Interview with Liz Hughes

An award-winning designer, Anita Holland has been creating elegant and timeless interiors throughout the Southeast for thirty-one years. In 2008, Meriwether Maddux joined Anita Holland Interiors, assisting Anita in successfully infusing classic beauty into the homes of her clients. From the very start, there was an uncommon level of energy and of compatibility in the design process that both realized would serve their clients very well. Both enjoy similar styles of interiors, yet at the same time each brings something uniquely different from their personal and professional experiences to the design table. On a recent Tuesday morning, we sat down and talked about how they came to work together, their collaboration process, and their thoughts on design in general. 

This marks the end of the first year that Meriwether Maddux has worked with you, Anita. It might be true to say that it has been everything that you hoped it would be, and it has also exceeded your expectations. Would that be a fair statement? 

AH: I think that’s true. While it’s been wonderful for me, it’s our clients that have truly benefited. I don’t think there are another two people in Charlotte – rather another design team – that possesses our design resources or project management abilities. Our backgrounds and our experiences are wonderfully diverse but incredibly complementary. From the design process to the installation, because there are two of us and because we work together so well, the project is managed beautifully. We both respect what I call the design principles – scale, proportion and balance. We are then able to add different things to that because of our age and experience. I think about Meriwether’s travels and her exposure to art galleries and how that has even influenced our work. She has seen some wonderful compositions and color and been able to think, “Gee, this is something that could be translated into an amazing color scheme in a room we are doing.” 

Meriwether, you worked for two of the most notable showrooms in the country – Ainsworth Noah in Atlanta and Nancy Corzine in New York. How has the transition to Charlotte been? 

MM: I’m from Greensboro and it’s nice to be so close to home. From a work perspective it’s been great. At Nancy Corzine, I headed up fabric sales for five years in the showroom. A lot of times I would have clients that had an interest in a certain fabric and I would try to pull a whole scheme together around that one fabric. By making good selections, I wanted it to be easy for them to incorporate all of my product into their specific jobs. Anita and I do this today for each of our clients – pulling fabrics that work well together, and then looking at them up on our boards. 

AH: We have two 8 X 12 cork walls and six portable corkboards in the office. At a lot of firms, you look at it, play with it, and take it down. Ours stay up. We are always kind of scheming – adding to or subtracting – or making a suggestion. The number of boards allows us to keep each project up from start to finish. Interestingly, we could be working on one project and literally bump into something on a different board that would be perfect for another project. It is a unique idea to keep everything up and on display. 

MM: The corkboards are an example of our ongoing collaboration. We are both popping things up. I was out of town for the weekend, and when I came back Anita had picked out a really great pillow fabric that I never would have thought to use. It was on the board with a sofa fabric that I had selected. We are always looking at the projects and putting things together. 

Meriwether, did you know Anita or were you familiar with her work before you began working here? 

MM: I had heard Anita’s name a lot during the two years I was at Ainsworth Noah, and was familiar with her reputation. I had sent fabrics to her from down there and had always loved what I was sending. I already had in my mind that we would be a good fit. I could read her style and knew that we were generally on the same wavelength design wise. 

AH: Meriwether came well recommended from people I knew here in Charlotte as well as at Ainsworth Noah, which is my favorite designer showroom. She has a great sense of style and her background in art history gives her a tremendous understanding of color schemes and architectural elements, which is invaluable in design. Essentially, we both heard positive things about each other, but I don’t think either of us could envision how well we were going to mesh. 

Anita, you talk about this collaboration in design and how it has benefited your clients. Can you give an example of what you mean? 

Recently, we were working on a project, and I knew form the very beginning that I wanted to add in a piece of Lucite. We both thought it was a very good design choice. It would add a bit of surprise to the room. I would not have gone to the same resources that Meriwether did for the Lucite table that we put in. We were both on the same page regarding what it would bring to the project, but she quickly suggested a resource that was better than the one that I was considering.

As designers, it seems that you would have access to the same resources. 

MM: We do, but for five years I worked at Nancy Corzine in the D&D Building – The New York Design Center, which is the leading design center in the country. There are 17 floors and 120 showrooms filled with the top fabric, furniture and lighting lines. My experience in New York allowed me to become familiar with so many of the resources that are out there. 

For interior design to be authentic, it must embrace who your client is and how they live. Does exposure to the design showrooms both north and south allow for that to happen – to really capture their identity? 

AH: Meriwether heads to New York twice a month and I head to Atlanta monthly, so we are pulling from two of the best design centers in the world. Because of this, our clients can really express themselves throughout their homes. Collectively, we are able to draw on everything that is available which is an uncommon offering for design firms. 

MM: This is a definitely part of the process that nourishes our creativity. The more you see, the better design you are able to give your client. 

Is there a difference between what’s presented in the showrooms of New York and Atlanta? 

MM: Essentially not – it’s just presented differently. You can go into the same showroom in Atlanta and New York and look at the same line. The difference is that it is presented in a more traditional manner in Atlanta and is more contemporary and transitional in New York. The benefit for us is that we are able to see it from all sides. 

AH: It’s true that the New York showrooms appeal to a different market. The fact that Meriwether worked in the New York Design Center for five years and continues to go up there twice a month is a real asset when we are working with some of our younger clients whose design style is more transitional or contemporary. This is one of the examples of how we complement each other so well. It enables us to offer all of our clients the very best in design. 

It seems like the two of you can almost complete each other’s design sentences, so to speak. Even though you have different backgrounds, you are so well matched. You have seen different things but you bring a great balance to your client. 

MM: It’s really true. We can walk out of a consultation with a client and know how we want to take it. A fabric or a piece of furniture will pop into my head and Anita will say, “Exactly!” Or vice versa. We are pretty much in sync on that. We end up making better by adding elements that relate to our personal experiences. For example, I was recently at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. All of a sudden, these timeless combinations of colors on 200 year old paintings started clicking. I thought, “Wow, you could start a whole scheme off of the colors that had been popular at that time.” 

AH: It’s a dynamic process. We work hard, but we definitely have fun. Both of us have strong project management skills. All the batting around of creative ideas would be fruitless if there was no follow through, no execution. The devil is in the details, yet that is exactly what makes our clients happy. 

Your work takes you across The Carolinas and also throughout the Southeast. When you meet with your clients, what design advice do you give them? 

AH: We advise them that this is a process that takes time. Good design can’t happen overnight. From our initial meetings with the client, we get an understanding of how they live, their style, the functional needs of their home, and assess what it is they want to achieve. We present different schemes and different options so we know the direction in which they want to move. 

MM: Interior design is an investment in your home and your lifestyle. For the most part, our clients recognize that. Invest in quality fabrics and furnishings and you will always have better results. Spend the money on the pieces that you are going to keep for a really long time. 

What are your preferences for colors and fabrics? 

AH: We are drawn to greens, rich creams and warm buttery tones. Our palette definitely leans more toward natural colors as opposed to jeweled tones, which have their place in European design. While our work might reflect a European or English influence through antiques or styles of furniture, we don’t express it through fabrics or color selection. 

MM: A few other colors that I like are soft blue or pale aqua, which in a bedroom can be wonderfully soothing. When we look at the fabrics that we incorporate into our designs, silks and linens are among our favorites. We both prefer to use patterned prints as accents rather than as the dominant fabric. There are a lot of wonderful textures on the market – linens, striés, and herringbones, to name a few. 

I have stayed away from the question about what’s new and what’s hot because what can be “in” today can be out so quickly. How do you avoid succumbing to fads? 

AH: Generally, they don’t appeal to me so it’s not hard to avoid them. I think that they are short lived and expensive. You have this great canvas, so why would you relent and fill it with items that won’t last? Why not be original and bring great things to the canvas that serve as a lasting portrait of the client? 

MM: This goes back to what I was saying that you should consider the interior design of your home to be an investment. Fads don’t provide you any lasting return. 

How do you want your clients to feel once the job is complete? 

MM: We want for them to feel like it was tailor made for them – which it was. They can feel comfortable and wonderfully at home. We have drawn upon our experience, our time spent with them and our resources. As they look around, their home reflects who they are, rather than who their designer was. In a sense, it’s the absence of having a signature look. 

AH: I’ve been asked that many times – “Do you have a signature look?” And I can honestly say that I don’t. Every project is different. No two clients are the same and no two schemes that we design are the same. We are given the opportunity to be creative and to design a home that is meaningful to our clients. I have often said that once a project is complete, it should be beautiful and bring them joy, speaking well of them but never of me. 

You have been designing interiors for thirty-one years, Anita. What guides you to create successful rooms? 

AH: What guides me is the client. It’s not enough to satisfy the clients; you have to take it back to listening to them. I try to reinterpret what they’re telling me in a way that is tasteful and timeless and that speaks well them. I respect my clients’ preferences in style, refine them, and then reflect them in the best manner throughout their home. 

Is that why you have so many continuing relationships with clients? 

AH: That speaks to how easy we are to work with and how creative we are, as well as how extensive our resources are. From design to project management, and implementation, we take it to another level. It’s not just our creativity that sets us apart. 

I guess it’s not just about pulling fabrics and picking paint colors. 

AH: I think you are trying to let me know that this is great time for us to end. Thank you so much. 

MM: It’s been so enjoyable talking with you today. 

LH: Likewise. 

About the writer: A resident of Charlotte, Liz Hughes has been the Editor of North Carolina Classic Design Elements for the past 10 years. Her company also handles creative development and execution of websites, copy writing, and E-mail marketing campaigns.