Designer Series: “Experienced Design” with John-William’s Babs McMaude
Babs McMaude is the longest tenured interior design professional at John-William Interiors. We talked about her long and successful career, her experiences working with clients (many who have become close friends), and the reason why she’ll never stop doing what she loves.
- How long have you been an interior design professional? I’ve been with John-William Interiors for seventeen-and-a-half years. I work solely on a referral basis, which comes mostly from past clients, architects and contractors. We typically have a full workload. I’m very fortunate to partner with Staci (John-William interior designer Staci Compton). She started with me as an intern and soon thereafter I hired her full time. That was seven years ago. She’s extremely capable, young, talented, and a lot more adept at the computer than I am. We work as a team on all calls and projects.
- When did you get your start? I moved here in early 1991 and helped opened a showroom named Interiors of Austin. I built my clientele there. I left in 1997 and thought about opening up my own studio when I got a call from Sue McEwen, who at that time was president of John-William Interiors. I interviewed but wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to take the job. I thought about it long and hard and I’m glad I decided to come on board because it’s been a good relationship ever since. Before John-William Interiors I had opened a small practice in Orange County, California, then in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had also lived on Nantucket Island, which might have influenced my design more than any other place I’ve lived. Having lived in different places around the country has definitely had a bearing on my view of interior design.
- What, if any, would you consider your specialty? Dealing with people is where I’m the strongest. I love doing all kinds of looks and design work and I’m stimulated by stepping out of my comfort zone. I like the challenge. Every job is different. We really try to get to know our clients. We spend time with them, we see how they live, and we interview them extensively. The more time you can spend together the better and if you’re fortunate enough to start with the architect, that’s best. We don’t always have the opportunity to spend as much time with every client but we try to. We also listen and take copious notes, which we refer back to constantly.
- Do you have a particular design philosophy? I don’t adhere to a particular philosophy, but I know what I like and don’t like. I enjoy contemporary design but I’m not keen on the real “hard-edged” contemporary style.
- What’s your favorite thing about being a designer? I can honestly say that I love all of it. I’m happy to come to work every day. I love color, texture, putting a look together, space planning. Most of all I love working with the people and getting to know them. It’s hard work (sometimes physically hard work), including dealing with a lot of personalities, but it’s also stimulating and so much fun. Even after all these years, I think my learning curve is still steep and there’s still so much to learn.
- What are your favorite types of projects? Full-home remodels and new home construction. Starting from the foundation up and finishing to the last piece is extremely rewarding. I enjoy seeing the progression of choices we get to make along the way and putting the puzzle together.
The best part is getting to see the final finished project. We finished a project recently working with Mark Meyers, a young architect from Buda, Texas. It’s an extraordinary ranch house located in Dripping Springs. It’s by far the most rustic we’ve done. We knew we were going rustic and worked with owners for a long time and our vision grew as the plans developed. The client had clear vision and it was fun to make their vision a reality. It just turned out beautifully. We also just finished designing an interior from the ground up for the 2015 Parade of Homes, which was located in Lake Travis’s Serene Hills. Staci and I worked on it all year long and it ended up winning 11 awards!
- Do you adhere to a process? I’m very organized. On large projects, Staci and I keep an organized binder for each client that holds our notes during walkthroughs, time spent with clients, drawings of custom window treatments, bedding, blueprints, plans… really anything that needs to be sketched out and organized.
- What are the top three traits to being a successful interior designer? Being able to work with people is at the top of my list. Second, being organized. And then I think it’s critical to be artistic enough to put the looks together. All of this requires keeping up with the latest trends. I go to the markets consistently and visit with fabric, furniture, and accessories reps to keep up with what’s new. I also read a lot. One of great challenges of interior design is staying on the cutting edge.
- How do you work with different personality types? To some degree it’s innate. You learn as you get older, as you gain experience. I like the challenge of figuring out people and getting on the good side of them. I’ve also learned to be very patient.
- Explain the importance of being a good listener and communicator. Listening is huge. If you can do that successfully you can work with anyone. Most often we have wonderful experiences because we have great clients. I have long-standing friends I’ve made throughout my career. I’ve worked with many clients for 10-15 years and they keep coming back. I also have new clients and I love working with them, too. It’s very rare that it’s not an enjoyable experience.
- In your opinion, what sets John-William Interiors apart? There are a lot of advantages to working at John-William Interiors, including access to a seemingly endless array of fine furniture and accessories, a warehouse where that receives for us, a delivery team that ships it all, a caretaker that minds the furniture, and even help with the paperwork. Not to mention that I have my own studio here. What it all means is that working for John-William Interiors has allowed me to do what I do best and that’s focus on the big projects. And, ultimately, that benefits every client we have.