Owner Amanda Furlow, The Design Center by Design A.F., 9 Emory Place, Knoxville, August 2023
As the Emory Place transformation continues, Design AF has opened at 9 Emory Place, continuing the string of new businesses that have opened there over the last year. Owner Amanda Furlow started the company in March 2023 and recently opened her design center.
Originally from Polk County, she moved to Knoxville to attend UTK in 2011, graduating in 2016 with a degree in architecture, focusing on interior architecture. She’d always wanted to be an artist of some sort and her parents were very supportive, affording her a range of opportunities to explore what she might like best. Her father had his own business and sold it, so she had a role model for entrepreneurship. She explored graphic design, fashion design, and interior design in high school. Once at UT in the interior design classes of the School of Architecture, she said everything clicked and she knew she was where she belonged.
She worked for Ferguson Bath Kitchen and Lighting for five years and continues the relationship by carrying their plumbing and appliances in her new show room. She developed relationship with many builders during those five years and began completing design jobs for some of them outside her hours at Ferguson. March 13, 2020 (yes, it was a Friday) she quit her job with Ferguson to strike out on her own.
“That Monday the world shut down. I was terrified.” She determined she would figure it out. She felt the hardest part was leaving and she’d done that. “I knew in my heart I needed to go ahead and do it.” She recalled the freedom her parents had by owning their own business and she wanted to have the same level of control over her time.
“I said I was going to hire my first employee when I had twenty-five projects. I thought that would take at least a year. I did it in six months in the middle of a pandemic. Now there are four of us, we have a storefront and we’re growing.” Most of the first three years were spent working out of her home or on job sites.
She knew she wanted her own place and she spent about two-and-a-half years. She “wanted the best vendors in town to team up with us and wanted to include furniture.” She wanted to allow people to be able to plan their entire project without running all over town to various show rooms. She wanted to develop “a perfect place, that is organized that every surface is saleable, that has everything in one place.” She wanted to make sure it focused on current design sensibility you might find in Atlanta, New York, or California, something that she sees as fresh for Knoxville.
She sees a niche for a contemporary, urban aesthetic, feeling that more young people are staying in Knoxville after they graduate from UTK and that many people are moving here who expect to see the kind of design they were accustomed to in larger metropolitan areas. “I wanted something that has the Restoration Hardware aesthetic, but doesn’t have that price point. People can afford to buy the sofa or they can afford our services. Another designer can bring in their client. We have a $600 piece of art and we have a $12,000 piece of art. It’s a place that is tailored for everyone.”
She pitched the idea to vendors as a second showroom for them. They agreed and the store was born. You’ll find plumbing from Ferguson, countertops from Triton and Stone Creek Services. “They fabricate all my stuff and they are fantastic. The lighting comes from Stokes, featuring their design lighting. Knox Cabinet Company does my cabinets. They are a great local brand with manufacturing in Morristown.” She focused on local businesses as much as possible, down to the candles which are purchased from a local company.
She works with builders, designers, or home owners directly. The items in the store may be purchased or Amanda and her staff can help clients furnish a room, furnish a new home, or do a remodel. It’s a one-stop spot for designers or the public. And she’s adding more architectural accents, linens, serve-ware, candles, pillows and more. Rugs, art, tiles, countertops, flooring is all available. “Everything to complete your home.” They can take the lead on a project in the home, or do the design work for a contractor, if the client already works with one.
The business has grown quickly, including contracts to do the interior design work for developers building multi-family homes and luxury rentals. They’ve also found a role designing med-spas. The design team takes the floor plan for luxury rentals, for example, and makes all the design choices, oversees the completion of the interior and “we have it turn key, down to the silverware in the drawers.”
She also loves the location. “I’ve always loved this street. I got hired to build out this building.” She’d been torn between Maryville, West Knoxville and downtown, trying to find a place that would be central for her clients. None of the other places “felt right in my gut.” She said when she walked in, “it was this crazy feeling I can’t describe . . . I was speechless. I looked out the back window at the cathedral and felt like I was in Europe.” She loved the light, the age of the building, and the location within the trajectory of downtown growth.
She said she’s always lived downtown since she moved to Knoxville, including four years on Market Square, and now upstairs from her business. She said she could envision the space as it is now when she walked in the first time. “I knew this is it . . . This is right.”
The design center is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday by appointment. The website has more information (and eventually feature products that may be ordered directly), including a template to complete should you be interested in design help. You can also follow along on Instagram.