When she was 7 years old, Rhonda Harrod was taught to sew on a treadle machine. She had to stand up to do it because she wasn’t yet tall enough to pedal and guide the fabric through the presser foot. From those humble beginnings, Rhonda has become the matriarch of a Bowling Green institution.
Located on Scottsville Road, across from Greenwood High School, Creative Interiors combines three generations of family and a handful of lifelong friends who share a passion for interior decorating.
Rhonda’s daughter-in-law Gina Graham is now the owner, and granddaughter Kristen Graham, at age 22, studies business at Western while getting hands-on experience as a buyer for the store.
Their commercial space is devoted almost entirely to thousands of swatches and hundreds of bolts of fabrics from silk to leather, velvet to faux fur. In back, there are two workrooms where the team creates cornices, headboards, drapes, curtains, throw pillows, quilts and just about any other fabric-inspired home improvement.
But it wasn’t always such a diverse offering. When Rhonda first launched the enterprise it was called: Creative Interiors ~ A Touch of Country. She chuckles at the reminder and Gina gets the joke. “It wasn’t really a touch of country,” says Gina. “It was whole lotta country.”
That’s because when Rhonda started her business, Southern-style ruffled window treatments were the rage—giant ruffles, ruffles in triplicate, ruffles in two-tone, ruffles on ruffles on ruffles. They were intricate and detailed and Gina admits she did not share Rhonda’s skill with the sewing machine. She would come to work every morning with her fingertips already wrapped up in Band-Aids ready to do battle with bobbins. “We established fairly early on that sewing was not my strong point,” she remembers.
Fortunately, with her background in purchasing for a multinational company, Gina quickly applied her business skill to negotiating with vendors and managing the supply chain. And under Rhonda’s tutelage, she also came to appreciate the process of working directly with customers to bring their projects to life.
“That became part of my driving force,” she says. “Learning to help customers.”
Eventually those ruffled window treatments were replaced by more variety—straight panels, swags, cascades and jabots in stripes, solids, waverly, tribal, chevron and metallic. Creative Interiors continued to grow. “I started this business on $275,” explains Rhonda. “I never asked for (financial) help. I just put everything I earned back into the business.”
Today, in addition to window treatments, they offer custom quilting on bedding, as well as upholstered headboards and cornices made in-house. A client can come into the store and select from actual bolts of fabric and design a one-of-a-kind accent piece or transform an entire room.
And curtains don’t necessarily require windows. Heavy fabric panels are an ideal way to enclose an outdoor space and create privacy. Creative Interiors carries Sunbrella® brand fabrics that hold-up to years of sun exposure and can help extend the living space beyond the home’s footprint.
Part of the process of working with their clients is uncovering their sense of style. Fortunately for these designing women, Kristen has embraced the family business. She brings a fresh perspective, according to Gina, because she likes a more modern aesthetic and because she embodies the lifestyle of a younger generation. Her sense of style is more adventurous and she is quicker to change even when it comes to the large pieces.
Mother and daughter enjoy traveling to fabric markets—most recently in Atlanta—where Gina proudly stands back and lets her daughter negotiate with the vendors on everything from shipping times to cost, while inspecting the quality and credibility of the product offering. “She’s a good student,” Gina says.
Thanks in part to Kristen’s involvement Creative Interiors has expanded to offer plush area rugs, contemporary accessories, furniture and lighting. “We are a little bit different than just a decorator because we’ve got a whole retail store,” says Gina.
She says this not only means a diverse offering, but also means her price points are often lower than her competitors. And since staying relevant means being able to spot the next big thing without betting the store on a fly-by-night fad, Gina appreciates being able to navigate the intersection of traditional and contemporary where Kristen’s fresh perspective intersects Rhonda’s years of hands-on decorating experience.
This article was written by Marika Kutchins, with photography by Joe Imel.
Originally appeared in the July-August 2014 issue of Bowling Green Home & Lifestyle.