Bobbi Jo Engelby is quietly disrupting the local interior design scene. Engelby is the owner of Domain Interiors & Design, and like most true creatives, she isn’t afraid to reinvent a few rules. For example, last year she felt that her large design showroom was hindering her clients’ creativity. Instead of embracing the freedom to create interiors that expressed their personalities, clients would get attached to particular furniture on the showroom floor. “People tend to gravitate to what they can see and touch, but the final design is better when you use a showroom as a creative springboard,” Engelby says.
Her solution was to scale down from a 2,400-square-foot showroom to a 3,200-squarefoot building. That’s right—she scaled down to a bigger building. This is the genius in the way Engelby thinks.
Late last year, Engelby joined forces with five other designfocused businesses to create the Mount Pleasant Design Center. The design center is much larger than Domain’s former location, but the square footage formerly devoted to the showroom is smaller. Instead, the Design Center houses a growing cadre of complementary design businesses. Now, when Engelby’s clients come to her showroom, they not only have access to furniture and accessory examples, they can browse flooring, kitchen and bath products, and more.
Engelby’s concept reflects a big-city approach to design; think Chicago’s Merchandise Mart executed with Charleston scale and flair. This colorful, tactile mini-empire is not only fun to browse, but it makes the design process more streamlined for clients. “Showrooms are important so people can see and touch furniture and accessories,” Engelby says. “But we found having less inventory ultimately results in interiors that are much more personalized. The Mount Pleasant Design Center makes it easy for clients to shop, gives them a wider diversity of products from which to choose, and makes room for more individuality and creativity in their design.”
If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest or Houzz lately and had the thought that everybody’s houses are starting to look the same, take heart— Engelby is ahead of you. She knows that people are moving toward more unique interiors that tell their life stories instead of ultra-neutral spaces that look like hotel rooms. “We’ve become known as the colorful people,” she says, laughing. Friendly, easygoing Engelby also takes pride in her flexible pricing. “There’s more than one way of doing things,” she says. “No job is too small for us. Our goal is long-term relationships.”
With the demographic of Charleston changing, Engelby acknowledges that tastes are changing with it. “Many of my clients have traveled extensively, and they want personal and family treasures incorporated with a little coastal flair,” she says. “People are ready to move on from industrial or shabby beach chic to more contemporary, globally-inspired interiors.” In true Charleston style, one of Engelby’s favorite ways to make her clients’ homes more unique is by sourcing custom, locally made art, furniture and lighting.
Charleston has always taken pride in supporting local craftspeople, and Domain is firmly committed to that tradition. In fact, Engelby’s innate talent for scouting out local artisans and artists plays well into Domain’s new business model. As a passionate patron of local makers, Engelby is dedicated to supporting a new wave of artisans who have found working with their hands to be more fulfilling than a traditional college or career path. She sees their contributions as an important part of the fabric of Charleston’s history and culture, so she incorporates local creations whenever she can.
As a result of her connections, Engelby can give her clients access to original handmade tables, bookcases, metalwork, lighting and art that can’t be found in catalogs. “I’m a big believer in buying local,” she says. “Not only do my clients get something one of a kind that perfectly fits their home, but it also supports the local economy, and it doesn’t cost any more than buying something mass produced.” Engelby finds that incorporating local creations with her clients’ broader worldviews results in interiors that are perfectly balanced reflections of Charleston flavor and global style.
One of Engelby’s most recent local product developments are Glo Shades, custom-designed and hand-painted drum light shades that make a vibrant statement in any room. The Domain showroom also features a rotating display of work by local contemporary artists, which is a breath of fresh air in a town known for traditional fine art.
Of course, not everything can be made in Charleston, so Engelby sources outward in concentric circles to regionally made, then American made. The effect in the finished project is decidedly authentic. Engelby’s recent projects incorporate both priceless and sweetly sentimental travel souvenirs with Charleston-made furniture and accessories. The results are spaces that reflect homeowners who live a global lifestyle but harbor a deep love for and loyalty to the Lowcountry.
“More and more of my clients want their homes to reflect a sense of place, but they don’t want to pack away heirlooms or travel souvenirs just to fit a design theme,” Engelby says.
Her keen eye for blending contemporary and classic Charleston style landed her the honor of being one of the designers for the 2017 Symphony Orchestra League’s Designer Showhouse. Domain will be doing the design for the music room of this year’s home, a circa 1840 Greek Revival on Society Street. Engelby won’t give away her design plan but hints that we’ll see plenty of color and texture with traditional design and modern motifs.
With the perfect combination of a global design sense, urban-edge creativity and Charleston warmth, Bobbi Jo Engelby will have little trouble bringing her big concepts to life in the new Mount Pleasant Design Center.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.