Monday, 11 May 2009

In Conversation with Tobi Fairley

Named one of America’s “Top 20 Young Designers” by Traditional Home Magazine, Tobi Fairley is a multi-talented woman from Little Rock, Arkansas who has mastered a traditional style with contemporary accents which has been flawlessly adapted to a multitude of client tastes.

image Tobi Fairley

With three degrees under her belt: Interior Design, Accounting and Business, this educated woman is a design force to be reckoned with. Tobi’s style is soft, crisp, understated and refined. She has a brilliant grasp on balance

in all forms (visual weight, colour tones and hues etc.) and has a beautiful way of making her traditional designs look current and fresh. In addition to her interior design studio of ten years, Tobi also maintains an internationally acclaimed blog and is developing several product lines targeted for launch in early 2010.

I highly recommend viewing her portfolio and reading her blog.

Please read on to learn more about this talented designer…

Iván Meade – What was your first experience with design?

Tobi Fairley – I recall helping my mom design our home as a young girl of 5 or 6 years old. We would rearrange the furniture and mom would entertain a lot. We also did some really chic Christmas decorating for that time period. I remember our first designer Christmas tree was all shades of pink.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – Who or what has influenced your style?

Tobi Fairley – Well obviously my mom did. She is one of those people who was just born with great taste! As far as my design work today, I am really inspired by textiles!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – Did you always want to be an interior designer?

Tobi Fairley – Yes and no. I always loved interior design, but when I began college in the early 90’s, I didn’t really see design as a career option. But just a few years later, I couldn’t resist the calling and I went back to school and got my degree.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What made you decide to earn your three degrees? Did you experience careers in all three or was it a conscious decision to help you in your design career?

Tobi Fairley – I wish I could say that I was just so ultra intelligent and that I planned this whole extraordinary educational path to my career. But it would be a fib! I never worked as an accountant (thank God!). I got that degree because I was undecided about what my career would be and I knew that an accounting degree would support any path I chose. As I mentioned above, I gave into my calling for design after getting in the business school, in about year 3 to be exact. So I completed my accounting degree first and then went right back to school in design. When I got to design school, I have a marvellous faculty advisor who had gotten a finance degree and then one in design, and he said if there was anything he regretted, it was not getting an MBA. Well, I had never thought of such a thing…but it was brilliant! And since I had about a million hours already of basics and electives from business school that counted towards my design degree, I used the extra time in my schedule to get an MBA while finishing my design degree simultaneously. The only thing about this path that was crazy was trying to excel in both design and a masters in business at the same time. This was not an easy task!!! But I made it and I am better for it! In fact, I am being named by the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, as their Entrepreneur of the Year in just a few weeks!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What designers of past and present do you admire most?

Tobi Fairley

Past, I love Dorothy Draper, David Hicks.

Present day designer that I admire: Jamie Drake

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What do you consider to be your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?

Tobi Fairley – I think I definitely have a competitive advantage in my career because of my strong business sense. Few designers seem to have this. As far as design goes, I am really gifted with color and I have a great understanding of scale. Both of these talents are inherited from my mother. I also have a lot of confidence which helps in dealing with clients and in going after what I want in my career. I am not risk averse! And I am a really quick study which is great since designers are always challenged with knowing what is the latest and greatest at any given time but also having a vast knowledge of design and art history.

My weaknesses include taking on too many things at one time, so I lack balance in my life. I am not very patient. I am really intense. This can be good and bad. In one sense I am extremely passionate about things, but on the flip side I take myself and my job too seriously sometimes and this can add undue stress in my life.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What does it feel like to be announced as one of Top 20 Young Designers in America by Traditional Home?

Tobi Fairley – Fantastic! Fabulous! Surreal! We all work so hard as designers and we do that because we care about our clients and we are trying to make the built environment a better place. Most of us who are passionate about design would do it for no pay and no credit! But when your hard work and years of education and efforts are validated in this way, it sort of puts the icing on the cake.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – Browsing through your portfolio one can see that you are not afraid of colour. What is your favourite colour to design with right now?

Tobi Fairley – I am really loving shades of pink right now…blush tones. But not a lot of my clients (the males ones anyway) will go for it. So I am painting the walls of my new office pink. I’ll have photos of it this summer when we move in. I also love navy and am still fond of grey tones. With me no color is off limits. So to keep things fresh, I am constantly experimenting with quirky color combinations that push the envelope! I have some fun ones on the horizon for both design schemes and products that I am working on.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What books are currently on your bedside or coffee table?

Tobi Fairley – I am a voracious reader but also a collector of books. So at any given time there are literally 20 books lined up to read and I often am reading several at one time. Plus I just got a new Kindle Reader which I am mad about so Right now I have in fiction Eat, Pray, Love( I am ¾ way complete) and Eclipse, the third twilight series both going. I am also reading Paintings in Proust. And stacked up on my bedside or loaded on my Kindle waiting in line are many more including Bringing Home the Birkin which I just can’t wait to start!!!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – You seem to have a strong passion for fashion; what design cues do you take from the runway to incorporate into your interiors?

Tobi Fairley – Thank you, I do! I especially love shoes and I have a pretty stunning collection of them. My shoes definitely translate into my designs because like in my interiors, my shoes are often in extreme colors! I keep my clothing tailored and classic and I have a ton of black. I have a couture designer in New York who makes a good deal of my clothing because her style is reminiscent of many of my style icons and she fits me perfectly. But my shoes, well they are my accessories, and there are no holds barred with the amount of color. My favourite shoe designers… Valentino, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Leboutin, Yves St. Laurent, Manolo Blanik…and the list goes on.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What are you excited about right now in the world of design?

Tobi Fairley – I am very excited about breaking into product design. And one reason I am so excited about it is that I am working on designing all the things that I can never find! I am obviously also excited about new media… blogging, twitter, facebook. I really have an amazing grasp of branding, most likely because of my business background. And what better place to self-promote and promote products and other things you love than on a blog! From a more purest interpretation of your question with regard to the industry, I am always excited about new things happening with fabrics and textiles. I am seeing more and more people doing great things with color. And this makes my job easier. There used to be just a few people feeding my color habit, like Tricia Guild of Designers Guild and Osborne and Little. But now there are beautiful choices in dramatic patterns and color ways! I love it!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What would be your dream project?

Tobi Fairley – This is a hard question for me! There are so many things I would love to do and yet I already feel so satisfied. I guess I would have to say a project in one of my favourite cities that I have not yet worked in like New York City, London, Paris, Florence, or the California Wine Country. Those also answer the question, where would I like to own additional residences…I’ll take one of each please!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What project has given you the most satisfaction?

Tobi Fairley – Probably doing my own home. It really is harder than doing client homes. It is so easy for me to sell clients on a design scheme. I can confidently say we are making choices that fit their styles and their needs. Designing for myself means narrowing down all the many things I love into a look that is cohesive. And that is not an easy task because as designers we get the pleasure of knowing All the options, where the client typically has a much smaller breadth of knowledge about what is available.

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – What is your next design venture?

Tobi Fairley - As I mentioned above, I am embarking on my new facility which is a 4000 square design firm and a 2500 square foot art and furniture gallery. The building is sheet rocked and so now the fun is just beginning! We are planning to move in late this summer and I will be sure and post photos as soon as possible.

Among my many current projects Right now, one that stands out in particular is phase 2 of a large remodel (the project is over 8000 feet total). We have completed the living and dining and 3 upstairs bedrooms and are now moving into the kitchen, family room, media room, office and master suite. This project is truly a transformation and I can’t wait to get to show you the results.

Towards the end of the year I am going to be starting a condo in Dallas which should be exciting and I have a client who just bought a New Condo in LA so that will likely start late summer or early Fall!

image Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

Iván Meade – Lastly, you have already created a stunning body of work with many mediums and styles. What would you like your legacy to be?

Tobi Fairley – Thank you for the compliment on my work!! I hope that my legacy is one of logic. It is my goal in every project, for the client to truly use and enjoy ALL their spaces. I would say I only have one or two clients who are interested in “preserving” their design and don’t get as much enjoyment out of their investment as I would if it were my home. I am of the philosophy “life’s too short not to use the good china”. For the most part, I am successful in helping my clients identify their needs and making their spaces accommodate them. It is frustrating to me when clients have rooms they never even go in. I have even been known to talk clients out of large additions (that would have been profitable for me) because they are not even using the spaces they have. I guess there is even a green or sustainable element to this concept. Now don’t get me wrong, I by no means think that some of the huge houses that I work on are in line with the tenets of LEED design, if for no other reason, because of their size. But I do think that there is something environmentally responsible about helping clients to make the most out of their square footage and not building more than they will really use. So in an ironic sort of way, my legacy could be one of practical or logical luxury living. It is champagne tastes meets mother knows best! Can’t you just see me in my classic 50’s style A-line dress and pearls with by Fushia Leboutins designing these practical mansions??…I can.


Photograph courtesy of Tobi Fairley

I invite you to visit Tobi Fairley’s website and blog to learn more about this talented woman.



MEADE DESIGN GROUP - THE BLOG. Copyright 2007-2011


Echito said...

Tobi totally seems like a fun person! I can certainly agree with a lot of her theories as well.

Another great interview :)

Michelle said...

She is so talented! And nice too! Thanks Tobi and Ivan!!

It makes sense that designers have a good understanding of business; it seems to consume most of our days.

Things That Inspire said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview, and can tell that Tobi has a keen understanding of color and scale - two skills that take a designer from good to great.

One of the other top 20 designers helped me with my living room update a few years ago, this interview has inspired me to contact her for a little interview. It is great to know the thoughts behind the design.

Tobi Fairley said...

Ivan, thank you so much for the beautiful representation of my work and the fabulous questions you posed to me! The interview was really fun and I thank you for the opportunity to allow your readers to know me and my work!! I am truly grateful!!!!! xoxo Tobi

Unknown said...


DesignTies said...

Another terrific conversation, Ivan... I really enjoyed learning more about Tobi! I already knew she was a great designer, now I know about her savvy business acumen too!! I'm looking forward to learning more about her product development plans... I guess I'll be hanging out at her blog more then I generally do!
Victoria @ DesignTies

qerat said...

It was fun reading this particular interview since I found I share so many things with Tobi such as the educational background etc... She is obviously a fun person that is passionate you could feel it through her answers.

Brillante Interiors said...

I always follow Tobi's blog and now I know more of her. I don't remember who said that Interior design is 70% business and only 30% design. How true, and she has it all and lots of enthusiasm too.
Thanks Ivan.

katiedid said...

Quite a talent! I look forward to visiting her blog and site. Thanks for the intro. :)

Maria Killam said...

I loved every inch of that interview. You get all the good ones!

The Devine Life said...

Tobi is great and once you meet her mother you know where she gets it from.

Verdigris Vie said...

I bookmarked this b/c i was too busy to read it the first time. Glad I remembered to come back ..:-) She is truly genuine, and her style is fresh and exciting, and unpredictable.

Thanks Ivan


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