Suddenly Southern: L.A. interior designer moves family to Chattanooga for different life

Suddenly Southern: L.A. interior designer moves family to Chattanooga for different life

April 30th, 2013 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Interior designer Michelle Workman recently decided to relocate her family from Los Angeles to Chattanooga and is documenting the move in a series that will air on The Design Network's website.

Photo by Connor Choate /Times Free Press.


Follow Michelle Workman's move to Chattanooga in "Glamour Goes South" at

Michelle Workman is not a helicopter mom.

But if she lives in Los Angeles much longer, the hovering will likely happen, she says.

She realized it one day recently when, in a split second, her two young sons stepped off the front porch of their home and onto a sidewalk that parallels a busy residential street.

Workman freaked.

"It was an epiphany," says Workman, an interior designer whose A-list clients include John Travolta, Jennifer Lopez, Kirstie Alley and Leah Remini. "It made me realize that I didn't want to raise my kids in a big city. I wanted my children to have a big yard, nearby parks, seasons, good schools and a place where people are friendly."

Her husband, Justin Workman, agreed with his wife's desire, so they launched an Internet hunt to find a new place to call home.

And then a funny thing happened, Workman says. The majority of their Web searches led them to a particular city in the South: Chattanooga.

Workman says her husband, at first, wasn't keen on the idea of moving here. "You're out of your mind," he told her. "The only thing I know about Chattanooga is that song."

But it only took one visit to the Scenic City for Workman to realize that Chattanooga was where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

"There's so many reasons why I love it here," she says, sitting in a booth at Public House Restaurant during a recent house-hunting visit to Chattanooga. "Firstly, the housing cost is amazing. You've got great public and private schools. There's so many parks and outdoor activities. And the people are so nice -- that's actually what convinced my husband to move here."

Workman is documenting her move from California to Tennessee in a new series, "Glamour Goes South," on the Design Network website,

Although her clientele includes Hollywood stars, Workman doesn't mind closing up shop on the West Coast and moving her business to Tennessee. Her husband, an executive of a technology company, can easily do the same.

"It's just the same to me whether my work is in Tennessee or California, and whether the client is famous or not," Workman says. "When I'm in someone's home, I get up close and personal and do the best job I can. I put trust in my clients, and they put trust in me. But I can't wait to explore the markets in Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham."

Chattanoogan Jimmy Adams understands the Workmans' desire to move to from California to Tennessee. He did the same thing in 2005.

Like Workman, Adams had a Los Angeles-based interior design business, Nell's -- now located on Cherokee Boulevard in Chattanooga -- with a list of celebrity clients including Renee Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon, Sheryl Crowe and Blythe Danner.

"From a design perspective, it takes much more effort to find what you need locally," he says. "I miss the many ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, which offer so many different things, not just for design but for food options and simple diversity. But Chattanooga has made leaps and bounds in those areas in the past few years."

Like Workman, Adams travels to New York and other cities for business. Unlike Workman, he moved to Chattanooga because it was home.

"I left Chattanooga in 1984 and returned in 2005," says Adams who, with his partner Jay Floyd, are the parents of two young daughters. "We wanted to simplify our lives.

"The quality of life for [Workman] and her family will be much better in Chattanooga -- one simple factor being less time spent in the car because of traffic," Adams says.

That's a fact, Workman says. In Los Angeles, she and her husband spend three hours each weekday taking their sons back and forth to school.

"My boys can have a real childhood in Chattanooga," she says. "Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, my mother was a hippie, and she took me camping and to nature areas. I want my boys to be able to explore nature not only in parks but in their own backyard.

"And the outdoor activity here is incredible, and I love the way the city supports the arts. Even though it's so relaxing in Chattanooga, there's lots of energy."

Workman, a history buff, says she found out recently that she has ancestors from Tennessee.

"Maybe I'll find out that I'm coming home."