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Todd Richesin's Good Instincts

Why His Blueprint for Design Begins with Skill, Context, and a Listening Ear

When Todd Richesin was a second grader in Sweetwater, he accompanied his mother to a showroom in Knoxville where she was working with an interior designer to redo a room in their home. One of the things Todd’s mother wanted was a new rug, so off he went, an interested and helpful child, and found a rug he thought might work in the space. 

“Based on what my mother said, it was what she was looking for,” says Todd. “The designer said that was the rug she wanted to show them, so they bought it, and they still have that rug in the room.” 

From his earliest memories, Todd’s design instincts were strong. 

“Good design is instinctual. You can learn about drawing, fabrics, texture, furniture quality, about art, but you can’t learn how to put it together,” he says. “I think scale is instinctual. That’s the most common mistake people make. They buy upholstery that’s too big and rugs that are too small.” 

Todd’s path to a career as interior designer started to take shape when he was 16 years old and, again, accompanied a family member on a design-related errand. This time, it was his grandmother. She was working with a professional designer and the two had agreed to meet at a fabric store.

“The designer had to leave for some reason, and the woman, Jane Rose, who ran the store and became a mentor of mine, said to fire the designer and hire me,” he says. “So she did.” 

After graduating from college, Todd worked as a designer’s assistant at a firm in Maryville, where he spent the next seven years learning the trade and traveling to Paris and London regularly to source antiques. It was the sort of hands-on training that only comes with experiences outside of a classroom or office. He learned how to work successfully with antique dealers, how to recognize quality pieces over fake ones, and how to see which pieces work in a room and which ones do not. It’s knowledge that has served him well for the last 25 years running his own interior design firm. 

“If you look at my work, you may see common threads, but the voice you see is the client’s voice. These aren’t my houses, and they aren’t for everybody. I know I’m not a good fit for everyone, and that used to bother me, but it’s okay now,” says Todd. “I take joy in being able to help the people who have chosen me. We do everything ourselves rather than going to other showrooms, so that helps me listen to what clients are asking for. You want coral silk draperies? I will make those for you and they’ll be beautiful, even though it’s not my personal style. 

“People may look at my work and think, ‘I don’t like that,’ and that’s fine,” he continues, “but if you knew what the client was asking for, you’d understand.” 

Todd’s clients extend well beyond East Tennessee on account of the reputation he’s built since establishing Todd Richesin Interiors with his husband, Bobby. Their work has been featured in House Beautiful, Southern Home, and on Houzz, but their clientele is largely built by word of mouth. The goal is always to cultivate a space that provides comfort, functionality, and style that aligns with the client’s lifestyle and preferences. 

It’s more than that, though. Todd’s talent goes further than knowing what colors pair well or what size of armchair works well in a corner.

“Context, for me, is important in design. I would never do concrete and razor blades – hard modern design – in a Georgian house. If you’re in a mid-century modern house, but you’re putting 18th-century antiques in it, you don’t have the right house,” says Todd. “Not to say that you can’t incorporate those elements, but you have to think about how to do it. The inside needs to feel like it goes with the outside.” 

The best arrangement, as far as Todd is concerned, is to get everyone working together – the client, the contractor, the builder, the landscaper, and the interior designer. When the team can coalesce, it’s a dream.

“Architects don’t consider furniture arrangement, and sometimes you can move a wall a few inches and it changes the whole room. If you want to modify it, do it on paper while it’s free. When it’s being built and the studs are up, you can’t always move it,” says Todd. “When you look at the whole house, it’s a complete thought. Some people go through the process of picking tiles and fixtures, and then get to furniture later. Why would you pick a paint color before knowing what your drapes and fabrics will be? Paint is the last thing you should pick.” 

The interior design business has changed dramatically since Todd began his career in the late 1990s, largely because of the way it’s portrayed on social media and, more recently, the onset of artificial intelligence. Even viewers of popular design television shows can misunderstand how interior design works in the real world. While the internet provides opportunity for inspiration and a way for young designers to get noticed, it can also prompt unrealistic client expectations.

“Now, half of what you look at online for interiors is created by AI. These computer-generated images are beautiful, but the products they’re using don’t exist. If you show me a chandelier that’s in this photo, I can go through every vendor but they won’t have it,” says Todd. “Of course, you can create these pieces, but it won’t be on budget.” 

Design trends are another thorn in his side since they will invariably fade and thus aren’t a wise way to spend money or resources. This goes back to building a room or home around the client’s personal style and functional needs rather than choosing pieces and fabrics that reflect commercial novelties. 

“When a client has total trust, that’s when the job is really good. Sometimes that happens on installation day, and they’re like, ‘Oh, now I get it!’” he says. “My goal is for people to understand we are an incredible value for the amount of skill and knowledge that we bring to the table. This isn’t a one-meeting thing. You must like the person you’re working with. It’s intimate, and if you’re doing your job correctly, you’re getting to know a person and how they live.” 

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Inspiration for this project started with the blue and white rug in the living room. It was a sample piece that Todd intended to use for another project, but when it fell through, and the new client loved it, the rug served as a base for the rest of this Bearden home. 

“When doing a whole house, it should have a common thread. It should feel like a complete thought,” says Todd. “We can do different rooms in different colors, but it still needs to feel like every room belongs in that house, no matter what.” 

Today, this space is draped in shades of navy, cobalt, royal and silver blue, with a touch of aqua in a chandelier, and gold trim and hardware. The client already had a collection of antique pieces and accessories, so Todd’s team completed the look with new upholstery, drapes, and de Gournay hand-painted wallpaper. 

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