Merrilee McGehee Design is the result of a life lived with a passion for creativity. That passion has flourished in many genres, including studio art, film and design. Merrilee McGehee (ne’e, Merrilee McCommas) nurtured her talents in the diverse settings of the Art Department at The University of Texas at Austin and film sets around the globe. She brings an energetic and unique approach to every collaboration, project and anything else that can be imagined and dreamed. Merrilee and her team hold true to the idea that art isn’t just something you put on your walls, but a response to that spark that lives within us all.
Merrilee sat down with us for a Q&A and a look into her love of design.
1. How did you get your start? When I think about how I got my start, I think it goes back to a personality trait. I have always been able to focus intensely on what was interesting to me. Those interests have changed and morphed throughout the years but the through-line is always the same. If I’m interested, I’m focused. And for me, that is where I’m able to summon truthful, innovative and creative ideas. That process really thrills me and has been the spark and beginning to all my creative endeavors.
2. Did you always want to work in interiors? No, I started out in Art School and was then an actress. To be honest, I never thought I would end up with a design business and love it so much. But I do! It all began so organically. I remodeled our small bungalow, a friend loved it and asked me to do her home. And that was the spark. Soon after that I became immersed in the process and how the work could serve as a large scale art project. I loved the idea of building a space that flowed with purpose while incorporating and blending interesting textures, colors and patterns in a novel fashion. Forward-thinking ideas and combinations are exciting to me. I know people say to live in here and now but I have always felt more comfortable with one foot in the future.
Photos by Molly Winters Photography
3. What would you say makes your design style/technique like no other? One of the most important parts of my working process is to investigate and discover my client’s best creative self and to bring that out in their space. I always tell my client’s your home should not look like mine or so and so’s down the street. It should look like you. I talk to so many people that are fearful of color or don’t think they are creative. But I truly believe we all have it in us, we just might need a little help coaxing it out. A Design Shaman, if you will.
4. Who or what is inspiring you right now? I have been so impressed by the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that spoke out for gun control. I know that has nothing to do with design but I feel like if an older generation can be inspired by its youth to stay relevant, to stay interested, we can bridge the gap and find unending inspiration that can be placed everywhere in one’s life: India Mahdavi, Mary Oliver, Iris Apfel, Sasha Bikoff’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House, Khalid, Radiohead, Damien Hurst, Vonnegut, The Wire, Stereolab, The Virgin Suicides, a good meal, peonies, when my kids smile… I think it’s important to find inspiration all around you and not just in one genre. That’s when your creations can really be out there on the edge. And it’s funny, in art of any kind you know when someone’s done it.
5. How important is art to a home? It’s as important as choosing your unborn child’s name… Well, maybe not that important but pretty close. And art is not about the dollar amount. I have had plenty of clients that buy art purely for investment purposes. And although that may be monetarily smart, it can also seem cold and removed to me. I don’t care if it’s $10 or $100,000. You have to connect with it. It’s personal. It should be emotional and reflect a part of your personality. And from a design standpoint if it’s done right, it’s the cherry on top in your space.
6. What’s your best tip for someone who isn’t sure of their “style”? Uh…Call me. I love helping people venture out of their box. It’s exciting and scary but I swear it’s where all the good stuff lies. And there is no time like the present to figure out your space. The place you live, love and create in. It can make a better you, better relationships and a happier environment for all to grow.
7. What the most rewarding & challenging part about being owning your own business? I am by nature a creative people pleaser. I strive to make my clients happy. And if I have done that, that is rewarding enough. But at the same time, it’s incredibly important to me to not just give them what they think they want. But rather help and guide them in exercising their own creative path to find a new and better want. A more creative state of being in their space. And if I am successfully doing that, that’s the real reward.
8. How do you find work/ life balance as a business owner & mom? I don’t! And if someone does, PLEASE let me know your secret. But again, is life ever really balanced or is that just a place we strive to get to that doesn’t really exist. I’ll opt for the truth of an unbalanced life.