxury gifts. Created by myself and Billy Woodall in 2002, this Tennessee-emporium has become a must-shop resource for homeowners and design professionals alike. I spent almost a decade in the New York men’s fashion world creating showroom and retail store environments. After my tenure as Menswear Director of Presentation at Ralph Lauren, I returned to my native South while carrying that design passion as a seed for REVIVAL’s creation. Billy brought his early career’s extensive financial and construction knowledge to REVIVAL, helping the retail business to blossom and grow to include online sales and a separate interior design firm, Revival Interiors.

AR: REVIVAL is filled with visual inspiration from room to room. How has the shop contributed to the modernization or updated Southern style?

RS: REVIVAL is known for crashing unexpected periods, materials, forms and ideas - free of restraints, rules, and establishment expectations. There are no rules.

AR: What innovative trends are you seeing with Southern style across the country?

RS: The best interior designers and merchants (serving as sort of Southern style ambassadors across the U.S.) are indeed freed of expectations and restraints in the new century. With print magazines, non-stop social media, showhouses, trade showrooms, and amazing design shops, Southern style is fueled more by opportunity and creativity than perceived formulas and tradition.

AR: How have you mastered all the growth with the shop?

RS: An amazing core of designers, decorators, and support staff continues to propel REVIVAL’s growth – which includes the retail store, an open-to-the-public Annex warehouse, a highly-stylized interior design studio, and an online website, revivalhome.com. I (the creative) and Billy (the business) lead the pack - opposites do attract.

AR: Is there structure or are there any tips to share when you grow rapidly?

RS: Having a plan, buying the best, hiring the most talented – these are ideas key to a successful business that will survive rapid growth. However, knowing that those ideas are primarily a “map” (and allowing yourself and the business to remain flexible) is of paramount importance.

AR: What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs?

RS: Female design entrepreneurs have such an amazing opportunity in the 21st century. What advice does REVIVAL have for upcoming female entrepreneurs?

Be focused
Be true
Be kind
Be good
Be forthright

Be fun

AR: What’s your life motto?

RS: Borrowed (re: stolen) from my sweet friend Kreis Beall (owner and Creative Director of Tennessee luxury resort Blackberry Farm):  

Good, Better, Best
Never let it rest
Until the Good is Better
and the Better is Best

I daily borrow her mantra — always striving for wonderful customer service, beautiful product, and experiential retail.

AR: The place you go to get inspired?

RS: I get inspired in many places, but a few favorites especially fuel my spirit: Le Sirenuse hotel clinging to the Amalfi Coast, the Musee Rodin in Paris, New Orleans on a jasmine-laced night, and the clipped-and-sheared gardens (or the pool) of our home perched atop Missionary Ridge.

AR: How do you continue to differentiate yourself in the marketplace? 

RS: REVIVAL competes daily with contemporary online shopping, a buy-it-for-less-do-it-yourself mentality, and overnight immediacy. A carefully edited inventory, the beautiful environment, and purposeful customer service allow REVIVAL’s experiential retail to beckon the chicest of clients. Truly, it is “Lights, Cameras, Action”!

AR: Design advice that you’ve received that made all the difference?

RS: A treasured friend, Bobby McAlpine, encouraged me early as a merchant and designer to acknowledge my own innate style and approach. This lauded master stipulated that, like athletic or musical abilities, I’d need to perpetually exercise, train, use, critique, cross-train, and expose my own design eye or it would be of little value. I’ve never forgotten his quick-but-amazing lesson.

AR: What’s the best piece of design advice you could provide for creative entrepreneurs starting out? 

RS: Have fun or go home.

AR: Who are some of your favorite artists/makers? 

RS: Bobby McAlpine (and his band of creatives led by Ray Booth and Susan Ferrier) is a long-time favorite architect, designer, poet, and wicked tongue.    

Addie Chapin is an adored local Tennessee artist working in mixed media (think paint, brown paper bags, and linen canvas) that at once conjures ancient scrolls, vintage game boards, and a forgiven future. I am thrilled to include her brilliant works among REVIVAL’s treasures.

AR: What’s your advice for mixing old with new? 

RS: Mixing of ancient and modern isn’t proprietorial, and is indeed more a manner of design thinking. It’s the tension between opposites (much like between my partner Billy and myself) that creates the most interest and energy.

AR: My momma always said… 

RS: HA! My REVIVAL design colleague, Cynthia Mitchell, and I were just recalling Southern childhood colloquialisms, including “You never know where Jesus is….” 

What could be more Southern (especially a Samaritan story for a preacher’s son like myself) than to thread a little church into our design work? 

For me, my Momma’s directive isn’t only about aiding the needy. Indeed, I think my Momma sort of knows that holiness and glory can be found in the most unexpected places. We just need to look with open eyes and hearts.

For me, that’s the New Southern.

AR: What’s your favorite house-warming gift?

RS: French fragrances are a lush go-to house-warming gift – especially a hand-made candle found at REVIVAL.

Among my favorites? Cire Trudon’s Abd el Kadr (Morrocan mint tea), Diptyque’s Baies Noir and Mad et Len’s Spirituelle.

AR: Design book that you will always have on your shelf?

RS: There are a lot of outstanding design books, but my all-time favorite tome is John Saladino’s Villa — this favorite architect-designer’s chronicle of his 1920s Santa Barbara property transformed into the most timeless of estates.

AR: What’s currently on your nightstand?

RS: An Eye for Beauty, the fabulous new design must-read by interior designer Beth Webb (who just happens to be a Lookout Mountain, Tennessee native).

For full article and photos: http://alyssarosenheck.com/