One-on-One with Interior Designer Dawn D. Totty
Dawn D. Totty, founder of Dawn D. Totty Designs, discusses designing in New York, as well as, the challenges of moving down south and starting over again
Dawn D. Totty is a native New Yorker, who lived there for all of her life, and then moved to the south 10 years ago to marry a southern guy. She started designing in the fashion world for 15 to 20 years and then transition into interior design 15 years ago. She designs residentially and commercially. Her signature claim to fame, her sweet spot is, very custom designs.
First, talk a bit about your company for those who don’t know you.
Totty: I started 25 years ago and it was fast and furious in New York, when I transitioned from there to the south I was 1,000 miles away. I had to start from scratch. I had to reinvent myself. That was challenging.
What is the process of reinventing yourself?
Totty: You have to get out of your head that just because you were highly successful once, doesn’t guarantee that you will be again. I learned that lesson the hard way. I figured that I had this rockin reputation here and I am going to bring it to the south and just pick up where I left off but it doesn’t work that way. You have to earn people’s trust and respect and you have got to get out there, make yourself visible. You have to do a lot of meeting and a lot of greeting. Shake hands, get to know the local folks and develop a report and relation with people.
Was the design style different in New York than it was down in the south?
Totty: Yes, however my Tennessee clients have been wonderful in embracing change. I am true to myself and believe it is important to not lower my standards for anything. What that means is that I am a firm believer that every individual deserves to have a space that is a reflection of them, not a furniture store.
100 percent of every room I create is was completely custom designed. From light fixtures to handmade furniture. I am an advocate of supporting the local economy and small businesses, such as art galleries and shops.
What were some of your first design experiences as a professional or as a student?
Totty: In New York, in the beginning, because I was so new and they were not familiar with me and didn't know I existed, I had to start off with many projects that were very small in size and budget. So I quickly learned how to create a magazine worthy space on a shoe string budget.
How often does your company use stone in its designs?
Totty: I would say, any and every chance I get. Nothing makes a statement better than a beautiful piece of stone. Kitchen islands, countertops, vanities are all front and center. They become the focal point for a well-designed space.
How would you describe your company’s design philosophy?
Totty: I have a no cookie cutter approach. Our goal is to create a space that is a direct reflection of our client. We personalize every space and we go to great lengths to create artwork and custom furniture and the like, all of it in the client’s budget.
What’s a project that you have done with stone and/or tile that you’re proud of, talk about it a bit?
Totty: One in particular that really stands out is that my client for this project, she knew she wanted a swanky penthouse look to her high rise look. But she didn’t feel confident in making any design decisions. So she let our firm create the design, do the installation and entire renovation. A brand new kitchen, new living room, new bath was created, all when she was on vacation. It was exciting but a serious undertaking. All new tile backsplash, granite countertop, were installed and hardwood floors. This design be featured in Sherwin Williams Stirmagazine this August.
How do you go about choosing stone for a project?
Totty: I must be honest, I prefer quartz and quartzite over some of the other stones. I just love the look of it. I think it’s elegant, timeless and beautiful. I definitely give my clients a multitude of options and let them decide. They are the boss, they are paying for it so they absolutely decide what to go with. I give them usually five or six choices and they make the ultimate decision.
What advice would you offer to a young designer?
Totty: If they are working on a sole proprietor, as an entrepreneur, they need to be fully prepared to not receive a paycheck every week and to be extremely self-motivated. Get out and about in the public eye and let people know who they are and what services they offer.
The top thing I would suggest to people, new or old, doesn’t matter. You can't get lazy, stay current and our online presence is absolutely paramount to public awareness.
What are some trends you are seeing out there right now with stone and tile?
Totty: Absolutely, hands down, I am seeing multiple surfaces in kitchens, up to three. That’s number one. We are also seeing in higher end homes the waterfall countertop effect that covers all three sides of the kitchen island. I am also seeing some exterior applications on outdoor entertaining areas with countertops and tabletops.