Like many children growing up, I watched all the shows on HGTV and was mesmerized by the profession. I always wanted to be an interior designer, but society tried to tell me I shouldn’t. Not so long ago, and still today, there was this stigma that only girls should be interior designers and boys should be architects. Well, here I am.
My inspiration comes from my family. I come from a strong line of African American men and women. One of my grandfathers was a roofer and the other worked as a railroad lineman. As a child, my father worked two jobs at one point to provide for our family. When you have that kind of strength running through your veins, you can’t help but feel inspired and motivated to keep going.
This is my ninth year in the industry and my eighth year at FleischmanGarcia. I lead commercial interior design for our Tampa office, so my role is part-time designer, part-time mentor and part-time therapist. I make no claims as to the effectiveness of said therapy.
This industry moves so fast that every new day is different from the last. On any given day, I can be meeting with a new client who is in the early stages of their project, pulling swatches for a final design presentation or drafting a specific construction detail. You just never know, and that’s what keeps it exciting for me.
There is no feeling like seeing something that you’ve conceptualized in your mind become reality. Every time I’m on a construction site, I become “little” Keenan again and I have to pinch myself. I find a corner away from the crew and just marvel.
My design philosophy is: Less is more. Good design is addition through subtraction. If everything in a space is screaming at me, then nothing is being heard. As a designer, if my selections are not adding value to the overall vision, it’s time for a purge.
The projects I’m most proud of are my first and last ones. The very first project I did was a pool house for a nonprofit organization here in Tampa. In my opinion, those are the most fabulous restrooms in all of Tampa. Currently, I am leading interiors for the Tampa Municipal City Center on Hanna Avenue. It is a very ambitious project that aims to become a cultural center and landmark for East Tampa. As for interiors, there have been a lot of sleepless nights, but we are bringing it. I’m proud of what we’ve already done, and I hope the community is proud of it once it’s complete.
I’ve been honored to work with a number of notable clients on the residential side, including a very prominent financial investor, a world-renowned American sailor and a fashion designer in the Virgin Islands, the latter of which was such a fun project. She and her husband had recently traveled to Majorca, Spain, and wanted to bring that vibe back to their new home in St. Martin. Their home was cliffside and had a spectacular ocean view. I was able to bring in fun patterns with textiles, tapestries and hand-carved pieces. It was one for the books.
As for my design influences, I love the greats, like Dorothy Draper. Her work was so bold and larger than life. Recently, I’ve been inspired by the works of Kesha Franklin and Leyden Lewis. I also tend to draw inspiration from what’s happening with fashion. Both industries are connected in that they are both forms of expression. What’s happening on that cool shirt or pair of pants can absolutely work on an accent chair in the right setting.
Looking ahead to Tampa’s interior design future, Tampa is growing so fast, and the construction and real estate markets are booming. Now, more so than ever, there is a need for designers and creatives alike to capitalize on this growth and shape the narrative of who we are as a city through our designs and our art. In a few years, I believe we are going to see a wave of landmark and culturally defining spaces within our city, and that’s going to be a direct result of the work we are doing today.
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