School of Interior Design
Becker quickly rises to leadership in growing Charleston design firm
When Elisabeth Becker joined Margaret Donaldson Interiors (MDI), the firm had five employees. As the number of employees grew, Becker was able to step into leadership roles, becoming the firm’s chief operating officer. MDI has grown along with the dynamic, historic and beautiful Charleston, South Carolina, area.
I understand that you took on a rather important leadership role at Margaret Donaldson Interiors. How are things going?
Things are going well. We just moved to hire someone to take on more of the operations side of things, so I’m able to focus more on the overall management of the firm as well as the design side. I am now able to better oversee all of our design projects, which has been really great. I am thrilled to be working more creatively and letting someone else manage logistics.
How did you first become interested in interior design?
As a child I was very aware of how interior spaces in your home impact your mood and affect your productivity. I moved around a lot as a child, and I was always drawing up floor plans for my parents, optimizing how our layout should be in our next home. Naturally that led into exploring both architecture and interior design as I was entering college.
How did you discover Anderson University?
I am from Piedmont, South Carolina. I grew up all over the Southeast but was born in Easley and was living in Piedmont when I was in high school. I wanted to stay in the state when I was looking at colleges. I really fell in love with Anderson’s Design program. I liked that the class sizes were limited. I liked how it was all self-contained in that one space, and like that the program had all of these fine art elements to it, but that it wasn’t necessarily a fine arts degree. I wouldn’t consider myself a fine artist, and I wasn’t really interested in a BFA for that reason because there’s so much more studio art that involved and I was more interested in the project as a whole—making sure it is a house that’s not only beautiful but functions well for all the users of the space.
Tell us about how you came to Margaret Donaldson Interiors.
As a junior, I was looking for internships. I really focused on internships in the Greenville area or in the Charleston area. My parents lived in Piedmont and my sister was living in Charleston at that time, and so I knew I had easy housing and was trying to make my life easier! I ended up interning at LS3P in Greenville for eight weeks. They are a commercial architecture and design firm. I really got my feet wet in a lot of very community based projects. They put me on a team that works with a lot of hospitals, a lot of the schools, and worked on all the finishes and fixtures for those areas. It gave me a chance to see how the commercial world worked and what being part of an interdisciplinary team is really like. I got to touch a little bit on systems furniture while I was there.
I was also able to intern for Margaret for the latter half of the summer between my junior and senior year. I had first been introduced to Margaret in her firm through ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). I was the president elect for our student chapter, then I was the president my senior year, so that’s how I became introduced to her. I interned with her and never left.
Tell us about the areas your firm serves.
We primarily focus on high end residential homes, so most of our work is on Kiawah Island. Most of it, it’s not their primary residence but their second or third home. Occasionally we do projects that are outside of that kind of scope. We’re doing some projects in Charlotte right now. We’ve done projects in New York and California, but for the most part we try to stay very local to the area. It’s just very easy to execute that way and easier to make sure you have the true quality control over your subs and all of that.
The Charleston area’s growing and very much a desirable area these days, right?
There’s definitely room for growth in Charleston and there’s a lot of desire for this beach community that Kiawah provides as well as Daniel Island, the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island.
What in your job gives you the biggest feeling of accomplishment?
I think it’s twofold: from a design perspective, it’s creating these intricate details that tie the room together and create a story. Then on a leader/mentor front, I really enjoy investing in my employees—the girls I work with—really helping them grow in their potential as designers and as project managers and hone the skills that make them more successful down the road.
Do you work with interns?
I had an intern from Anderson University last year as well as this year. It was fun to kind of give back to Anderson.
What are some of your favorite memories as an Anderson University student?
When I was a student, we would decorate the main administration building for Christmas as design students. One year President Whitaker’s home was on the tour for the Anderson Historic Home Tour. We came to their house and helped Mrs. Whitaker decorate their tree and decorate the house for Christmas. It was so rewarding to take part in a very traditional family experience, but with my colleagues at school.
What career advice would you give to someone wanting to enter interior design?
It’s important to take advantage of any opportunity you have. A lot of design firms are happy to let a high schooler shadow a week or two weeks to kind of dip their toes into the design environment. Then I think becoming involved with the local design community, be it ASID, be it IIDA (International Interior Design Association), really allows you to get a taste of what that community and lifestyle is like. In school, we went to the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center and getting to tour that and see the depth of resources that as a designer you have in hand was so exciting. It really helps make the ideation so real. You have the depth of resources you need to really create an outstanding design.
What are your favorite things to do around Charleston?
I live in Summerville. One of our family’s favorite things is to do the Summerville Farmers Market on Saturday; just stroll through, get some fresh produce and go to the ice cream shop and just enjoy the town in which we live.