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At home with Mary Steenburgen

Mary Steenburgen is a talented actress, delivering great performances in movies such as Elf, Step Brothers, The Help and too many more to list. But she’s also a home decor master, a business owner and song writer. Steenburgen talked to SheKnows about home decor, entertaining and her candle company, Nell’s Compass.

Mary Steenburgen and daughter

You know Mary Steenburgen is talented and funny — the characters she plays in some of our favorite movies are hilarious, lovable and so believable. But this Southern girl at heart has even more skills, including owning successful businesses and a knack for decorating and entertaining.

As the co-owner of Nell’s Compass (she and daughter Lilly named the company after Mary’s mother), Steenburgen helps create beautiful candles that bring scent and life to any room. Steenburgen is also part owner of Rooms and Gardens in Santa Monica, California, a custom furniture, antiques and interior design store. Needless to say, she knows her home decor.

We chatted with Steenburgen about her homes, her personal style, her inspiration and more.

Steenburgen’s homes and favorite designs

SheKnows: Could you tell us about the overall feel of your homes?

Steenburgen: My own personal style is a little bit bohemian. I tend to love color and I am drawn to different textiles. I especially like the 1940s — the French ’40s and that style. I also love midcentury, and while my homes aren’t midcentury, we occasionally have a midcentury piece.

Additionally, I love gardens — my homes tend to have a real relationship to the space outside as well because I prefer the color green.

SheKnows: As a mom and now a grandmother, does family life play a part in the overall design scheme of your homes?

Steenburgen:  Most people would describe our homes as comfortable, because we have four children and now we have one grandchild (and two dogs at the moment). So I want our homes to be places where people are not intimidated. I want them to feel comfortable and feel like their children can come over.

Home is where the heart is

SheKnows: You have homes in such beautiful parts of the country. Do you have a favorite setting for a home?

Steenburgen: I’m a Southern soul, so I love warm, sultry nights. I love the vibe of the South – where people have time for each other. So we spend a lot of time in Nashville.

I didn’t talk about this for a long time, but I also write music. I write for Universal Music Publishing Group and I travel to Nashville to write there. My husband and I just purchased a home there – a beautiful little brick cottage where I will stay while I write in Nashville. So Arkansas and Tennessee are my favorite places.

Entertaining with love

SheKnows: Do you have a favorite gathering area when you’re entertaining family and friends?

Steenburgen: We like long tables with lots of people. We put our Nell’s Compass candles in the middle because they add a beautiful glow. We love flowers from the garden. Just recently, for example, in Ojai, California, where we spend a lot of time at our farm, we made a pizza that my husband grilled outside — grilled onions with rosemary and goat cheese and a vegan pizza for my husband (Steenburgen is married to actor Ted Danson). For a friend who likes meat, it was turkey sausage and mozzarella cheese and truffle oil. So we grilled outside and ate inside at the table with a big salad from the garden and some really yummy wine.

Beauty (and giving) in candles

SheKnows: You mentioned Nell’s Compass, which is a candle company you started with your daughter Lilly. Can you tell us what inspired you to begin making scented candles?

Steenburgen: When I would buy candles for our store, Rooms and Gardens, I would become frustrated with how expensive the candles that I was drawn to aesthetically were. They were made in Europe and were extremely costly and beyond many people’s budgets.

So Lilly and I took it upon ourselves to see if could develop a line of candles that were American-made, soy-based, had lead-free wicks and were placed in recycled colored glass, for half the price of the candles that were European. And we did just that. We named the company Nell’s Compass — we chose the compass part of the name because you can very much travel through a scent. And Nell was my mother, who just had a very beautiful inner compass. It was female generation, and I now have a beautiful granddaughter who Lilly just had!

Nell's Compass candles

SheKnows: Nell’s Compass sends $2 to Heifer International for every candle sold. What made you both decide to give back to this organization in particular?

Steenburgen: We give a portion of the proceeds from candle sales to Heifer International, an organization that gives animals to people throughout the world and teaches people how to lift themselves out of poverty.

What we like best is that the animals cannot go to any village where people practice discrimination against women. It’s an effective and gentle way of changing a culture that before would not have allowed a woman to participate in the profit and the care of the animals.

The candles are a great way of introducing people to Heifer International who don’t otherwise know about it.

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