Home exterior and two dogs

How One Family Creates Thanksgiving Memories In Sewanee, Tennessee

For Keith Smythe Meacham and her family, there’s nothing more meaningful than spending the holiday in the mountains.

"Sewanee: The University of the South has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember," says Keith Smythe Meacham, cofounder of Reed Smythe & Company, the Nashville-based home-and-garden shop she started with the late author Julia Reed. "It's where my parents met in the 1960s, so my sister and I grew up visiting all our lives." Following family tradition, Keith met her husband, Jon, there in 1988 when she was a high school senior and he was assigned to show her around the campus.

To make a very long story short, he gave me this lovely tour of Sewanee , but I ended up deciding to go to the University of Virginia," she says. And while she didn't fall for the school, she did for the guide. The two became pen pals, exchanging long-distance letters for the next five years until they both ended up in Washington, D.C. They married a few years later and moved to New York City, but it wasn't until they had their second child that Sewanee reentered their lives in a meaningful way.

"I had this itch to move back to the South," she says. "But Jon was working at Newsweek, so it wasn't in the cards right away." Summers in Sewanee proved to be a happy compromise. They later bought a handsome Georgian Revival home on campus. The five-bedroom brick stunner was built in the early 1930s and once belonged to the headmaster at the old Sewanee Military Academy. "We've now had the house for 16 years and love to pack it full of our friends and family," she says. "This is really the home where our children have grown up. In addition to summers, we spent every Thanksgiving , Christmas , and spring break of our kids' young lives here."

The family of five relocated to Nashville nearly a decade ago, but they continue to spend most holidays in the mountains. Here, Keith opens her home to share a few time-tested entertaining tips, ideas for freshening up your Thanksgiving table, and some of the Meacham family's most treasured Turkey Day traditions—from their premeal oysters and Champagne to after-dinner hikes.

Living room hearth
The living room hearth in this 1930s Sewanee home makes a cozy place to relax after the meal. photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

Foraged Florals

"I'm lucky my mother and sister love to cook, because I prefer to set a pretty table," says Keith. "It's a good division of labor." And although she likes to purchase most of the blooms for her arrangements before leaving the city—she favors Import Flowers Nashville— Keith looks to the land that surrounds the home for seasonal inspiration. "When I make it to Sewanee, I'll go out and cut branches and other greenery from around the mountain, so there's some reflection of place," she explains.

Keith and May on the porch
Keith her sister May. photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

Table Matters

Using a mix of Spode Woodland dinner plates as the anchor, Keith turned to the stockroom at Reed Smythe & Company to complete the display. Handblown water goblets in deep amethyst add a punch of color but play well with the plates' subdued earth tones. Focusing on natural materials and organic lines, she added North Carolina-made Stick Candles and bronze place card holders in the shape of walnuts. "I think there's something sweet about making a get-together formal with place cards when it's just your family," she says. Having a round dining table (which is a signature design move for Keith) fosters easy conversation with all the guests.

Dining room table
photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

The Dish on Dinnerware

"I love collecting porcelain. Sometimes I'll see a set of china at an antiques shop, snatch it up, and organize the table around that," Keith says. At this time of year, she tends to keep things classic, opting for her Spode Woodland pattern. But she still leans into the less expected pieces. "I have the dogs, the rabbits, and the deer," she says. "I like to go with unusual animals at Thanksgiving—not just the turkeys ."

Table setting
photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

Screen Time We Can Get Behind

Although the Meachams spent years gradually renovating the stately Georgian Revival, they did make one immediate change—adding a spacious two-story screened porch off the home's right side. During the summertime, it serves as both a sleeping porch and the family's main gathering space. Because it nearly doubles the size of the house, they enjoy it whenever the Tennessee climate allows. "Even in late fall, if it's not freezing or snowing outside, we use the porch ," Keith notes.

Porch table set
photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

Post Dinner Plans

"Jon loves cigars, so there's usually a moment to smoke after the meal," Keith says. Then the party (which includes the Meachams' three children, Keith's mother and sister, a few Sewanee friends, and any significant others) adjourns to the living room, where the walls are painted Sap Green, No. W56, by Farrow & Ball. They'll gather around the large stone fireplace for board games, charades, or a round of spades. Then a hike is in order. "Our house is located on the Sewanee campus , but you can walk about five minutes from our front door to a mountain path," she says. Perimeter Trail along the bluffs of the Cumberland Plateau is a family favorite.

Living room
The family’s friendly English springer spaniels, Ellie (pictured) and Clemmie, like to keep warm by the living room’s fireplace. photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

Seasonal Sensations

Produce can add texture and interest to fall displays . "I like pumpkins and other gourds and often fill a big basket with them for the porch," Keith says, "but there's something so sophisticated and beautiful about a ripe persimmon at this time of year. I just love that deep orange color." Pomegranates and lady apples are a few of her other autumnal favorites. Pro tip: Save sturdy floral stems; they can be used as handy stakes for the fruits.

Fall decor basket
photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER
Fall decor bar
photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER

A Celebratory Start

She credits her sister's boyfriend for the meal's festive kickoff: oysters and Champagne on the porch. "His family always orders a bunch of raw oysters at Thanksgiving and Easter," Keith says. "Now, we've taken that on as part of our tradition." Adding her own design-minded twist to the custom, she commissioned New Orleans sculptor Ashley Pridmore to create a series of polished bronze knives, which she also sells at Reed Smythe & Company. "The handle looks like an oyster, and it fits perfectly in the palm of your hand," she says of the piece. It makes a thoughtful hostess gift too.

Oysters and Champagne
Keith likes to corral wine and cocktail essentials on a tray on the screened porch. That way, people don’t have to go inside to top off their drinks. photographs by LAUREY W. GLENN styling by BUFFY HARGETT MILLER
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