Lured by Architecture, Captivated by Interior Design
Growing up in North County, St. Louis, Shelley Niemeier spent hours immersed in the pages of Architectural Digest. This exposure to multi-million dollar houses and sophisticated museums led her to dream of becoming an architect. “That was my window into a whole other world that didn’t exist for me,” she recalls. “I started paying attention to design and looking at things in a different way.”
Two colleges offered Niemeier a place in their undergraduate architecture programs, but her shortcomings in math and science convinced her to decline the opportunities. Instead, she studied art history and communications, completing a degree in liberal studies from Maryville University. She then pursued a graduate degree in American Studies at Saint Louis University.
Directing her own course of study—and setting the foundation for her future as an interior designer—Niemeier researched broad topics such as American intellectual history of the 19th century, African-American history and visual culture. She enjoyed learning, but felt unsure about a career in higher education, questioning whether she could sustain life as a professor. So, she altered her trajectory once again.
Her Ah-Ha Moment
Two experiences solidified Niemeier’s passion for interior design. As the assistant director of Campbell House Museum, a historic home in St. Louis’ Lucas Place Neighborhood, Niemeier led fundraising and marketing efforts, encouraging the board to demonstrate their relevance to younger vistiors. While there, she connected with board member Tim Rohan, who invited her to join him as an assistant in his firm T. Rohan Interiors. There, she finally found her calling. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh this is it. This is what I want to do’.”
Niemeier learned the value of excellent customer service by observing Rohan. Serving clients in St. Louis’ wealthiest suburbs, “he thought of everything and every little detail,” she remembers. His blending of creativity with business acumen appealed to Niemeier.
In the meantime, a chance encounter on social media changed Niemeier’s life. She didn’t think much of it when @SPACEarchitects followed her on Twitter in 2010, but a DM from the owner of the company, Tom, caught her attention. The two embarked on a virtual correspondence. When they finally met for the first time IRL, he showed up at her work with a beautiful bouquet. The relationship blossomed and the two wed in 2012.
That same year, Niemeier joined SPACE Architecture + Design as the Director of Marketing, but she had other plans. “I became a pest,” she jokes. Likening herself to a curious child, Niemeier constantly asked questions. Her initial assignments included small parts of projects, such as creating a minor graphic element, or sourcing furniture and fabrics. “I needed to know the whole story before getting started,” she says. Drawing upon her prior academic and workplace experiences, she offered a new, wholistic approach to projects. “Studying history helped me so much,” she says. “It taught me to question things and how to research.” Her persistence for comprehensive plans pushed her colleagues to think differently about the design process.
Determined to build her skills as an interior designer, she convinced her co-workers of her talent by integrating her inquisitive style into the company culture. “I don’t want to arbitrarily make design decisions. There has to be a reason behind why we select certain elements,” she says. Her transition to interior designer (with a side of marketer) was a natural segue.
Honing her craft led to incorporating successful design elements on a variety of projects such as corporate offices, restaurants and even a school. Many St. Louisans have likely admired her work while dining at popular eateries such as Bulrush (pictured below), Half and Half and 1764 Public House, all projects she completed in collaboration with her husband.
The High Low in St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District recently proved the perfect project for Niemeier to showcase her talents. A community-oriented literacy center housed in a historic building, Niemeier and the SPACE team balance a modern and inviting feel while paying homage both to the original mid-century architecture and literary figures.
Now that she has discovered a way to integrate her skills and passion for design, Niemeier intends to continue walking this path. “I love bringing joy to clients,” she says. “I hope they find our design process inspiring and empowering.”
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