Highly decorated

Dale Hughes has carefully crafted
a distinguished career in interior design

By Jon Shoulders

Dale Hughes doesn’t believe in problems; he prefers to treat them as opportunities.

Throughout more than a decade as a full-time residential and commercial interior designer based in Franklin, Hughes has used this simple, sanguine philosophy, coupled with a tireless work ethic and an inborn flair for design and color, to guide him to the top of his field. Being at the top includes accolades and numerous awards; in fact, 2017 saw Hughes voted best interior designer on The Indy A-List.

Endlessly active around Franklin in professional, philanthropic and social capacities, he often can be found sporting one of his signature porkpie hats.

“It doesn’t matter that there’s an issue, whether it be something with the start of the design process or when the work begins and the contractors are in,” Hughes explains. “What matters is how you approach it and how you resolve it. That’s the important thing: being proactive and working hard to make sure the end result is satisfactory for everybody.”

Raised in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Hughes studied art at Cumberland College (now known as University of the Cumberlands) in Williamsburg, Kentucky, before working for several years as an assistant in the psychiatric department at Community Hospital South in Indianapolis and in various capacities at Valle Vista Hospital in Greenwood.

In 1988 he began selling artwork for Indy-based Final Touch Art Gallery, visiting potential buyers in their homes to pitch his products. Soon discovering that he had an innate sense for salesmanship, Hughes spent almost 20 years with the business, winning several company sales awards along the way. Looking back, he feels the experience was the perfect precursor to a successful design career.

“I started doing some design work part time while I was still selling artwork full time, and around 2005 I was ready for a change,” he recalls. The perfect networking opportunity to help launch his interior design operation arose in 2005, when one of Hughes’ home designs was featured as part of Home-A-Rama, an annual residential showcase event organized by the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis.

“There were over 30,000 people on that tour of nine houses or so, and I must’ve given away hundreds of business cards,” Hughes says. “It was such an important moment to have gotten on that tour and be able to put myself out there. With all the years gone by I still have people who remember me from that, or people who’ve kept my card and called me years later.”       

By 2006, Hughes had officially founded Dale Hughes Interior Design, with a growing clientele and boundless newfound energy for what he feels is his true calling. “I think most everyone has that certain something that they just have a talent for,” he says. “I can go into a client’s home almost every time, and between seeing their home, getting an idea of the lifestyle and having a conversation, I can pretty well nail what it is that they’re wanting.”

With a client list consisting of home and business owners as far south as Bedford and as far north as Carmel, Hughes consults on virtually every aspect of interior design, from paint colors and lighting to flooring and cabinetry to furniture and artwork placement.

“Dale has a great eye for detail and color matching, and knowing what’s really going to come together,” says Dr. Scott Miles, for whom Hughes has helped design two homes. “He can put the whole package together — flooring, cabinets, paint choices — and he has an innovative eye that’s second to none.”

Hughes assisted with the interior redesigning of Miles’ former Center Grove residence in 2010, and when the time came to choose a designer and art coordinator for his new home in Jacksonville, Florida, last year, Miles knew exactly where to turn. “Beyond the great instincts Dale has, where he really excels is that once he’s got the design laid out, he’s got great subcontractors and he oversees everything,” Miles says. “He never walks away from a job until the client is completely satisfied.”

Since 1989 Hughes has worked out of his Franklin home on Jefferson Street and says the nature of his design duties lends itself well to a home office. “I continue to work that way because I outsource everything, and it keeps costs down,” he says. “Kentucky logic says if you keep your costs down, you can pass that savings on to the client.”

Hughes is quick to attribute much of his company’s success to his life partner, Terry Blair, a Bluffton native who studied business at Ball State and who handles the accounting for the design company. “Terry is really an unsung hero of this operation,” Hughes says. “He doesn’t get the praise that I get because I’m on the front line doing all the design stuff. He does all the bookwork, which allows me to go out and have my mind free to be able to do a good job for people. If it wasn’t for Terry and his skills, I would probably be living in a tent right now.”

Hughes brought his talents to bear in a community service capacity last year, designing the bar area at the new Jefferson Street headquarters for the Franklin Elks Lodge, of which he is a member and trustee. He serves as chairman for a few local benefit events, including the annual Elks Lodge Jammin’ for a Cure cancer research fundraiser and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce Cash Bash, which generates funds for maintenance and improvements to the chamber’s office building on Jefferson Street.

When they’re able to step away from company duties, Hughes and Blair often fire up their mobile trailer for camping excursions, or jump in one of their vintage cars — Blair’s 1967 Buick Electra 225, dubbed “Bernice” after the car’s first owner, or Hughes’ 1965 Thunderbird convertible, named “Virginia May” in honor of his mother — for road trips.

“We go to Michigan every year to camp, which is a great time,” Hughes says. “I always love going on vacation, but I love coming back to Franklin where everybody knows your name. Franklin is a magical place. When friends come visit and we go around town, they say, ‘Gosh, Dale, are people really that friendly?’”

Hughes’ enthusiasm for career and community shows no signs of flagging any time soon.

“My goal every time I do a job, whether it’s a small in-and-out job or a new build, is to give my client my undivided attention,” he says. “When the job is done and we’re saying our goodbyes, I want them to be able to tell their family and friends and associates that I really took good care of them from the beginning through the whole process.”

Photography by Jennifer Dummett