Mandi Smith T did not take the traditional path to becoming an interior designer. It actually took her a while to find her true calling. She originally practiced labor and employment law for 10 years, then decided to focus on raising her small children. Once they were in school, she was hungry to do something and launched a staging business, where she “struck gold” — she had unearthed her passion for creating gorgeous, functional spaces that reflect her clients’ every need. We are delighted to introduce our latest interior designer crush, Mandi Smith T of Mandi Smith T Interiors. We asked her to describe her design aesthetic, let us in on some tricks of the trade and give us a glimpse of her stunning portfolio. We hope you enjoy!
What is your design aesthetic, and how does it set you apart?
I really don’t have a certain “signature style” of design I apply to my projects. I like to approach every project with fresh eyes and design a space specifically for that client. I normally ask lots of question and listen, so I can learn what that client loves. Then I try to design with those aspects in mind, but also giving them elements they would not normally think of for their spaces. I always want to encourage them to step outside their comfort zone, but not so much that the design does not feel like their personal style.
Tell us a bit about your background and experience in design.
I went to law school and practiced in Atlanta and Birmingham for 10 years, advising companies with labor and employment issues. I learned many valuable lessons practicing law and honed many skill sets that have helped me with my current work as an interior designer. After making partner, my husband and I discussed my desire to spend as much time with our young children as possible. It was a difficult decision, but the right one for our family. So, I changed my “day job” to raising our children. But after our youngest started school, I was ready for a new challenge. I had always had an interest in home improvement, home interiors and even architecture. In 2008, a friend and I decided to launch a staging company which, I believe, was the first in Birmingham. After a few years, I realized my true interest is to work closely with clients to design their residential interiors. I started my blog and a new design firm, and it has taken off. It might sound cliché, but I can honestly say that I love my job and am thrilled to have found my calling. As my sweet mother has always said, “You can do anything you want to do in this life — you just might not be able to do it all at one time.”
Are there any trends you’re loving at the moment, and, alternately, any timeless aspects of design that you cling to?
I am loving the resurgence of wallpaper. It is such a great way to interject texture, color and pattern into a space. It can also be used in so many different ways and not just on the walls. Think: ceiling, backs of bookshelves and insets of trim molding. As far as timeless aspects, you can never go wrong with investing in antique casement pieces for your home. They look great with any style and in any type of home when paired with the right pieces to complement the various styles.
What has been your most challenging project to date and why? How did it help you grow as a designer?
One of the most challenging and honestly the most rewarding was my first whole-house construction project. I was very fortunate to work with a wonderful couple here in Birmingham. When you work on these types of projects, most people have already accumulated lots of artwork and furniture, and you have to design something fresh and current while working in lots of those pieces the client already owns. It can be challenging to find the right place to make each piece fit given the scale and dimensions of the new spaces — while also working with the builder and subcontractors. There are always unforeseen challenges that require difficult choices and creativity, but that is a big part of what I love about my job. It is highly rewarding to work through these issues with your client, and I work very hard to do so without adding to what can already be a somewhat stressful process. I think my training as a lawyer has helped me understand that problems can sometimes become opportunities to look at things in a new way.
What brings you the most professional joy?
Happy clients. Period, the end.
Do you have a favorite space in the home to design?
That’s like asking me what’s my favorite season of the year or my favorite food. I really think the change and variety of it all is what brings me the most joy. I like having different things to work on each week. Some days, I’m coming in to restyle a family room while other days I’m at the computer designing a kitchen remodel. I love both equally and would be sad if I had to do the same thing every day.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Almost anything can trigger inspiration for me. I was once driving down the road and a fire truck was in front of me, just driving not in an emergency situation. We stopped at a light and I noticed these handles used to climb to the top of the truck and I thought, Those would make the coolest cabinet pulls in a boy’s bathroom! So, I snapped a picture of them. If you are open to inspiration, you can find it in everything.
Where do you take chances in design?
My tendency is to use bold design statements in small amounts with small investments. Then if you tire of them, they can easily be changed and you don’t feel guilty about it, because they were not super-expensive. So, things like modern or bold lighting, artwork, pillows and accessories. These elements can add lots of impact to a space but can also be easily changed.
Who have been your industry mentors and role models, and how have they inspired you?
I have a handful of contemporaries who I immensely respect, and we are able to bounce ideas off of each other on occasion. I think the sharing of experiences is so helpful when you have your own business. As far as inspiration, I adore the work of David Hicks, Billy Baldwin, Melanie Turner, Steven Gambrel and Peter Dunham.
What is your favorite room in your home and why?
We have a large family room that I love spending time in. It is an open floor plan with three sets of French doors that look out into our back patio and yard. There are lots of comfortable places to sit, and each provides a slightly different viewpoint to enjoy the outdoors and the indoors. Most importantly, it is the place that we often gather as a family at the end of a day, for Christmas celebrations or for other important occasions. It’s a room that evokes many wonderful memories and those memories often ground me and help me focus on the most important things in my life.
If you could choose one designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?
Steven Gambrel — He has a very handsome, sophisticated style, but his spaces all have that great “lived in” quality.
Share one designer secret with us regular folk.
What’s inside the pillow is just as important as what the outside looks like. I prefer to use 70 percent feather and 30 percent down inserts in all my pillows. With this ratio of feathers to down, you will not have the quills of the feathers sticking through the pillows and sticking you!
What three home decor items can you not live without?
Books, lamps and pillows
Hypothetical: You have to choose only three colors to use throughout your home. What are the three colors?
This is so tough for me to answer! I just love color so much. I think I would definitely have to say green — it’s my favorite color. I would also throw in blue and then a dark neutral like chocolate brown or black. Arguably (you know I was a lawyer at one point), white is the absence of color, so we’re assuming white is also in the mix, right?!
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
A home that brings joy
Thank you, Mandi, for sharing your insights, inspirations and impressive design portfolio. To learn more about Mandi’s work, visit mandismithtinteriors.com.
And thank you to Birmingham Tours for the gorgeous images of Mandi’s work.
Check out the other interior designers we are crushing on HERE!