Ami Austin may have come to interior design after a career in the business and financial side at IBM, but she says the bottom line in both industries is the same. “It is about customer service, commitment and solving problems. That is what designers do with their clients, right?” Ami began working at age 12, and says she’s held every job imaginable. “I have always loved the sense of all things beautiful, and the only way for me to have what I wanted was to work for them,” she says. Ami not only offers design services to her clients, she recently opened a brick-and-mortar resource studio in Midtown — P&B Design Source — that caters to regional designers. A native Memphian with deep Delta roots, Ami and her husband, Randy, live in a circa 1928 home, and when she’s not helping clients fulfill their design dreams, she’s spending time with her family and traveling.
Was interior design always an interest of yours? Was there one “a-ha” moment for making the leap into interior design?
I can honestly say that I have always had a keen eye for all things beautiful. As a child, I would love to decorate, collect and plant flowers. I suppose I did not see that as a career path early on, and I did not know how to go about it. I can’t look back on that because all my life, I feel like I have been in the right place at the right time, and each path has led and prepared me for the one I have now. The “a-ha” moment was when I had a chance to look at what made me happy and say, “This is real, and this is what I am going to do.”
What are you influenced by, and how does that get translated in design?
I can be influenced by the smallest detail or the largest vision. Taking in the color, the scent or the texture of something evokes something in me that I can’t quite describe. The petal of a flower can spark the influence of an entire room. The texture of a fabric can bring a sense of feeling or mood that I want to convey. Light — and how it changes moods — is always in my mind. I am influenced in my day-to-day work by my clients and their dreams and goals to give them a sense of space and place. Working together to bring their homes and businesses into a space that says, “I am happy here, and this is where I want to be,” is my ultimate goal.
You’ve opened P&B Design Source, which is a resource for other designers and consumers, and also showcases your own Parker Lauren by Ami Austin line. What led you to pursue these other facets of the industry?
Years ago, I was a partner in another interior design business that catered to the design community. When I dissolved my partnership and started my private practice, many of the designers who worked with us asked me to open a studio to help them procure lines for their clients. I have worked hard to garner many trade relationships that are in some cases exclusive to me. I wanted a business name that did not reflect the name “Ami Austin” for this trade business, so that they would not be in conflict with their clients. So, I named my business P & B Design Source, for Parker and Buddy, my grandchildren. The Parker Lauren line, named after my granddaughter, was branded in part to leave a legacy for her. Also, I have many custom products I am designing and manufacturing, and I wanted them to have their own brand representation. We have commercial and residential offerings that are just right for designers and architects to specify and for us to fulfill.
What has been your most challenging project to date, and why?
In a perfect world, freight would arrive with a beautiful bow, and the package would be opened and everyone would say, “Oh, perfect!” However, for one design job I had, 80% of the freight was damaged, and not just one time, but multiple times. Staying on top of all facets of the job from start to finish is essential. Finding the right relationship with a client is also very important. Sometimes it is like a blind date; you know when it is right and when it isn’t. Though, I always keep in mind that this is a job first, and I am expected to deliver and be professional.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? How do you translate that aesthetic to a client?
I am very happy to say that I do not have one particular style. I would cringe if someone came into a client’s home and said, “Oh, it looks like Ami Austin has been here.” I love pleasing my clients on a one-on-one basis. Achieving a goal for them is what I seek to accomplish. If I do have one guilty pleasure, I think it is always liking the surprise of one glamorous or totally unique feature that says, “Now isn’t that fabulous!”
How does Memphis’s design scene differ from that of the rest of the country?
Memphis is quite sophisticated and has some hidden gems you wouldn’t believe. While I have friends who are designers across the country, we all have our styles and our preferences. I think to support your local design community is big, but I also think as a designer, you have to think big. I never stop learning from other designers and craftsmen, because I don’t want to be stale. I want to bring life and love to my jobs, and an edge to design. This is one reason I look for so many exclusive products. I am disappointed when I see the same old thing. I think resources are abundant if you know where to look for them, and I believe we have that talent in Memphis. Just because you don’t see something today, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I am excited for next year and to be participating in the Art by Design Showcase benefiting Arts Memphis in the spring. All I can say is look out!
What’s your best piece of design advice?
Work with a designer who loves you and your vision. This is a relationship, so trust is key. The sky is the limit in possibilities if you trust and share with one another. Don’t dream small, but set a budget so everyone is on the same page. Big or small, you will both win!
Our thanks to Ami for sharing her design world with us!
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