20 Under 40: Melissa Mortimer

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Melissa Mortimer poses with her dog Louis.

Melissa Mortimer, 30

Historic preservation planner, Southeast Tennessee Development District; Vice chair, Chattanooga Historic Zoning Commission; Board vice president, Cornerstones Inc.; Founder, Preservation Chattanooga

Mantra: #whenyou'reoutsidetheworldstillfeelsnormal

Quarantine projects: Like most people, I set out to adopt a dog and gave myself a lofty to-do list of goals and house projects to go alongside cooking banana bread. I ended up adopting a sweet pup, Louis Sullivan (named after the famous architect), from McKamey who likes to walk an average of 7 miles a day. All that to say house projects have been put on hold for now. I did manage to cross off a lot on the house to-do list before adopting Louis!

Has the pandemic changed your outlook in any way? I appreciate the small things and feel blessed beyond measure.

One thing you couldn't live without? Friends.

What's something you can't have in your house? Cookie dough. I made three batches and only baked six cookies.

How did the pandemic upend your routine? I have always had a very regimented weekly routine that meant everything from work, meetings, window restoration projects, bike rides or happy hours. That routine kept me from ever being home. In fact, when I finally met my new neighbors - after living in my house for three months - they asked me when I was going to move in. I had to adapt to the new normal of being at home and not packing every hour of each day with something.

One thing you wish you'd known at the start of your career? Not everyone is going to agree with what you believe in.

What (else) did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be an interior designer. I received my bachelor's degree in interior design, but after studying abroad in Italy, where the course focused on Italian Renaissance art and architecture, I became interested in preservation. I continued my studies, earning a Master's of Historic Preservation from the University of Kentucky, and now use those skills and interests to work with historic architecture.

What's one thing about Chattanooga you'd change? I would love to see less demolition and more adaptive reuse of old buildings. After all, they make the most interesting spaces.