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October 18 , 2004
BY Eric Rangus
Beth Royals’ office doesn’t look like others across campus. As Emory’s manager of interior design, Royals’ bar is perhaps a bit higher than the average Emory employee as far as appearances go. But rather than try to clear that bar and put together some sort of workspace worthy of a magazine cover, Royals simply sets it aside.
The best description for Royals’ office, located in Facilities Management’s annex C, would be “early attic.” Nothing matches. Not the chairs surrounding her corner table, not the desk and bookcases, not even the walls. The near wall is standard beige while the far wall is almost completely covered with faux brick wallpaper. Whoever started the redesign must have lost interest before finishing because the upper corners remain beige. The floor is hardwood, somewhat of a contrast with the tile that leads into the office.
But things are not really what they seem—the far wall, for example. Upon closer inspection, one sees the brick wallpaper has actually been painted on. The hand was so skilled that the wall merely appears to be wallpapered.
And the tremendous variety of styles Royals displays (the cramped space resembles more a high-end antique store than an office) has a purpose as well. Observant—and well-traveled—visitors will notice some order to the chaotic mosaic in the corridor just outside her office. The carpet in Whitehead, the red and gold floor of the Math and Science Center, chairs from all around campus—all of them are here. The reason? So users can see samples of what the interior finishes of their buildings will look like. Royals’ office and the adjacent corridor is one large sample room, like the prop room of a theater.
“My ideas are always the result of listening, and the creative exercise is then interpreting what a client needs and wants in a coherent design,” Royals said. “A lot of it depends on the project. I might see an object in the corner and ask, why is it there? You listen to what people need in order to be productive in their work environments. I think understanding that need is the key.”
Emory’s Campus Master Plan involves more than architecture. The inside of the University’s buildings are just as important as the outside, and Royals’ stamp is everywhere. She came to Facilities Management seven years ago after working several years as an interior design consultant. In the years since, Royals has contributed to nearly every capital project as well as more than 50 small projects currently in progress or on the drawing board. They range from a simple office revamping to the redesign of the president’s residence.
“I was excited about getting to work on Lullwater,” said Royals, who has a B.F.A. from Shorter College, attended graduate school at the University of Georgia in design and studio arts and was a partner in her family’s interior design firm. “It was a wonderful privilege, one of the nicest points of my time here at Emory.”
The first thing Royals did for the Lullwater project was put together a large book of photos, which she mailed to President Jim Wagner’s wife, Debbie, at their previous home in Cleveland. Royals documented every piece of furniture in the home and assembled the information by room. After the book was sent she had all of the furniture stored so areas of the house could be repainted.
Although she eventually visited Cleveland to take care of some logistics, most of her contact with Wagner was on the phone. That’s not the easiest way to determine someone’s style, but Royals and Wagner’s relationship was cemented during their first phone call, which lasted more than an hour.
“It was then I knew we were on the same page and that I could put complete trust in her,” Debbie Wagner said. “I might have questioned some things, but I never second guessed her.”
The end result of the Lullwater renovation is a blend. Some of the Wagners’ furnishings from Cleveland came down to Atlanta—their old dining room set, now in the Lullwater breakfast room—and several family treasures are now mixed with the Lullwater pieces. Royals also made a few changes to the house that have left huge impressions not only on its residents but visitors, too.
Royals’ simple addition of mirrors behind the living room’s bookcases, glass shelves and increased lighting has considerably brightened the room and made it appear larger. Wagner said visitors entering the house comment on sthe new woodworking. In truth, there is no new woodworking; more light simply makes it look that way. Additional light and a subtle move of the furniture also makes the 504-square-foot room (which can host up to 50 guests) appear much bigger than it actually is. Most importantly, Royals said, the project was approached with great respect for the history of the house.
“Emory is perceived as a traditional place,” Royals said, noting the high profiles of Lullwater House and Miller-Ward Alumni House, the first project she worked on upon coming to Emory. “But the majority of the buildings, if you walk into them, are not traditional. A lot of them have interiors that are very contemporary; there is a very eclectic blend.”
That eclectic atmosphere is perhaps most visible in the Computing Center at Cox Hall. Once a bland area of offices and cubicles, the computing center now is a funky, colorful, wide-open space that invites collaborative work with some of the most high-tech equipment available to students on campus.
Flexibility is what Royals and the Information Technology group had in mind when they came up with the design concept for the space. Many of the seats, and even some of the tables, have wheels so they can be moved around. Walls are de-mountable and—after the team surveyed students to find out what they wanted—Royals designed some spaces so students could lie or sit on the floor while they worked. What she couldn’t order, she designed herself and had custom-made, like a pair of multicolored ottomans that students can use for still another kind of seat.
Although they are separated only by a short stretch of Asbury Circle, the designs of the computing center and the renovated Candler Library could not be further apart. While the computing center displays Royals’ vision of the present and future, Candler Library is aan expression of affection for Emory’s past.
“Candler Library is probably one of the main reasons I came to Emory,” said Royals, whose father was a student here. She spent time in the building after the 1957 renovation divided its two-story reading room horizontally in order to provide more office space.
“Its architecture was a little more unique than other buildings on campus,” she continued. “The more I researched Candler, the more saddened I became about that floor being thrown in the middle of it and covering up the marble with asbestos floor tile—although I’m sure, at the time, those were the best decisions to make.”
For the 2002–03 Candler Library renovation, the design team had access to stacks of photos of the original library, specifically the two-story reading room. The architectural team, including Royals, also toured other colleges and universities with libraries from the same design period in a quest for insight and ideas.
The end result is a reading room that is strikingly similar in appearance to the 1926 original. Candler Library’s remembrance of things past reveals itself in subtle ways, as well. For instance, Royals lifted the typeface for the wall-mounted office directories just inside the entrances from a 1920s Emory yearbook.
“That’s why I like being here at Emory,” Royals said. “You can’t work here and be set to one style. It’s such a diverse and wonderful community, and you have to be progressive in the way you design. Emory is on the cutting edge.”
Royals also participates in the professional design community in the Atlanta area. Under her leadership Emory’s young, energetic design team has won five interior design awards.
She also consults with the architects designing large capital projects. In this effort Royals ensures that Emory standards for design and products are adhered to, as well as contributes to the creative design ideas and vision to the interiors of new and renovated buildings.
When Royals finishes a project, there is always one to take its place—or two, or three. She lists several: The Goizueta Business School expansion, now just a hulking erector set of steel, will shortly have a mock-up sample in the interior design studio. She is part of the team for the Candler School of Theology project and the new School of Medicine. And for the first time Royals’ department has branched out to work with Emory Hospital.
“Shall I go on?” Royals asked. There is no doubt she will.