By: Sasha Fields
In the 1970s, Archie McCormick, of Archie’s Interior Design, picked out the original colors for the exterior of Butler Plaza.
His reward: $75 and a martini.
His striking blue eyes lit up as he told that story, and after being in Gainesville for more than 50 years, he certainly has stories to tell.
“I moved here as a freshman back in medieval times, better known as 1956,” he said.
McCormick, who grew up in the Carolinas, spent most of his free time drawing, dreaming and rearranging furniture. He said that as a boy, he would bring flowers, or weeds, into his home and save them in glass jars until they began to rot.
He spent three years studying architecture at UF, but a medical issue prevented him from graduating. Instead, he interned at an interior design firm in Jacksonville for a year and a half.
“I didn’t give a damn about how high a building would stand up,” he said. “I hated the math. I was more interested in the cosmetic side of all of it.”
After moving back to Gainesville, McCormick married his college sweetheart, Barbara, an air force brat who insisted that they spend their lives in Gainesville.
He spent the next 20 years working for different companies before officially starting his own design business in 1983. For the past 30 years, McCormick has certainly seen trends come and go and then come back again.
When he first began designing, he believed that people should live like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, complete with tuxedos, evening gowns, 20-foot ceilings and Waterford champagne glasses.
But throughout his career, he has designed 20,000 square-foot homes, college dorm rooms, and has helped retirees transition from homes to places like The Village and Oak Hammock at the University of Florida. No matter what the size of the job, McCormick still approaches it with the same integrity.
“You don’t have to be ultra, ultra wealthy to hire an interior designer,” he said. “In fact, people are afraid of designers because they think that they just cost them so much money. But a good designer can save people money.”
When he first began designing, clients were buying very expensive, sturdy furniture and putting it in their very own dream mansion. Today, he said that his clients are much more interested in spending less money and having the furniture for a few years and then moving on. They still want nice things, he said, but they don’t need the furniture to necessarily outlive them.
He also said that clients are choosing a much more neutral palette and are accessorizing with bright colors instead of making a whole room the same color.
“Everything feels a little more temporary,” he said. “Before, it used to be everybody was dreaming about building that big, old house and having the big mansion and raising their kids there and their grandchildren coming back to it. And that’s not the overall dream.”
One thing that hasn’t changed throughout his extensive, successful career is the importance of getting to know and connecting with his clients.
While he is often the mediator between a couple’s conflicting taste, he said that there really is quite a bit of psychology involved in designing someone’s home.
“You have to read between the lines because people aren’t telling you what they really want,” he said. “It’s true in almost any job.”
Houses, restaurants and office buildings get tired, he said. There are a lot of inexpensive ways to freshen up a room. Adding a fresh coat of paint, changing fabric or simply turning the couch around can completely change the overall feel of a room.”
But McCormick’s wife is always warning him to leave their friends furniture and pillows alone when they attend their homes. Not rearranging a space is one of his biggest challenges.
“My mind just ticks like that all the time,” he said. “It always has.”
McCormick is constantly encouraging his clients to try something new or daring. He recently did an all-black powder room — a wow space. Interior designers often give people the push they need to try something outside of their own comfort zone.
He is inspired by the simplest and most extraordinary of things. He was once so moved by the colors of a sunset that he decided to do a room in those same colors.
After so many years in the same field, McCormick has no desire to retire or try something new. The interior design field is constantly evolving, and so is McCormick.
“Over the years of my life, man, have I seen change … in Gainesville, in me, in people,” he said.