Lessons From Arkansas- aka Tobi Fairley’s Design Camp (part one)

This past week I had the wonderful privilege of attending Tobi Fairley’s Design Camp in Little Rock, AR. What an incredible experience to not only learn from Tobi but to share the experience with such a wonderful group of talented Designers. Not only did I come home with my brain over flowing with ideas but made many new friends as well.

The tone was set for a great week on the first morning of  Camp when 2 stretch limos arrived at the Hotel to chauffeur all 34 campers to Tobi’s offices.

Hot Pink Stretch Hummer


Tobi Fairley is just amazing. Not only does she run a very successful Interior Design business,  she teaches, coaches, blogs, and has recently launched her own home furnishings line. I have no doubt that Tobi will be as well known as Martha Stewart in a just few short years.

I learned SO many things in camp; not only about good design, but about the business of design.  Since there were  so many things I want to share with you I was not sure where to start. After some thought though, I decided in this first blog, I would explain how Tobi approaches designing a room.

#1. When Tobi designs a room she always starts with the floor plan. She doesn’t even think about color or fabric or any other elements in the room until she has created a workable floor plan. She believes in function driven design and asks the clients lots of questions so that the floor plan fits their particular life style. Also, contrary to what we often see in magazines Tobi is NOT a fan of floating the major pieces of furniture in a room. She believes you should use ALL the floor space and that you are wasting valuable square footage if you float your sofa or other big pieces. What Tobi does float are the lighter movable pieces ( small chairs, benches, garden seats, tables, etc). Here is an example of a floor plan with “floating furniture”.


"Floating" furniture

See all the unused floor space? Really not much more than seating for 4.

And here is the same space AFTER with seating for 8-10.

Floor plan AFTER


A side note: Tobi NEVER puts the sofa on an angle. (Redesigners and Stagers are often taught to do this in school but Tobi says NO, it almost never works and eats too much square footage.)

#2. Always design the room as a whole. In other words, don’t buy the sofa, then look for some curtain fabric to go with the sofa, then spend months hunting for a rug that goes with the fabric…no!…The room MUST be designed as a whole. Tobi always starts this process with an inspiration board. She pulls fabrics, then looks at trims, and plays around with different finishes. Every choice is intentional and “speaks” in some way to everything else. Nothing is piece meal and even if the client can’t implement everything at once they know exactly what to buy when budget allows. When Tobi designs an entire house she creates a different board for each room and makes sure there is some continuing element (usually color) that creates a cohesive flow room to room. Again, think about each room “speaking” in some way to each other room.

One of Tobi's inspiration boards


#3. DO NOT use what Tobi likes to call “Filler” in a room. She believes we function best and live happier lives without all the clutter or what she calls “filler” that so many of us surround ourselves with. She sees so many homes where once the room is “done” the home owner runs to Homegoods or Pier One and fills a cart with a bunch of meaningless dust collecting “stuff”. Filler is just like junk food…it fills the space but adds no value and does nothing for the room or your soul. Better to save up and purchase one beautiful item that you cherish and which has meaning than fill a whole room with meaningless stuff.

I hope you enjoyed learning a few things from Arkansas. I have so many more tips and ideas to share so look for part two later in the week.


As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you design a room beginning with the floor plan? Do you make inspiration boards for all your rooms?  Are you guilty of using filler?


If you would like help designing your room or choosing color, give me a call.



10 Responses to Lessons From Arkansas- aka Tobi Fairley’s Design Camp (part one)
  1. kristie@thedecorologist Reply

    Wish I could have been with you! Sounds like you had a great time and learned a lot. Designing the whole room at once is definitely the ideal, but in real life with real budgets that isn’t always realistic. I guess we can dream . . .

    • Linda Holt Reply

      yes Kristie, I agree about designing the whole room at once. In real life (at least with my clients) that rarely if ever happens. By the time they had the cash to implement everything it would be time to redo the room!

  2. Jennifer Reply

    You nailed it Linda…couldn’t have said it better myself!! We did have so much fun, didn’t we:)
    My series on Camp starts tomorrow, you’ll have to come check it out!!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Jennifer. I will definitely check out your posts. I was hoping you would have a different spin on it so our posts would be different.
      and YES! I had a blast. Looking forward to High Point in April!!

  3. Kelly Reply

    How exciting! Sounds like you had a great time plus you learned! I do look at floor plan first after I ask “what do you want the room used for’ etc.
    Looking forward to reading what else Tobi taught you!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Kelly,
      Hope you had a good girl’s weekend!

  4. Ann McDonald Reply

    You did a great job describing the walk through process Tobi taught. I had so much fun learning and working with you, I came away inspired!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Ann. It was a pleasure meeting you as well. Looking forward to staying in touch via FB.

  5. Sheila @SZInteriors Reply

    You packed a lot of info. in these 3 lessons for us! Thank you!!!

    I’m with you and Kristie on designing the whole room at once, but I see where Tobi is coming from… maybe one day I too shall have those clients 😉

    I also see what she’s saying about the angled placement of a sofa – I actually like angled placement, but only with smaller pieces, maybe a love seat, but never a 3-seat sofa or larger…

  6. [...] am seeing great blog posts pop up all over the web already like this one from Linda and her follow up p... tobifairley.com/blog/2011/design-camp-a-to-z

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