After building a design business in Nashville, Houston and Atlanta, north Mississippi native Kimberly Ward returns home to grow her company, create practical living spaces and highlight the work of African-American interior designers nationwide.
Written by Kate Lechler
Photographed by Joe Worthem
When Kimberly Ward walks into a space, the first thing she notices is the room itself.
“Is it square or asymmetrical? Is there a fireplace or space under the stairs?” The Abbeville, Miss., native describes herself as a “functional interior designer” whose main interest is to help people use their living and working space more efficiently.
“Real life doesn’t look like a Pinterest board,” she said, adding that her job is to make the room more functional for its owners, not to create impossibly perfect photos to showcase her design firm, Kimberly + Cameron Interiors.
The “Cameron” in her company name is a tribute to her first nephew, but Ward got her no-nonsense attitude toward interior design from her grandparents and her mother.
“My grandfather could not read, but he could build furniture,” she said.
She describes growing up in a household where homemaking – sewing quilts, making soaps – was part of daily life. Only in college at University of Southern Mississippi, where she earned a degree in psychology, did she learn that interior design could be its own business.
“Even now,” she said, laughing, “I use what I learned in my psychology degree every day.”
Living in Nashville, Tenn., in 1998, when the Titans moved to town, Ward had the opportunity to design some of the players’ homes. She was completing her graduate degree in education at Tennessee State University at the time, but the design jobs began to pile up. After she moved to Houston, Texas, and taught elementary school for a year, a friend convinced her to try interior design full time. She officially opened her business in May 2002, as soon as school let out. Before she left Houston for Atlanta in 2007, she had designed 16 houses and grown a successful business.
Moving her business to Atlanta provided Ward with both challenges and opportunities. In Houston, Ward had close working relationships with NFL players and administrators, but in Atlanta, she had to grow her client base from the ground up.
“It taught me compassion,” she said. “I saw what other designers were dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”
Ward began doing design work for the film industry, designing short-term condos for staff and actors filming projects in Atlanta, such as The Blind Side, The Vampire Diaries and Joyful Noise.
“It saved my life because I didn’t know that this work existed,” she said.
In 2008, Ward began her blog, Pink Eggshell, dedicated to her friends.
“At first, I wanted to explain the basics for my girlfriends who were buying homes and thinking about design for the first time,” she said.
Early on, the topics were similar to the advice found on other design blogs. But in 2011, after winning “Best of Blogfest” at the Kravet Blogfest in New York, she realized that there was an important gap to fill.
“The story of black interior design wasn’t being told,” she said.
She began curating an annual list, the African-American Top 20 Interior Designers, on her blog.
Each year, Ward chooses her favorite 20 African-American designers to help celebrate designers of color and to create a resource for the black community. In 2012, she hosted a reception for the designers at New York’s 40/40 Club.
“For many of them, it was their first time meeting another black designer,” she said.
The reception was such a success that last year Ward expanded it into a three-day event in Atlanta, with panel discussions, tours of design firms and a Saturday breakout session about the business of interior design as it pertains to the African-American community. Ward believes that the black design community should strive to be exceptional.
“We need to create award-winning customer service that demolishes cultural stereotypes and demystifies the decorating process,” she said.
Ward takes her position as spokesperson for the African-American design community so seriously that, in December 2012, she moved to Oxford to attend the University of Mississippi Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
“I wanted to be on the forefront of conversations about what’s next in print and new media, because that’s how I’m going to tell our story,” she said.
Since moving back to north Mississippi, Ward has been working on the launch of Iconic Home Magazine, an African-American home and lifestyle publication that she founded and has worked on with the Magazine Innovation Center. Her design office is housed at Insight Park, which aligns the company with the university and provides access to mentors and advisors.
Since then, Ward has expanded and diversified Kimberly + Cameron Interiors, hiring employees in five different states. The firm is working on luxury condos in Nashville; medical offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.; and a dentist’s office in Gulfport, Miss.
When she’s not working, Ward enjoys spending time at home with her daughter, Skylar, 5. Of all the rooms she’s decorated in her own house, she likes Skylar’s room best.
“I have started to collect things for her,” Ward said. “I like the Sheila Pree Bright Barbie series because it gives Skylar the opportunity to see someone who looks like her portrayed in a beautiful way.”
She hopes the space and the things in it will be inspiring for Skylar and will continue to be a place where she can dream big.
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