It doesn’t seem that long ago that Melinda Graham graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interior design from West Virginia University. With a 13-year career in the field of interior design, the Morgantown native has ventured a distant ways from the self-proclaimed nerdy, shy girl that once walked the WVU campus. She reminisced about her timid ways, particularly that of public speaking while a student at WVU; however, reflected on opportunities to participate in the Golden Key Honor Society and Phi Upsilon Omicron Honor Society that played a greater role in her development than she had ever imagined.
Upon graduating from WVU in 1992, Melinda entered the work force with great excitement and energy. Equipped with a four-year degree and confidence soaring, she got her start at a Morgantown firm in residential design. Disappointed in the experience, she sought employment at architectural firms in Pittsburgh where her drafting talent and interest in restoration could gain greater exposure. As she vividly recalls, it was during an interview with a Pittsburgh firm that she evaluated her life’s plan. Immediately she quit her job and started her own business, offering design consultation from her home.
“It started with my parents’ friends saying things like, ‘I really want to remodel my powder room’...really basic stuff,” she explains. After each job she would leave behind her trademark “thank you gift” and, as a result, was able to build a clientele from her work. Once she was asked by a client if she had ever thought about venturing into retail by selling her handmade gifts. She immediately dismissed the suggestion, as she had worked in retail sales while attending WVU. However, Melinda quickly realized that this was the route she needed to take if she wanted to make some money, and thus, the search began.
It started with calls to shops from Fairmont to Pittsburgh. She admits, “I began (buying) things and filling my car with crafty stuff and selling things out to various businesses in town.” While making a delivery for a client, she noticed a store that was available for rent. Out of pure naivete and no money to her name, she called the owner of the building, and to her surprise, she was able to rent it. Melinda was in business and “Surroundings” was born.
Surroundings, which is located in downtown Morgantown, never began as a retail business but rather a design studio. In a short time, the decorations became as popular as the design work.
As her business grew, so did her notoriety and the opportunity for exposure, particularly that of the broadcast media. When asked of her television exposure, she laughs and confesses, “Television was a fluke.” She recalls that one day while watching Lifetime television the network extended an invitation to women in business with a unique beginning to submit their stories. She jumped at the opportunity to promote her business, and in a few months, Lee Field, producer at the Lifetime network, informed her that she would be appearing on the show. Within a week she was flown to New York and after the show, her business exploded. Because of the positive feedback the show received, Melinda was invited to be featured on “Our Home.” This new wrinkle took her business to the next level and, as a result, received an offer to appear on HGTV, an NBC affiliate, regarding more work in television.
She recalled taping segments with Willard Scott on his farm in Virginia. “They turned Scott’s barn into a studio,” she recalls, “and there we designed outdoor gardening crafts and (shot) entertaining segments.” This went on for a couple of years before being contacted by the Discovery Channel which wanted to feature her on a show called “Home Matters” with Susan Powell.
Added to her distinguished list of accomplishments, Melinda has also worked with the Oxygen Television Network, appeared on “Later Today” on NBC, and on the Do It Yourself (DIY) network. Melinda’s home has been featured in Woman’s Day magazine and a hardcover Christmas book by artist Mary Engelbreit. Surroundings retail shop has also been featured in Woman’s Day and Melinda has penned a design Q&A for Budget Decorating Ideas magazine.
Surroundings interior design business continues to grow. Melinda offers residential and commercial services, and she is currently working on the private floors of the Radisson Hotel on the Waterfront.
Today 50 percent of what Melinda produces is retail. “This may sound crazy but my greatest accomplishment to date is still being in business after all these years. Being located in downtown Morgantown can be a challenge and test your will to do it but it allows me to keep a tighter hold on the business and do what I enjoy most, being creative.”