Her : “Blonde, super-curly, and she’s short,” said publicist Julianne McCollum of Yellow Duck Marketing.
On the Level: Tall, bald and malnourished-looking.
The Place: Rooster’s, Jim Noble’s nouvelle Southern bistro in SouthPark.
Lunch at the bar: The banh mi, shared, and a pile of pommes frites; water for her, and an Arnold Palmer for OtL.
The story: Hers. She’s a Charlotte interior designer, 51, owner of Metropolitan Design. Her narrative arcs from country girl to student of international management at Pace University in New York City, and thence to Midtown Manhattan’s Garment District, to wife of banker Joe Nenichka, to mother of four in London, to her switch of careers in Charlotte, and finally to her recent recognition by houzz.com, the de rigueur site for homeowners to shop for architects and interior designers.
Word is you have a great story. I do. I was raised in the country, in Cunningham, Pa., where my father ran the local chamber of commerce. And then we moved to Hoboken (N.J.), where he ran their chamber. It was a terribly dramatic move, but I wouldn’t take that experience (away) for anything.
You studied international management in college? I went to school and was the typical teenager and didn’t know what to do. But then I got into the game of fashion design. I started as a receptionist, then sales and then I got to go to Dallas, which was very exciting, so many rich people. I just loved working in the Garment District (in Midtown Manhattan). And that’s when I went into production, cutting tickets, and I got to. . .
Cutting tickets? It’s a list of fabric pieces to be cut. I basically just organized everything. I got to go to Hong Kong. I went with one of those folding suitcases.
A garment bag. I came back, it had to be flat open because it was stuffed with all the stuff I bought. I went to work for Dior, from Seventh Avenue (the Garment District) to (more advertising firm-oriented) Madison Avenue, and did production there.
How old were you around this time? Oh, I was young when I went into the garment industry, a teenager.
You did this while in school? I didn’t finish school. I got a job instead. I started to work for more designers at Dior, but didn’t really have anywhere to go up there, but (my boss) wrote me a fabulous letter of recommendation and let me continue to work there until I got a job working for a company that did work for Victoria’s Secret, some private-label lines; we did an exclusive line for JCPenney. Then I was on an airplane most of the time. I went to New York once a week, Hong Kong four times a year. I loved working there. I was in Women’s Wear Daily, twice! Got to go to places like St. Tropez.
What did you do in all those places, other than sunbathe? I was looking for fabric trends, taking pictures of all kinds of fabrics and bringing goods back. I liked spotting trends, seeing what was coming. After I found fabrics I liked, and we would sit down and figure out which ones we would use, and I’d go to Istanbul. . .
When I hear “Istanbul,” I think of the way Sydney Greenstreet said it, asking Peter Lorre if he’s coming to Is-tan-bul,
to keep searching for the Maltese Falcon. I went to Istanbul to find factories to make the fabrics I had found. After six years (with Victoria’s Secret), I came to Charlotte.
Istanbul to Charlotte. Was that a direct flight? My husband got a job here, at Wachovia; he’s at Bank of America now, at Merrill Lynch. I guess here I’m supposed to say something nice about Charlotte. Don’t put that in. Really, it’s a great place to be. It’s been a great place for me to be, to start having babies. He was transferred to London; it was a fabulous adventure.
I took classes there in interior design.
With kids and a husband and a house in London to maintain? I left for London with two (children) and had two more in London. They’re 18, 16, 14 and 12.
Nicely spaced. I like to be busy. I’m a better mother working than I am staying at home. I’m not a perfect mother or a perfect designer, but I’m good at both. In ’98, he was brought back, and we moved right back into our old neighborhood, Piper Glen. A neighbor friend told me I needed to go back to work. I went to work for Gail Brinn Wilkins, who is like a legend in Charlotte interior design. She’s a real presence. Even now, if she were to walk in here, you would know it: 5′-9″ or 5′-10″, a lot of hair, pink lipstick.
A diva? Knows how to command a room? The cynosure of all eyes? Let’s just say she has personality, is a force to be reckoned with. It was a great place to learn. When I met here, she asked when I could start. I said, “I don’t know. I have kids at home.” And she said, “How about tomorrow?” I stayed there about two years and left to start my own business in 2005.
What’s your design philosophy, your aesthetic? I like space. I can see what it will look like. I can see it in my mind. I love to do renovations. I love to do bathrooms. Bathrooms, when I was growing up, were utilitarian, and now they’re a spa, a retreat.
Give us an example. I did a 36,000-square-foot hospice center in Pembroke, N.C. It has a center circle, with wings off it. I brought outside fieldstone into it, through the central lobby; it looks like a creek, without the water.
If I came to you and said, “I have a three-room apartment in Plaza Midwood and an Ikea budget,” could you do that, and for an Ikea-range fee? I would have to go to those Ikea-budget stores, and I don’t shop.
Don’t shop? I create. I can, and do, shop, to accessorize. I did a job where we needed two barstools, and got them at a Blacklion store for $69 apiece. But don’t generally shop. I don’t do thrift stores, though a lot of designers do. I’m not a snob, but your job would be hard for me.
You spend a lot of time in other people’s houses. Do you snoop? Look in their underwear drawers? I do spend a lot of time in people’s homes. You’re more partly a psychotherapist than a snoop. He has ideas and she has ideas, and you have to go somewhere in-between. It’s a real adventure, and I love adventures. I have an architect friend who told me that you reach a point in your career where you either diverge and continue to design for the masses or make a statement. I just keep on diverging.