Yvonne Pratt shares her love for decorating, cooking, crafting, gardening and God through the blog and social media platforms she calls StoneGable. “I’m passionate about taking interior design concepts and breaking them down into easy-to-understand and doable actions anyone can use to create a beautiful home,” says this social influencer, who launched her career with an audience of one and now reaches millions.
Life, of course, brings change. Chris and Jacqueline set off for college. After graduating, they both launched careers in the D.C. area. They both married and started families of their own.
Meanwhile, the Pratts settled into their next “season” of life as empty nesters. Despite living in a house that seemingly grew larger with each passing year, they had no plans to downsize. They looked forward to the weekends and holidays that would bring their children and their families home to StoneGable.
As often happens, an unexpected opportunity presented itself. “Last year, we were having breakfast at the restaurant at Tanglewood Manor Golf Club on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and Bobby mentioned there was a home for sale in the Villas [a community that skirts the golf course]. He knew I had always admired those houses. We looked at it the next day and agreed it was just about perfect for our needs.”
Realizing she would be moving away from StoneGable triggered a range of emotions. “I cried all day long for three weeks,” Yvonne recalls. “I called it the ‘time of great mourning.’ Then, I began to realize a new house meant new opportunities and I told myself, ‘I’m done now. New adventures await!’”
Besides, there was no looking back – StoneGable was sold.
StoneGable Goes Cyber
In 2009, Yvonne was at a crossroads. Post-college, she taught elementary school for 11 years. “Then, I became a stay-at-home mom who was never home,” she says of the years she devoted to volunteering at her kids’ schools. When that ended, she began working in her husband’s medical office. “I enjoyed it, but …” she says of that missing element she was searching for that would tap into her talents.
What Yvonne really enjoyed doing was being a homebody. “I have always loved to decorate, cook, garden and entertain,” she says. “I view my home as my laboratory.” However, Yvonne admits she initially found decorating to be frustrating. “I was one of those people who went into a store, bought things willy-nilly, got them home, realized nothing worked and had to take everything back. It took years for me to develop a style and recognize what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t until I began delving into concepts relating to color, proportion and balance that I got it.”
Yvonne’s aha moment career-wise came when a young friend suggested she start a blog that delves into her interests. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” Yvonne admits. “I didn’t know what a blog was, so I investigated it and made a discovery – people love to follow and engage with others who share similar interests. These were my people!”
Initially, her “hobby blog” was intended for an audience of one – recently married Jacqueline, who was always calling/emailing Yvonne with newlywed-type questions relating to cooking and decorating. “I looked at it as my gift to her, plus it provided us with yet another way to communicate,” Yvonne remarks.
Other people discovered Yvonne’s blog and began following it. “One day, I looked and I had 30 followers!” she recalls. “It scared me at first to know people were paying attention to what I was sharing but then I was flattered.”
While she loved being a part of the blogosphere, Yvonne’s little hobby was beginning to become expensive from both a time and economic perspective. “I was spending a fortune on props,” she says of the photography that accompanied the copy. “It was getting complicated.”
Fortunately, she was able to turn to her sister, who works in marketing, for advice. That led her to Google AdSense. A friend steered her in the direction of AdThrive, which specializes in lifestyle content and targets women. Despite making a “pittance” through such marketing networks, Yvonne was thrilled to realize, “I had a career going for myself.” Her venture eventually began providing Yvonne with “a great income.”
Companies specializing in home furnishings and décor began paying attention and struck marketing agreements with Yvonne. “‘Where did you get that?’ is the number-one question I’ve been asked from the beginning,” she shares. “I feel I’m providing a service to be able to share that information and direct readers to websites. But, I never forget who I work for – the wonderful women who come to me for inspiration and advice. I see being an influencer as an opportunity to connect with people, educate them, entertain them, provide them with a take-away and on Sundays, leave them with a lesson from Scripture. I view each and every reader as a friend. I’m so filled with gratitude for this opportunity I’ve been given.”
As you are probably aware, the world of blogging and social media has grown into a very sophisticated enterprise. According to Yvonne, it’s become more structured and rules and regulations are in place. “There are a lot of moving parts,” Yvonne says of StoneGable, explaining she is aided by a virtual assistant as well as a human one (Katie Stoltzfus). “My basement looks like a store,” she says of the props she has accumulated. “Everything is stored in clear boxes.”
Yvonne usually posts every day and over the course of her blogging career has about 4,000 posts to her credit, mostly about decorating, resulting in millions of page views. She also maintains relationships with other bloggers, which provide for added content and exposure. For example, in late October, the site, Shabbyfufu, provided its followers with a tour of Yvonne’s home. The pandemic has only served to drive more visitors to Yvonne’s various sites. “Readership has exploded,” she says.
The success of StoneGable has led Yvonne to publish a tutorial, How to Know Your Decorating Style, appear in dozens of lifestyle magazines and attend the extravaganza known as Furniture Market in High Point, North Carolina. “Wow! Was that spectacular!” she says. Blogging has also provided her with the opportunity to speak at events and have a podcast that rated in the top 10 for her niche.
She maintains that Instagrammers and bloggers are influencing design and what we are seeing in stores and on websites. Some of her favorite bloggers and designers include Phoebe Howard, Suzanne Kasler (Ballard Designs), Joanna Gaines (Magnolia Home) and Patina Farm.
During the summer of 2019, Yvonne’s online presence never wavered. As fall approached, she shared that an announcement would be forthcoming. In October, followers received a post called “Welcome to the Tanglewood House,” through which Yvonne revealed the secret she had been keeping – she and Bobby made a transition of their own and moved to a smaller house (2,700 square feet) whose backyard adjoins a golf course.
She went on to explain how busy their summer had been. Packing up a house they had lived in for more than two decades was quite an undertaking. Decisions had to be made about which furnishings would make the move and which would not. “Sadly, I couldn’t take my dining room table – it was just too large for the space,” she says.
After settlement, they made some cosmetic changes, including painting the interior of the house and revamping the fireplace. She also assembled a to-do list that included remodeling the kitchen (done), adding built-ins to her home office (done), replacing the banister on the main staircase (to come) and updating the landscaping (in progress).
As for decorating, furnishings and accessories from StoneGable made a seamless transition to Tanglewood. While the StoneGable look was inspired by Transitional Farmhouse, Yvonne maintained that Tanglewood’s contemporary lines would be better suited to Transitional styling or what she calls, “New Traditional” in that it entails “classic lines, furnishings that are a little slimmed down and a neutral color scheme.” Other styles can be introduced, as well. For example, French-inspired accents were chosen for Tanglewood.
When followers spied the new house, they noted the similarities between StoneGable and Tanglewood. One even commented that Yvonne had “StoneGabled Tanglewood.”
Yvonne was anxious to move to Tanglewood in time to create holiday content for her blog and social media sites. “We moved in on October 14 and by the end of the month, I had the tree up, “I had a lot of work to do,” she explains.
Besides that, Jacqueline (who now lives in California) and Chris and their families would be coming for the holidays, so she wanted the house to be as put-together as possible. “The holidays were wild but wonderful,” Yvonne says of welcoming family and friends to their new home.
Yvonne changes the theme of her holiday decorations every year. “Last year, I was going for a natural look and arrived at ‘A Walk in a Snowy Woods’ theme,” she says of the holiday décor that is seen on these pages. Stars that hung from the ceiling of the foyer set the stage for the “journey,” the centerpiece of which was the ceiling-high flocked tree in the living room that was decorated with mercury and white ornaments. Gold-hued, burlap-like ribbon wound its way around the tree’s branches. Pinecones and burnished leaves added to the natural theme. A star topped the tree that was surrounded by gifts wrapped in gold paper.
Smaller trees made from a variety of materials filled each room. Table-top vignettes composed of pinecones, vintage-looking ornaments and rustic miniature houses, complemented the theme.
The final touch was replacing the autumnal-hued pillows and throws with those whose colors and textures reflected the season. “I did’t buy a thing – I had everything on hand and just recycled it,” she says of “shopping” her basement to assemble the elements of her holiday décor. “I never throw anything away,” she says. “Things can be recycled by giving them a new look or a new purpose.” Another ploy she uses is that if she sees something she likes, she buys it in bulk. “It’s never there if you go back for more,” she theorizes.
By summer 2020, Yvonne already had a theme for the holidays noodling around in her head – “An Evergreen Christmas.” She envisions a color scheme of green and white, accented by burnished metallics.
Yvonne’s Decorating Strategies
Decorating is an Ongoing Process
In Yvonne’s opinion, a room is never finished. The pandemic has driven that fact home – people are taking close looks at their surroundings and making changes.
Your Home is your Sanctuary
Your home needs to reflect you. Never compare your style and taste to that of others. “If you do, you’ll never be happy with your home,” Yvonne points out. Choose things that inspire you.
Put Out the Welcome Mat
Your home also needs to be welcoming to others. Opulence and the latest trends don’t create a welcoming home – you provide that element.
The notion that a piece of furniture is an investment and must last forever is passé. Yvonne’s strategy is to “equate what you are willing to spend on something to the number of years you plan to live with it” when you set out to select something for your home. What you love today could conceivably become a “what was I thinking” piece down the road.
Pay Attention to Color Trends
Color of the Year unveilings are inspiring but don’t go overboard. After all, there will be a new color to love next year. Instead, pick up the color via accessories, pillows, towels and perhaps an accent wall.
Speaking of Color
A neutral color scheme throughout the house allows the rooms to flow together. Yvonne also discovered that by “using a neutral color scheme for upholstery and other furnishings, pieces can easily be moved from one room to another to create a new look.”
“Nothing changes the look of a room faster and more economically than throw pillows,” says Yvonne, who changes out the throw pillows in her living room five times a year to reflect the seasons and holidays that comprise the calendar. If possible, purchase only the pillow covers and reuse the inserts.
Yvonne is not a fan of tchotchkes. Instead, she likes to create vignettes – using baskets and bowls – that reflect her personal style and provide a nod to the season.
Maintain Your Home
When establishing a household budget, include a category for home repairs and redecorating. In Yvonne’s estimation, “Everything has an expiration date, so why would you not budget for repairs and replacement?” A well-maintained home will reap rewards should you put it on the market.
Holiday Time Saver
Who doesn’t love the warmth and comfort that candlelight provides? Yvonne saves time by filling votives and other containers with battery-powered candles that are equipped with timers. She also loves how the look of flickering faux candles has improved.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
As the saying goes, for every action there’s a reaction, and in the world of decorating, that equates to Grand Millennial and Maximalism, which are the polar opposites of Mid-century Modern and Farmhouse. If you love vibrant color, ruffles, grandma’s china, dark furniture, wallpaper, chintz and toile – but with a modern viewpoint – 2021 will be the year to redecorate!