When I first moved to Charlotte, I was fortunate to land an internship at Circa Interiors & Antiques. Little did I know that this design firm would become such an important start to my career and that I would always be proud to be a part of the extended Circa family. Each designer I have worked for has had their own style…from how they create to how they interact with their clients and employees. Cindy Smith taught me so many invaluable lessons about running a business from the originality of the design process to always making the clients feel heard, understood and valued. She has been someone I have always looked up to and I was thrilled to interview her about what makes her “tick” and her creative process. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
When did you know you wanted to pursue design as a career and how did you get started?
I spent a summer in France and it changed my perspective on life. We lived in farmhouse and my French family took great care to make the most simple moments special. Great care and attention was paid to every detail from setting the table to preparing the meal, from how a napkin was folded to how flowers were arranged. It has stayed with me and inspired my lifestyle.
My mother was very influential to my aesthetic. She was a consummate hostess…she always had an open door policy and made everyone feel welcome. She also made everything beautiful, no matter how simple it was.
Forty six years ago I moved to Charlotte as a young bride and taught school. I started taking antique classes from local legend Ruth Scott and went to auctions and flea markets on the weekends. I began selling objects out of my home when my children were little. When we outgrew that, Circa was created with with two friends. We sold upholstery and antiques out of a small bungalow. When our doors opened, we sold out of everything right away! We were very fortunate with our timing….Charlotte was growing and everyone was ready for a new look and items from abroad. My mother had warned me, “Honey, what are you going to do if this is successful”
What is your creative process?
I create a blank slate in my mind and try to think of what I envision the final interior to be. It is more about the mood than the actual pieces at first. In my downtime, I scour old historical design and architecture books and always try to incorporate vintage textiles to give a room a little bit of soul.
What is your latest creative breakthrough?
Working on the upcoming Catbird furniture collection. I had been seeing voids in the marketplace for pieces that could truly inspire a room. Everything is machine produced and created for mass appeal. I had been yearning for a new challenge and struggling with what I wanted the collection to be. My dear friend Bobby McAlpine encouraged me to “Open my mind to the universe and stop putting on the brakes.” I took a weekend to reflect and the idea finally came to me to do a collaborative collection with people I admire. All of the creators are members of my tribe!
What has been the most pivotal moment in your career?
When I was first getting started, I was hired to do a house for a client who was on a three month trip around the world. They had an unlimited budget, but it all had to be complete upon their return.
Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect from Circa in the future?
We have a great group of designers and we are always looking for ways to enhance our business. We are looking forward to creating more great interior design projects, upcoming special events, and the launch of Catbird in March.
What do you want to be remembered for?
For being a good mother, grandmother and an honest, caring employer and designer. for being more interested in the relationships than in the bottom line.
Do you have any advice for budding designers?
Travel, read, expose your senses, know the market inside and out, be passionate about your work. It is a tough business and you have to love it!
Whose work do you admire?
Rose Tarlow for her clear voice, Bunny Williams for her kindest and versatility, Bobby McAlpine for his originality and support, and John Saladino for his unique modern perspective on design.
Who would be your dream client and why?
I love working with clients who have their own sense of style, who know what they want and like, are educated and have clear needs.
What is your dream vacation?
What is your secret vice?
Travel and buying for Circa. You have to be little bit “touched” to get up at 4 in the morning in the freezing cold French countryside for the thrill of the hunt!
What is your idea of bliss?
Being at Lake Martin mopping floors with six laughing grandchildren underfoot
What do you collect?
Tabletop everything! Glass, textiles, Victorian coconut bowls lined in silver
What is your favorite color?
An indescribable shade of green only found in nature
Favorite design trick?
It is all about the details! Highlighting doors with dark colors, custom nailhead designs, unusual finishing details on drapery and upholstery. I am always looking at things to see how I can tweak them and make them a little bit different.
Be sure to check out the Circa design blog for upcoming events in Charlotte and Birmingham as well as the launch of their upcoming Catbird Collection!