WITH CHICKADEE DESIGN
Words by Paige Townley
Portrait by Sarah Watlington
An aesthetically pleasing design is hard to explain but easy to notice, and no one knows how to achieve that ideal juxtaposition better than Kate Hartman and Kelly Petro Neely, owners of Chickadee Interiors in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
Kate and her mother-in-law, Carolyn Hartman, opened Chickadee in 2011, and Kelly joined the shop soon after. Eventually, Kelly and Kate’s long-standing shared passion for all things interior design led to a partnership and an updated design firm, Chickadee Interiors. “Kelly and I worked so well together, and when my mother-in-law was ready to retire, we knew that was not only the time to partner together, but also to alter the focus of the shop,” Kate explains.
That shift in focus included downsizing the store, approaching inventory as less of a “must carry a little bit of everything” to creating a smaller, more curated space full of their favorite styles and pieces. It also meant building upon their quickly growing custom design services, something both Kelly and Kate had longed to grow. “We really wanted to be more design oriented,” Kelly says. “For that to be our main emphasis, there had to be a better balancing act. That meant a smaller shop that was much more focused.”
The new-and-improved full service design studio began doing just that in 2017, offering clients everything from floor plans and finish selections to practically any type of furniture, lighting, and accessory needed to complete a space. Just as expected and hoped for, the firm’s clientele continued to grow. That’s due in part to the duo’s sought-after style, but also to their easy-to-work-with attitude when it comes to planning out the design process. “We tailor our services to meet the needs of the client,” Kelly says. “If we are working with someone who has a set of plans and they just want us to look them over and offer insight, we do. Or maybe they’d rather get guidance on colors and finishes. We tweak our services to meet the needs of the client.”
With years of experience on all types of design projects—from managing ground-up construction jobs and major renovations to selecting finishes and fabrics—Kelly and Kate do their best to problem-solve as many potential issues as possible. “Homes are very personal, so we want to make sure the experience is streamlined and easy,” Kelly explains. “That’s why we do so much prep work on the front end so that there are minimal surprises during the process.”
That prep work includes helping a client to determine and set a budget—“Everyone has a budget, whether that’s based on how much they have to spend or just what they need,” Kate says—and to put an overall design plan in place. With every client, Kelly and Kate stress that having a plan not only saves money in the long term, but it also ensures a more cohesive design. “Sometimes you can’t furnish every room right away, but a plan needs to be created for every room in the beginning so that you know the spaces will coordinate when the entire project is completed,” Kelly explains.
Starting from that well thought-out plan, Kelly and Kate have worked with clients across Birmingham and beyond with their custom design needs. They have even worked with some clients on multiple homes as the clients have moved across the country. While each project is unique and every space lends itself to a certain look, Kelly and Kate do their best to put their spin on a room while also keeping it consistent with the client’s style. “Our goal is to give them their look the best way possible,” Kate says. “We don’t want to convince a client to have the same look as us. We believe our job is to give a client the best version of his or her own style.”
To continue giving clients their best, Kelly and Kate have once again revamped the store, cutting down on the space even more to make it more of a design studio that’s geared toward their projects. The shop still carries needed home accessories for customers to peruse, and it also features upholstery items from their favorite and most trusted brands. “We feel strongly that we should have products in the shop that clients can touch and feel before investing a lot of money,” Kate explains. “We want clients to see the choices and compare the brands so they know they are getting quality without just taking our word for it.”
While it’s a big undertaking to once again change the purpose behind the shop, Kelly and Kate feel that by continuing to do so they are better committing their time and resources to their design clientele. “Our goal is for our clients to see the end result of what we’ve done and truly love it,” Kate says. “We want them to be happy with the quality, the look, the feel, and the style. It’s the ultimate compliment to us when they see their house and say that they really feel like it’s home.”