Designer Gary Riggs is at his best helping you discover your own style
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
We’ve all experienced that sensation: You walk into someone’s home for the first time, and soak in their space. And it is… magnificent. Or malignant. You can’t always put your finger on it — sometimes the décor works, sometimes it feels woefully off — but you know there’s something at work there. You just can’t say what.
Well, Gary Riggs can. As founder of Gary Riggs Home, a high-end showroom and design studio along the tony furnishings enclave of Alpha Road, Riggs has made a career of figuring out how to make a space work. And his secret? He helps you figure it out.
Riggs didn’t always plan to go into interior design. He studied art and drawing (while majoring in finance) at Brigham Young University. He worked on TV shows based at the Orem studios where the Osmonds produced their shows, and was even a set decorator and lead painter on the original version of Footloose. But what drove him creatively was oil painting.
He was making a living in Utah, but decided to move to Dallas because “I had a sister who lived here, and I wanted a bigger art market to sell my paintings.” He took his portfolio around to several of the galleries “and got a really great response. So I packed up and moved here.”
He was doing well with his art — “one of the galleries sold 22 of my paintings to Texas Instruments for their corporate collection,” he says — and gained a following. One day, a potential buyer asked to come to his home to check out some paintings for the new house she and her husband were building.
“She came to my house, and bought a few of my paintings, and that was that,” he says. Then the next day, she called him.
“She said, ‘I love the way your home felt when I was in there. It just felt so good.’ She told me they had been working with a designer [on their new home] and that they had gotten some furniture, but that the home didn’t ‘feel’ right. She said, “I want to feel when I walk into my living room like I feel when I walk into your living room.’” Would Riggs mind, she asked, if he could take a look and see what he could do.
This was not, as it turned out, an unusual request for Riggs. “I always had friends and family ask me, ‘Can you do my house?’ Over the years I just ended up doing some,” he says. So he agreed to take a look.
He immediately knew the space wasn’t working.
“I’m really good at space planning and what was so bizarre to me was there was all this nice stuff that they had bought but it was just so disjointed,” Riggs says. “There was nothing connecting it. It was just a hodgepodge of things sitting around the room. So I immediately thought, well, if I move this stuff here, and that stuff there… I asked [the client], ‘Do you mind if I get a few things to show you what I’m thinking of and what would help your room?’” She agreed, and he found several items, mostly from a furniture supplier he had used in the past, that could tie the room together. “I rearranged the room so that it made more sense, and just left them with a list of what I had done and what I had brought. She called the next day and said, ‘I just love this. I cannot leave this room. I go in there and just want to be in my chair and read. Would you help with the master bedroom?’”
And so began a long and successful career in making other people’s dreams a reality. He eventually began working at the same furniture company and was prolific — both as a designer and a painter. But by 2004, the itch to branch out on his own was intense.
“I took the plunge,” Riggs says.
His showroom is a retail store open to the public, “but in reality, we are an interior design firm that has this huge inventory to draw from, so we can get your project done quicker.” In addition to gorgeous furniture, they sell apothecary items, candles and accessories “so people can come poke around and get ideas,” he says. But a lot of his business is designing very, very high-end spaces.
“I like dealing in the higher-end goods, because I want there to be longevity,” Riggs says. “And whether contemporary or traditional, I like a classic quality to things. I might do a little bit of stuff that is trendy, but I don’t get into tons of that, because I think trendy stuff is when you start feeling dated.”
The problem is, many people decorate just that way.
“It does bother me that people get caught up in [how] every year, a different color [is the hot new thing]. Of course, people in the industry — the manufacturers of paint and fabrics — want you to always feel like you’ve got to change, because that sells more paint or more fabric or sofas. If they can convince you that you can’t have brass hardware in your house anymore, then they’ve sold a whole house of new fixtures… only to tell you in a few years that brass is the only thing you need now. But I’m one who says, let’s see what’s going to look best in the house and then decide what color to pick.”
In fact, Riggs insists that his job is not to foist his taste on his clients, but assist them in discovering theirs.
“I’m a firm believer that I don’t care what the rule is, you can break it and make it amazing. A lot of times I work with the client who say, ‘We can’t do that because everybody says we can’t.’ And I say, ‘Well, this isn’t everybody’s home, and if you like that color, then let’s use it. And we’ll make it look very much today. [A room] can look modern just in the way you present it. You can have very traditional things, but if you present them in the right way, it can feel very modern.”
For instance, you can repurchase older furniture for a new look. “There are ways to repurpose things the client already has that will fit in. It’s all about space, really. I love the challenge of space planning, because sometimes you’ve got the strangest spaces.”
When updating with new items, Riggs suggests investing in high-end pieces whose timelessness will make them look good 10 years down the road.
“Take it slow and incremental, but make every purchase make a difference,” Riggs says. “That might mean you save for three more months so you can get the right chest versus the cheap chest, but you’ll be really glad you did. I don’t think everything needs to be expensive necessarily, I’m just saying that it’s about quality and longevity. Sometimes a $100 vase is worth every bit more than getting four $25 vases. Because it’s the one that makes a statement.”
When beginning a redo, Riggs likes to start with the common areas.
“I like to use the same color in all the common areas just to make it feel larger. Then if you want to change color, I’ll go into the bedroom. But every redesign begins by asking: What was the thing that gave you the inspiration and the motivation to redecorate in the first place? It might be a fabric, or the color of your blue shirt. You might have seen a piece of furniture that you fell in love with or a painting that you want to feature in a room. I’ve had clients who didn’t really know what they wanted, so I ask, ‘What colors do you like to wear? What is your wardrobe?’ You try to find something that they really do love. I always feel that my responsibility is to lead you to a great aesthetic.”
It’s a philosophy borne of Riggs’ belief in maximizing our environments to make us feel comfortable.
“I’m a believer that as people, we cheat ourselves. I have a friend who says she travels the world and stays in the nicest hotels and sees the most beautiful palaces, but she absolutely loves the feeling she gets when she opens that door and walk into her own home. It’s about getting that feeling for me that is the spirit of a home.”
Gary Riggs Home, 4450 Alpha Road.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 21, 2017.