New York-based interior designer Sheila Bridges has transformed the homes of many prominent clients, from entrepreneurs to entertainers. Her gift of creating luxurious, comfortable spaces that cater to her clients’ design needs led to both CNN and Time magazine naming her “America’s Best Interior Designer.”

Bridges, who launched her design firm in 1994, recently spoke with about her successful career, her new memoir, The Bald Mermaid, and her upcoming appearance at the ESSENCE Festival. What are you most looking forward to at the ESSENCE Festival?

Sheila Bridges: I have never been to the Festival before and have always wanted to go. I am excited to meet a lot of different women. Hopefully people will feel empowered and inspired by my own personal story. You’ve enjoyed such a successful career as an interior designer. What’s your approach to design?

Bridges: At the end of the day, it’s about the client. It’s not about putting my signature on someone’s home. It’s about reflecting who they are and their sense of style. I try to be a good listener and really pay attention to what the client wants to achieve. I creatively solve the client’s design problems in a way that is more reflective of them than of me. Since you started your business in 1994, have you found that the way people decorate has changed over the years?

Bridges: People are decorating with the realities of the economy now. They seem to be taking bigger risks with decorating and design. It’s what I call the high-low mix, where they are willing to mix something from Target with a piece from Bergdorf Goodman. They may combine a really contemporary painting with a piece of African art.  People are not just looking for one style now. It’s really about mixing different, accessible styles together. How do you keep abreast of design trends?

Bridges: Most of my inspiration is taken from a lot of my own personal experiences, travel, nature, architecture and fine art. I pay attention to cultural trends, color forecasting, fashion, blogs and shelter magazines. You always want to have fresh ideas. Can you suggest a few summer decorating tips?

Bridges: It is like changing over your closet from winter to spring. I do the same thing in my own home. I introduce splashes of color with toss pillows and usually have different sets of bedding in lighter colors. I also love slipcovers in the summer, which is a real inexpensive way of protecting your furniture and lightening everything up. I use cotton slipcovers that you can throw in the washing machine. It always gives off a summery, beachy, clean feel. You’ve just released your memoir, A Bald Mermaid, which documents losing your hair to alopecia areata. What do you want readers to take away from the book?

Bridges: This is the first book I’ve written in 10 years. The book is a series of vignettes about life and the twists and turns we all experience as we are growing up. The idea is that it’s important to trust your intuition about what’s important in your life. When you are making decisions, pay attention to your gut. Stay true to who you are. I hope women can relate to some of the things I have gone through.

Learn more about the speakers and artists on this year’s ESSENCE Festival lineup.