Auburn alumna becomes award-winning interior designer with modernized Southern style

Published: May 07, 2019
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Ashley Gilbreath, a 2004 Auburn University graduate, is an award-winning interior designer specializing in casual, elegant spaces. Her full service interior design firm, Ashley Gilbreath Interior Design, has been featured nationally in Southern Living, House Beautiful, Country Living and Coastal Living, as well as a pilot show, “Sweet Home Renovation,” which aired on HGTV.

While clients might not spot any obvious Auburn memorabilia in her charming designs, Auburn will forever hold a “big chunk” of her heart.

Gilbreath enrolled at Auburn in architecture, but she often caught herself wondering more about the interior of a room, and soon changed her major to interior design with a minor in marketing.

“The professors encouraged us to be yourself and to make sure that you are a reflection of what you are going to give a client,” Gilbreath said.

“They pushed you to get out there and do far reaching internships and jobs,” she said. “Auburn is a big school, but a small family, with lots of brothers and sisters. After graduation, it is important to get out of that bubble and realize that the rest of the world is not like a little bubble anymore. This gives you a chance to tip toe your way through and experience what real life is like.”

Gilbreath took this advice to heart after graduation and began classes at the New York School of Interior Design. Her “casual elegance meets functional” Southern aesthetics excelled in the industry while working for Richard Keith Langham in New York City, Studio L in Atlanta and Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood in Montgomery.

Her husband Barrett Gilbreath, also a 2004 Auburn graduate, encouraged her to launch her own business because of her successful portfolio of residential and commercial projects.

“My husband’s famous last words were ‘You’re young enough that if you fall flat on your face, you can get back out there and try it again,’” she said.

“I realized that your surroundings influence your personality and the way you feel and act,” Gilbreath said in an interview with inRegister magazine. “Where you are every day is so important, and if I knew that if I could influence that at all, I would be kind of shaping a person’s life and informing what means home to them.”

It was a risk worth taking as Ashley Gilbreath Interior Design was recently honored with a coveted Shutze Award from the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture, which salutes architects, interior and landscape designers for their dedication to preserving the classical tradition. The award is named after famed Atlanta architect Philip Trammell Shutze, known for designing some of the city’s most beloved buildings including the Swan House, The Academy of Medicine, East Lake Golf Course Clubhouse and The Temple.

Gilbreath was also a finalist for the 2019 Atlanta Decorative Arts Center’s Southeast Designer of the Year.

“It was an honor to be included with those in the interior design field that I’ve always admired, including Bunny Williams,” said Gilbreath.

Gilbreath not only researches her client’s style, but also their alma mater. Due to her Louisiana roots and fond football memories, she is always aware of certain color palettes that may turn off a client living in the area of the country housing the Southeastern Conference. The colors may be aesthetically pleasing, but if they are somewhat similar to a rival’s college colors, the option is out.

“These SEC Southerners are not about to have any color in their house that is of their rivals,” Gilbreath laughingly said.

While working with Auburn fans, she guarantees that there will be no trace of crimson red in the room. She jokingly said she has applied this rule to her own home—the exception being at Christmas.

Regardless of collegiate ties, her “design style radiates that beachy, salt-infused, windows-rolled-down-along-the-coastline feeling,” as described on photographer Alyssa Rosenheck’s blog.

When she travels back to Auburn with her husband and three children, she reminiscences on her proposal at Samford Hall, memories with her social sorority and the many hours she spent in Spidle Hall.

Gilbreath encourages current interior design students to dig deep into online visual elements such as Instagram and Pinterest to garner inspiration.

“It only helps broaden what you can imagine,” she said. “Go down those rabbit holes on Instagram on your favorite designer’s account. You’ll be able to understand why the designer you love does what they do. Constantly dig in to the people that you adore.”

“School can teach you how to scale, but the rest of it in a creative sense comes from you,” Gilbreath added.

Throughout her career, Gilbreath has always taken pride in answering the question, “Where did you go to college?” because her answer reflects the love she has for her alma mater.

“Auburn is like the Ivy League school of design, in my opinion, because we’ve produced so many good creatives over the years,” she said. “Auburn is an awesome place. Great people there that are nice—I’m very thankful to have been a part of it.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.