Interior Design Instructor to Preservationist

By: Shirley Hammond, FASID, RID, NCIDQ

As a child, I was labelled an “army brat” because my father was a career military officer. Although I was proud of my father, I was not proud of that label! Being raised by southern parents, I hoped I was not a “brat!” Nevertheless, that was my title. Although my family was and is from Alabama, my childhood was filled with being stationed in numerous places that gave me amazing opportunities. By the time I was twelve, I had lived in Heidelberg, Germany; upstate New York; Rutherford, New Jersey; Miami & Tampa, Florida; San Francisco, California; Rome, Italy and Decatur, Alabama. Obviously, moving often meant leaving friends and schools and starting anew in the next location. It took effort.

Looking back at this experience, I realize that much was gained by the effort. I became accustomed to entering a room where I did not know anyone. Additionally, I was exposed to multiple cultures, multiple educational opportunities and national/international art and music, to name a few paybacks. Landing in Decatur for junior and senior high school, I was delighted to be planted in one place, a “twist and turn” for me.

Deciding where to attend college, I selected the University of Montevallo as a music major (piano & voice). However, after a full-year, I decided music performance and/or music education was not an enticing career choice for me. I discovered that I am not a “performance person,” but I am a “project person.” So, another “twist & turn” and I transferred to the University of Alabama with a major in interior design. It sounds like a complete change but is truly related. The use of balance, rhythm, emphasis, color, texture and harmony are common denominators of both “arts.” I found my place and dreamed of my future.

After completing my B.S. in interior design, I remained in Tuscaloosa to complete my M.S. in interior design with a minor in child development. While completing my master’s degree, I commuted to Marion, Alabama and taught interior design courses at Judson College while also being a “houseparent” (along with my husband) to a Bama fraternity. Now that was a “twist & turn!” I was hired because I was from the “school of home economics” and could most likely plan meals.

Preservation projects by Shirley Hammond, FASID, RID, NCIDQ

Upon completing my M.S. in interior design, I moved to New Orleans and started looking for a job.  At that time there was no CIDQ/NCIDQ or RID, so I was competing for work against the “general” population.  Supply and demand meant that I settled for minimum wage.  However, the experience was invaluable.  I worked for a small interior design/furniture & accessories company in Old Metairie and gained excellent experience in sales, display, project management and customer service. 

Hoping to increase my salary, I discovered that employment was available with a large oil company in its drafting department.  “Twist & turn” and I was now a geological draftsman!  Prior to the computer era, I gained great experience in hand-drafting with pen and ink, creating sub-surface mapping for geologists.  During my tenure, however, I discovered that a new male employee was hired for the same position at twice my salary.  At the same time, I was offered a job with an independent oil company to head its drafting department.  ‘Twist & turn” and I was now head of a drafting department.  However, I reported my former employer to the EEOC for gender/wage discrimination.  As I departed, they were fined and I received back-pay.  I believe I left them in better shape than I found them. 

After several years, I was ready to “twist & return” back to interior design.  My husband and I returned to Decatur where we both formed our own businesses.  Not knowing what emphasis my interior design practice might have, I patiently waited and watched for “demand.”  I was ready to offer the “supply” counterbalance.  Having my studio in the historic district, I discovered that many clients were renovating and adding square footage to their historic homes.  Voila!  My market strategy appeared. 

Because of my love of space planning, love of history and love for historic architecture, I had discovered my specialties.  Since I am a “project person,” this fit my personality and priorities.  I love the functionality and recycling of spaces from old to new beauties.  I have been practicing in this arena now for forty-five years.  I never tire of the challenges presented by my clients. 

In the meantime, some side “twists and turns:”

  • Because the local attitude of city hall leadership was negative toward historic preservation, I ran and was elected to the Decatur City Council.  During my term we passed legislation for an historic district overlay with restrictive covenants, to become a Certified Local Government (CLG) and established an Historic Preservation Commission;
  • Because I was restricted from specifying carpet for a local middle school because I was not an architect, I co-authored the first Alabama interior design practice act and, after six years and more than 100 trips to Montgomery, the Alabama Legislature passed the act into law in 2001;
  • Because I was active with the establishment of the practice act, I was appointed by the governor to serve on the Alabama Board for Registered Interior Designers;
  • Because I was introduced to CIDQ as a liaison between the Alabama Board for Registered Interior Designers and CIDQ, I was selected to serve on the CIDQ Board of Directors;
  • Because I was on the board of directors of CIDQ, I was elected international president of the CIDQ Board of Directors.
  • Because of my experience on the CIDQ Board of Directors, ASID Alabama Board of Directors and committees, I was elected to the ASID National Board of Directors. 

When I think back on the “twists and turns” of my career, I often think of the children’s book, Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo by Rosetta Stone.  I did not anticipate the effects of my small experiences and choices on my career path.  I followed, step by step, where it led me. 

Based on my career experiences, my advice to others is to follow your heart, your education and your gifts and you will end up where you should be.   It has been a great ride!