Monique Gibson was born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, a coal-mining community so picturesque that it serves as the setting of a best selling series of novels by Adriana Trigiani, another native daughter. Gibson is typically unabashed about her own brush with local fame—in her teens she won the title Miss Big Stone Gap—and took full advantage of her pageant winnings (a tank of gas from the local Tiger Market!), heading first toward Knoxville and the University of Tennessee, and then toward Atlanta, where she got her start in interior design. Today, her business is based in Manhattan, where her clients include Jon Bon Jovi, Meg Ryan, and Jon Stewart.
Gibson’s first job was at the firm responsible for decorating the Atlanta residence of Elton John. In 2004, when Gibson left to open her own Atlanta shop, John followed—as did his then-manager John Reid, whose effusive word-of -mouth recommendations garnered the young designer other music world clients, including Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp.
The result was full immersion into every aspect of her chosen profession. “One of the reasons I have such a strong business sense is that I cut my teeth on projects for really successful, professional people. They forced me to live up to a standard that was beyond my years,” Gibson says. “I learned to be astutely aware of budgets, to live up to extraordinarily high expectations.” Indeed, at the start of her first job for Mellencamp, for whom she has since done three more houses, she was given a budget and a tight time frame—over the phone. “The first time I met John was when he rang his own doorbell,” she says, laughing. But like other clients for whom Gibson has completed multiple projects, Mellencamp professes to have been crazy about what he saw.
Her early experience working with strong-minded creative types also has led to a decidedly non-dictatorial, collaborative approach. “I try to be really flexible and to respect my clients’ points of view,” Gibson says. “Because at the end of the day, what I’m doing is creating a sanctuary for someone else.” Which is not to say she doesn’t have iron-fisted control of the underpinnings of each project. “Making something pretty is one thing; making it function well is hard. I try to anticipate the needs of my clients—from closet space to the needs of growing children—before they even think of them. Decoration should be a joyful process, but it can’t be unless the client is entirely secure that the nuts and bolts are being handled perfectly. Then they can breathe easy and have some fun.”
It was a burst of practical exuberance that is a trademark of Gibson’s style. Her innate Southern warmth, her passion for design, and her ability to stay almost hyper-attuned to the needs of her clients are what keep so many coming back.
“What I’m most proud of is that I’ll do one house for a client, and then I might do one more or four more, or I’ll do their cousin’s house,” she says. “I value those ongoing relationships and the genuine friendships that develop more than I can say.”
NEW YORK MAGAZINE
8 OF 18