In our monthly Interior Designer Crush series, we sit down and chat with our interior designer crush du jour to ask them 10 questions we’re dying to have answered. Today, we visit with Iris Thorpe of Iris&Co. Iris combines traditional and antique elements with modern art and contemporary accents, all while meeting her clients’ functional needs with their personal style, art and collections for spaces that radiate with timeless charm and unique personality. She also curates a fabulous collection of furniture, art, antiques, African artifacts, pottery, pillows, local crafts and more at her shop in Birmingham’s Cahaba Heights neighborhood. We asked Iris to describe her aesthetic, let us in on some tricks of the trade and give us a glimpse of her favorite design projects. We hope you enjoy!
What is your design aesthetic and how do you translate that to a client’s home?
I find inspiration by listening to my clients and working with their collections in a way that fits their lifestyles. It’s always a collaboration of the client’s taste with my own style, and I try to create a unique interpretation. My interiors are as diverse as my clients. Having lived in New Orleans for several years, I fell in love with the mixing of genre within the same room. I love the contrast and the element of surprise. Growing up in the South I have always had an appreciation for antiquities. I learned to make the formal antiques more approachable by mixing them in a casual setting. I prefer starting with the classics and combining with contemporary artwork for the perfect blend of old and new, time-honored and edgy.
Where are your favorite spots in Birmingham to source decor for a client’s home?
Are there any trends you’re loving at the moment, and, alternately, any timeless aspects of design that you cling to?
I tend to shy away from trends — they are not usually a wise expenditure of my clients’ money. Antiques, fine art and quality furniture will always be timeless and make any room look fabulous.
What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
Many years ago a client hired me, because she heard I was good with neutrals. As I presented each room to her, I realized she really wanted color and prints, but she still insisted she wanted neutrals. I worked very hard to blend the two styles, and today she has neutrals with accents of color and prints.
What brings you the most professional joy?
Of course, when a client loves their home, I could not be happier! And I love “the thrill of the hunt,” finding the perfect fabric, trim or piece of furniture for a room after a long search. It’s difficult just settling for an “OK” solution — it has to be the perfect match.
How does Birmingham’s design scene differ from the rest of the country?
Birmingham is very fortunate that we have a very sophisticated design community. And we have amazing architects who make our job much easier by supplying beautiful homes as a starting point. Designers here are quite talented with diverse tastes, which translates to Birmingham having a wide range of beautiful homes.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Read, read, read and go! You can always learn from someone with good taste, and there is nothing like learning from other designers, whether through books, magazines or the Internet. And I love to attend showhouses, home tours and museums. A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend a tour of the homes of Nancy Lancaster — priceless!
Who are your industry mentors and role models?
Gerrie Bremermann is my New Orleans favorite. Bunny Williams’ An Affair with a House is my favorite design book. Then there’s Suzanne Rheinstein, Michael Smith, Vicente Wolf — the list is endless! We could still be here tomorrow discussing this!
Share one designer secret with us regular folk.
Buy one great piece of furniture or art a year, and in 10 years, you will have 10 fabulous pieces!
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
Timeless, elegant, relaxed, quiet, artistic.
Thank you to Iris for sharing her design talents and insights. To view more of her gorgeous work or to contact Iris, visit irisandcompany.net or stop by her shop, Iris&Co., Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 3934 Crosshaven Drive, Cahaba Heights, AL, 35243.
Thank you to Jean Allsopp for the beautiful images of Iris’s work.
See who else we’re crushing on in our interiors archives. Click here and enjoy a look around!