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A life by design: Lackeys enjoy work...and walking horses



By Sadie Fowler

Eric and Diane Lackey of North Carolina are very busy people. To say organization matters to them may be an understatement, as they lead their award winning and world class company, The Decorator’s Edge, to success each day. They are also experiencing great achievements with their “other” passion in life — showing Tennessee Walking Horses. As a past-time, one would think it’s the horse shows that are worked into the Lackeys’ busy schedules — that they’d travel to Middle Tennessee when they have a short break between traveling the world for their interior design projects. But that’s not at all the case.

Horses have a golden position in the Lackeys’ pocket of priorities.

“Other than business, horses have become pretty much all consuming,” said Eric, while visiting over lunch while in town for a horse show in Middle Tennessee this summer. “Our schedules are made around horse shows, but no one’s complaining.”

Horse shows and house projects go hand-in-hand. Both are taken seriously, and there’s little room for much else in the Lackeys’ lives. Luckily, their business and pleasure often times complement each other. Many of their clients are friends, and many of their friends are horse people — hailing from all corners of the globe.
“One of the pluses for us has been all of the wonderful interior design projects and homes, actually worldwide, that these horse connections have made possible,” said Diane. “Those same loyal friends have turned into many wonderful clients and projects over the years … Our horse show family has been exceptional at putting their design needs and faith in The Decorator’s Edge, and as we all know, there is no better loyalty than a ‘horse friend.’”

Both Diane and Eric are quick to call their horse friends the most loyal friends they’ve known.

Married and in business together for nearly 40 years, Eric and Diane’s journey in the walking horse industry is actually rooted to Eric’s father, Carl Lackey, who passed his love for horses on to his son. Growing up on a farm in Thomasville, North Carolina, Eric’s father loved walking horses for their smooth gait and disposition. He raised and trained many horses himself, instilling the love of the breed in Eric while teaching him all there was to know. Early on, there was a bond created between father and son, as well as between horse and rider. 
While Eric had a childhood exposure to the breed, Diane, a native of Bethesda, Maryland, didn’t officially meet the walking horse until she met Eric through their mutual love and passion for the world of art and interior design, which is also what has made their partnership in Decorator’s Edge all these years such a smashing success.

“She was a ‘city girl,’” laughed Eric, explaining he slowly exposed her to the breed over time, as business would allow. 

Now, she is totally addicted, and Eric’s biggest fan. About six times each summer, the Lackeys travel to Middle Tennessee to compete at the industry’s best shows — they even have a home in Shelbyville. To say they’re fully committed to the industry would be an understatement as Eric, in addition to showing many champions each year, is also a leader within the industry and confidently able to share his wisdom about the breed; to share his opinion about what’s needed in the industry in order for it to push ahead and flourish in the years to come. 

BACK TO THE BASICS

As Eric reminisces over his life-long pursuit of showing walking horses, he’s seen the industry go through its highs and lows over the years. Though he continues to have fun in the show ring, with past and present contenders such as San Juan, Color Coded and this year’s three-year-old Strike It Blue, Eric admits there are a few challenges to the industry that remain an uphill battle.

For one, the loss of the middle market has hurt the industry. 

“When I was growing up we had all these other shows; many that have evaporated since then,” said Eric, who currently shows under the Wright Stables banner as well as Baucom Stables. “You can’t market the $20,000 horse these days.”

The past has also, whether fairly or unfairly, imposed public criticism upon the industry that’s made the need to educate outsiders about the horse both imperative yet also difficult. 

“We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes,” he said, explaining horse enthusiasts out of frustration take a defensive approach to negative criticism rather than a proactive approach to avoid it. “We’ve got to get more people interested in showing and having fun doing so.”

Eric believes fresh eyes and fair judging will help create an atmosphere where newcomers will be interested in the breed and the market of the horse will widen and the luster of showing the horse will return.  

The Decorator’s Edge makes world class impression

As involved in the horse industry as Eric and Diane Lackey may be, it’s hard to believe they have another passion that pulls an equal amount of their focus, passion and commitment. Both of them are renowned interior designers, and both of them love what they do in their partnership at The Decorator’s Edge, an award-winning design firm that has been serving residential and commercial clients for more than 39 years. 

The Decorator’s Edge provides lighting services, furniture, custom windows, carpeting and rugs, painting, outdoor furniture, accessories, window treatments and furniture. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, they won the prestigious Best of Houzz award for both their design and customer service. (Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish, online or from a mobile device. It connects millions of homeowners and design professionals across the country and around and has the largest residential design database in the world.)

When the Lackeys visited Shelbyville, Tennessee during the summer for a horse show, and this interview with the Walking Horse Report, the Lackeys’ devotion to their craft was crystal clear. The week prior, they had been in Naples working on a project. The week before that, it was another location. Over the years, they’ve landed projects in Cabo and Italy, and everywhere in between. 

At any given time, they handle (both together and also separate, as they pursue individual projects as well) multiple projects, offering both quality as well as unique services to the clients they serve. By unique, Lackey says some of the things The Decorator’s Edge does, such as sell high-end art and furniture to their clients from their own store, in addition to serving as interior designers who serve in the normal capacity one would expect, set their company apart from others in their industry.

Once they’re in Shelbyville, Eric and Diane’s focus shifts to whatever show is about to take place. They take competition seriously, but also have fun — and as long as it remains that way, they’ll remain committed to their breed of choice. 

When the show is over, the Lackeys head home to their haven in North Carolina. And given their occupations, rest assured it’s indeed a haven. 

“I think what I love most about our home is even though it is very design forward, it is comfortable and inviting,” Eric said. “That is always the first thing our customers and friends say when visiting … that it’s beautiful and that they could live here. I feel that’s the most important thing about a home and something I try to accomplish for all of our clients.”

Both Diane and Eric developed their love for interior design many years ago. In speaking about the early days, Eric said he was a child when he first realized his passion. 

“I was always interested in changing the look of even my bedroom,” he said. “I would move the furniture every three months trying to capture that perfect look. I’d try to perfect it, somewhat constrained by the rule of my parents on what was allowed by a 12-year-old.”

This love, combined with a love of clothing, continued through Eric’s college years with hopes of it one day being a career. 

Diane also realized her career calling early on, having had a particular love for art and color, when it came to fashion as well as design, since the time she was a young girl. During her college years at High Point University in North Carolina, her parents guided her away from an art career she thought she wanted and pointed her in the direction of interior design.

Both Lackeys agree that education certainly lays the ground work in the design profession, but more importantly a successful designer must have that innate ability to understand color, scale, design, and must also have the communication skills to understand the client’s needs.

“If you fail to communicate your vision to your client and how it best answers their needs, budget and vision, then all of your best ideas end on the drawing board,” Eric said. 

Each day is different for the Lackeys, as projects begin and end constantly. Also, the two take on projects together as well as separately, so often times they are each running in different directions. 

“We have always had the luxury of separate clients,” Diane said. “We have been blessed over the years by having so many repeat customers, as well as wonderful family members and friends as referrals.”
Whatever the project may be, each one is always at a different stage in the game, so one of the key challenges in their success is staying organized. 

“Personally, on large projects I have to keep spread sheets of all products ordered, what is left to select, when product is due and of course the all-important install date. I think so much of our success with large projects is making sure we deliver when promised and the delivery is complete and on point.”

In the 40 years they have been married, Eric and Diane have had three homes of their own. Their current home was built in 2003 and is a transitional European style home with an open floor plan. What they love most about it is that it really answers their needs for day-to-day things including entertaining. 

Since their initial build, they have added two additions, one to their master bedroom wing and the other off the kitchen. Eric says the first addition allowed them to correct what they felt was lacking with the original floor plan. The first addition consisted of a second master bath, moving the laundry room, adding an exercise room and a large, large closet for Diane. Their master suite truly became a retreat.

Years later, their second addition was adding a wonderful bar and keeping room with a turret vaulted ceiling, which opens up to a large screen porch. It’s an area of the house in which they live and entertain. The Lackeys’ skills were indeed a large part in this second addition’s success — it looks and feels like it was always there.

Most recently, the Lackeys have remodeled their original master bath and kitchen, which are the two areas in a home the Lackeys say must stay updated and current, for the aspect of both resale and personal enjoyment.
“I guess you could say we are always updating and changing, partly because it is our passion but also because it prevents a home from becoming dated,” Eric said. “After all, the years do slip by!”

An inviting and comfortable environment, the Lackeys are proud of the home they’ve designed for themselves, which is nestled in the Willow Creek Country Club. Their neighborhood includes about 20 homes, each resting on between two and seven acres, and attracts folks who want to enjoy rural living with the convenience of being close to High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. 

Whether for their personal enjoyment or their client’s enjoyment, the Lackeys say they never want to create a room you wouldn’t want to enter for fear of messing something up. 

“Every room can be decorated, comfortable and inviting — it just takes planning and a good designer,” he said. 

ELEMENTS OF DESIGN

The Lackey’s projects vary greatly from residential projects to commercial to everything in between, and there are elements to each that make them unique and gratifying. 

“On residential jobs, seeing the customer’s dreams and ideas come true is always the moment that makes it all worth it,” Eric said. “It’s the planning, the waking up at 3 a.m. remembering a last-minute detail, and the push to make a deadline. But for me, I really enjoy my commercial projects that allow me more free rein to plan, select and execute. It really gives you the chance to try new things and push the design envelope. Perhaps it has more responsibility, but it also delivers more rewards.”

An important part of the Lackeys’ jobs is interpreting their client’s wants into a finished plan. Sometimes, the challenge becomes interpreting what the client wants when they might themselves not know exactly what they want, or what is best for their given situation. 

“They are often influenced by HGTV and internet searches, which are not always applicable or realistic,” Eric said. “So, by visiting their existing homes and asking the right questions we are usually able to unearth what really would work best and deliver our motto of ‘style and comfort can coexist.’”

How do they achieve fulfilling that goal — their motto? The secret, they say, is developing a trusting relationship with their clients — clients must feel trust for the Lackeys in order for them to deliver their best.
“Without this it is hard to implement the finished plan,” Diane said. 

Many years of experience have resulted in the Lackeys seeing it all, and there are a few common mistakes they see among homeowners embarking on a remodel or designing their first home. One of those common mistakes involves the scale of furniture. 

“We often see those ‘really good buys’ that are way too big or small for the space,” Eric said. “But having to buy twice is never a good buy!”

Another common mistake homeowners make is failing to explore color — color makes it all happen.
“We often say paint is the cheapest part of a design project and the easiest to change,” Eric said. “And yet creating the perfect backdrop is essential to every room of your home, in terms of how it transitions your furniture, accessories, and art.”

DESIGNER TIPS & TRICKS

Nearly 40 years in the business make it easy for Diane and Eric to have a handy list of tools to offer their clients and friends who want to embark on a journey of creating their perfect space. First and foremost, they say anyone wanting to start off on any project must first purge!

“We forget how quickly clutter accumulates and dates a space,” Eric said. “If it no longer speaks to you, donate it or sell it. If you want a new look understand that not every old piece will make the cut.”

The Lackeys’ second piece of advice: Change the things that matter most and do it in an order that when you finish, your room is complete. 

“So don’t buy the new sofa until you paint the room or finish the floors,” he said. “Doing things in the wrong order only makes you feel like you made the wrong decision.”

Ideally, Eric said most things a homeowner wants to accomplish can all be planned around a sensible budget 
The Lackeys also encourage homeowners to be honest about what they want — think about your lifestyle and goals when trying to figure out your wants and needs. Small children or pets, for example, might not equate to certain fabrics, regardless of how beautiful they may be. 

“Some things simply just won’t work,” Eric said. “It’s the same with flooring. Maybe tile is better than hardwood when heavy traffic and large pets are a part of your world. Don’t compare your home to your best friend’s home or what you see in a magazine. My best advice is to remember your needs are unique and should always come first.”

At the end of the day, regardless of which “unique and different” day it is, there’s one thing that drives Eric and Diane Lackey to do their best behind the banner of The Decorator’s Edge. Put simply, they’re driven by a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.

“We have the ability to make people’s lives better,” Eric said. “We are blessed to be able to make houses homes, not just rooms. Seeing our ideas and vision come to life makes every day perfect. No matter how big or small the project, we are always waiting for the best compliment of all, which is hearing our clients say, ‘I love it!’”

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