Updated: Apr 16, 2022
It’s no doubt that Austin, Texas is full of incredible small business, boutiques, and design studios. When it’s time to freshen our style, or our outlook, we turn to local Austin friends and collaborators for their expert perspective. In this blog series, along with our own inspiration for refreshed jewels, we highlight two longtime friends and Austin-based business-owners: Elizabeth Cates, of Sparrow Interiors and Gifts, and Kristen Ernst, of Grove Hill ATX Boutique.
We turn to Elizabeth and Kristen to learn the quintessential markers of a uniquely-Austin design style and fashion sensibility, and how to update our homes and wardrobes when it’s time for a change. We love Sparrow and Grove Hill for their mutual dedication to creating beautiful, bespoke, and unique collections, combined with unmatched personal service, and decades of expertise.
Elizabeth Cates, founder and principal interior designer at Sparrow Interiors and Gifts, first made her way to Austin in 1983. After spending many years in Memphis, TN, family ties and life changes brought her back to ATX, where she founded Sparrow in 2017. The shop, part-design-office, part-boutique, is where you’ll find Elizabeth — when she’s not traversing the world for textiles and treasures to bring back with her, that is. As you’ll see, hand-sourced Moroccan textiles, antique English hand-painted dinnerware, decorative objects, and a gallery chalk-full of local artists await behind the doors of Sparrow Interiors.
Grove Hill dressed us for spring, we adorned the ensembles with jewels, and Elizabeth graciously opened the doors of her boutique to serve as our backdrop. Keep reading to learn more about one of Austin’s best interior design businesses and home decor stores, inspiration to refresh your home this season, and ways to reflect the spirit of Austin within your own walls.
RH: Where did your journey with interior design begin?
Elizabeth: I went to the University of Texas here in Austin and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design, 1988. UT was one of the first FIDER accredited programs in the country (Foundation for Interior Design Education). My first position after school was in the hotel design industry, then transformed into office, and residential interior design. I have since worked on ranch and farm houses and even restaurant design.
RH: What types of clients do you typically aim to serve?
Elizabeth: I serve clients who want to make their homes feel warm, comfortable, and upscale. We are a boutique, custom, high-end interior design firm and retail shop. We love to focus on our clients personal styles and desires. No two jobs look the same!
RH: What’s the history of why and how you got started in Austin?
Elizabeth: I grew up in Dallas, TX and went to the University of Texas in Austin. I moved away for many years to Memphis, TN, but life changes brought me back to Austin, where I have family. My brother has been a musician here for over 30 years and both my children are Longhorns. Opening a business was the best way to continue what I had already been doing.
RH: How does Sparrow uniquely serve Austinites? Or, in other words, what can they find at your shop and with your service that they can’t find elsewhere in Austin?
Elizabeth: I travel the world and always bring items back to sell in the shop. Plus, I have honed a skill for “dressy casual”. No matter your personal interiors style, whether it be modern, transitional, boho, or traditional, my goal is to provide sophisticated comfort. I am lucky to have a diverse group of people in my life from musicians and cowboys to artisans and socialites; they provide me with a true knowledge of how various lifestyles live and what’s important to them. My life experiences have exposed me to fabulous interiors for families, elegant and casual entertaining spaces, privacy, practicality, and durability. Hopefully, our shop reflects this!
RH: We’d love to know what you think makes Austin unique in terms of design styles and interior decorating.
Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US right now, gaining about 34,000 new residents annually (The most significant metro area net contributors to Austin growth are Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and New York.)
How would you describe Austin’s design focus as compared to other major cities like New York City or Los Angeles? How is Austin’s style different from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio? What elements are unique to the Austin vibe?
Elizabeth: Austin is a combination of old and new. The new is quite modern and the old has tremendous charm that we work with and update. While Austin is becoming more modern, it remains true to its roots and has a quirky vibe. There has always been a strong sense of individuality here. We do not focus on one style; we focus on the client’s personal taste and their objects of interest.
No matter the style of architecture, interesting and fresh lighting, new furniture shapes, bold prints, and great textures are what you will find in current Austin interiors.
RH: Thinking about the quintessential “Austin Woman” — If someone who just moved here were to come to you and say, “I want my home to reflect my personal style, but also capture the unique vibe of Austin.” What pieces or design elements would you recommend? What signature elements typically show up in the home of an Austinite?
Elizabeth: Our first responsibility is understanding what the client likes and what makes them proud to invite guests into their space. Modern lighting, leather and great art are recurring elements in Austinites homes. Additionally, we have the ability to have year-round outdoor spaces. So, we strongly believe the outdoor space should feel like an inside room. It does not have to be barren. In Austin, we live outdoors as much as we do indoors.
I interview all of my clients and see what kind of feel they personally want to create in their home. Do they have color inspiration or existing furniture that is significant? What makes them feel comfortable and what type of mood do they want to achieve? We are designing personal spaces that are safe-havens for relaxation and reenergizing.
RH: What new design styles, people, or ideas (or anything else!) are you hoping increased growth brings to Austin? Or, what changes have you already seen?
Elizabeth: Vintage furniture is becoming more relevant due to inventory and supply-chain issues across the globe. Most antique shopping is out of town, plus we have high-end estate contacts in Nashville and Houston. I’ve worked for years to develop my sources and have relationships across the country. Those relationships and sources contribute to our ability to provide our clients with those really outstanding furniture and design elements that no one else will have. We’re not limited to what’s local. We also love many California furniture lines, they’re fresh, interesting, and some, surprisingly affordable. We focus on the client’s individuality and provide as much depth as possible. We provide unique, to-the-trade fabrics that are full of texture and life. We think locally and source globally.
RH: Thinking about the spring and summer months, specifically, what trends are you most excited for this season?
Elizabeth: Outdoor! We have always focused on sophisticated outdoor spaces. We enjoy helping our clients elevate their outdoor spaces so they feel like rooms, not patios.
When it comes to where and how to shop boutiques and home decor in Austin, Sparrow and Grove Hill should certainly be one of your first stops. Visit Sparrow Interiors and Gifts online to browse the portfolio and book a consultation, or stop by Elizabeth’s beautifully curated Austin boutique at 3404 Jefferson Street Austin, TX 78703. Stay tuned for conversations with Robin and Kristen Ernst to learn how they are refreshing their jewelery boxes and wardrobe this season!