The only way I know to design is personally. For me, decorating is not about any one style or strategy. It’s about listening to my clients and learning—and enabling them to discover—how they want to live. The key is to ask the right questions and create an atmosphere of openness. I am passionate about people and love learning their stories.

When a client calls, I’ll start by inviting them to my atelier in a townhouse in New York’s East Village. My studio, formerly in Atlanta, has been based in Manhattan since 2001. Here, with the two fireplaces going, I’ll offer up some of the Southern hospitality I learned growing up in Virginia. Often, a visiting chef will prepare lunch for us, and we’ll begin the conversation. My goal as a designer is to satisfy my clients’ needs on the deepest level. Nothing matters more to me than making them happy. Maybe that is why several of my clients have become some of my closest friends. And I’m proud to say that most of my clients are repeat customers, returning to ask me to design more than one home.

Of course, I have my own story. I was born in Big Stone Gap, a coal-mining town in the heart of Appalachia. After majoring in dance at the University of Tennessee, I moved to Atlanta and found a job in the office of a prominent interior designer. One of the firm’s clients, Elton John, became a mentor. When I left to start my own firm, he entrusted me with one of my first projects: his home in the South of France. That led to the design of the New York apartment of Elton’s manager, John Reid, a commission that landed me my first magazine spread in Architectural Digest.

Good press is always appreciated, but great word of mouth is how I’ve gotten most of my work. And whether it’s commercial clients or homeowners from all walks of life who have entrusted me with the design of their residences—chances are they got my name and number after they went to a party at a friend’s home and asked, “Who is your decorator?”

My projects typically range in style and location: I’ve decorated everything from a London townhouse to a penthouse in New York and a Villa in the Middle East. My clients, too, run the gamut—some have a home full of kids, and others are single. Many want to be deeply involved in the process, but quite a few prefer that I do most of the design thinking and gathering for them. And while some projects have a leisurely timeframe, I’m never surprised when I’m asked to get a home decorated top to bottom in break-neck speed. No matter what the challenge, I’m happy to present solutions that accommodate the lifestyles of my clients.

There is no typical project—not even for the same client. The only constant, I’ve found, is in the approach: personal design means really getting to know my clients and discovering both how they want to live in their homes and how they want to get there. The destination is always worth it and I can promise that the journey will be fun.