By Danielle Wong Moores
For locals in the know, the name Nandina is synonymous with the interior design studio boutiques located in downtown Aiken, Atlanta and Greenville. But co-owner and interior designer, Susan Victor, along with Sue Shannon, recalls that “we looked up names – hundreds” during the branding process.
Then, a name closer to home – literally – came to mind. Victor and her husband Jim, an accountant and the business’ third partner, already owned a historic house, which just happened to be named Nandina. “If we believe in [the idea of] home, let’s just start with that,” Victor remembers saying.
It ended up being the perfect choice. Victor later learned that in Asian cultures, nandina bushes with their bright red berries are often planted at the entrances of homes as a wish for good luck. “Wasn’t I lucky?” she says with a laugh. “It was fortuitous.”
A real home with real style, after all, is the focus of Nandina’s design aesthetic. It was vital to both Shannon and Victor, who say they opened Nandina to help their clients create homes that feel and look good but work for today’s modern and busy lifestyles.
That aesthetic comes from both women’s backgrounds in an unexpected field: physical therapy. Victor and Shannon met when they worked as physical therapists at Aiken’s Hitchcock Rehabilitation Center. “We have this innate ability to understand how people live in a space because of our physical therapy background,” says Victor.
Although Nandina initially opened as a furniture and gift store that offered interior design services, the two friends quickly found their niche. “I knew, branding-wise, that we were going to brand ourselves as a lifestyle store,” says Victor. “We were going to choose a look so that when people came into the store, they were inspired to live a life.”
They discovered that when people visited the store, they might say they were looking for a sofa. “But if you asked the right questions, what they were really trying to figure out is, ‘How do I make my room the way I want it to be?’” says Victor. “So, if you focused only on, ‘Can I sell them a sofa?’ then you were missing the whole point of it.”
Victor and Shannon realized almost immediately that the design side, not the merchandising side, drove their business. “I don’t think you walk in and say, ‘OK, I want that room,’” says Victor. “But you do walk in and say, ‘Wow, this makes me feel good. Why does this make me feel good? What do I love about this look?’… [And] Sue and I kind of fell into that role.”
The long-term, trusted relationships Victor and Shannon were building with clients who fell in love with the Nandina style were their start in interior design.
They spent years taking seminars and learning the craft of interior design starting with the fundamentals from great designers they hired. “It’s so easy to decide that I have a passion and that’s what’s going to make me happy the rest of my life. Or, [to decide] I am always going to be open to learning something new and then becoming so good at it that it becomes my passion,” says Victor. “Both of us would always say that’s how design happened for us. We had a little spark and then it developed, and then it became our passion as we learned it and really embraced it.”
Shannon still leads the design aesthetic of Nandina the store, which Victor describes as clean but layered. The look changes regularly, but there are always “really good clean basics, well-made pieces,” that are then layered with antiques “with a little bit more wear on it so that it feels older and richer,” like a sleek glass desk and modern chairs on an antique Oriental rug, combined with leather wallpaper.
That look is a perfect marriage of their unique styles. Victor says she leans more toward beautifully accessorized tabletops and chests and lots of great art, both modern and antique, all mixed together, while Shannon’s style is cleaner and more uncluttered. “[But] we truly love all forms of design,” says Victor.
Their inspiration comes from nature and travel. A lakeside landscape, for example, demonstrates how every color of blue and green and brown and gray can mix, not match, and end up just right. And last year, Shannon traveled to Scandinavia and became fascinated with their style of light woods and very modern aesthetics. “Travel opens your eyes to so many different styles,” says Victor. “I tell people all the time that you understand what a French country kitchen should look like if you ever saw a French country house in the French countryside.”
But the projects that are the most fun just might be the most challenging. Recently, Shannon designed a home for a young couple. It was colorful with just a bit of glam. Then, the wife brought out a Victorian-style loveseat that had belonged to her late mother and said, “This has to go in the house.”
Shannon and her client worked on the idea together. Because the client loved color, they decided to repaint the loveseat and reupholster it in a beautiful, colorful fabric, placing it in a sitting area designed just for the homeowners. It ended up fitting perfectly. “When you bring in [a piece] that matters to you,” says Victor, “it can make a room.”
Photos courtesy of Nandina
Appears in the October 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.
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