By Jennifer Stanley
Tami Risinger answers the front door to her beautiful Centennial Valley home apologetically; she is in the middle of getting ready for our meeting. But rather than being rattled by my slightly early arrival, Tami gives me a little half hug, offers me a drink, and shows me to a comfortable seat in her bright, spacious office. Our introduction is a great metaphor for Tami herself: a friendly, not easily rattled woman who rolls with the punches.
Her art grabs my attention immediately; it is abstract modern and featured throughout her home. The piece over Tami's mantle in the living room is by Steve Griffith, a Conway artist. She has several of his pieces, including a favorite acrylic painting featuring a pair of pointed-toe stilettos entitled "Two Hour Shoes," she tells me with a laugh. Her own family photos are disbursed throughout the paintings, giving the home a personal feel.
Once we sit down to talk, the usual question and answer session falls by the wayside as Tami shares the story of her life's journey, which has taken her several places. She grew up in Little Rock and attended high school at Joe T. Robinson. Upon graduation, the youngest of five trekked to the bay area in California to attend San Francisco's Interior Design School, a logical move for a young girl who began rearranging and decorating her own room as a child. She became a business owner and built a sizable clientele in San Francisco.
While living in California, Tami came home to Arkansas for Christmas. "I met this guy who was dating my sister when I came home, and he said he had a friend, Jack, who was perfect for me," she shares. He took his idea a step further when visiting Jack, who lived in Dallas, the spring after meeting Tami and told him he should meet his girlfriend's sister. "He said I lived too far away, but his friend insisted they call me on the phone, and that's how the whole thing got started," she says.
The two formed a long-distance relationship via phone, followed by several in-person meetings. Jack eventually broached the subject of marriage, to which Tami responded, "'I've got a lot to lose.' But a couple of visits later he showed up with a ring; the rest is history." The couple married and Tami moved to Dallas, leaving her hard-won clientele in her wake.
"I had to completely start over in Dallas," Tami says. She took a job at a high-end furniture store to meet people in the area; she worked there for nine months and had a good client base started and began freelancing in Dallas. Tami also became a mother while in Dallas, where she had sons Chase, now 14 and Grant, now 12.
When her sons were two and four, Jack accepted a job offer out of Morrilton, so the family had to make a decision on where to live. They chose Conway for the central location and because they liked the schools. As far as her business went, Tami felt she couldn't start over again so soon. "I gave up my clientele in San Francisco and Dallas, and I didn't want to build up a new client base so soon in Arkansas," she says. Though she had some family nearby, "I didn't know a soul in Conway" says Tami.
"I decided I was going to be a stay-at-home mom and take piano lessons," she says with a laugh. She spent the first year in Conway overseeing the building of the couple's Centennial Valley home, but, in her words, "I about went nuts! I've always had a good balance; my family comes first, but I have to be busy. I've always had my own business and have worked out of my home. I've been so blessed in that way." She also struggled with life in a town the size of Conway after having lived in Little Rock, San Francisco, and Dallas, saying, "What I didn't think about in moving back here was that as an adult, I had always lived in a big city. You don't think about that. Coming back to Conway and the speed limit being 35, it drove me crazy at first!"
As a result of her cabin fever, Tami began taking large residential jobs; she was consistently working, thanks mostly to word-of-mouth when, about five years ago, she met Michael Morton from Fort Smith, who owns Central Arkansas Nursing Centers. He hired her as the interior designer for the company, and she is designing more than 20 of his nursing homes. "Locally I've done Salem Place in Conway; I've also worked in Russellville, Hot Springs, Perryville, Little Rock, and North Little Rock centers. It is wonderful because the job lets me have complete creative freedom," says Tami.
Tami shares one of her portfolios from a nursing home project, saying, "I design them with a modern twist, using a lot of bright art on the walls and soft colors. People lose 60% of their eyesight by the time they enter a nursing home, so the residents have really responded to the use of color." The photos are filled with muted browns and golds with splashes of bright color - yellows, greens, aquas, and reds - used throughout in the accents, such as paintings and decorative touches. The resident rooms look like bedrooms in anyone's home; she's even added monogrammed towels to each bathroom. She designed a formal dining room in which residents use fine china. "I do everything but drive the nails," she says.
While the nursing home project has been wonderful for Tami creatively, she loves both the residential and commercial side of her business. "I could do commercial full time, but I won't give up residential. It takes time because you have an entire family to work with, and financial restraints, but I love it. Commercial is different. I am given a budget and am told to make it look fabulous. So I go and do it!"
Tami has been in interior design for 31 years now ("I'm telling my age," she says with a smile), and while her own aesthetic can be described as classic with a contemporary edge, she says part of what makes her a successful designer is her ability to put her own tastes aside when necessary and truly design for the client. Her own home features earthy elements like seashells and decorative birds and features touches in shades of blue throughout. She's also an aficionado of murano glass and has a beautiful murano glass lamp in the living room.
Her kitchen includes several French antiques, including the table and a grandfather clock.
The entire home is incredibly well-designed and simultaneously comfortable; it is easy to relax. Still placed in the living room is the black grand piano Tami planned to learn to play her first year in Conway. "I'm not a sit still person. The piano didn't suit me," says Tami. With her busy life as a wife, mom, and successful interior designer, that piano will likely remain part of the dÃ©cor.