Buddy McDowell co-founded Design Directions International.

Buddy McDowell is a born interior designer. Co-owner of the Marietta, Georgia-based Design Directions International (DDI)—which he started with his partner, Sherry Decker, in 1991—the ASID-accredited designer has personally overseen more than 400 hotel- and country club-related projects, and his firm is consistently listed among the top 50 hospitality-design firms in the United States. It’s an achievement brought about in part through McDowell’s passion for his life’s work and his sensitivities to the world’s various regions and cultures. Here he speaks candidly with gb&d about what fuels his drive. 

Hotel Indigo, the first LEED-certified hotel in San Diego and the latest from Design Directions International, features many striking elements, including these illuminated communal tables.

After graduating, I was asked to teach interior design at Georgia State University, and [then] I got a job for two years with a large corporation—McDonnell Aviation. I left after deciding that I wanted to be more in control of my destiny, so I started my first company out of my bedroom. I had completed a restaurant and lounge for my thesis project, and somebody saw it and asked me to do their restaurant/lounge. That led to another, and another, then a hotel, and then more hotels.

We try to create a design that fits a
particular property within its particular location. We’re currently working on a Crowne Plaza in Trinidad and a Marriott in Tennessee. They need to look different. We try to design things, like the Indigo Hotel in San Diego, that are indigenous to their locales.

Up Close and Personal


What was your first job?
When I graduated from graduate school, I got a job working on aircraft interiors for McDonnell Aviation.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I don’t know. It’s all I’ve ever done and ever wanted to do. There was never a plan B. I guess I’d be jobless.

What inspires you?
I love to travel and just returned from a vacation in Scandinavia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Seeing the authenticity of those cities and the architecture was just thrilling. As a designer, I’m looking at details more closely, little parts of the whole and how they’re done. I took over a thousand photographs.

Describe yourself in three words.
Dedicated, fun, and a perfectionist.

What is your hidden talent?
A temperament to survive this profession, the ups and downs, wins and losses. It’s like a football game, the agonies of defeat and the ecstasy of winning. I hope that I can keep flourishing. 

Whether it’s a hotel or my own home, I want an
interior to be warm and inviting. If it’s a contemporary design, I don’t want it to be too minimalist. That’s very important, and some places I see just don’t have that. They may have individual elements, but as a whole composition they don’t have the warmth that people want and need to feel.

The Hotel Indigo was a fun project. It was a prototype Indigo, a new, more upscale direction for this boutique brand—a new construction, so we had something of a blank palette with what we wanted to do with the interior. The client wanted it to be a LEED-certified hotel—the first in San Diego—and we worked closely with the architect to ensure that it happened.

Design-wise, we tried to do things that were related to San Diego. The Indigo brand requires a lot of murals, and we had a San Diego photographer take pictures of the city, which were made into murals. All the art was done by local artists. The California poppy is the state flower, so we used that orange in combination with yellow and blue representing the blue sky and blue ocean of California. It was a modern, fun approach, and our director of design, Amy Gleghorn, was instrumental in the design.

Sustainability is important to us, and it’s something that is becoming much more prevalent in our profession. We try to support it as much as we can. Some clients are more attuned to it that than others, and we try to lead them when possible. Of course, a lot of sustainability goes hand in hand with architects, especially in new construction. In the Indigo project, we were able to work in concert with the architects [at] Joseph Wong and Associates of San Diego, who did a great job.

I love what I do and wake up looking forward to going to work. There’s nothing else that I ever wanted to do. In some ways work is harder now than it used to be—the client may expect a little more—but still it’s our job to give it to them, and at the end of the day, there’s a great deal of satisfaction. What gives me the most satisfaction is creating an environment that makes people happy. To see people walk into our interiors and see them smile—that’s very exciting. It’s a thrill.