by Whitley Adkins | photographs by Amy Kolo
You wouldn’t know it today, but Concord native Michel Van Devender didn’t set out on a particularly creative path. After majoring in criminal justice at UNC Charlotte, her first post-college job was with the FBI field office, followed by one with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Later, she went to graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill to study social work and worked as a mediator for the courts focusing on child custody and visitation. For eight years, she worked as a mental health therapist, operating her own private practice.
After her third son was born, Van Devender decided to step away from her practice, and her path into the creative world began. “I always loved fashion and design,” she says. “When my son was very young, I met a designer and started working for her for a while.” A design partnership followed, but ultimately, Van Devender decided she wanted more. “I wanted to discover the full range of my creativity, and design is just one part of that. I paint, I love fashion, I love cooking and gardening. Sometimes I feel like I have creativity ADHD. Everyone says pick a niche, but that is just so boring, and I would feel like I was not being the full version of myself.”
Over the last 20 years, Van Devender and her husband, Ladd, have renovated two houses on 5th Street in Elizabeth and built their current home in Oakhurst. Her Instagram page @black.house.blue.sky is dedicated to their modern black home, while also showcasing design, travel, style and food — a montage of whatever Van Devender loves and finds inspiring.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
How do you describe your personal style?
It’s overused, but just eclectic. I love mixing everything — it’s the way I approach interiors, too: Something classic, something edgier, something old, something new. I love vintage, but I like modern as well. I find it much more interesting in fashion and interiors when it’s a mix.
Where do you draw inspiration for your wardrobe?
Everywhere — from art, from travel. I had a mom and a grandmother who both sewed. If they couldn’t find what they wanted, then they would just sew it. They were super creative with their fashion. Where is there not inspiration if you are open to seeing it? Vintage and antique stores provide endless inspiration.
Where are your favorite places to shop?
I shop everywhere, literally. If Walmart had something that I liked, I would buy it. I love consignment — I love JT Posh. I love Marshalls — I think the one on Sharon Amity Road gets the best stuff. Sleepy Poet. I love going to antique and vintage stores in Asheville. I do like Zara and H&M. I know they are considered fast fashion for most, but not for me, because I don’t throw things away so quickly. I can appreciate super nice things, but I don’t necessarily pay a lot for my clothes.
Describe your closet edit.
I keep things for a long time. I never get rid of jewelry. I never really get rid of belts either, because they don’t take up a lot of space. I’m not really into the closet purge. I try to weed out things that are worn out, but sometimes things can be worn out in a great way. I’ll have something I won’t wear often, but then in three or four years I’ll go back and wear it again.
I am so inspired by this closet. Do you ever just hang out here?
Yes, when you live with four guys, you kind of need a place to be by yourself. Our house is open, which I love, but at the same time we lose the individual rooms, so this is definitely my retreat.
Tell me more about the design aspect of your closet.
I knew I wanted an inspiration wall. I collect magazine clippings, greeting cards — sometimes I’ll just paint quotes. I’ll add to it. I might take something down. When I come in here, I want to feel inspired.
It’s not just clothes in here. It’s like a full-on, actual room.
Correct — it’s jewelry, pictures of my kids, mementos. I am definitely a layers person. I love to mix materials and things organic. Even if you have a small closet, if you can get a chair or just a stool in it, it just makes it feel more special. Probably for about the last 15 years I’ve had a disco ball — every home needs a disco ball. I love the way it reflects light. I got mine at Post & Grey many years ago.
Do you have any style icons?
I don’t have an icon per se, but I definitely like the vibe from the ’70’s — Halston, I love that whole era, even in interiors.
What is your recipe for creating an outfit?
I feel like it’s about the mix. Something old, something new. Something more sleek paired with something edgy. I like to mix high and low. So, a T-shirt from Old Navy with a nicer pair of jeans. I love the layers. To me, I think accessories can make an outfit — the shoes, the handbag, the jewelry, the scarf.
what’s your Favorite closet organization trick?
Hooks and baskets are super useful. I have [a basket] from Urban Outfitters that holds jackets, scarves and belts. I have hooks that I hang necklaces and handbags on.
THIS OR THAT
Sneakers or heels: I like them both, but you’ll find me on the daily in sneakers — cute sneakers though. Running sneakers are for running!
Jeans or skirt: Probably jeans.
Jeans or dresses: That’s a little harder. I mean, I love dresses. To me, finding a really cool vintage dress gives me an endorphin rush. It’s like a treasure hunt.
Favorite accessory: A scarf — you can do so many things with scarves. I wear them on my head, wrapped around my wrist, around my neck, on my ankle, as a belt. I’ll tie it around a bag. If you have naturally curly hair like I do, a scarf is your best friend.
Neutrals or patterns: My house now is a lot more neutral than it used to be. It used to be color and pattern everywhere, and as my life became more chaotic, I just needed more calm. But especially in my dress, I like to mix patterns.
Sequins or animal print: Sequins, although I do love animal prints, too. SP