Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 8, 2021

Form and function: Ryan’s passion is reshaping spaces

Bedrooms, boardrooms, even jails get her treatment

BB Ryan is an interior designer certified in Tennessee and Georgia. She’s pictured in the boardroom at Metropolitan Ministries on Rossville Boulevard, which she designed. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

As a young girl, BB Ryan would rearrange her bedroom at the oddest times. She would even go to her room at night to sleep but end up reorganizing instead.

Long before Ryan studied interior design in college, and well before she embarked on a career that would span several states, she was a child scooting her bed to one corner and dragging her dresser to another.

“My clients will tell me they can’t do what I do, but it’s innate in all of us,” Ryan says. “You know what feels comfortable to you.”

All it takes to trigger Ryan’s tendency to rethink interior spaces is for her to step through a door. Wherever she is – a friend’s house, a restaurant or a doctor’s office – she mentally empties the area around her, builds new walls and then fills it with finishing touches.

This singular ability – or personality quirk – is both a blessing and a nuisance, Ryan says. While it enables her to transform everything from large commercial spaces to smaller private homes, it’s also hard to turn off when she’s at the grocery store.

“I get irritated when I walk into a space, and even though it looks like someone spent millions of dollars on it, I can’t figure out why they did the things they did,” she laughs.

Of all the lines Ryan has drawn in her 25-year career, one of the finest is the distinction she makes between what she does and what interior decorators do.

Her work is less about dressing up a space and more about designing how to use it, she says. While she does select color schemes, arrange furniture and hang wall art, she focuses more on functionality.

“I draw blueprints, pick out lighting and plumbing fixtures, and do safety plans and code enforcement,” she explains.

One of Ryan’s recent projects is the new 10,000-square-foot home of Metropolitan Ministries, which she nearly gutted before redesigning it from the walls out.

Although her client picked out the orange, yellow and teal color scheme, Ryan focused on the height of the toilets, the distance to the fire extinguishers from every corner of the building and the placement of alarms to ensure hearing or sight impaired guests would be aware of emergencies no matter where they are.

“I also designed the traffic pattern to accommodate every potential guest,” Ryan adds. “MetMin serves a lot of elderly people, many of whom use a wheelchair or a walker, so I made sure there are no dead-end corridors.”

Metropolitan Ministries also houses a variety of nonprofits at its Rossville Boulevard location, including organizations that need to safeguard the privacy of their clients. To aid in this, Ryan staggered the doors to the rooms along the corridor that houses MetMin’s partners so someone in one space can’t see who’s entering or leaving another.

“That was a big thing. We also put sound attenuation in every wall. I wanted guests to feel free to talk and not worry that someone was listening and would judge them,” Ryan says.

Although college-educated and NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification)-certified, Ryan says she relies on the wants and needs of her clients as much as her training and experience when planning a space.

While designing the counter tops at Metropolitan Ministries, for example, she made the height 40 inches instead of the usual 36 to accommodate Executive Director Rebecca Welchel – a tall woman.

Knowing to do this required Ryan to be thoroughly familiar with her client.

“I spend a lot of time listening to people,” Ryan notes. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know which questions to ask to pull out what they want.”

Ryan will also spend time watching a space if needed. When Welchel asked her to design Metropolitan Ministries, she spent three days at the nonprofit’s previous home on McCallie Avenue observing the flow of people

As Ryan watched guests shuffle from intake to interviews, she noted how the layout offered no privacy. Knowing the importance of confidentiality at the new location, she fashioned a large welcome area, provided several partitioned desks at intake and made sure each partner would have a secluded space.

From tricks of the trade to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations, Ryan must bring a staggering amount of diverse knowledge to bear on every job, whether it’s a private residence (like Hutcheson House on South Crest Road, which she recently completed) or a commercial project (such as Etowah L&N Train Depot, which she’s currently designing).

But the one principle that touches every project is her desire to make a positive impact on the world through the effective and efficient use of space.

“When you walk into a room, you know when something is wrong,” she says. “Our bodies know-how they want to move within a space and don’t want to be forced to move differently because of how things are placed.

“We can adapt, but it’s nicer when the designer maximizes what you have.”

If Ryan spends a lot of time listening to clients, she spends nearly as many minutes answering their questions. One of the most common queries regards her design style.

But whether a client is looking for art deco, ultramodern, or vintage, Ryan says she can draw on her experience to tackle the project.

“I’ve done just about everything,” she says.

Before Ryan began rearranging other people’s bedrooms and boardrooms, she grew up near the lake in Harrison, swam competitively at Girls Preparatory School and took a high school class that steered her to her life’s work.

“Andrew Smith, the architect for Metropolitan Ministries, was my mentor. I was in his class when I was 14. He said, ‘You might not be good at math and science, but you’re great at this and should pursue it.’ And that was it; this was what I was going to do,” Ryan recalls.

Ryan studied interior design and architecture at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and then kick-started her career in Nashville before moving to Destin, Florida.

“I was single and wanted to be at the beach,” she smiles.

While living in the Sunshine State, Ryan designed gulf front condominiums. After meeting “an Air Force fella,” she married and moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where she added dormitories and jails to her repertoire.

“Jails were a challenge,” she remembers. “You couldn’t have a corner you couldn’t see around.”

Single again, Ryan’s next stop was Atlanta, where she designed spaces for tenants who were moving into the Bank of America Plaza and the King & Queen Buildings.

She then planned medical facilities in Charleston, South Carolina, before returning to the Chattanooga area in 2016 to care for her aging parents.

Ryan’s first local project involved designing the interior and picking out the furniture, lightning and finishes at ArtsBuild on 11th Street.

In addition to loving her work, Ryan is enjoying working exclusively for herself and picking and choosing the projects that interest her. This freedom has reinvigorated her passion for interior design and given her new purpose, she says.

“I won’t be able to work for someone else again,” she says. “I just want to do what I do.”

Ryan also says she’s done doing late-night renovations in her bedroom. Instead, when she’s home, she does her best to turn off the part of her brain that wants to always be in design mode.

“It’s like the shoemaker’s children going barefoot. I just want all black and white walls. I like the lack of stimulation when I’m at home.”