From Miniature Rooms to a Mini Empire

“Even sophisticated interiors should be filled with loved things,” says designer Dawn Driskill.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Designer traces her career from Chicago to California to Flat Rock

 

Dawn Driskill runs interior-design businesses on opposite ends of the country — so when she says she doesn’t do it alone, she really means it. Driskill oversees California-based Danville Interior Design Gallery (in the city by that name), which she founded 25 years ago. In Flat Rock, she has The Design Gallery — a firm she runs with fellow designer Betsy Edwards. 

She is quick to laud her colleagues at both locales: “I’m fortunate to work with six great designers and an incredible manager in California, and three gifted women here: Betsy, Cindi Stringer, and Mae Hight.”

The Chicago native was recently recognized by the American Society of Interior Designers at 2019’s Excellence in Design Awards, hosted by ASID’s Carolinas Chapter. Here, the entrepreneur dishes about a little something that pointed her toward her life’s work.

The moment you discovered design wasn’t as much an “a-ha moment” as a thunderclap.

Totally. The Art Institute of Chicago was a mere block away from DePaul University, where I was studying business. During the typically three-hour-long breaks between classes, I always headed there. I eventually recognized repeat visitors, got to know staff, and grew to love the artists through their work.

Did any particular display impress you?

An amazing permanent exhibit created in the 1930s, the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Sixty-eight model rooms depicted various areas within homes around the world that were typical of certain periods, like a 17th-century English parlor, a Colonial New England bedroom, or a traditional Japanese interior. They were designed by Narcissa Niblack Thorne, a Chicago artist and wife of James Ward Thorne, a Montgomery Ward co-founder’s son and an executive in his own right.  

It hit you hard.

I loved visiting that exhibit every time I stopped in. I learned all about architectural and interior design and became obsessed with textures, materials, colors, furniture styles, all of it.

Where did life take you after college?

My husband’s work took us to Toronto. We lived near a college with a great interior-design program. I jumped in and several years later, we moved back to the Bay Area, where I started Danville Interior Design Gallery 25 years ago. After moving to Hendersonville five years ago, I knew I wanted to start a satellite office here.   

How did you cross paths with Betsy Edwards [featured by CH+G in a past issue]?

I knew Betsy and I were meant to work together shortly after we met. We collaborate wonderfully. Our most recent project was the Champion Hills [Golf Club] Clubhouse refresh.

Do you concentrate on residential or commercial projects?

We do mostly residential work. Whether remodels or new construction, residential projects are emotional. You get close with clients, learn about how they live and their tastes, and try to communicate their vision authentically. Many of our commercial projects have been hospitality design, which requires different resources, tons of teamwork, building-code knowledge, and doing things on a bigger scale. I love [NFL coach] Vince Lombardi’s quote: “Individual commitment to a group effort — that’s what makes a team work.” 

A favorite thing about the design process?

[That] I’m constantly learning, and every bit of knowledge is stored for future projects. This and the magic that happens when designers’ ideas and knowledge coalesce.  

Any secrets you can divulge about your own home?

It’s my design lab, and always evolving. Everyone’s home is a living part of them and reflects their personality. As you grow and change, so should your home. … But no matter how sophisticated an interior is, it should still be filled with loved things that resonate with the owner.

Any design trends you’re loving?

I’m really into simplicity right now, not having a cluttered life. This goes hand in hand with greener values, and that’s important to clients now.

Do you have any of your own guilty design pleasures — watching HGTV, perhaps?

That’s not one, since I work in that world all day! What I really love is devouring the books of other notable designers.

The Design Gallery, 2682-A Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, 828-595-2226, thedesigngallerywnc.com. For more information, e-mail dawndriskill@yahoo.com.