Creatives Cook: Tobi Fairley

Arkansas interior designer, Tobi Fairley Tobi Fairley is an extremely talented interior designer located in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Her designs are luxurious, functional, and cozy all at the same time, and her bubbly and positive personality shines through in her projects and on her blog.  Traditional Home selected her as one of the Top 20 Young Designers in America for 2009, and if you visit her website it is clear why!

Tobi established her firm ten years ago, and has since completed projects in Charleston, Los Angeles, and everywhere in between.  Her designs have been featured in Traditional Home, Better Homes and Gardens special publications, and At Home in Arkansas (six times!).

One of my favorite things to learn about Tobi (besides getting to peruse her fabulous website and blog) is her passion for philanthropy.  She is a glowing example of a young person who stays involved in giving back to her community.  Always the gracious hostess, she is always ready to lend her talents for the greater good, and is even starting her own charitable foundation later this year!

Let's get started with the Q&A:

How did you get into the design business?

From a young age my mom exposed me to beautiful things. Though not formally trained in design, she always has had a knack for decorating, entertaining and cooking. She passed those loves onto me. I also have a couple of family members who have degrees in design. They live in the Dallas, TX area and helped peak my interest in design as an adolescent when I would visit them in the summers.

What has been your most memorable project?

I love my work in the 2007 Susan G. Komen designer show house. My husband’s mom died of breast cancer before he and I met. I love being able to support this great charity in honor of her. The bedroom I designed from this project is one of my most highly regarded by clients and readers of my blog. And the bonus is that it was my first project ever published in Traditional Home Magazine which is one of my favorite publications!

Tobis bedroom design for the 2007 Susan G. Komen designer show house

What are your other interests or passions, and how have they in your work?

I love travel, wine collecting (and drinking :)), yoga, gardening, cooking, entertaining, music, art collecting, and especially blogging and social networking. All of these things play a huge part in my design work and my design business.

What aspect of your personality do you find inadvertently shows up the most in your design projects or processes?

Confidence, Drama, optimism, persistence, order. My family would also say I am loud and that probably shows up a bit too! :)

I see that you enjoy planning fun and fantastic parties and have done design projects for charitable events. How would you describe your personal style when entertaining? Are there any other specific charities or nonprofits that are close to your heart?

I adore entertaining for myself and for charities. I have helped design major charity events like the IV party for St. Vincent Hospital the past 3 years, this is where I was born, by the way. I also often donate parties in my home for charity auctions. I have a dinner coming up in August that I donated to the Arkansas Repertory Theatre where I am on the board of directors. This party is a white party for 8. So it will have white food, white deco, white beverages and white attire. I love to have a theme for my parties so that it sets the tone for everything from the invitations, to the menu to the entertainment! I like all sorts of themes from contemporary to traditional. I love to collect dishes and linens so I am prepared for all sorts of themed events! I also love to entertain the children and parents from my daughter’s class and I am a fan of hosting baby and wedding showers for friends! It helps that one of my best friends owns a Stationary Shoppe, Molly’s Paperie, so we often collaborate on events and she orders the most divine invitations! My favorite stationary line is Mr. Boddington’s Studio. It is to die for!

Tobi arranging flowers in her kitchen for an event

What is your favorite recipe? How did you find it?

I have tons of recipes I love that were passed down from my mom, my grandmothers and my great-grandmother! But some of my most favorite I have found in magazines including a delicious New Orleans BBQ Shrimp recipe from Southern Living, a Spaghetti Carbonara Recipe that I got from Teen Magazine when I was 16 years old which I have adapted a bit and have been cooking now for 21 years, and a divine Martha Stewart Magazine dessert that may be my all-time favorite, Sweet Potato Cake with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Icing. It is a scratch cake that is very labor intensive so I usually only make it once a year for thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and so I love making my favorite recipe for that day!cakes_01239_l

Martha Stewart's Sweet Potato Cake with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Frosting

This lightly spiced sweet potato cake is layered with white chocolate mousse and sprinkled with toasted macadamia nuts.

Serves 8 to 10


2 pounds (about 3) sweet potatoes

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

Unsalted butter, for pans

2 cups cake flour, (not self-rising), plus more for pans

4 large eggs

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons brandy

1 1/2 cups unsalted macadamia nuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

1 pound white chocolate

2 cups heavy cream


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat potatoes with 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and place on baking sheet. Bake until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove skin, and mash flesh with a fork into coarse puree.

2. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Butter two 8-by-1 1/2-inch round cake pans, dust with flour, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup vegetable oil; beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the cooled sweet potatoes; mix until combined.

3. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; mix into sweet potato mixture. Mix in vanilla and brandy until combined. Remove batter from mixer; fold in 1 cup macadamia nuts by hand.

4. Evenly distribute cake batter into prepared pans, and transfer to the oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let pans cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack; cool completely, about 1 1/4 hours.

5. Meanwhile, chop white chocolate into small pieces; set aside. Bring 1 cup cream to a boil; pour over chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Chill for 30 to 40 minutes.

6. When chocolate mixture has cooled, pour remaining cup cream into an electric mixer; whip on medium until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Fold whipped cream into chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.

7. Cut each cake layer in half horizontally, creating four layers. Spread 2/3 cup chocolate frosting on one layer, then stack next layer on top, and frost. Repeat frosting-and-stacking process until each layer is frosted. Spread remaining frosting on sides and top of cake. Arrange remaining 1/2 cup macadamia nuts on top of cake, and serve.

Do you have a favorite memory involving this dish?

Thanksgivings in my family are so much fun! We have a family golf tourney each year including those members who don’t golf :), followed by a wine tasting with hors d'ouevres, and then an evening meal and dessert. It is a long day of family fun filled with gratitude for our many blessings! I look forward to it for months each year until it arrives! I start making my cake a day or 2 in advance because it has so many steps! And it tastes better after it is made for a day or so anyway!!

I had the best time corresponding with Tobi and am so happy to have her for the second installation of Creatives Cook.  Also, if that Carbonara recipe sounds enticing, be sure to head over to her blog to find her recipe!  Then you can have the Sweet Potato Cake for dessert! Yum!