When interior designer Cathy M. Austin first came to Charlotte 17 years ago, she did so “kicking and screaming.” Her husband needed to relocate from New York to the southeast for business, and Austin was less than enthused. However, when she arrived, something unexpected happened—she fell in love with the Queen City.
Two years after settling in Charlotte, following a brief but formative stint at Circa Interiors, she opened her own interior design business predicated on her deep love of visual art. The model of her business is simple in theory, but deeply challenging in practice: she uses art as inspiration for interiors, designing beautiful and functional spaces around her clients’ art collections.
Austin begins with a piece—or, sometimes, multiple pieces—and selects anything and everything needed to tie the space delicately to the art, from wall color to light fixtures to furniture and decor.
“Everything I pick out is designed to complement and enhance the work of art, not fight with it,” Cathy Austin explains.
She hunts for furniture and decor at Slate Interiors and Darnell & Company in Charlotte, as well as on online sites like First Dibs and flea markets outside of Atlanta, which is her hometown. But designing an abode around an art collection is only one (admittedly critical) component of Austin’s business. She also emphasizes the importance of constantly tailoring spaces to her client’s needs.
“I get to know how a family’s world functions and what that family’s needs are to create spaces that work for them,” she says. “I see myself as an interpreter of my clients’ tastes. Every project starts with them and is completely unique, because every client is completely unique.”
Her passion for visual art and her natural aesthetic talents enable her to excel in her field. An enthusiast for abstract expressionists like Jonas Mitchell, Mary Abbott, and Susan McAlister, Austin planned to attend graduate school to study art history after completing undergrad at Washington and Lee University. Instead, she landed a job helping commercial designers select artwork for their public spaces. She fell in love with her work, which combined her appreciation for art with her inclination to create. Cathy Austin chose a degree in design, and her clients couldn’t be more delighted that she did.