Whatever you were doing when you were 8 years old is probably what you should be doing for a living as an adult,” designer Jennifer Patterson says to me.
I wrote my first novel when I was 8, a riveting story about two M&Ms. Years later, I am still happily writing about and eating M&Ms, so I think she’s right about those early affinities. When Patterson was 8, she was into something much cooler: decorating an 18th-century dollhouse with period furniture and handmade textiles, perhaps a tiny clue about her future career.
Today, Patterson is the owner of Terra Designs, a boutique interior design firm that specializes in turnkey interiors. Her studio and retail store is filled with beautiful textiles, furniture that has a sense of place, and accessories that allude to an interesting life well lived. After the dollhouse years in Charleston, she got her master’s degree in decorative arts from Mount Vernon College in Washington, D.C. Her first design job was with Scalamandre, the legendary textile designer whose clients include The White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera and many other venerable properties.
We’re sitting at a table in her new space, a 3,400-square-foot former tile studio tucked into an oak-shaded corner of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. Patterson has arranged the space to create beautiful room vignettes, so I feel like I’m sitting in all the coastal houses I’ve ever loved at once. Whether her clients come to her with dreams of Lowcountry vernacular, beach house bungalow, classic Charleston, timeless historic or anything in between, she’s up for the challenge.
The vignettes in her retail store help her clients visualize possibilities and inspire new ideas. All the textiles, furnishings and accessories in the store are very much at home in this coastal setting, yet there are unexpected touches that keep it interesting—a thread that runs through her entire portfolio.
Some people enjoy the process of choosing all the furnishings for their new home, and Terra Designs’ retail showroom is where you’ll find clients doing just that. Other people prefer to have an expert make it happen. (Yes, please.) Patterson’s design firm is unique because she implements her clients’ visions from start to finish. Functioning as a bridge between the homeowner, the architect and the builder, the Terra Designs team helps manage the process and assists clients in selecting a complete furniture package. Then they take care of every single detail that makes a house a home, from start to finish.
This is where Patterson says something that causes me to do a double take: “Wait. What?”
“We’ll go anywhere in the world and totally transform a house in five days,” she says. “We hang the art. We even put the sheets on the bed.”
I am incredulous. I didn’t know you could check that box in real life.
“Clients come to us with a vision,” Patterson says. “Whether they’re in the Caribbean or along the coast or even inland, we work with architects to help them translate their visions from blueprints into reality. Then we regularly walk their site during construction or renovation to be sure the structure stays true to the vision.”
No matter where they are in the world, Patterson sends her clients packages of samples and lookbooks of textiles, furniture, colors and finishes so they can see how everything will come together. Once they make their selections, Patterson orders, fabricates, ships, receives and installs. All her long-distance clients have to do is bring their suitcases.
I’m looking around the store for this army of design ninjas who can unpack a shipping crate and make a house look like heaven in five days. “There’re just three of us,” she says. “But we’re very efficient.”
Jessica Griffin has been with Patterson since 2006. Griffin takes part in the consultation process, sketches ideas and helps clients select materials. Cheryl Burnett, who has been with Terra Designs since February, specializes in client relations and helps in the retail showroom.
“Sometimes we do this all virtually. We may never even meet the client,” Patterson says. At this point, I am looking closely at Jennifer for signs of cracks in her sanity or at least evidence of day-drinking. But neither is there. She is an expert in her field, she’s doing what she loves, her clients are happy, her staff is happy, she’s happy. Terra Designs is such a fun place to be, she says, that sometimes artists come in and use their textile samples for inspiration.
Terra Designs’ projects include luxury homes, villas, rental properties and resorts, internationally and in the Carolinas. Her personalized interiors incorporate peaceful colors, natural fibers and finishes, eco-friendly furnishings, indigenous materials and local art and craftsmanship.
The personal touch evident in all her work comes from Patterson’s commitment to really understand her clients, whether over email, Skype or in her Mount Pleasant studio. “It’s important that we get to know you, where you come from and how you’ve arrived at your new home,” she says. “Getting to know people allows me to do my job and create a harmonious place that’s theirs—not mine.”
Patterson incorporates her clients’ favorite things with new furnishings that fit the home, plus pieces from local artisans. The result is a beautiful, functional, personalized home.
In case you’re wondering: Yes, she still has the dollhouse.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.