Designer Spotlight on Jimmy Evans, Charleston, SC

May 15, 2014

Jimmy Evans has always had an eye for design, long before Margaret Donaldson Interiors found him and began working with him years ago. At 90 years young, Jimmy is rich with stories about the old days of design, from Paris to South Carolina, and how things have changed within Charleston’s design world alone.

Jimmy had been through both the war as well as college when he realized he was destined for a life in design. He spent two years in Paris where he took lectures at the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the inspirational surroundings there led to further confirmation that his future was firmly set in decorating.

He hails from Huntsville, Alabama via Cincinnati, where he got his first job in the decorating business working at a 130-year-old upholstery company. “It was all right there,” he says. “It wasn’t all this farming out stuff. If you wanted to see the sewing women, you went upstairs to see them. If you wanted to see the upholsterers, you went into the back.” He describes the business as a wonderful place for beginners in those days and is grateful for the training he received in techniques like antiquing furniture.

From there, he moved on to pursue a more independent career in Atlanta, growing his clientele by placing ads in nearby Huntsville’s newspaper before hearing about an opportunity here in Charleston. One visit is all it took. As it often happens with visitors even still, Jimmy fell in love with the Holy City and knew he wanted to live here. That was in 1954, he says, and the decorating business was cornered by three older women back then. He knew he had his work cut out for him, but he did it anyway.

After moonlighting at the Post & Courier and Evening Post as the art director while steadily building a reputation in the decorating world, he finally quit the newspaper to design full-time and has been pursuing his passion ever since. He has decorated everything from Charleston plantations to downtown homes to the Francis Marion. Jimmy was even asked to do the newspaper interior once they enlarged the building, and he also describes the time he decorated the bar that was once at Fort Sumter.

“I remember they had a bar called the Pink Coat at Fort Sumter,” Jimmy recalls. “It was fun doing it. I did the bar area, and I did a mural. It was a southern hunting theme, with a plantation house sitting up on a hill in the background.”

Jimmy says he’s done a lot of things from scratch, although he loves a starting point: a rug from grandma “that sets off the whole color scheme,” for example. A self-proclaimed “junkie,” he also takes pride in being one of the first designers in town to understand the value of “junk” and how to use old gems he’d discover to transform the look of a room. These days, he can be found often working whenever his expert eye is needed at Margaret Donaldson Interiors.

“I have learned so much from Jimmy over the years,” Margaret says. “I learned to ‘junk shop’ from him, which was great fun when we would take off on little trips to go find treasures. He is a wealth of knowledge, and he showed me how to look for classic lines in pieces and to understand correct scale and proportions. He also taught me how to see the jewel underneath a nasty finish and to use my imagination to think of creative ways to repurpose things.”

Jimmy may not be doing his own big jobs anymore, but his expertise is still in high demand, and he doesn’t mind one bit.

“People say, ‘You’re 90 years old. My God, you still go to work?’ And I say, ‘My God, I don’t know how to quit.’ It’s fun. I love meeting people, and my customers have become very good friends — and, it’s just my life.”

Kelly Rae Smith is a freelance writer, editor, and nostalgia obsessive based in Charleston.