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A Portable Flair

photo by Rimas Zailskas

Cheryl Smith has been in the interior design business for more than 20 years, and it shows. She’s the type of designer clients wish to keep in their pockets, and in fact many of her faithful followers have employed her over and over again, even in their moves to greater urban areas (Atlanta, Sarasota) with larger selections of design professionals at their disposal.
The devotion is in the details because when a designer handles everything down to fixtures and throw pillows, the process becomes a highly personalized experience.

As the incoming president of ASID Carolinas (American Society of Interior Designers), “one of my real focuses is to make the organization more collaborative,” says Smith. “We’re trying to renew relationships with architects and builders. It’s also about advancing our membership to go from allied members to professional members.” (Levels in ASID are determined by a combination of experience and educational requirements.) Additionally, she hopes to strengthen bonds between ASID and the myriad design students in the Carolinas, fostering an environment of support and mentorship.

Carolina Home + Garden caught up with Smith to find out how she makes it all happen.

What does your firm, Cheryl Smith and Associates, specialize in? We actually focus a lot on construction. We get involved from the very beginning — the plumbing, the electrical, that kind of thing. We’re very strong in project management, which really moves the building process along. We really develop collaborative efforts with the builders and the architects.

Explain more about the designer’s role in construction. We help clients with their plumbing selections and the lighting layouts, moldings, just about everything. We do space planning — for example, we go ahead and lay out the furniture to make sure that the windows open correctly and that everything fits. We really get in there very early; then we start the decorating phase once the construction is nearly finished.

It must be exciting to see something go from an empty lot to a fully furnished home. In my mind, the house has been built for about a year, so by the end I’ve kind of gotten over the excitement, in a way. When it’s finished, it looks pretty much like how I thought it was supposed to look. The client is always very excited.

What’s the biggest design disaster you’ve faced? I don’t really think in terms of disaster. You always have opportunities to work around problems and make the best of them.

What’s the most innovative project you’ve ever done? For me, each project is so interesting just because of the personalities and the ins-and-outs of working with the whole group and the interactions that result, so really each project is unique in its own way.

Do you ever feel like a couple’s therapist? Well, a third person can often say things that a husband and wife can’t always say to each other. It’s always fun for me to participate in these conversations and see how I can move them along to get what we need to out of it without them being upset with each other.  

What do you think are today’s biggest design trends in building? Obviously green is very strong. But most of our clients, I always say, have “been there, done that.” They really are building a very personal home, whether they intend to keep it as a vacation home or a main home. We really focus on their comfort and their style, try to give them a classic, clean design look that will take them on forever. I don’t really go with what the trends are. If someone asks me what the “in” colors are, I say, “it’s what you like and what you’re comfortable in.”  

Green building: buzz term or here to stay? It’s here to stay, but as professionals, we have to figure out how it blends into the building process. Some of it’s done to a terrible extreme. Some of the products being offered as “green” actually are not.

What are the biggest design mistakes people make? Pinching pennies at the wrong time. People start cutting corners when they really should spend a little bit more. For example, instead of getting the right fabric, they try to save money. Sometimes you have to spend a little bit more money on that one appropriate thing, and then accessorize with things that cost less money. You don’t have to spend lots of money on everything.

What are good tips for working with a designer? You need really good communication. Your designer should listen, and I find that a lot of builders and designers don’t listen. Just being able to talk it through with your designer, giving them a place to start — letting them know the things you like. Then it gets to a point where you have to just be able to trust them.

Local Resources: Cheryl Smith Associates – interior design

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