Betsy Edwards: It’s the Little Things

“I was too young to be intimidated,” says Flat Rock designer Betsy Edwards about the early stage of her career creating spaces for world-class resorts. Photo by Tim Robison
“I was too young to be intimidated,” says Flat Rock designer Betsy Edwards about the early stage of her career creating spaces for world-class resorts. Photo by Tim Robison

Interior architectural designer Betsy Edwards approaches her work like an anthropologist — unearthing a client’s lifestyle, tastes, and preferences — and creates beautiful spaces as a result of peeling back these subjective layers. Lots of world travel, courtesy of design work for world-class resorts, brought Edwards into contact with diverse cultures, aesthetics, and people.

Based in Flat Rock, Edwards infuses her design philosophy with a healthy mix of practicality and no-holds-barred joy as she transforms spaces, including deftly adapting objects for creative reuse. Here, she talks about the value of research (balanced always with gut instinct).

Your anthropological approach to design is impressive.

I really try to find out about the client’s history — where they’re from, if they’re a couple, a bit about their kids, and what they’re drawn to. I ask about favorite colors, books, and activities — vacations will tell you a lot about a family. I also plan for the client’s future needs, whether aging, additional children in the future, or other considerations. Then I let the space speak to me. I can pretty much see a space fully designed when I’m walking through it.

You had some great adventures early in your career …

Absolutely — I worked for Disney Hotels and Hyatt International early on, and one of my first trips was to Mauritius. I remember making a big presentation to a room full of 20 men, and I was just 28 years old. I was so enthusiastic about the project, it didn’t even occur to me to be intimidated until after it was over. I was 22 when I designed all the light fixtures for a huge 1,200-room hotel — it was lots of fun.

Did you grow up in a home where art and design were important, or were you a maverick?

I’m the oldest of four girls and definitely the gypsy. As small children, my sister Susan and I would get up at the crack of dawn on weekends and go through an entire pack of typing paper drawing houses and neighborhoods until it was light enough to go outside. Then we’d build rooms out of leaves, branches — whatever we could find in the yard.

Any unusual challenges you’ve faced?

I worked on a project in Nice, France, and though I spoke no real French, I was able to get what I needed done through sketches and what I call “interpretive dance.” It involved 12-hour-days and intense work, but I learned that people who craft homes for a living do so out of love. They’ll give you the world if you show respect for their talent.

Locally, I just finished a great renovation on a Beaverdam [North Asheville] farmhouse, a magical place on 17 acres. We added a main-floor master suite so the client can stay there for the rest of her life. We also updated her kitchen, rather than starting from scratch. I don’t always think it’s necessary, or right, to change everything just for the sake of change.

You don’t just rush in and demo a space to death.

No. I carefully assess existing spaces and look at potential changes critically. I’m sensitive about building upon what came before — something draws one to a place for a reason; I try to find out what it is.

What was a favorite recent project, and why?

I finished a new-construction second residence for a client in Florida almost two years ago. I loved working with this project’s very talented artisans. It’s a fun Ralph Lauren-meets-Morocco affair — lots of romantic shapes and colors, with the beautiful ocean as the backdrop. One project was based on a Palm Beach fountain piece that’s at least 100 years old — a majolica fish sculpture — that had been at the client’s aunt’s home for decades. I had it restored — decalcified, cleaned, replaced missing parts and colors — and it now resides beautifully above the bar sink, a definite conversation piece. We also did a custom Moroccan tile floor and a great light fixture of pierced silver. All the house’s colors were pulled from that fish.

What are your favorite spaces to take on?

Definitely kitchens and bathrooms. They’re where you do such important things, like take care of your family, entertain, or relax. My hotel and restaurant work helped me gain insight into the little things that bring people comfort and luxury, like great lighting.

What do you do with a rare free moment?

I love to paint with watercolors and enjoy taking classes and meeting other artists. The process requires many sittings, each time adding or taking something out.

Secret design yearning?

To this day, I still long to have a tepee. I’ve saved images for years!

For more information on Betsy Edwards, see her website, www.betsyedwardsdesign.com. Contact Betsy at 828-707-5255.