Date: February 20, 2008 |
Though he’s been a major force on the Arkansas design scene for years, Garry Mertins’ roots in design go very deep. Because his father was an engineer, the family was transferred every few years, which meant a move, a new house and a remodeling project. “I was right there with my dad, wearing my tool belt and making over a whole house every few years. I thought everyone lived like that,” Garry says. In addition, his mother often let him tag along to estate sales and antiques auctions up and down the east coast. As a first grader, Garry had the chance to buy a bed at an auction, a piece which his niece has today, and his love of collecting was born. “I had an amazing decorative arts education at a very young age,” he says.
Friends and family were constantly asking Garry for help with their own design projects, but his biggest professional opportunity came when a group developing a 500-acre property on Lake Hamilton asked him to design their sales office. “I had never done a real proposal before, and I approached a family friend in the design business and presented my ideas to him first,” Garry says. “He encouraged me to stand behind my work and not let my inexperience stand in my way. I got the job, and after the office was completed, the entire development sold in six months.”
Garry took a position doing long-term planning with architects and builders for legendary designer Tom Chandler, and opened his own firm, Garry Mertins Design, a year later. First working out of his apartment, then a house on Kavanaugh, and finally a location on Cantrell Road, he eventually incorporated retail sales though mertinsdykehome, a home design showroom he co-owns with partner J. Dyke. When the store moved to a location in west Little Rock five years ago, the design studio took up residence in the warehouse district of Riverdale, but keeping the two separate never seemed quite right to Garry. So when the opportunity arose a few months ago to purchase the old Cordell’s building in Riverdale and have both parts of his business together again, he jumped at the chance. “I loved updating such a landmark building and giving it new life,” he says. “And it’s wonderful to be in the design district here. We have an amazing circle of talent.”
Renovated down to its bare bones, the building has re-emerged as a visible embodiment of the principles Garry encourages clients to follow: using space wisely, maintaining clean lines, and re-using materials whenever possible. The lower level is home to the retail store, while the upper level is the perfect environment for the studio, including offices for Garry and his staff, conference and swatch rooms, and a gallery for high-end and custom-made furnishings and artwork, which take the spotlight against sleek, white walls and floors. Many pieces from mertinsdykehome’s and Garry Mertins Design’s former locations re-appear, from the cabinetry in the conference room, to a floating glass wall in the atrium, to the sign on the building’s exterior.
This new environment has proved to be an ideal design lab for Garry to try out new products and applications for his clients, who run the gamut from young couples to empty nesters. “I’m at the point now where I’ve done three and four homes for the same people, and it’s so exciting to see how their lives and their tastes have changed,” he says. His design process is “fairly methodical,” he says. “It starts with assessing the client’s needs and choosing quality pieces with a well-developed plan in mind. I always encourage people to buy the best quality they can afford, but you can actually end up saving money by laying out a master plan that meets all their needs and doing things right the first time.”
Despite the vast array of projects he’s worked on, Garry still finds inspiration in many places. Whether he’s collaborating with builders and architects in Little Rock, working out the smallest details in a home in Key West or test-driving Smart cars in Dallas, he always has his eyes open to the intricacies of design.