One of the best parts of traveling is uncovering inspiration in unexpected places. A lot of what we saw and experienced during our big road trip from Detroit to New Orleans came from dogged research and impassioned, word-of-mouth recommendations, but on a balmy night in the small, historic town of Marion (after we spent an hour or so driving around and gawking at the old antebellum houses surrounded by magnolia trees), we walked into an ice cream parlor and felt like we had accidentally stumbled into a European cafe, all bentwood chairs huddled around iron-based tables and a glowing chandelier.
The scoop shop section is the standard, cheery variety with candy-colored balloons and posters that perfectly inhabit the Frosty Cow name. But Ms. Jo, who moved to Marion when her son decided to go to college there, wanted to “create a place where people go on date night.” You see, the first week she lived in Marion she realized she had to travel several towns away to get a scoop of ice cream–and that just wouldn’t do. So she opened Frosty Cow in an old brick house downtown and painted the walls over-saturated shades of cobalt and kelly green. She only charges $1.25 for a cone and insists on giving kiddie cones for free. I asked Ms. Jo how she makes any money and she said, “Oh honey, I worked my entire life. This is about giving back to my community.”
A couple pre-teen girls wandered in with pictures they drew for the wall. She paid them with praise and free ice cream.
I’m still thinking about a lot of the architecture, design and people we encountered in and on the way to New Orleans, figuring out how it affected me and what I’ll do with all the inspiration. One thing I already know for certain: I’ll remember Ms. Jo for a long, long time. And it was a great reminder that sometimes the very best design comes from human kindness.