Align Design Proves that Remodeling Can Bring Function and Beauty Together at Any Price Point

March 10, 2020

Kicking off a big remodeling project can be intimidating. Enter: Align Design. The Asheville-based boutique design studio approaches clients with a highly focused and personal touch. “The spaces we inhabit have a powerful effect on the way in which we navigate the world,” explains founder and designer Shawn Merkel. “My ultimate goal [is] to gain a deeper understanding of what my clients need so I can align their spaces with the way that they live or work.”

This week, we welcome Align Design to the Asheville Chamber and get to know them with a Q+A.

Tell us about your business and what you do!

Align Design is a comprehensive interior design studio that specializes in kitchen and bath design, as well as remodeling and renovations. I offer all kinds of services from the concept and planning phase to turn key service.

I started my business in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2010. In 2015, I relocated to the beautiful mountains of WNC and haven’t looked back. I work primarily by myself, but I have a design assistant that helps with the non-design aspects of the business: running errands, picking up and dropping off samples, helping with field measures, etc. I offer both residential and commercial interior design services.

I also recently started selling several lines of cabinetry along with all of the resources needed to take a kitchen or bath remodel to the turn key phase. I have a BFA in interior design, with an emphasis on the architectural aspects of the design.

What gave you the idea for Align Design? 

I’ve always loved to help people make changes that alter and enhance the energy in their spaces, so after all my sons were grown, I returned to design school to pursue a lifelong goal of earning a design degree. I was actually at the same design school that my oldest son was in at the time, which was very awkward for him but absolutely priceless for me. I’ve always recognized that the spaces we inhabit have a powerful effect on the way in which we navigate the world. It’s not just about the way they look, but also how they function, and poorly functioning, basic spaces can make life more difficult without us realizing it. My ultimate goal has always been to gain a deeper understanding of what my clients need so that I can align their spaces with the way that they live or work. That’s how I decided to name my business Align Design.

What makes your business unique in its field? 

I think what makes Align Design unique is our organic approach. Every client has a different level of service that they need. Clients come to me with their vision, and then I determine what they need to complete that vision. I take on all scopes of work, and can deliver everything that they need to actualize their  vision, no matter what their preferred style is. I don’t fixate on what’s trending, or what my preference is. I always tell them that they will be the one(s) living in the space, not me. It’s about what they want, not what will look best in my portfolio. I treat my clients as though they are embarking on a luxury excursion  and I am their personal concierge, helping them navigate the adventure of a renovation. I lay out the road map for them, act as their personal design guide, and provide the resources to make the right choices through the inevitable hiccups that come with any project.

I also limit the number of clients I take at one time to be sure that I can give each and every one of them undivided attention and focus. Align is a small, boutique firm, so I”m aware that I can only give high end service to a limited number of people. My goal isn’t to break records; it’s to provide quality over quantity. I help my clients see their visions become tangible, which can be daunting, so I have to limit my client load.

I’m respectful of my clients’ budgets and work hard to stay within that. One way I do that is by managing expectations up front; if someone wants a $60,000 outcome on a $30,000 budget, I don’t lead them on just to get the job. I also don’t take on clients who I believe would be a better fit with a different firm. Again, I stay focused on that word: align. There is enough business in Asheville for every designer, and not all clients will mesh with me. That’s okay! That just means that they will find someone more compatible. It’s important to me that we have that “click” of personalities that assures a positive working relationship. Designing personal spaces can be very intimate, so it’s important to have respect and a mutual connection. That goes for the contractors that I work with as well.

What is your favorite part about doing business in the Asheville area? 

I love that Asheville is such a magnet for thoughtful, engaged people. The clients here have been so diverse in style preferences, which makes it fun as a designer. I’m also so pleased with and grateful for the design community here. It’s more collaborative than competitive. I meet with a group of designers once a month; we talk shop, troubleshoot tricky design dilemmas, and refer business to each other.

What else would you like to share about your business? 

I am certified in Feng Shui and offer Feng Shui consultations to help my clients enhance their designs. It’s a great accompaniment to my design services because it can elevate the design in a way that is not tangible but important. We’ve all had the experience of being in a beautiful space, but something was just off. Feng Shui, coupled with good design, can make a huge difference in the way a space feels on a subconscious level. It can help my clients move towards their life goals through thoughtful placement and spatial organization. Although the effects are subtle, they are powerful enough to create tremendous shifts in many aspects of my clients’ lives.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

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