Interior designer Todd Stricklin hails from Yazoo City, Mississippi, but he admits he was really a child of the world. “My childhood was filled with some amazing trips to wonderful places,” says the Memphis-based furniture and accessories designer, who has designed nature-inspired pieces for John Richard, Neiman Marcus and others. “My mother was always interested in taking us to museums and to cities with incredible architecture. She would buy me books on art, and I was always coloring, sketching and painting. I was fortunate to have such an amazing mother who was really supportive and encouraged all my creativity.” Laughing, he adds, “She would take trips, and I would redecorate her house. She’d come home and say, ‘I like it, but put it back the way it was.’” Today, Todd does the same thing in his own home, redesigning regularly based on his changing collections and whims. “My space constantly evolves,” he says. “And my partner of 27 years will tell you that if he were blind, he’d have bruises all over his knees. Everything moves.”
Tell us how you got your start in design. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
I’ve always known, and I’ve always been really creative. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m very ADHD. But I think, for people with this kind of thought process who are mostly right-brained, it’s a curse; it’s what we have to deal with.
Where did you study, and what were some of your earliest jobs?
I attended Delta State University and also Westville College in Massachusetts. I have a degree in design. For my first job in the field, I was a product and packaging designer for an ad agency in Atlanta. I would actually design packaging for different products — cosmetics, food — we had a wide range of clients. I once designed a label for oil cans.
How did lighting design and accessory design become your particular niche?
It was really by accident. I think one of the best traits of a really good designer is how they light a home. That’s very important to me, and I started thinking, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could design my own lighting? A lot of my lighting started out as custom pieces, and I would actually fabricate them. I took clients’ personal pieces and lit them for their home, and it kind of took off from there. Antique statuary, wrought iron pieces. I’ve made lamps out of mannequins, bowling balls. Whatever the room dictated or if it was just a touch of whimsy that was needed. I think anything, if it’s treated well in the design process, could be a lamp. My first job designing lighting was with the John-Richard Collection, a high-end design company. I did some wonderful things for them, and they’re still for sale.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
One of the things that is really unique about what I do is that I tend to look at shapes everywhere. I see the shapes around the space too, the negative space. That’s where a lot of my designs come from — how the shapes look that surround the space. One of my lamps is a ginkgo leaf lamp, and I love the shape of the ginkgo leaf and how when you put them together in this lamp it creates such a nice balance in that space. I really pay attention to how close things are, how the shapes relate to each other. And I think it’s really important, every nuance of the spatial relationship, when I’m designing.
A lot of my designs are inspired by nature or architecture, and everything in nature inspires me. I collect sticks. I’ll find interesting sticks, and I just have a stack of sticks on my veranda. Each one of them has come from a different place that inspired me, whether it’s New Orleans or Rome. On my little veranda area there’s a pile of sticks that somebody would just throw away, but I would kill them. Rocks, seashells … those all seem simple, but I take them and use them in a way that’s very different.
Who are your industry role models or mentors, and why?
I think Tara Shaw is one of the most incredible designers. She has such a cool, sophisticated neutral palette. And my books are great resources. The book that’s inspired me the most was called Epoustouflant: The Style of David Snyder. David was a remarkable, ingenious interior designer, and he designed store windows. His style was just amazing, and he was a major influence. But Tara Shaw is a current “someone to watch.” And then, believe it or not, Tom Ford, who got his start as a fashion designer for Gucci, has become the guy to watch. He does movies, set design and still does fashion. He’s just got his finger on the pulse of everything.
I cruise the internet like crazy for design resources. And one of my best design resources that influences me is 1stdibs. They deal in every type of antique, from postmodern to 17th and 18th century French and English. I also think to be a good designer, you have to look at every magazine on the market. I think you have to pay attention to trends and not be trendy.
Tell us about the hallmarks of your work. What’s your go-to aesthetic, if given free reign? How do you translate that to a client’s space?
I always treat any room I see as a blank canvas, even if it’s full. But the first thing I do is ask a client, what one thing in this room is your favorite? Just one thing. They’ll show me, and say, “I love this rug” or “I love that mirror” or “I love this piece of pottery.” I say, “What about it do you love? The shape, color, texture or where you got it?” Most of the time it’s because of where it came from. And I say, well, how would you feel if this room looked like an Italian room? Whatever inspires them is the direction I will take. And it’s successful for the most part. Most people have a favorite object in the room, and you can build a whole design scheme around that.
You’ve already told us your house is constantly evolving. Tell us more about how you approach designing your own space.
Nothing stays in the same place. I change things up, move things around. If I’m feeling down or blue, I go to work in my own home. My favorite thing to do is play with art. I have a huge art collection, and I’ll take a wall and just litter it with art — and mirrors. I love mirrors.
I think an important part of any collection is that it’s eclectic. If something is too matchy-matchy, as we say in the South, it’s boring. I don’t want there to be a safe place in a room for my eyes to stay. I want there to be excitement. I want to look around and have every little vignette speak to me. I always treat it like my mother used to dress — look in the mirror before you leave, and take one thing off. It’s the same thing to dress a room.
What’s your favorite project or piece you’ve ever completed?
My most favorite interior design job was designing a bar to make it look like Sardi’s restaurant in New York City for my client. She had collected a bunch of Hirschfeld original drawings, and we turned her sunroom into a little speakeasy like you would find in New York, and it turned out great. The walls were black, and we had dozens of those Hirschfeld drawings scattered on the walls about an inch apart so you never knew the walls were black. And there were glass shelves that I lit from the floor and ceiling and put all of her barware on there. It kind of glowed out into her yard.
Name some of your favorite local design resources.
I do love to go into antiques shops, of course. I love Palladio and Market Central. I’m wild about some of the things they’re doing at La Maison because they’re not just dealing in antiques; they’re doing my thing that I love — they incorporate the new with the old. That’s so important. Then I go to hardware stores. I get influenced from parts. I love vintage shops. I think there’s nothing better than vintage jewelry to inspire me to do chandeliers and lamps. I have boxes of collections of vintage pieces. I’m a hoarder of wonderful things.
What’s something outside your design life that others should know about you?
My passion is design, but my love is our dogs. I support every dog organization in this city as much as I can. All of my dogs are rescues. They’re the most important things in my life, and I encourage people, as everyone says, to have your pet spayed or neutered. In general, I can’t do enough for animals, but dogs are my passion.
Thank you to Todd for taking the time to share his story, insights and amazing gift for design. To view more of Todd’s work or to contact him, visit toddstricklin.com.
And thanks to Micki Martin of Micki Martin Photography for the fabulous photo of Todd!
Stay in the know! Subscribe to StyleBlueprint and be connected to the best of Memphis.