Austin Varner brings Southern charm to New York City. She wears the big-city professional look well, but the gentility and grace of her Memphis home are everpresent no matter where she goes. Following her time as a Hutchison girl in Memphis, Austin spent college years in Dallas at SMU. There she studied art history and had several interior design internships that sparked her eventual move to NYC to pursue a full-time career in design. She worked for Mark Hampton LLC for three years before launching her own design business, Varner Interior Design in May 2011. House Beautiful magazine named Austin as part of “The Next Wave” in an article about up-and-coming designers to watch in 2012.
Welcome today’s Face of Memphis, Austin Varner!
What are your goals for Varner Interior Design?
One of the many things that I love about this business is the diversity. You get to work with many different people in a variety of places. I have clients from Malibu, to Houston, to Memphis, to New York. I want to continue nurturing the relationships I have built in these cities, focus on growing my professional presence in the South and, hopefully, work internationally one day, as well.
Looking back, what were the benchmark experiences that led you towards a design career?
First, my parents, who have always shared a passion for art, antiques and design, encouraged me to develop my own taste and style. The next benchmark in my career would have to be working for Alexa Hampton. This experience really opened my eyes to the highest end of interior design and to the endless design sources in New York.
What do you enjoy most about being a professional designer and business owner?
I love that I get to be creative and active, every day. I am constantly running around looking for a piece of furniture, that perfect fabric or the accessory that completes a room. Interior design is a profession that strives for perfect balance between practicality and artist. Who could ask for anything more?
You have been described by a former client as having “a keen eye for form and a modernist sensibility … a boundless love of texture and acute awareness of scale.” Does your interior design aesthetic carry over into your wardrobe?
I find that my professional and personal aesthetic overlap in many ways. The clean lines and neutral palette that I prefer in my interiors pass seamlessly from living space to wardrobe. I strive for a classic look with a touch of unexpected whimsy in both my clothes and my work, believing that sometimes the most effective detail is not what you include, but rather what you leave out.
The world is at our fingertips in a digital age, and people are overwhelmed with options in every venue. How do you narrow it all down to create a customized setting for your clients?
As an interior designer, you spend a great deal of time researching acclaimed vendors and discovering new ones. It is important to always be simultaneously looking for new ideas and design methods while building relationships with antique stores, art galleries, furniture vendors, upholsterers, etc. that you trust.
After that, it is a matter of discovering your client’s aesthetic and making it a reality. For instance, if I have a client who is looking for Louis XV furniture, traditional artwork and a neutral palette, I will not spend time shopping with vendors who do not specialize in those things. It’s a matter of recognizing what your client is looking for and using your experience and knowledge of the design world to create the most complete and custom look for your client.
We discovered that you are one of a few designers participating in the Hampton Designer Showhouse presented by Traditional Home magazine this summer. Please describe this project and how you were selected for this honor.
At the moment, I am working on my room in the Hampton Designer Showhouse, located in Bridgehampton, New York. Each year, several designers are invited to design one room in the house. It is such an honor to have been invited to participate! I have the “master dressing room” and am enjoying the challenge of marrying function with the unexpected to create a space that is both useful and surprising. The 2013 Showhouse will be open from Sunday, July 21 to Monday, September 2. (Click here to read more about the Traditional Home Hampton Designer Showhouse.)
What inspires you to keep going when the challenges of keeping up the fast pace of a New York-based independent designer set in?
As stressful as my career (and even this city) can be, my passion for interior design always wins out over the stress. I remind myself how lucky I am to be making a living doing what I love and not being restrained by anyone else’s style other than my client’s and my own.
What are some basic words of wisdom (free advice) you can offer based on your professional experience?
One of the most interesting and talented people I have ever had the pleasure to work with and call a friend is Miguel Flores-Vianna, world-renowned photographer and former editor for Town & Country magazine. Miguel once told me that I should leave the country and travel once a year. He said it would open my eyes to new ideas and inspire my work. He couldn’t have been more right!
If there’s one place in the world you’d suggest someone visit, where would that be?
Paris is by far my favorite city in the world. I find such inspiration in the architecture, the colors and the fashion. I also love the Parisian way of life. They seem to enjoy every moment, and they don’t “save” the best things for later. Instead, they embrace them in the present!
Best advice you have ever received? Favorite quote?
Whenever I start to worry about the future or something I can’t control, my dad always says, “Don’t look up, or you might miss a good shot!” This means that you should focus on and enjoy what you are doing right now, Otherwise, if you are worrying about what lies ahead, you will miss the good things happening in the present moment. Wise words from a wise man!
Do you have a role model?
My mom and my grandmother—They are my best friends, confidantes and role models.
Do you have a playlist of music you recommend?
I happen to be a huge opera fan, especially for a dinner party or for background music while working. I really enjoy the soundtrack to the movie “Matchpoint,” as it is an easy introduction to opera and includes a nice variety of arias.
Favorite escape or guilty pleasure?
I am a movie fanatic. I find the ritual of going to the theater, sitting in the dark and escaping into the story all very relaxing. And as far as guilty pleasures go, I will always take Junior Mints to the movie with me!
What three things could you not live without?
(1) My Rhodesian Ridgeback, Byrdie. She is my partner in crime and my absolute favorite thing. (2) My set of Trish McEvoy makeup brushes; I think I have every size made! (3) Very high heels: You will rarely catch me in flats, unless I am walking Byrdie … she’s too strong to walk while wearing five-inch heels!
Is there a beauty product you can’t imagine not using?
Perfume. I love having a unique signature scent that people associate with you. Right now I am loving Ramon Monegal’s “Lovely Day.”
Any must-have clothing items on your wish list (or already in the closet!) for your summer 2013 wardrobe?
My Hermes Collier du Chien bracelet. It is youthful, timeless and never fails to make a statement.
For summer, I am loving the black-and-white combination. Much like in my interior design style, I enjoy clean lines with color contrast to make a statement in my wardrobe.
Thank you Austin! We cannot wait to see the 2013 Hampton Designer Showhouse in July! Learn more about Varner Interior Design, LLC, here: varnerinteriors.com
Photo Credit: All images, except for the picture of Austin and Byrdie, were taken by Miguel Flores-Vianna, a world-renowned photographer and former editor of Town & Country magazine. Austin recently posted an in-depth interview with Miguel on her blog: postomedia.com/miguel-flores-vianna.