Written by Sophie McNeil Wolf | Photographed by Joe Ellis
Rick Griffin and his family moved around frequently during his childhood, but one thing remained constant. Walt Disney on Saturday night television.
“It’s a funny story,” he says. “They started the construction of Disneyland and each week we would see another phase of it. They were digging ditches for the waterways, planting trees, pouring sidewalks and grading mountains. It just fascinated me, and I said, ‘That is what I want to do.’”
After researching and even calling Disney, Griffin learned that profession had a name: landscape architect. “As a kid, that’s what I did. My life was redesigning my parents’ yard, building creeks and ditches. Everybody thought I was crazy.”
By the time college came around, Griffin’s father wasn’t convinced. “My dad pitched a fit and said he wasn’t going to pay for me to go to college to plant plants. I tried to explain to him that plant material was just one part of it.” Griffin said.
Off to business school Griffin went. “It was the dumbest thing I could possibly do,” he says, thinking back on it now. He found out there was a pre-engineering program and without telling his parents, he started taking classes, like drafting.
While in college his parents moved to Jackson from Atlanta for his father’s job with Western Union. Soon after, a car accident rocked his family’s world. His sister was killed.
Griffin immediately left school in Georgia to take care of his parents. Now in Mississippi, Griffin set his sights on his true passion and completed his degree in landscape architecture at Mississippi State University.
After graduating, Griffin landed a coveted role – landscape architect for the city of Jackson. Mayor Russell C. Davis, a progressive, non-native Southerner, had just come into office. Davis believed in fully integrating public spaces, a move that allowed federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation grant money to flow in.
One of the projects Griffin is most known for is the rededication of Smith Park. “It was the bicentennial year – 1976. When we dedicated the park, my wife had our two-week-old son with her. I will always remember that.”
While Griffin was there, the city built 10 swimming pools, Josh Halbert Gardens, Smith Park and Tennis Center South, to name a few. In only a few years, Jackson had over $5M in federal money for parks.
Several months after Smith Park was dedicated, Griffin decided to strike out on his own. While he had the time of his life, residential design was his passion.
Griffin teamed up with Clifton Egger to form Griffin & Egger and in the early ’90s, the pair felt they needed to expand. Too many clients were asking for help on the inside.
After a booth in Interior Spaces, Latitudes in Canton Mart Square was born in 1994. Though, not without some patience on Griffin’s part. Hugh Ward, owner of the shopping center, was a close friend of Griffin’s, but it took him a year to convince Ward to rent him the space.
“This building was a (garden) nursery and he was slowing down, not doing much with it anymore. Everyone said that I shouldn’t take it because it wasn’t directly on the road. I wanted to be with a friend that I trust,” Griffin says.
To this day, Griffin says Canton Mart Square is home and he wouldn’t move anywhere else. “Being at Canton Mart Square is like a family. Steve, during the bad times, if we didn’t pay our rent, he knew we would pay it eventually. I just feel comfortable here. Everyone says we need to move out to the suburbs, like Madison, but that’s not us. This is where we want to be.”
Amy Schrock, Griffin’s daughter, is the interior design mind to Griffin’s concepts and Egger’s details. When the shop opened up, she came back to run Latitudes and compliment the business’ offerings.
Walking through the door, Latitudes has attitude. Bright colors, pattern, texture and coziness sing through. Neutrals? “We have done neutrals in the store and for clients, but a few months later, they are always coming back, saying, ‘I’ve got to have some pillows for a pop of color,’” Amy says.
In addition to small gifts, accessories, and in stock furniture, Latitudes offers full design services – everything from the curb to the backyard, paint colors to tile and carpet. “I have some people that I just go in and completely rearrange their bookshelves or flip their rooms,” Amy says. “And, if they can’t find it, Clifton will build it.”
Griffin is quick to brag on Schrock. “A client was just raving about Amy and how she enjoys working with her because she didn’t have to spend $5,000 on a couch. Amy will spend $500 if that’s all you have and make it work. But if you give us the money, we’ll spend it!” he chuckles.
“We do a really good job of taking what you have and making it work with what you want,” Amy adds. “For example, if you have your grandmother’s four-piece dining set, but it’s so out of date and you have to keep them. We take the old and the new together. We are eclectic in that way.”
Griffin’s favorite project? His own home in LeFleur East. “I have created what I think everyone should have,” he says with a grin. “That’s a strong indoor, outdoor relationship orienting the house where it should be on the lot, including grading. I love my house. It’s an obsession with me.”
But, will you ever get tired of it all, Rick, I ask? “It’s just fun to see all the new stuff. That’s why I don’t want to retire. I’m having too much fun.”