Owner/Principle Interior Designer
Lisa Davenport Designs
The Home Trust International (HTI): What first compelled you to enter interior Design?
Lisa Davenport (LD): After a design position for a visual merchandising division of a local clothing retailer, I considered exploring the world of interior decorating. I landed an entry level job for a fast paced, cutting edge paint and decorating center. It afforded me the luxury of learning some of the basics and technical side of the industry which would only service me well for years to come. It was a Saturday afternoon when a customer, who I had helped select paint colors, window valances and wallpaper for her bathroom months earlier, came through the door of the store. She was waving an envelope calling my name. She was beyond giddy and couldn’t wait to share with me the results of our selections. She boasted about how all her friends loved the face lift of the bathroom and wished their spaces looked as nice. That was it… I knew at that moment I needed this reaction in my career path. I knew I needed to create environments that brought people such joy. Today, while the products far exceed that bathroom I started with, I still can’t wait for the ‘high’ of finishing spaces, sharing the complete projects with the clients, and watching their joy, excitement and more.
HTI: Who has mostly strongly influenced your successful career?
LD: There are so many people that have inspired and influenced me over the years. I often search for people’s stories, talents and business practices … there’s wisdom that can be found in them. Although when I reflect on who has influenced me, three people stand out. First my mother, a wildly talented fine artist who thankfully passed her talent on to me. As a rebellious teen, I resisted my raw artistic talent. Growing up in a small town I was continuously compared to my mom … and what teenager wants that?! My mom was smart, she didn’t push, she allowed me to discover my talents on my own terms. In the end, I couldn’t resist the pull. I slowly began to discover the life of an artist could be very fulfilling and rewarding. When I returned to school, after my daughter was born, to study Interior Design at Paier Collage of Art, I met Pierre Strauch. I thought I was hot stuff when I returned to school. I could draw just about anything. Having a strong sense of composition and color, my presentation boards and drawings were ‘wowing’ fellow students and staff. Then I had my first class with Pierre, a commercial design class. He watched me design the first project with very little guidance, just nodding and studying drawings with nothing more than, ‘keep going.’ Then came presentation day. I confidently, maybe even a little cocky, pinned my boards and drawings up before the class. Fellow classmates ‘oohed and ahed.’ After all it was…‘pretty’. I was smiling, watching classmates in awe, when it happened. I was only minutes into my design when Pierre marched to the front of the room shaking his head, pointed, and in his French accent, quite passionately I might add, said, “This! This is sh*t!” I was stunned, jaws across the class bounced off drafting tables. “Take it down and bring me something decent!” I removed the drawings, defeated and crushed. He was right, it was a horrible design. Pierre challenged me, holding me to a higher standard than my classmates. He was going to help form a designer that would truly understand design and not stand for ordinary. It was Pierre who re-introduced me to my third design influence, Michelangelo. Pierre recognized my ability to execute drawings and saw my strong architectural sense. He shared with me Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library. I had known Michelangelo the artist and sculptor, but I didn’t know the architect. Pierre showed me a man of great passion, talent and intense drive. I found myself having common denominators with Michelangelo, such as a love for paint and canvas, a passion for architecture and an enthusiasm for the written word. I still today often look to Michelangelo for inspiration when designing interiors. Classic architecture always inspires me; it challenges me to think differently.
HTI: If you could have taught your ’20-year-old self’ one thing what would it have been?
LD: Don’t try to be a square peg fitting into a round hole. Always remain authentic to yourself. In the business of design, there is a certain persona associated with designers. I spent the early part of my career trying to fit into the box I had outlined a successful designer to be within. Then something happened. I was prepping for a meeting on one of the biggest jobs I had at the time and was very nervous. I had many plans and drawings, that I thought were creative and very cool, to review with this new builder. However, I was questioning if they were good enough. So…I started to bake, because baking is good for the soul and my nerves. The next morning I packed up the fresh baked muffins and brought them to the meeting along with fresh Starbucks. In I strolled with my basket of muffins, coffee and my ‘bag of tricks’ greeting everyone with a smile and ‘Mornin’ let’s kick this meeting off right! Muffins?’ I held my breath watching Frank (the builder), Luci & Tom (homeowners) and a couple of miscellaneous contractors’ eyes light up. Frank bit into a blueberry muffin and said ‘Well young lady if you design as well as you bake we’re going to be just fine together.’ The designs were a huge hit, with just a few warranted revisions. It was in that meeting I allowed my true self to be present…the Lisa I am with my friends and family. After Luci and Tom left, Frank leaned over the makeshift table he had built for our meeting in this house under construction and said, “I’ve never quite met a designer like you.” He looked me square in the eye and continued “You are bright, creative, personable and well … genuine. Don’t change.” Frank was probably 20 years my senior and reminded me of my dad in a way. I smiled and simply said “Thanks.” I was leaning down to pack up my goods, when he touched my arm and said, “I’m very serious. I’ve been building these homes for decades. You’re unique…. and those muffins, wow! Where did you learn to bake?” I chuckled, shrugged and said “My grandfather was a baker”. He raised a finger and pointed at me and left me with, “He’d be proud. See you next week.” With that he left our makeshift office in the middle of my first 8,000 square foot new construction house. I stood in the space for a few minutes to bask in the glory of being myself and at being accepted in my field. I didn’t come from an affluent household. I was raised in a blue-collar home by the most amazing parents. For years, I worried I wasn’t worldly enough; that my simple beginning was somehow not enough. Truth is, I can be me… and my clients love it. They love my ‘Mayberry’ hometown of Durham. Some, I swear, wish they had it. For full disclosure, it did take a few years for me to settle into being ‘me’ in my field. Sometimes I think I’m still becoming me … but that’s part of the growth of being a designer too!
HTI: Please tell us about your family and your personal life.
LD: My personal life – I’ve been married for 26 years to the man I call my Prince. He’s my best bud! He still makes my heart skip a beat, makes me laugh and is an amazing dad to our children. I have two fabulous kids. Our daughter Ashley is 24 and a preschool teacher. A natural caretaker with a wild creative streak, Ashley uses her talents to help mold these little minds. She is loved not only by her students, but also their parents and her colleagues. My son Joey is 18 and a recent graduate from the Automotive Technology program at Vinal Technical High School. There is no grass growing under this kid’s feet. Within days of graduation he was working for our local town crew then quickly moved on to a mechanic’s position for a large construction company in northern Connecticut. He takes pride in his work, loves problem solving working with his hands, and making his own way in the world. As a couple and family, we are very involved in our community. We love our small-town life so much so that I made a conscience effort to include that wonderful feeling of being in a place ‘where everyone knows your name’ part of our marketing at LDD.
HTI: What is the best advice you have received and who was it from?
LD: Best business advice was from Kim Kuhteubl. It was to read ‘Think & Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. I always had great faith in myself but this book helped me see and believe in my business. It was a turning point for LDD.
HTI: Do you prefer the country or the city?
LD: I love them both. Seriously I do. Raised in a small town where the cows outnumber the people, where traffic jams happen because there’s a tractor crossing town, and picking up a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop becomes a 25-minute affair because you’re a local and need to catch up on the latest town buzz … how can you not love that? I love my front porch sittin’, my gardens and waking up to a gentle breeze moving my curtains and harmony of song birds. Yet, drop me in downtown Manhattan and my blood starts pumping! I love the variety of people, food, and culture all at my fingertips. I love the harsh contrast of modern architecture mixed with classic buildings. There’s creativity and influence in every nook and cranny. I find the hustle and bustle of the city invigorating. There’s inspiration in the people, the food, the fashion. I guess in the words of Donny and Marie Osmond … “I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll!”
HTI: Please tell us about a recent project.
LD: Durham Carriage House. This project is so much more than just a building I created with great design elements … it’s also a love story. Phil had been a client for years. He had recently fallen in love and married his soul mate, later in life. With the assistance of a local builder I was given complete freedom to design and execute a ‘Taj Mahal’ for his bride. Phil and Catherine not only trusted the process completely but also embraced and celebrated my signature Cashmere & Blue Jeans™ style. I mixed modern elements with antiques. I melded Phil and Catherine’s styles together and sprinkled in a little of my own. I custom designed furniture and hunted through Antique Markets for the perfect finishing touches. The only thing that would make me more proud of this project would be for it to be published nationally, not just in our local paper (http://www.courant.com/features/home-garden/hc-home-durham-carriage-house-0902-20160829-story.html)
HTI: In what ways has your organization changed over the years?
LD: Lisa Davenport Designs has grown a lot in the last 12 months. We’ve expanded into the southwest Florida market. We’ve had changes and growth within our LDD team members, including expanding what and who we expose and align the team and company with. We are honing the LDD experience for our clients, striving to set our firm apart from any other as well as developing guidelines to qualify our ideal clients, making sure we are a fit for them as well as them for us. We will continue to keep our reputation, integrity, and design values a priority as well as strive to advance our already strong long term relationships with clients and vendors.
HTI: Can you share one thing you’ve had forever?
LD: My hand made Raggedy Ann Doll. She is about three feet tall. My Aunt Trudy made it for me when I was a child. I keep her proudly perched on my Great Aunt Helen’s chair in my bedroom. Raggedy’ s left eye is no longer a perfectly stitched triangle and her hair has bled into her face which is mixed with miscellaneous brown stains … but she symbolizes so much. A labor of love for a child, an art that used to be common place, she symbolizes my extended family. She reminds me of those odd-ball years of my childhood when I was awkward and lanky, as well as the really good times of my childhood. Raggedy helps me stay grounded… keeping in mind where I’m from, my beginnings, never forgetting who I started as.
HTI: What do you miss the most?
LD: I miss the unexpected and the art of conversation. They still happen on occasion but less now than before the days of our cell phones. I understand the importance of being connected, I’m even guilty of not breaking away myself. Yet I’ve learned so much and had some of the best conversations with complete strangers on a train, in a park, stuck in an airport, even in a restaurant where the tables are a little too close for comfort. People are so interesting. Everyone has a story and people are inspiring … you never know how a complete stranger might have an influence on you. It’s fun to take a chance and see.
HTI: What makes a room sing?
LD: Cashmere & Blue Jeans™…when I’ve mixed up styles, textures and given the unexpected. When a design is polished, supple, rustic yet refined, always authentic, and time honored. Add this to my LDD five design must haves (Light, Life, Reflection, Literature and Repetition & Variation) and we have success.
HTI: Where are you most inspired?
LD: Two places ….The first is my drafting table … crazy I know as the table is from the 1950’s. As I sit at it and see years of ink spatters, the cracked corner lip and my yellow edged parallel level, I think about those who sat here before me. I don’t know their history, or story or what they designed. All I know is I can feel the creative energy surrounding me.
The second is traveling … anytime I’m getting ‘out of Dodge’ something happens to me. I read more, I strategize business, I practice those communication skills and suck in my surroundings. After almost any trip, personal or professional, I return to my studio energized and excited. I think it’s the change of scenery; it makes me think differently.
HTI: Please tell us about your taste in music.
LD: Very much like my country/city answer, the same goes for my music. Walking into LDD HQ, one never knows what to expect. Music for me sets a tone, sometimes I need Sara McLachlan’s soothing voice, other days I need that rich, yet sultry feeling Michael McDonald and Motown brings to the table. On some days, you can find good old classic rock-n-roll ranging the decades from the 60’s through the 90s banging out of the speakers. You might happen upon modern country, after all we are in my Mayberry where the cows out-number the people. It’s important to me of course that the LDD studio be a good work environment for all the LDD team, so it isn’t uncommon to ask team members to choose the music. This is important as it keeps me exposed to lots of different genres, which in turn keeps me quite inspired.
HTI: Do you have a favorite museum? Why?
LD: If I had to choose one it would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only because it was the first big museum I attended as a child. I remember my teacher constantly grabbing my sleeve because I was falling behind. I couldn’t understand how everyone could move so quickly through the space when there was SO much to see. I just love museums! As I’ve said over and over, I love stories; and museums tell the ultimate stories. Have you ever watched ‘Mysteries at the Museum’ … a Travel Channel series? If I could have a second career it would be to have Don Wildman’s job. History teaches us so much; it inspires us and has formed who we are.
HTI: When you’re not working, other than museums, where are you most likely to be found?
LD: In my gardens …. and when time allows in my kitchen. Two more very creative outlets.
HTI: What makes a great organization?
LD: A great leader that recognizes the following:
- Surround yourself with good people and great talent that share your vision
- Do not micromanage. Layout expectations and keep the lines of communication open
- Reward team members and create excitement
- Always remain positive, turning negatives into positives whenever possible
- Know when to take the hit. Take it gracefully and learn from it
HT: Why The Home Trust International?
LD: Refer to point number one in the last question.
HTI: Thank you, we’ve been fortunate.
HTI: If you could be granted one wish what would it be?
LD: My first wish is that my kids are always healthy and happy … nope I don’t want that, they need to go through hard times to build who they are. I never want harm to come to them but they do need to skin their knees. I considered maybe wishing I could have more time … but seriously would I use it more valuably? Could it be we have the time we have for a reason and we need to appreciate and prioritize what we do have? I thought about wishing for that perfect job to land in my lap … but nope, I don’t want that wish either, the work and connections you build up on your own will make that perfect job even more rewarding. Here’s the other thing, would you acknowledge the climb if it all just fell in your lap? There’s something about the climb. In the end, I settled on one wish, it would be that heaven had visiting hours. I’ve lost some very special people in my life. I miss their guidance and words of wisdom. I wish I could sit on a park bench and listen to my grandfather talk about the stock market, watching his enormous fat fingers waving at me advising me on dividends and more. I’d love to lean in and smell him. I swear the sugar was baked into his pores for decades after he sold his bakery! I would sit next to my grandmother. She was five feet of concrete! I’d ask her to tell me stories of her childhood, of my dad’s childhood and to remind me again why her tomato soup can’t be copied. I’d see my dear friend Jan to tell her that her boys have grown into amazing men and that her husband, Russ while he misses her terribly, is really doing well. So yes, visiting hours in heaven, that would be my one wish.
HTI: If you weren’t in your current field what would you be doing
LD: Maybe Don Wildman’s job? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate? If not, I’d love to be a writer … see that story theme? I’d love to be Flo from Mel’s Diner (Am I dating myself?) It would be neat to meet people in a diner, serve them, and hone that art of conversation … imagine the stories I could find!
HTI: Any parting thoughts or words of wisdom?
LD: Parting words of wisdom … Life, design, relationships they are all full of opportunities. We can move through them on the sidelines, watch them happen, or you can be in them with a passion. Over the years I have become very inspired by other people’s words of wisdom. One of my favorite quotes is by Dwayne Johnson “When you walk up to opportunities door, don’t knock on it. Kick that b*tch in and introduce yourself!” So, find the opportunities around you, in life, in design, in relationships, they are there waiting for you to introduce yourself. Are you going to knock or kick that door in?
HTI: Lisa, thank you for your insights and guidance.
Lisa Davenport, Principal and lead designer of Lisa Davenport Designs has been designing fine interiors and exteriors for over 20 years.
Davenport’s background includes earning an Associate degree in Commercial Design as well as holding a design position in the Visual Merchandising division of a regional retail clothing store. These brief, yet valuable, experiences laid the ground work for her return to study Interior Design at Paier College of Art.
Lisa’s work is not limited to Connecticut. She has been involved in projects all over New England including Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Watch Hill and New Hampshire. Her talents continue to take her up and down the East Coast including North Carolina and Florida. In 2016 Davenport expanded her team to the southwest coast of Florida, opening a division of LDD in Naples, Florida.
Davenport lives with her family in her hometown of Durham, CT. Her roots run deep there. She loves sharing her own little ‘Mayberry’ with her clients and followers. This life has contributed to her own personal design style where modern meets traditional meets salvage.
As an active member of her community, Lisa serves as a commissioner and Vice Chairman for Durham’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Lisa has also dedicated much of her time to missionary work in the eastern mountains of Kentucky, granting her the distinction of being named a Kentucky Colonel by Governor Steve Beshear.
Davenport finds that the best part of her business is the relationships she builds with clients. Getting to know them on a personal level helps her to cater to their style, creating an environment that is an extension of themselves. She then takes the project to perfection adding touches of her signature style which is authentic, polished, supple, splendorous, rustic, refined, easy, chic, comfortable, time-honored, organic.
Lisa just says it’s Cashmere & Blue Jeans™