Co-owners of Providence Interiors, Julie Brown and Amber Thomas merge their differing aesthetics and shared love of design to create spaces that embody classic elegance with clean lines and a fresh look. The two came together in the spring of 2010, with a combined 30+ years of experience under their belts, to open a full-scale residential interior design firm. The pair have an uncanny ability to generate a sense of edited calm by thoughtfully establishing a neutral palette before adding interest. A glimpse of their talent in selecting the perfect pieces can be seen inside the stunning storefront on Bandywood Drive. Learn more about these lovely ladies, their design background and their tips for incorporating fabrics, art and trends into your home.
Tell us about your background. How did you get into design?
Julie: Our interest in the world of design began at an early age for both of us! I grew up in a home of do-it-yourselfers that encouraged creativity and hard work. My dad was an engineer and builder, and my mom was the most amazing creative! When my husband and I bought our first house, I made my own draperies, bedding and pillows, and repurposed furniture from garage sales and family members. Before long I had friends and friends of friends asking me to help them with their homes. When I met Amber, she had many of the same interests that complemented mine.
Amber: My interest in interior design also began at a very early age. My dad was an engineer, and my mom worked in an interior design studio and always had an interest in beautiful homes and furnishings. When I was 13, she let me completely re-design my bedroom. After that, many of my friends asked me to start helping them with their rooms. I began refinishing furniture, making flower arrangements and sewing pillows.That continued into adulthood, and I eventually decided it was time to make a business out of it!
We casually mentioned to each other on a beach trip that it would be fun to start a business together – and almost 10 years later, here we are! We started working out of our homes, which gave us flexibility when we were each taking care of our young families. A couple of years later, we stepped into the retail world, renting space inside the Shop Around the Corner in Franklin and inside Vignette in Brentwood before jumping into the deep end when we opened Providence Interiors over three years ago. We learned such valuable lessons in the early years that equipped us for running our successful retail store and design business today.
What is your design aesthetic and how does it set you apart?
Both: Our design aesthetic reflects classic elegance, with clean lines and a fresh look — classic meets modern. We love to layer various textures and add warmth with collected, unique items that tell a story. We begin by establishing a neutral palette, adding layers of textures and then creating a space that can go bold or subtle. We add pops of color in the accessories, pillows and art. Unique, one-of-a-kind items, some with age, are a must! We want to create interest and a feeling of a space evolving over time. That’s what sets us apart.
How do your aesthetics differ?
Julie: I tend to bring more of a classic, fresh, traditional perspective, while Amber tends toward more contemporary, clean, modern lines. Together we press each other to mix in unexpected elements. We want to avoid any formula and work hard to create unique, inviting, welcoming spaces that are not predictable.
At Providence Interiors, what design services do you offer?
Amber: We are a full-scale interior design firm. We do simple makeovers, complete renovations, and work with architects and builders on new construction. It all starts with a consultation to listen to the client and gain an understanding of the scope of the project. Then we begin casting a vision to meet the end goal of the client. Our design process is efficient and allows us to create a wonderfully collected and refined look. Every detail is planned, paint colors selected, furniture placed, fabrics chosen, custom furniture designed, along with window treatments, bedding, etc. We source everything our clients need to make their house a home, including the specialty hardware on an antique chest or the hand-made vase for fresh flowers in the powder bath. Our goal is to install everything in one day, while our client is out. It is so fun to have our clients walk in and see everything beautifully arranged and put together! Those are long, but very rewarding days!
What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
Amber: We were asked by the developers of 1212 to furnish a one-bedroom condo unit. It needed to have a big “WOW” factor, and yet it was a very small space. We were under a fast deadline and had to pull everything together quickly to make a big statement! We managed to get the unit painted, wallpapered, furnished, accessorized and even had Ed Nash create the perfect painting in a very short period of time. It was a rewarding experience, and the unit was beautiful!
What are your predictions for fall interior design trends?
Julie: We are seeing a lot more color, pattern play and florals in textiles. We still love neutrals and strongly value a neutral base, but it is exciting to see more color introduced. Wallpaper and tile have taken on a whole new life, and we love the impact each of them has. Wallpaper can really dress up a dining room or a powder bathroom. New tile designs are making statements in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms.
What design trend do you wish would go away, and what’s one that will never go out of style?
Amber: We’re glad to see the industrial trend give way to softer, warmer interiors. We’ve also seen too much faux shagreen furniture. But, it is really pretty in small doses, and perfect for accessories and boxes.
Julie: One trend that should never go out of style is natural materials. Textured and fabulous linen fabrics that have a beautiful weight and body to them are timeless. Also, organic natural items that can be used inside or outside create texture, interest and warmth.
What are your top tips for picking art?
Julie: Buy what you love! Art is so personal, and it needs to reflect the owner. When looking for art, go to art galleries to see it in person and find out the stories behind the artwork and the artists. When a connection is made with that story, the art becomes meaningful and sets the tone for a home or a space, whether it is the main focus in a room or a smaller accent on a shelf.
When selecting fabrics, do you lean towards prints or solids?
Amber: We definitely lean towards solids with texture for the first layer (upholstery, drapery, etc.) and then add the prints with pillows, drapery detail and smaller accent furniture. There are some amazing performance fabrics available today that are so nice and resist stains that allow for more flexibility when using solids in upholstery. Antique textiles, handmade designs and unique patterns add color, warmth and depth to a room.
If you could design one person’s home, who would you choose?
Julie: Vince Gill and Amy Grant! We would love to design a home for them. They seem to have such a gracious demeanor and are grounded in Nashville history. We think we would be a great fit!
What is your favorite part of the design process?
Julie: It is a process that begins as a business relationship but moves into a friendship. We love that. We have the privilege of walking with our clients through decisions that affect their home, where so much LIFE happens! We realize it is truly important for us to understand their lifestyle and to support their needs, their priorities and their dreams. It is our goal to create a home that reflects their personality, not ours. Sometimes that means creating a home that is very practical and resilient to kids and pets, but other times, creating a home ready for entertaining. Always, it becomes a home full of beauty and ready for welcoming friends.
How do you think Nashville’s design scene differs from that of the rest of the country?
Amber: We’ve travelled coast to coast looking for unique handmade goods, only to find Nashville has an amazing offering right here. We love the artisans who are right here, offering amazing handmade pottery, custom lighting, furniture, etc. Nashville is growing so fast, and we hope to be a part of keeping the Southern charm and feeling in homes across our city by supporting local artisans. Nashville is open to new and creative ideas, but still values the traditions and the warmth that is imbued here. From the moment you step into the doorway, Nashville says, “Come on in!” We want to help make that invitation easier and create places to share a meal, sit and relax, and build friendships!
What are some restaurants or businesses in Nashville that get it right, design-wise?
Amber: Germantown’s Butchertown Hall and a new Midtown restaurant, Henley. We also love Garden Variety. The owner purchased a historic house in the 12South area and has made it into an amazing shop full of antiques, art and unique items.
What are a few of your favorite pieces currently in stock at your retail boutique in Green Hills?
Julie: We have a wonderful antique Scandinavian dining table in our shop right now. It has an amazing patina, wonderfully worn with nicks and dings from years of use. It’s lovely. You can almost hear the stories that were told around it!
Would you share one designer secret with SB readers?
Amber: Hire a designer! Haha! In our office we quote Coco Chanel often — “Once you’ve dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” The same goes for interiors. Stand in your room, take one thing away and see what happens to the way you see it, or take away one thing in your bookcase and you start to see what remains. Often there are so many accessories in a space, you stop being able to see what is there — so take away, don’t merely rearrange or replace. Edit! Edit! Edit!
What are three household items you couldn’t live without?
Amber: A lovely candle, a cozy throw and fresh flowers.
Julie: Outdoor living space, a hot cup of coffee and unique travel finds.
If you could squeeze your design philosophy into five words, what would they be?
Both: Creating homes to be shared.
Learn more about Providence Interiors and the unstoppable ladies behind the designs here.
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