It’s likely very few people who grew up with Debra Taylor in Marion, N.C., were surprised when she pursued a career in interior design and art.
While other little girls were playing school or playing with dolls, Taylor, now 68, said she was more likely to be found decorating and designing. She remembers vividly finding her fun in a dirt-floored woodshed behind her aunt’s house, making shelves on the walls and using spent hairspray cans and other items to organize and design them into works of art in her five-year-old mind.
“I think early, early on I knew I wanted to design either fashion or interiors,” Taylor said, sitting in the sun recently as it shone through the large glass windows of Twelve South Gallery in downtown Hartwell.
The gallery is also the home of Chocolate Hill Interiors, the interior design company she has owned for the past 35 years. Several years ago, while designing a model home in the Atlanta area for DR Horton Homes, she said the memory of her earliest designs behind her aunt’s house came rushing back when she found just what she needed to stage a laundry room in an unexpected place. Taylor said she was walking with her husband of 28 years, Jim Dubeau — who she said is her biggest supporter — past a recycling bin in front of someone’s house when she found an empty Tide laundry detergent container that fit the bill for the staging.
“That made me laugh, thinking that I was still using discarded containers as a professional,” Taylor said.
The design company has been successful and Taylor still works in the field today. She also, as is evident when peering through the windows at Twelve South Gallery, is an accomplished painter.
You might catch a glimpse of Aubie, the black lab, now with a patch of gray hair draped over her nose, lying with her head on the ground and her front legs splayed out to either side just inside the front door beside a painting of her in her younger days in the exact same position.
As the holiday season ramps up, Taylor said she will be busy working on similar commissioned paintings of pets, part of the job of a professional artist. Other commissioned paintings include portraits — one of Ronald Reagan — and still lives. Examples of her work are on display at the gallery, at Cateechee’s Waterfall Grille and at Southern Hart Brewing Co., just to name a few.
But one recent commission was especially heart warming for her. Her grandson told her he wanted a painting of him shooting hoops for his birthday. It was delivered earlier this week. The photo she used for inspiration still hung in the gallery where she sits to paint.
“He said ‘Mimi, what I want for my birthday is a painting of me shooting hoops,’” Taylor said. “When they say ‘that’s what I want for my birthday,’ that’s pretty special.”
Taylor plans to begin teaching adult painting classes in 2020, now that she has received enough interest.
She will also continue to serve in her second stint as president of The Art Center in downtown Hartwell. Not long after Taylor and Dubeau moved to Hartwell 12 years ago, she read an article in The Sun about the center possibly having to close its doors. She and another friend or two got heavily involved and today, she still spends much of her time away from her work with The Art Center. Her interior design connections even helped to supply the center with high-end kitchen furnishings and cabinets that were being removed from a mansion in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood.
On Nov. 21, The Art Center will receive a $10,000 grant from an area bank and Hart EMC that the organization plans to use to continue renovations on a building next door to it on Howell Street that was donated several years ago.
Aside from her efforts with The Art Center, Taylor spends a lot of time with her grown children — Thomas Dubeau, Brock Taylor, Gretchen Taylor Childs and David Hobbs — and her grandchildren.
“They (grandchildren) see me coming and get the paints out,” Taylor said.
She is happy to know she can pass on a love of art and design to her grandchildren the same way her mother did to her and her sister.
“My mother always provided my sister and I with every craft imaginable to learn, from when we were itty-bitty,” Taylor said.