Dryden Architecture and Design (DAAD) has wowed us with their architecture and design work at local spots, including Noelle and Rare Bird, and with local luminaries, including Lily Aldridge, Dierks Bentley and Kings of Leon. Their ability to preserve architectural integrity has made DAAD revered in the world of design, both commercially and residentially. On the residential side, Mary Kate Edwards heads up the interior design team. She returned home to Nashville after a stint in New York City studying at Parsons School of Design, The New School and working for notable firms such as Drake Anderson, MR Architecture + Decor and Weitzman Halpern. She brings a philosophy that focuses on creating homes that are elegant, restful and occasionally unexpected, and in the end, that feel like an extension of the homeowner. Her expertise in all things design, plus the level of care she gives to each client, is why Mary Kate is our current Interior Designer Crush!
Tell us about your experience and background in design.
Like a lot of other designers, I was always rearranging the furniture and building houses out of LEGOs as a kid. And then I got a degree in psychology, of all things! As it turns out, psychology ended up fostering my love of design. I strive to create spaces that positively affect those who inhabit them. I moved to New York to pursue an interior design degree from Parsons School of Design. After school, I had an amazing opportunity to work under David Mann at MR Architecture + Decor. It was a crash course in design history, scale, color, texture – everything! I left with a high degree of integrity for design and a passion for laboring over the details that I carry with me today. I also worked at Drake Anderson, formerly Jamie Drake Design, extending my experience in high-end residential interiors. I had the opportunity to work on a range of residential projects all over the country during my time in New York — townhouses in the West Village, apartments on Park Avenue, grand scale Hamptons summer homes among other things. Armed with those experiences, I moved my family back down South to join DAAD.
What is your design aesthetic, and how does it set you apart?
I like to design homes that are elegant, thoughtful and feel like an extension of the client. While I definitely skew modern, I love marrying different styles and periods in one space. There should always be something unexpected! Now that I have young children, I also value durability and practicality in a way I didn’t before. Rooms should continue to look beautiful with use, whether it’s cocktail parties or play dates.
What talents do you bring to Dryden Architecture and Design (DAAD)?
DAAD is known around Nashville right now for their really great commercial work as well as striking residential architecture. Many people don’t know that we also do residential interiors. Because of my background in residential interior design with firms in New York, Nick brought me on to focus on the residential side of things. One of the great things about joining a firm in this capacity is the resource of other talented designers and architects right in the office next to me.
Upon returning home, what surprised you most about Nashville and its growing interior design scene?
The sheer size of it! I was not expecting there to be a design district here. There is a really, really talented community of designers here. It feels very supportive.
Where did you gain your appreciation for maintaining architectural integrity?
My grandfather was an engineer. Growing up around someone who had such an appreciation for structure, both past and present, was influential for my design sense. I remember passing by bridges he had built and him describing to me the way supports arced in a certain way to support the weight. I didn’t really know what he was talking about then, but his language and passion for it were beautiful.
How do you marry lessons in international design with a Southern aesthetic?
Being back in the South has renewed my appreciation for traditional design. There’s such a taste for it here. Because I already love mixing styles and periods, this just gives me a bigger toolbox to pull from. Mixing a contemporary sculptural chair and mid-century French lighting with an heirloom English bureau is right up my alley. I’m starting to say there’s a bit more prep in my step, just a bit.
Do you have a favorite space in the home to design?
The living room. There is so much that happens in living rooms these days. Creating a space that not only functions as cocktail hour, cozy reading nook and movie night but is beautiful is one of my favorite challenges.
Tell us a little about your own home. Do you find designing your own space easier or harder than working with a client?
I find my own home so much easier to design! I don’t feel the need to be perfect, so I can take bigger risks. It’s not always perfect, and I’m okay with that in my own home. I’m only going to put something in a client’s home if I know for certain it’s going to be perfect. Our home is ever evolving because of that. Our house is also filled with prototypes. My husband has a background in and passion for furniture, so our house is filled with things he has made. It’s very personal for me. I try to do that for my clients too.
What is a favorite room in your home and why?
Right now, it’s our dining room. We’re trying to instill in our still very young kids the importance of family dinner, so most nights it’s where we’re hearing the new songs our 3-year-old learned at school. And then his little sister, who still can’t talk, claps for him. I’m smiling just thinking about it now.
Where do you take chances in design?
I love interesting lighting. It’s like jewelry for a room. It’s an opportunity to make a big statement by playing with scale or juxtaposition.
What local design resources are your go-tos?
In Nashville, I love Eneby Home for vintage and Wilder for contemporary pieces. Close enough, one of my favorite stores is Revival in Chattanooga, and of course, I always love the treasures I find at Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta.
What has been your most challenging project to date, and why?
Many years ago, I worked with my dad for one of his men’s stores here in Nashville, Haymakers. It was relatively early in my career, I was managing the project from New York, and I was the only woman working with a team of men who had been working together for years — and it was for family! There were many potential pitfalls (let’s just say I learned a lot of lessons), but I think it turned out great. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
What has been your most rewarding project to date and why?
When I was first starting design school, I renovated my parents’ place at the beach. I’ve definitely had more aesthetically adventurous clients, which can be more rewarding in a design sense, but the beach house is the gift that keeps on giving!
What/who is currently inspiring you?
My husband. He constantly has ideas he’s sketching. I love bouncing ideas off of him and building on those as a team.
If you could choose one designer to redo your home right now, who would it be?
Pierre Yovanovitch. I love the honesty and stillness of his work, while still incorporating whimsy and interest.
If you could design one person’s home, who would it be?
My husband’s aunt and uncle have a place on a little island in Maine that we go to every year. It’s the perfect little cottage by the water — but could use a few upgrades. I’m dying to get my hands on it!
What are three household items you couldn’t live without?
My Vitruvi stone diffuser — an aroma can really change my mood; I’ve come to rely on it.
A throw blanket. My favorite is one my aunt knitted for us. It’s so chunky that it’s actually arm knitted, and it’s the most beautiful Adriatic blue color … both beautiful and practical.
A Dustbuster! For very practical purposes. And everything looks better vacuumed.
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
Personal, thoughtful, elevated, fun and, in the words of Donna Meagle, “Treat Yo Self!” (More than five words, I know.)
Thank you to Mary Kate Edwards for continuing to inspire us through thoughtful design.
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