Joni Vanderslice first knew she wanted to be an interior designer when she was a fourth-grader growing up in High Point, N.C., but she never dreamed how far success in the design business would take her.
Her company, J. Banks Design Group on Hilton Head Island, celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, and Vanderslice and her staff of 34 are engaged in residential, hospitality, real estate and resort design projects locally, around the country and overseas.
Founded in 1986, the firm has grown in the middle of an economic downturn -- Vanderslice said this year will be her "best ever" in business. She attributes her success to innovative design and on-time, on-budget installations, working with vendors all over the world to purchase quality items at lower rates, and good old-fashioned personal connections based on trust built over time.
"All of our clients have good taste," Vanderslice said. "We give them their vision."
Casting a wide net --meaning working on residential and commercial projects, seeking out jobs in different geographical areas, opening a retail storefront, developing a home furnishings line and most recently launching an online store--has proved a good business strategy.
Although each job is unique, the J. Banks "look" has been described as casually elegant timeless design, with bold use of color and out-of-the-box creativity. The clubhouses, restaurants, resort properties and private homes the company has designed all have a "wow" factor.
Vanderslice says the ability to visualize a design project is an innate skill, but she and her team have honed their skills by spending time abroad sourcing items, installing projects and buying antiques in Italy, Mexico and England. Their travel includes annual buying trips to the High Point, New York, Verona and Paris markets.
Vanderslice remains grateful to those who helped her start her business and guided her along the way. Her long "gratitude list" includes the six clients and friends who first invested in her company, her dad and friend and mentor Mary Fraser. The Melrose Club was her first large commercial project, and spurred the growth of the hospitality side of J. Banks Design Group.
Designer Janet Perry has worked alongside Vanderslice for 25 years and Patche Pratt for 23 years. In addition to her work family, Vanderslice says she owes her success to the unwavering support of husband Rick and daughters Sarah, 12, and Grace, 11.
Many of the company's design projects in Colorado, Mexico, Italy and Ireland have been contracts for David and Sandy Burden of Timbers Resorts. Castello di Casole in Tuscany, Italy is the company's most ambitious project to date; the 3,000-acre resort of vacation farmhouses, fractional ownership cottages and a hotel includes twelfth- to fourteenth- century structures.
Recently, J. Banks Design Group ventured into real estate, building a 18,000-square-foot structure, which includes rental retail and restaurant space. It's is the first LEED-certified commercial building on Hilton Head. Vanderslice says employee sick days have dropped since the company moved to the sunlight-filled space.
Vanderslice and her staff remain firmly grounded in the Lowcountry. Staff are encouraged to take paid time off to assist with philanthropic events and the company has donated more than $250,000 in merchandise and monetary contributions over the last five years.
Among other community service commitments, Vanderslice is chair of the board at Sea Pines Montessori Academy, where she was among a group of parents who helped the school expand to include elementary and middle school grades.
References to faith are a part of many personal conversations with Vanderslice. To see her face light up, ask about her project--with St. Luke's Episcopal Church, her husband and friend Susan Ketchum-- to build an orphanage in Tanzania. The Valentine Project will eventually house 350 orphans in 35 cottages staffed by matrons, and many Lowcountry residents are working to make this dream come true.