“Let me give you the best advice you’ll get as long as you’re here,” says Gigi Chapman, owner of Charleston’s DeGuise Interiors. She will never forget her professor’s words during her very first semester studying interior design in college: “He told me: ‘You get to take an elective. Make it Marriage Counseling.’”
Chapman, a native Charlestonian who’s been custom designing homes from Charleston to San Francisco for over 32 years, has experience with nearly every type of project—and personality. From her showroom in I’On Square, Chapman orchestrates custom designs like a well-practiced conductor. She meets with clients for hours, visits their homes to tailor every design to their lifestyle, scours topshelf catalogues for the perfect pieces and does everything right down to the fluffing of couch cushions. Surrounded by over 300 sample books—one of the biggest design libraries in the region—Chapman is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Her personal experience is her greatest asset, though.
“You deal with every personality in the world in this business,” says Chapman, who even made a to-scale replica of one client’s house using graph paper cutouts so the 75-yearold homeowner could see her vision. “Everybody is just so blessed different.”
Three years ago, Chapman embarked on a living room project that would cause less experienced designers to short-circuit. “The husband loves Oriental rugs—jewel tones and all that—but the wife is into light, contemporary, fun,” explains Chapman of the couple, who’ve now entrusted her with their dining room, kitchen and sunroom, too. “Couples don’t always see eye to eye, even the ones who’ve been married 50 years.”
He’s a traditionalist; she’s for spunky and contemporary. Chapman’s hefty task was to create a functional and beautiful space where both husband and wife could feel at home.
“Interior designers are responsible for space management. A lot of people can do ‘pretty,’ but a design has to have form and function for it to be appreciated,” says Chapman.
Her solution was a daring fusion of traditional forms and contemporary prints. Chapman enlivened a pair of monochromatic wingback chairs with eye-catching accent pillows, re-covered a traditional bench in bright white-and-blue zebra print, added trims and tapes to classic French chairs, and chose a bird textile for couch pillows that play off the husband’s beloved Oriental rug.
“You could make a royal mess trying to do it,” says Chapman, laughing. Instead, she’s created a design worthy of royalty.
“I have to admit that it takes a lot to satisfy me,” Chapman says. “I don’t ever present it [a design] to a client until I have pulled a thousand things together and I am really proud to show it. But I’ve also been doing this for 32 years, and I know that—no matter what—you’re going to have to tweak it.”
Chapman’s expertise goes far beyond the textbook definition of interior design. In fact, her love of interior decorating began well before she formally studied it. Chapman grew up watching her own mother design prestigious Charleston homes.
“Mama worked on the gardens, the homes at Middleton, that kind of thing,” says Chapman, whose family has lived in the area for five generations. “She was always written up in the newspaper society page. … She was very good, but my mama was not a business person. She didn’t have to be back then. It was more about ‘making pretty’ back then and less about budget.”
She continues: “The whole face of interior design has changed. It’s got to work, it’s got to function, it’s got to make sense, and it’s got to be within budget. I don’t think my mother every learned that word.”
Chapman’s ability to marry old-world quality with contemporary sensibilities is an uncanny skill, no doubt helped along by her lifelong experience in the field. It takes one discerning designer to mix Oriental rugs with bird-print pillows and a zebra bench, confident that the result will be a beautiful home for both husband and wife.
Enid Spitz is a Charleston-based writer and yoga instructor. See more at ersyoga.com or @littleyogibird on Instagram.