Even as children, Julie Brown and Amber Thomas were designers in the making. They may not have known each other just yet, but they were destined to join forces to build Providence Interiors — a Nashville interior design business they launched in 2010. Their portfolio encompasses everything from downtown lofts to sprawling homes in Texas to the tranquil lobbies of a growing sauna studio enterprise. Additionally, the design duo has a Nashville-based showroom with upscale furnishings, art, rugs, coffee table books, barware, and beyond. Please welcome our newest Interior Designer Crush team, Julie Brown and Amber Thomas of Providence Interiors!
What inspired your design careers, and how did you team up?
Amber: When I was in the second grade, my mom let me redo my bedroom. She took me to an interior design studio where I selected wallpaper, fabric, carpet, bedside tables, and lighting. I found myself in design heaven and LOVED the process. After it was finished, some friends asked me to help them with their rooms. I was hooked!
Julie and I met when our boys became friends at school. We were both stay-at-home moms during that time, doing design work on the side. After the kids got a little older, we joined forces and took our business to the next level.
Julie: When I was growing up, my mom would take my sisters and me to the fabric store and make dresses for us. She eventually taught us to sew. She would let us pick out the fabric and the sewing pattern — I learned about fabric texture, color, and design by browsing the aisles and aisles of fabric. It was so exciting to see the finished product that started with a piece of fabric and a pattern.
I always have enjoyed making a room pretty and complete with pillows and drapery. When my kids were little, I sewed pillows, window treatments, and bedding for friends, which moved to broader decorating help, which grew into a love for interiors and creating homes where families could live, work, and play together.
Amber and I met when our sons became friends in middle school. We were both at a place where we wanted to step into the design world a little more, and we casually talked about doing something together when our families were on a vacation trip together. A few weeks later, Amber called me and said, “Really, I’m serious; let’s start a business together!” We started off doing design work out of our homes and then worked with a couple of stores in Franklin and Brentwood to sell furniture and accessories. That experience evolved into our current business model of an interior design studio with a retail showroom. We found the perfect setting in the Courtyard on Bandywood 10 years ago and have been there ever since — and we are so glad we did.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Amber: Warm, layered, and collected! I like mixing modern with vintage pieces to create a cozy, textural, inviting space. Clean lines, a neutral base, and a few antiques are a good foundation for creating a timeless space.
Julie: Our aesthetic is what I would call classic and clean, with textural layers and collected, storied items added in.
What is your favorite project to date?
Amber: My husband, Steve, and I are currently building our personal home, so it’s been fun to have the freedom to do exactly what we envision. I have enjoyed designing each space and selecting wonderful materials to use throughout the house. The process has stretched me and pushed me to think outside the box. It will be so satisfying to live in a home surrounded by the things I love.
Julie: Each project is different, so this is a hard one. My favorite project is one where the homeowner has an appreciation for what we do and trusts the decisions we make based on the years of experience we bring to the table. I love the process of getting to know our clients so we can help bring their dreams to fruition. It can be overwhelming with all the selections and decisions, but we take time to listen and learn as much as we can on the front end so we can present the best options.
What design elements are you most excited about this year?
Amber: Texture and color! I love spaces layered in texture. It makes a space cozy and inviting. I’m so happy that wallpaper is back. It adds another layer that creates interest and makes a space feel more designed. And, finally, color is back! The all-white walls and bleached furniture were pretty but somewhat boring. We have made our way back to creating more timeless, eclectic spaces with pops of color to keep it interesting.
Julie: I’m glad to see a little more traditional flavor make its way back into the design world. I like that things are moving toward a cozy, warmer look, with pattern and color having more of a presence. We always want a space to feel welcoming and inviting, whether it is a modern, classic, traditional, or casual setting. But the emphasis now seems to include richer combinations of color and florals with softer patterns. I don’t want to go back to a full-on floral room, but a touch of floral that has some play in scale and color sounds nice.
What inspired your shop in Green Hills, and what should we come in for?
Amber: When Julie and I started our business together, there weren’t many places to shop for our clients. So, we made many trips to Atlanta! We decided it would be a better use of our time and give us better pricing if we opened up a retail space. It has also served as an office space for our design team and showcases our design aesthetic, which has proven valuable in attracting new clients. We carry many different lines of upholstery, lighting, case goods, art, and accessories.
Julie: We couldn’t find what we needed for our design projects in the local retail available at the time, and we wanted to have better access to art, lighting, and accessories. We wanted to create a retail experience through displays and combinations of the collected furnishings and lovely accessories you would see in a beautiful home. We have an amazing team to help our customers with selections of upholstery, tables and case goods, rugs, lighting, accessories, and books, whether custom or right off the floor.
You partner with a lot of talented local and regional artists. Who should we have on our radar?
Amber: Ed Nash, Kayce Hughes, and Kristen Phelps continue to be a few of my favorites. Ed’s layering of color and texture is so beautiful and works in any space. I love Kayce’s beauty-in-simplicity approach. Kristen’s use of color can really make a space come to life.
Julie: Nashville has great artists and makers. Karen Davis is newer to my radar and makes beautifully detailed tole botanicals. We are preparing a few of her floral pieces for the retail floor, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out.
What piece of design advice can you offer us to elevate our homes?
Amber: Invest in quality lighting and upholstery. Home design is very similar to fashion design — a quality handbag and shoes elevate any outfit. You can layer in other less expensive items and still get a great look.
Julie: Edit, edit, edit. Everything doesn’t need to be the star of the show. Let some things play a supporting role. I generally think less is more, but the things remaining need to be great-looking things with meaning that make sense together.
What is your favorite space or design element in your own home, and why?
Amber: The kitchen. That is where people congregate and where I spend a lot of time. For those reasons, it needs to function well and be a comfortable, beautiful place. We love to entertain and often have weekend guests that we cook for. We decided to incorporate a scullery so we can cook many dishes at once and have an area that can stay messy for a few hours while we host and entertain our family and friends. My favorite purchase for the kitchen is our new Lacanche Range! It is a French range, so it functions well and creates a beautiful focal point.
Julie: I love the rooms in my home that get the most natural light, with bigger windows. My favorite room is my front living room, where I enjoy quiet time in the morning by myself, with my coffee and my Bible. It’s simple neutral upholstery, a couple of antiques, lovely art, collected books, accessories, and only low lighting from lamps. It doesn’t have shelves or bookcases, so there isn’t much room for display, but the things that are there are intentional. It’s comfortable and is flooded with the early morning sun.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world — be it another designer or a dream client, who would it be?
Amber: Marie Flanigan is currently my favorite designer. I love how she mixes materials and incorporates antiques and natural elements into her design. She also thinks outside the box and comes up with creative solutions for many design challenges. I believe working with her would push me creatively.
A dream client would be anyone with a beautiful, modern mountain home in Aspen, CO. Steve and I spend a few days walking through beautiful homes every time we go there. I would love to get my hands on one!
Julie: I loved meeting Bunny Williams in our store last year. She talked about her own home and how her things were collected over time. She selected items that were special to her, not trendy or fancy necessarily. That was refreshing!
Can you share your design philosophy in five words?
Amber: Curated, timeless, functional, aesthetic, inviting.
Julie: It’s more than five words, but “Buy what you love, and you’ll find a place for it.”
Where are your favorite local places to find inspiration and design pieces?
Amber: After attending furniture markets a few times a year, many retail stores can begin to look the same. I am inspired by well-curated shops with natural elements and antiques mixed in. I love going to Robin Rains’ antique store inside the Nashville Design Collective. The Iron Gate is another one of my favorites. Rozanne does an amazing job of mixing materials and using items found in nature.
Julie: Robin Rains, Iron Gate, MarketPlace Interiors.
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