What Works for this Interior Decorator?

Aug 27, 2018 | What Works

In her own Louisville home, interior decorator Erika Wilhelmi combines soft neutrals with colorful art and accessories. She’s drawn to patterns and textures in the cooler shades of blues and greens. Mixing modern — a tripod floor lamp — and classic pieces — a small pedestal dining table —  gives her living space coziness and warmth.
Erika, who has worked with owner Liz Toombs of Lexington-based PDR Interiors since 2015, credits her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in merchandising, apparel, and textiles as a great help. “What I learned in the textile lab comes into play big time when it comes to choosing fabrics for different applications.”

Erika is a certified interior decorator through Certified Interior Decorators International.

As interior decorators, she and Liz help clients choose paint, furniture, flooring, rugs, lighting fixtures, and window treatments. “We add the pretty stuff,” Erika says.

The firm has found its niche in the campus sorority world.


“Sometimes we work with the sorority’s main office that refers us to a chapter house ready for an update. Sometimes a house will have a certain amount of money budgeted to make a space more interesting or attractive and we are asked to ‘zhuzh’ it up. We also work with new builds. Sometimes we do an entire house makeover,” Erika says.

With clients on campuses all across the country, the firm’s busy time is during the summer trying to get spaces completed by move-in time in the fall. Usually the first part of the year is spent traveling to visit the properties, taking photos and measurements, and talking to the women about what they want to see changed.

“What the individual houses are looking for and the regional differences of campuses all come into play. What works in Montana would not necessarily be a good look in Virginia. There is also the culture of the chapter to consider. Some love the sorority’s colors and want to use them in the decor. Some groups want something new and fresh. It also helps us knowing what they don’t want.”

Erika says she strives to achieve a balance between what the young women living in the house now want and keeping it comfortable and appealing for the next group of women who will live there.

Erika’s valued tool is her furniture and room planner. In it she hand-draws the dimensions of the room with windows, doors, and fireplaces noted. “The book has the style and size of all sorts of tables, desks, sofas, beds, entertainment centers, ottomans, and even chaise longues. We take the furniture and play around with placement — which way is the sofa going to look best in this room. We put it all together and make the space plan, then offer the client two or three options, although sometimes there may be only one way that furniture can be arranged in the space. We show the selections to the clients. They may love it all but hate the lamp or a certain fabric. It may take one or two times to tweak the look.”

Erika says they allow a two to three-day window to be on-site. Every single thing has to happen in that time, from arranging the furniture to hanging art and placing accessories. Everything ordered comes on the same day so she has to plan ahead for a sofa that’s going to take eight weeks to deliver and time it with art that will take maybe one week to deliver.

“My favorite part is working with a sorority from start to finish. I love to be there to see the girls come in and look at the finished product. Some of the houses haven’t had an update in 10 years or more. There are usually tears. These women are dedicated to their sorority.”

Erika works out of her home office and often is working on 16 different projects all at different stages.

She shops for her own home at Home Goods, Pier One, and Wayfair. She says, “You can be inspired by high-end places and then find something that fits your budget. It’s not always about what you spend, but what you’re drawn to. Especially art — it’s so personal.”

What has this busy interior decorator found that works for her?

Day Designer Planner

I’m obsessed with planners in general. I order one of these every year from daydesigner.com. It shows a full day hour by hour on one side of the spread, and opposite is my ToDo list, which of course is never-ending. So, I have my appointments and my ToDo list spread out in front of me. There’s a full month calendar page, which is helpful in July and the rest of summer when I start to travel so I can look at a glance and see the breakdown of where I’ll be.

Tarte Double Shape Tape Concealer

This is such a good concealer. It makes a dramatic difference and really wakes up my face. I put it under my eyes and in the T-zone, then apply foundation, bronzer under my cheekbones, blush, and mascara. Sometimes if I’m just running to the store I’ll put on just the concealer and mascara.

Pink Himalayan Large Salt Rock Lamp

I bought this about a year ago at Home Depot. I needed a lamp for my desk, and I wanted something small to add warmth to make me happy in my work zone. They say there are some benefits to the salt lamp. That it’s a mood booster, sleep promoter, and air purifier. I mainly just wanted something cute on my desk.  


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