Mary Tobias Miller is truly one of the top designers in Charlotte, and she has a number of impressive accomplishments, including opening Abode on East Boulevard a few years ago.
Mary worked under interior decorator Suzie Frankfurt in New York who had friends like Andy Warhol and had celebrity and other high-profile clients.
I sat down with Mary (in the most beautiful velvet swivel chairs) to learn more about her habits and personal and professional life.
Here’s how Mary works.
To-do list manager?
Notes (four typed pages)
Apps you can’t live without?
Instagram — I’m obsessed. I love to travel, so I’m obsessed with Instagram. I can shop all over the world for clients without having to be there.
Social media habits?
I get on to get inspired, find things, follow magazines all over the world, like Elle Decor Russia, designers from all over the world. Again, I can find porcelain from South America.
I get up at 6:30 a.m. I let my dog out of the kennel, she sits with me, I have my coffee, add to my things to-do list, and I watch first 15 minutes of the today show. And I go to spin classes.
Music at work? Type/source?
It’s a little different every day, but we put it on store’s speaker through Spotify. Today is Cafe Costes which is this place in Paris; they have the best music.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Nothing, I drink coffee. Four months ago I started the 16-hour fast.
Walk us through a day in your life.
Paperwork, emails or if I have to write something, I do it in the morning.
Then I get into the store, go over what needs to be purchased, what clients need ordered, then pull things for clients or go to client meetings at their house.
I usually do my meetings in the afternoon and try to get all of the other stuff done in the morning when I’m most creative.
What are some unusual habits you have and why do you have them?
I’m a little obsessive compulsive, and I’m time-obsessed.
I have to multi-task, get things done the fastest way possible. I have to for my job.
What everyday thing are you really good at?
Staying on top of the to-do list. I keep a four-page long to-do list — some for today, some for the week, some ahead. I think I’m good at multi-tasking.
If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing?
I’d love to be in music world. I have a passion for music — No. 1 on my bucket list is to get to the Grammys.
I love Chopin, and then I love the Chainsmokers, and everything in between.
Prince was my hero.
When I lived in New York, after going out, I’d put some Michael Jackson music channel on and dance.
How would you describe Charlotte’s home style?
Design is cyclical, so Charlotte was traditional beyond belief for forever, 20 years ago. When I moved here, things were changing a little bit.
Charlotte is very affluent and people want to show that, so it became more transitional which is a little bit like [Abode].
It went to industrial, and then it died.
When things that are stylish go down to Target, it’s time to move on.
Now, it’s traditional, florals, luxe and color, shiny, crystal, gold.
How does that fit in with your style?
My style is to mix old things with new. I like to put antiques in a modern environment.
If somebody has a traditional house, I like to put things that are more modern, maybe a funky chandelier.
If you put traditional in traditional, it looks like your grandmother’s house, and if you put modern in modern, it looks cold.
What’s a purchase of less than $100 that’s most improved your work output or life?
Takeout, because I have to feed my family and I eat my desk.
And the Bytox patch if I’m run down or if I’ve had a couple glasses of wine — I mostly take it when I’m feeling run down.
Favorite restaurants in Charlotte?
Advice to your 30-year old self?
When I would say “Mom I made the honor roll or whatever,” my mother would respond, “Now what are you going to do?”
I think that’s why I don’t sit still.
If someone’s just starting, how should they start decorating their space? What should they prioritize?
It’s a slow process. If you have let’s say $1,000, I’d rather you get two quality things than try to do the whole room — if you buy cheap things, they will fall apart.
I’d say start with good art and your rugs, because that’s where you’ll pull colors from.
What’s one thing people don’t know about Charlotte that they should?
I grew up in South Carolina; I lived in New York for 10 years; I went to school in Virginia for seven years.
Charlotte is the best city on the east coast.
Its got the airport, people are genuinely kind, there’s not much back-biting or small talk. There’s arts. There’s culture.
Responses were lightly edited for clarity. Love learning how leaders in Charlotte get stuff done? Here’s our full “How I Work” series including interviews with NASCAR’S Jill Gregory, lawyer Michael A. DeMayo and restauranteur Frank Scibelli. Job hunting? Go view 150+ fresh, open jobs in Charlotte right now