She never wanted her own company, but that’s exactly what Amanda Webster got by following her “servant heart” to the doorsteps of First Coast residents wanting to design their dream homes.

A self-described “mad scientist,” Webster sketches and strategizes, brainstorms and bargains, advises and advocates—all in the pursuit of happiness by design.

“I want to get inside somebody’s heart,” says Webster, who founded Amanda Webster Design in 1995. “I love to see people with massive dreams, but they don’t know how to make them happen. I do.”

Webster leads 11 staff in designing homes “from the inside out,” resulting in a local and national book of business that brings in about $4 million in annual revenue. In what could be described as a dirt-to-décor process, Webster walks a home site, in many cases, before the foundation has been poured. By working with clients and architects, she helps map out the ideal proportion and layout of a home, addressing issues from finishings to flooring and how big the library needs to be to accommodate the family piano. “Fluffy stuff,” like selecting paint colors and new furniture, comes after the design plans are drawn and approved.

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“The creative process is one thing. The business process is a whole other thing,” says the petite brunette, smiling from a lime green leather armchair in her living room in Ponte Vedra Beach. “That’s when you find out what your client wants and what they can afford. All the realistic stuff comes into play, and you’re sort of out of that fantasy of creativity. And you’re down to the nitty-gritty.”

Born outside London, Webster moved to Melbourne, FL with her family at age 2. She studied interior design at Florida State University and moved to Jacksonville with her husband, Lee Webster, 25 years ago. In that time, she has forged long-lasting client relationships.

Pat Frisch, of Mandarin, hired Webster in 2010 to help design the interior of her new 8,400-square-foot home. Two houses and multiple referrals later, Frisch considers Webster both her designer and friend.

“She’s a bundle of energy that bounces around like a beach ball,” says Frisch. “She has a keen way of persuading people to do it her way. And it usually is the right way.”

After 20 years at the helm of her own shop, Webster says she’s learned that there are four ways to skin a designer cat. Figuring out which way best suits the client comes down to good communication and that “darn budget.”

Tips to Consider When Hiring a Designer

  1. Establish a goal, whether it’s paint and furniture selection, or a full-scale renovation.
  2. Be upfront about your budget, whether its $50,000 or $5 million.
  3. Use online design resources like Houzz to spark style and décor ideas.
  4. Find inspiration in the world around you, from the beach to your own closet. Wardrobe reflects what you would do in your home.
  5. Take a home inventory to decide which items must be reused and which ones to toss—like the ex-wife’s bed. Let the designer know from the start.
  6. Respect the order of the planning process to avoid unwanted expenses.