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Memphis interior designer Sean Anderson is all about the big reveal

Known locally as the ‘neutrals guy’, the Memphis-based interior designer brings dark hues and strong intuition to every project.

A self-taught designer and a rising star on the design scene, Mississippi native Sean Anderson believes in organic decision-making. “I have always trusted my gut,” he says. “It’s how I’ve always been, both in my professional and personal lives; and it’s an approach that has greatly benefited my career.”

The designer started off flexing his design muscles in his own home, which he decorated room-by-room over a number of years, ultimately electing to paint the entire house in varying shades of charcoal. When everyone else in that particular design era seemed to be opting for light neutrals and bright whites, Anderson was experimenting with the darker shades in the colour spectrum. “It was a bold move but really paid off,” he says. “I was always willing to take chances, likely breaking rules I never knew existed, never having studied interior design formally.” Asked how he developed his intrinsic style and confidence, Anderson talks about trusting his eye and his innate understanding of scale and proportion. “If you don’t understand that, you are doomed to fail,” he says.

His confidence has paid off many times over, with the industry taking note as his projects hit the web (and numerous publications). Anderson now leads a team at Sean Anderson Design of around 20 people, a cohort imbued with vast experience in all aspects of the business. “I know my talents and skills, but equally what I am not all that good at,” he acknowledges, “and thus I have built a team that can work holistically and achieve even the most complex of fit-outs.” It’s a much needed collective, given that the studio is now working on ever-larger-scale projects across the country.

I have always trusted my gut… it’s an approach that has greatly benefited my career.

Interior designer Sean Anderson

Despite his growing team and the increasing scale of projects, Anderson is still dedicated to ensuring that every client experience is distinct and meaningful, creating intimate working relationships with them. “The design process can take years,” he states, “with many, many conversations and decisions in that time. It’s no surprise that many people equate being a designer to being something of a therapist.”

Interior designer Sean Anderson photographed in his Vestavia Hills project in Alabama (Photo: Haris Kenjar)
Interior designer Sean Anderson photographed in his Vestavia Hills project in Alabama (Photo: Haris Kenjar)

The team’s white-glove installations can take up to five days, with some projects involving the inclusion of almost every household item, including linen, daily homeware, wardrobe editing and packing. In fact, Anderson believes in creating a celebration at the culmination of each project in the form of an after-party for the clients’ family and friends. “The big reveal is the day when our projects will look their absolute best and represents a culmination of all the hard work,” he explains. “I live for those moments.”

This way of working is evident in almost all of the designer’s projects, including Templeogue. The interior reimagining of this historic, Italianate estate in Memphis was the product of a close collaboration with the client, who is also his longtime design assistant and a vital cog in the design team. “This was one cool and chic client,” he says, “and we loved incorporating all the unique pieces collected from her extensive travels into the scheme.” Anderson’s penchant for moodier tones is evident in the project, as is his ability to bring a wide variety of styles, pieces and elements together. These include rich drapery, heavier objects like high-back sofas, contemporary lighting from Apparatus Studio, custom upholstered furniture and heavyset antiques.

Two elements in particular stand out as original. The first is a Kimono fabricated from pennies. Anderson could have simply installed the piece on a wall, but instead, he fashioned a mechanism enabling the kimono to move along a rod and disappear to allow viewing of the TV concealed behind it.

The second is the furniture layout in the living room, which features two seating areas defined by two long sofas sitting side by side. “I had never seen it done before,” Anderson says, “but once I had drawn it, I knew it would work. It creates the effect of one space as well as two more intimate ones, all within the large room.”

The big reveal is the day when our projects will look their absolute best and represents a culmination of all the hard work. I live for those moments.

Sean Anderson

While Anderson’s aesthetic may be coined “southern” in nature (think animal hides and mounted animal heads), it is also highly distinctive, and while some of his early projects leaned into a single aesthetic, Anderson’s style is evolving – not only as he evolves as a designer, but because he is now attracting an increasingly diverse clientele who are placed all over the country and beyond. “In general, I never repeat products in my work,” he adds. “Every project is unique – that’s what drives me as an artist. I am even experimenting with colour!”

In Sean Anderson’s historic “Templeogue” project in Memphis, the interior designer installed two long sofas side by side to create two intimate conversation areas within a single larger space. Against the back curtain is a kimono made of pennies, which a special mechanism conceals, together with the curtain, to reveal a television (Photo: Haris Kenjar)

Another hallmark of Anderson’s projects – as underscored in his latest project, Vestavia Hills – is his signature juxtaposition of antique, vintage pieces and contemporary elements. “I am interested in storied pieces, things that are soulful and attractive” he says, adding: “Pieces with narratives.” The designer sources them from multiple galleries, stores, markets and outlets. “If I’m driving around and come across an interesting store or flea-market, I stop and buy whatever I can fit in my car.”

Antique and vintage  art objects, furniture and artworks create a warm space of considerable depth in interior designer Sean Anderson's Highland project in Tennessee (Photo: Haris Kenjar)
Antique and vintage art objects, furniture and artworks create a warm space of considerable depth in interior designer Sean Anderson’s Highland project in Tennessee (Photo: Haris Kenjar)

In Vestavia Hills, Anderson also had the opportunity to make a material difference in the interior architecture by suggesting the client enclosed the kitchen porch to create a generous indoor–outdoor seating area; and to bring the external stonework into the interiors, which made a significant difference to the materiality of the house. As expected, the project went viral and was followed by a steady flow of enquiries and new jobs for the studio, including the restoration of a 1,200-year-old farmhouse in Spain, collaborations with revered Alabama architect Jeffrey Dungan, a Sonoma farm house, and projects in Texas, Utah and New York. “It’s a turning point for us,” he continues, “and I can’t wait to share some of the growth and new work that’s evolving in the studio.”

Read more:  Interior Designers I Interiors | Vintage | Design | USA | MemphisMid-Century