Stevie Mcfadden’s holistic approach is changing how Virginians decorate their homes and offices.
by ERIC J. WALLACE | photography by ADAM EWING
Visiting the Flourish Collective’s new interior design showroom in Richmond’s Jackson Ward offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Stroll around the 2,000-square-foot space and you’ll find yourself carried away by the carefully curated set pieces.
In one spot you’ll find bright mod print wallpaper and original paintings, fronted by a large white sofa and two swivel chairs covered in aqua washed canvas. In another, you’ll see an antique cane back settee, upholstered in zebra print linen, sitting atop a traditional Turkish-style rug.
But the Collective is more than just another place to find interior design ideas; it is a partnership between one of Virginia’s top designers and a collection of premier artisans and merchants that gives potential customers single-stop access to designers, boutique painters, textile retailers, furniture makers, artists and more.
“I wanted to create a place where people could access the creative wealth of Richmond’s (boutique) design community,” says Stevie McFadden, 45, winner of the 2019 “Rising Star” award from the Richmond Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
McFadden launched the Collective in December as an outgrowth of her interior design firm, Flourish Spaces. The company has overhauled interiors for about 50 homes and dozens of Richmond-area businesses and nonprofits since opening in 2014.
McFadden came to design from a DIY background. Inspiration for the Collective was fueled by her frustrations as a homeowner. “So much great stuff was available exclusively through designers,” she says. “Well, I wanted to spend my budget on purchases instead of design fees. So, I went without.”
The Collective opens doors to unique consulting opportunities and helps McFadden’s customers explore possibilities. “To me, this showroom is a way to democratize that mission and bring it to more people,” she says.
McFadden’s journey to interior design wasn’t straightforward. In fact, she calls herself “an accidental entrepreneur.”
“In college, I fell in love with psychology and learning about what made people tick,” she says. The interest carried her to graduate school, where she studied human behavior within organizations. Work in corporate human resources departments followed. It started with resolving disputes between employees, but quickly progressed to bigger-picture concerns. “Like, how do you create a company culture where people enjoy showing up for work?”
McFadden spent about 10 years, on-and-off, helping executives at corporations like Anthem, Harris Williams and MeadWestvaco hone leadership skills. She also spent time leading teams charged with recruiting and developing employees.
The job could be stressful. McFadden says she found an outlet improving spaces in and around her downtown Richmond home. It started in the late 2000s with assessing furniture, decorations, color schemes and so on. “I was having fun and trying to make rooms more functional, but I also wanted to make my home more intimate and expressive of my identity.”
McFadden painted dressers, reupholstered chairs, papered accent walls. She shopped for budget-friendly art and prints from local artists. Hunting salvage shops, estate sales and thrift stores became a weekend pastime. Bit by bit, her home transformed. Friends were struck by the difference.
“They started asking me to help with ideas for their places,” McFadden says. “At that point, I was running out of projects at home, so I was like, ‘Heck yeah, let’s do it!’”
Collaborations brought interesting challenges. At home, McFadden simply asked herself, ‘What feels right?’ and followed her instincts. Spaces came together over time, through trial-and-error. Trying to streamline and adapt the approach was tricky.
“I had to take a big step back and look at my process,” says McFadden. Yes, enhancing functionality played a major role in decision-making. But even that had a narrative component. “I saw that my approach was anchored in story-telling: I’d been trying to make my home reflect both who I was and the person I aspired to be.”
McFadden realized the home is both a nest and a stage. On one hand, it offers a respite from public life, a place to relax and rejuvenate. On the other, it’s a venue for playing out our most intimate dramas. She wanted to create spaces that were more than just pretty. They had to make clients feel comfortable, inspired, capable of being their best selves.
“But pulling that off was another matter,” McFadden says. To get there, she asked lots of questions. She inquired about objects with obvious sentimental value, about family photos, hobbies, careers, children’s interests. She asked what clients liked and disliked about rooms, about goals for different spaces and how they envisioned using them.
“The idea was to be co-creative,” McFadden says. Showcasing her personal taste and aesthetic wasn’t the point. “The final product had to feel like something that was truly theirs.”
The results inspired friends of friends to reach out, too. By the mid-2010s, McFadden’s side hustle was becoming a full-time job. And juggling two careers was overwhelming. “In design, I felt I’d found my true calling, my passion,” she says. “But up to then I’d thought of it basically as a hobby. The idea of turning it into a serious business was scary.”
A breakthrough came in 2015. McFadden was then working for The Frontier Project, a consulting firm that helps businesses and nonprofits optimize workplace culture. The company was moving into a new building and execs asked her to design and decorate the space. The request sparked an epiphany.
“Suddenly I put two and two together and realized this was a way to partner my love of design with my (HR expertise) and offer something really unique,” McFadden says. In a flash, “I saw that I could design spaces that could have a huge impact on employee well-being, morale, productivity and happiness.”
McFadden accepted the challenge. When Frontier Project clients saw the results, many asked her to do the same for them. Buoyed by the response, she tendered her resignation and launched Flourish Spaces.
The company has since experienced tremendous growth. Early gigs included jeweler Lustre by Adolf, a female-centric coworking space called The Broad, Waynesboro’s Iris Inn, PartnerMD and others. McFadden’s innovative approach quickly established her as a go-to designer for forward-thinking businesses and organizations, and specialty projects.
McFadden has a knack for getting all the little details right and creating spaces that are both incredibly personable and mission-driven, says Megan Wilson, a spokesperson for Richmond nonprofit, CARITAS. The organization hired McFadden to design its 150,000-square-foot, $27 million CARITAS Center. The center, which opened in 2020, houses central offices and a shelter for women suffering from addiction and homelessness.
“We needed someone who could (make this largescale facility) feel warm and supportive, and in no way ‘institutional,’” Wilson says. It needed to be beautiful and inspire ownership and dignity among the people they serve. The order was tall, “but Stevie delivered.”
McFadden purchased the building that now houses Flourish Spaces in 2018. The company has since grown to include six full-time employees. A flood of residential inquiries during the pandemic helped birth the Collective.
“Families are spending more time than ever before at home and using spaces in ways they never anticipated,” says McFadden. Parents work remotely as kids attend virtual school. Everyone is in constant proximity. “Clients are feeling stuck and cramped-in. Their home may feel stale, even oppressive. They need spaces that support their needs and work with them, not against them.”
McFadden calls the unexpected pivot a full-circle moment.
“In a way, it feels like I’m back at the beginning,” says McFadden. She started out helping friends create vibrant home environments that boosted well-being. “But that was all pretty low-stakes; I was having fun and learning as I went along.”