With her successful interior design career (published in every major magazine and quite a few TV appearances), multiple product lines, popular design blog and now a monthly coaching program to help other designers, Tobi Fairley is a force in the interior design biz. It’s no wonder Traditional Home once wrote, “Tobi will be like Cher or Oprah … one of those women for whom one name says it all.” Tobi is admirably big on helping women create a balance between work, home and wellness in addition to being a successful interior designer. For this reason and more, we’re excited to introduce her as this month’s Interior Designer Crush.

Little Rock, Arkansas, designer Tobi Fairley is known for her feminine and business-savvy approach to design. Hydrangeas from the Fairley garden match her newly renovated kitchen. Cabinets are painted in a perfect shade of blue from C2 Paint.

When did you know you were destined to be an interior designer?

I used to stay up late as a child moving around my bedroom furniture. My mom would come in and find a completely different room by morning.

How did you learn about design, and how did you end up with your own design firm?

I didn’t start out in design. I first went to school for accounting, but it wasn’t my true calling. Immediately after finishing that first degree, I went back to school for interior design with a better business understanding. While back in school, I decided to add an MBA to the mix. So with these three degrees all completed, I was armed and ready to incorporate my two passions — business and design.

Gorgeous features in Tobi’s newly done master bedroom include Fromental digitally printed wallpaper and CR Laine upholstery.

“I wanted my master bathroom to feel timeless,” says Tobi, “and what could be more classic than black and white? The Greek key tile design is one of my favorite motifs that I use in my projects over and over again.”

Tobi’s client wanted to bring in color, and this sitting room shows that yellow really packs a punch. The sconces from Robert Abbey Fine Lighting add extra interest.

“Blue is a color that just about everyone can agree on,” says Tobi about this happy kitchen. “In this case, I went a little lighter with turquoise to give the whole room a bright and beachy feeling to start each morning just right.”

You are a “hyphenate” — designer, life coach and teacher, product designer — in addition to being a wife and mother. How do you juggle all of this? How did your Tobi Fairley coaching program come about, and how much of your time is spent on this aspect of your career?

I am vigilant with my schedule. I say no to a lot so I can say yes to what really matters, which is my family, my health and then my business, in this order. I started coaching other designers in their businesses 10 years ago when I founded my business consulting firm. Because of my accounting degree and MBA, I had the business education combined with my years of experience in running my own firm that I could offer to other creatives to help them succeed. So often when I worked with designers and creatives I found it was their mindset more than their business skill that was really holding them back. So I added life coach training to the mix, and now I coach creatives in all areas of life and business. How much time I spend on the coaching program depends on the week, but it is definitely a priority!

How would you describe your interior design style? Do you feel like your home base of Little Rock will always ground you as a traditional designer?

My style is a blend of bold traditional with a touch of glam. I like to push big pattern and bright color while creating a space that is equally beautiful and functional for my clients. My clients are mainly entrepreneurs who are looking for a home that is aesthetically pleasing while making their lives easier, so they can pursue their dreams. I don’t necessarily think that being based in Little Rock, in particular, is what impacts my style as a designer so much, but living in the South definitely does.

Tobi’s own backyard is swoon-worthy. Says the designer: “I think everything about my outdoor pool area screams old Hollywood Style! The checkerboard floor, chinoiserie furniture and pink upholstery make it look more resort hotel than southern backyard.”

Tobi fell in love with this Clarke & Clarke wallpaper with shades of pink and a pop of chartreuse and made it a focal point of this amazing dining room. “I took it a step further by painting the ceiling pink to make this space ultra-feminine,” she says.

Tobi’s clients wanted to be able to entertain as well as enjoy their living room every day, so she chose furnishings with durable fabrics and an inset tray in the coffee table that doubles as a bar, allowing this living room to transition from day to night.

Part of her Riverside Penthouse project, this dining room is one of the designer’s all-time favorite projects. The stunning de Gournay wallpaper has subtle hints of yellow, and lilac which was pulled out in the velvet dining chairs and painted ceiling.

Bold with a touch of modern: The custom cobalt watercolor wallpaper contrasts against the black and white tile striped floors, with cobalt upholstered doors making this entry memorable and chic.

Have you always embraced color so effortlessly? What are some of the bold ways you’ve used color lately?

Yes! I have always loved color and looked for ways to incorporate it into my designs. All my projects are about pushing the color envelope. One of my current jobs mixes navy and lavender with bold black and white, while another blends a muted celadon green with pops of chartreuse – I’m excited to see these projects come to life!

Who are your own design crushes, and what do you admire about them?

There are many. Dorothy Draper and David Hicks from past eras. Current designers who inspire me include many of my friends like Amanda Nisbet, Suzanne Kasler and Mark Sikes. I’ve always loved Bunny Williams and her idea of “entertaining through your home.” My family and I love to host parties and dinners for our friends and family, so creating spaces that bolster entertaining is a must.

This home was the perfect blend of updated farm house chic and bold color, says Tobi. The vaulted ceiling, beams, and stone fireplace all give this new construction the perfect farmhouse feeling.

“I love my new kitchen,” says Tobi. “The bistro tile floors, pale blue cabinets and all of my hard-working Thermador appliances … it’s the kitchen I’ve always dreamed of!”

A perfect mix of calm and fresh, this bedroom combines simple shiplap walls with bright green floral prints.

“I wanted to update my own living room from dreary ‘70s paneling to a soft gray paint with accents of cobalt, leopard print, and plum,” says Tobi. “The fireplace surround and hearth seat from Dekton make a beautiful statement.”

What are some of your go-to sources for furnishings and accessories in Little Rock and other cities around the southeast, as well as online? Where can people find Tobi Fairley products?

Believe it or not, I don’t do a lot of shopping. I source most of my design products through wholesale sources. But there are a few fabulous stores in the South I enjoy including Bear Hill Interiors in Little Rock and Blueprint in Dallas. As far as my Tobi Fairley product lines, most of my Woodbridge Furniture, CR Laine Upholstery, Soicher Marin art and Duralee fabrics are available on Perigold. Loom Decor has a selection of my Duralee fabrics available as pillows, bedding, drapery, Roman shades and more. You can even find a few of my art pieces for Soicher Marin at Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie.

Can you recall a design fail that helped you grow as a designer? And what has been your most challenging project to date?

I’ve worked with a lot of different clients, and the biggest issues have always been choosing the right client. Not everyone who comes to you is your ideal client, and bending your rules to get a client who isn’t someone you would normally work with is never a good idea.

If you could have any well-known person as a client, who would it be and why?

Well of course, it would have to be my favorite girl, Oprah.

Thanks to Nancy Nolan Photography for the beautiful photos.


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