Between her Auburn education and her time in New York City, Ashley Gilbreath was able to create an award-winning interior design company.
When she was in college, Gilbreath’s mother pushed her to get out of her comfort zone and go to graduate school in either New York City or Los Angeles. She chose New York because her mom chose L.A., she said.
“I was comfortable in little-bitty Auburn, and I wanted to spend time there with all of my friends,” Gilbreath said. “My mom was a stewardess for 18 years and flew all around the world, though, so she was always big on getting out. There’s a really big world out there.”
Gilbreath said she's extremely thankful for the influential time she spent in New York.
“It helps you understand people better,” Gilbreath said. “We’re all different. God made us all different for a reason. If you don’t get out and experience that, then you’ve picked this narrow-minded world view, and it’s just not right.”
After graduate school, Gilbreath worked in Atlanta for a period of time, but she eventually moved to Montgomery to be with her husband, where she is still based today.
“I married a Montgomery boy, and they don’t leave,” Gilbreath said.
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In Montgomery, she started Ashley Gilbreath Interior Designs, which specializes in residential spaces and takes on projects from Atlanta to Chicago.
Living in Montgomery is perfect for Gilbreath and her family because they get the best of both worlds, she said.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Gilbreath said. “It’s a sweet, little town like Auburn. It’s great for raising children, and we’re very centrally located. As long as we’re close to an airport, we can do what we need to do.”
It was a surprise to Gilbreath when she discovered she was the 2019 recipient of the Shutze Award for interior design under 5,000 square feet. The Philip Trammell Shutze Award is presented each year to the finest practitioners of architecture, interior design, landscape design and craftsmanship in the classical tradition within the Southeast region.
“I’m thrilled and excited, but also I didn’t expect it to be us,” Gilbreath said. “The night of the awards, I told my husband that I should quit right now, I’ve done everything I wanted to do. To be in photographs and on stage with all these people I have studied and admired since I was in college or younger was very humbling.”
Gilbreath attributes much of her success to her Auburn roots and how much her professors influenced every aspect of her life, from interior design to how to present herself in a professional meeting.
“They actually care where you end up, they care what you’re learning, they had a vested interest in who you are and who you become, how you represent Auburn and how well you do,” Gilbreath said. “They were very thorough. It was kind of like having an extra set of moms around you. I think that shows through who their graduates are.”
Gilbreath echoed her mother’s statements in regards to current students. It’s important to get out while you can, because once you get married and have children it becomes very difficult, she said.
“There’s so much more than what we have,” Gilbreath said. “ Auburn is special for so many reasons because you’re very sheltered, but the rest of your life, you’ve got to learn to deal with people who aren’t in Auburn.”
On occasion, Gilbreath will turn away interns or recent graduates to urge them to get out of their comfort zone.
“You may learn more with us, but you’ll learn more about yourself if you put yourself in a different surrounding,” she said. “It will change your view of yourself. It will change your view of what you’re capable of and what other people are like.”
No matter what field a student is going into, they can find inspiration anywhere, even if they get a little lost along the way, Gilbreath said.
“Some of my most fun times in the summer were when I got lost in the subway,” she said. “You just have to get off and you’ll figure it out. No matter what you’re doing, you can find so much to inspire you, you just have to look for it.”
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