By Donna Cornelius
Amanda Nisbet will be making her first visit to Birmingham next month to speak at Antiques at The Gardens. But the nationally known designer, whose business is based in New York, doesn’t expect to feel like a stranger in a strange land.
“I am so excited,” said Nisbet, who is this year’s featured speaker for the event’s Red Diamond Lecture Series. “Even though I’ve never been to Birmingham or Alabama, there are so many people I know who grew up there or have a history with Birmingham.”
Those who attend her Oct. 6 lecture will learn about her design process – and likely be entertained by her lighthearted sense of humor.
“I lived in New York for 25 years but always gravitated to Southerners,” she said. “I guess you could say I’m a Southerner – from south Canada.”
Nisbet is from Montreal but spent some of her growing-up years in the South.
“I went to boarding school in Virginia at the Madeira School in ninth through 12th grades,” she said. “I made so many friends, and ever since that experience, I’ve loved the South. I must have been a Southerner in a past life.”
She said her son and daughter grew up in New York but went to the University of Virginia. She recently moved to Richmond, Virginia, and opened a new office in Charleston, South Carolina.
“The South keeps circling back in my life,” she said.
After boarding school, Nisbet headed north again – this time to Vermont’s Middlebury College, where she studied art history.
“I just liked it – I guess I thought I’d work in a museum or at an art house,” she said. “I worked at Christie’s Auction House, and that was a great experience. It’s like I was living in a rotating museum, and it was a great launch pad. I’d studied painting and sculpture but serendipitously learned about furniture while I was there. I was unconsciously filtering all that into my future career.”
Nisbet had another early career interest.
“I was ready for Hollywood, but Hollywood wasn’t ready for me,” she said, laughing.
Although her dream of becoming a star in the acting world didn’t materialize, she’s made a name for herself in the design world.
Handed Down Through the Family
“My family had an interest in design and dabbled in it, but not professionally,” she said. “I was brought up in beautiful homes. My mother and grandmother had great taste, and I absorbed some of that by osmosis.
“When I was living in New York, my friends would say, ‘I love what you’ve done with your apartment.’ I thought, ‘I quite like this!’ So I hung out my shingle. I read and really taught myself.”
She opened Amanda Nisbet Design in 1998.
“For better or worse, I’m one of those people who takes a leap and hopes the parachute will open,” she said. “It behooved me not to know all the things that could happen.”
Since taking that leap, Nisbet has become known for her lively balance of colors, patterns and textures. Her projects have been featured in high-profile publications including Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Coastal Living, New York Spaces, Oprah at Home, Traditional Home, Veranda, The New York Times, Town & Country and the Washington Post. She’s created beautiful spaces not only in the United States and North America, but in Europe, too.
“Every city all over the world has its own work pace – its own way to go about things, different working hours, rules and language,” she said. “In New York, you have to decide if everything can fit in the elevator and not just in the living room.”
Nisbet emphasizes function as well as form.
“For many of us, our parents had a beautiful room that you weren’t allowed in, with pretty things that you couldn’t touch or sit on,” she said. “My children were young at the time I opened my design business, so my mandate was making things comfortable, elegant and livable for a family. Some rooms look great in photographs – but they aren’t practical for everyday living.”
At the same time, she’s not fond of rooms that are rendered unattractive by having too much emphasis on making them child-proof.
“I think, what’s wrong with bringing your children up with manners?” she said. “That’s something Canadians and Southerners have in common – we have manners, but we have fun, too.”
Nisbet said that, although she enjoys getting to know her clients, that’s not always possible.
“I just did a job for someone I’ve never met – and I’d never seen the space,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and know what to look for and what questions to ask. I prefer to meet people, though.”
In addition to her design business, Nisbet also has lighting and textile lines. That means she has a demanding schedule.
“Sometimes it’s too much, but I’m an empty nester and like to stay busy so I’m not stalking my children,” she said.
Nisbet is an author, too. Her first book, “Dazzling Design,” was published in 2012.
“I thought my style was pretty normal, but I had agents who said my style was very different,” Nisbet said. “They said I was daring, and I thought, ‘I am?’ But writing the book helped me analyze and think about my creative process and to formulate my process. I enjoyed sharing that and hope to do other books. It was fun to do.”
Nisbet’s Antiques at The Gardens lecture is at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 6. Tickets are $40 and are available at bbgardens.org.
“I’ll talk about my process and how I got here,” she said. “I’ll have a slide presentation and answer questions.”
After the lecture, she’ll sign copies of her book.
“I’m lucky to be included in this event,” she said. “I do this kind of thing about four times a year. I guess it’s the frustrated actress in me that loves it.”
For more information about the designer, visit amandanisbetdesign. com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter. ❖