joan-hawkinsWhen Joan Hawkins was a studio art major at Millsaps College, she never would have imagined the career she has put together today.

“I backed into all of this with the assemblage I was doing,” she says of the art form that helped shape her into an interior designer.

Hawkins is assembling comfortable spaces now, one client at a time, through her Joan Hawkins Art & Interiors, began in a shared storefront on State Street six years ago.

The Arkansas native has made it her mission to be more than an interior designer. Think of her as a psychologist of sorts, extracting the warm and fuzzy memories from consciousness to create a space that speaks to and for the lives that inhabit it. “It’s not all about a look per se, but talking to people and earning their trust to reflect who they are,” she says. “(The design is) their lives and years of adventures and collections, telling their story in an aesthetic that brings comfort to them day to day.”

Her mantra, design for living, is intended to bring her services to a wide spectrum of budgets. “I’ve tried to make custom design accessible to the people who may believe that’s not for the everyday person,” she explains. “We embrace people where they are and help them navigate the process so they are making good long term decisions.”

While Hawkins says she gravitates toward a vintage look, a classic line is a necessity. “To have a piece stand out in a space, it’s always important to have a core of pieces that have that personality that sings and has presence,” she says. “Classic and non-identifiable withstands design trends.”

As for color, Hawkins says it’s what made her fall in love with art. “Paul Clay’s studies on putting colors together gives me something to play with,” she tells. “There’s an energy that comes for me with playing with colors.” In that vein, Hawkins prefers pairing bright colors with neutrals. “I like to start with a gray or cream on a large piece of furniture, then bring colorful accents in with lighting, pillows and artwork. Those things have more impact if they have a nice base to rest on.”

Hawkins maintains one of the largest resource libraries in the southeast containing fabric samples, hardware and catalogs of current design trends. “In this industry, there are showrooms in Atlanta and Dallas that do what we do,” she says. “Since we are six hours from both, in the middle of two major design centers, it’s more convenient to have a good library for local designers to use here.” Susan Bryan, Hawkins’ resource librarian says so much is online, but you need to see it and touch it. She adds, “It lets people get their hands on it.” Hawkins confirms, “It’s hard to sell a piece of furniture with a computer generated image of fabric.”

From humble beginnings

“I had known James since I was 20,” she says of James Patterson, the photographer, whose space she set up shop in, in 2008 for eighteen months. “I was working out of my house — first my dining room, then a bedroom – and it was just too much,” she says.

As Hawkins encroached on more and more of Patterson’s storefront, a new building – Fondren Place — opened at State Street and Duling Avenue in 2009, and she thought, “That’s right around the corner.”

Four and half years later, Hawkins is moving up — to the Duling School — playing off the successes and camaraderie of the 1928 building’s tenants. “(Saltine’s) front door is up there and we’ll be closer to that door in the school,” she explains. ”I’ll have a window inside the building for the patrons who come to see Arden’s shows and there’s (SMoak) salon, too. The building has so much character and we’re excited about tall ceilings and antique floors and being in a community of merchants in the same building.”

While Hawkins doesn’t rely solely on retail traffic, she does want to be seen as inviting. “We hope to be visited by people coming to Fondren for other things. We want to be part of the texture and fabric (of the neighborhood) and welcome them into the shop.”

Visit Joan, Susan and design associate Richard Kyzar in their current location (Fondren Place, Suite 103) this Thursday through Friday for their moving sale. The larger the item, the bigger the discount. You’ll find at least 20% off storewide (see a sale flyer here).

Read more about Hawkins’ work on her blog,, coming soon.