Sivilay Xayasaene is a senior interior designer in Gresham Smith’s Life and Work Places market. She joined the firm’s Charlotte office in 2018 to start the new Life and Work Places studio, and has since worked on a variety of workplace strategies and interior design projects for corporate, hospitality, higher education and industrial clients across the state. Sivilay was named a senior associate at Gresham Smith in 2022.

Born in Thailand, Sivilay spent the first four years of her life in a refugee camp before immigrating to the United States with her parents and younger sister. Armed with an anything-you-want-is-attainable belief instilled by her parents, she discovered her passion for interior design, her passion for the “people” part of her role, and perhaps most importantly, her passion for making a positive difference in her local community.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sivilay and her mother personally sewed homemade face masks and donated them to a local food pantry.

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sivilay’s desire to help was manifested in the creation of homemade face masks that she sewed with her mother and personally donated to a local food pantry. The following year, she was accepted into the Leadership Charlotte program, where she became involved in numerous efforts to give back to the community, including the Harvesting Humanity project, in which Gresham Smith participated by designing birdhouses that were donated to several community spaces as well as the Integrated Arts Eco-Exhibit “Pollinator Pathways.”

Her heart for community service also led her to nonprofit connector SHARE Charlotte, where she serves as a board member and first learned about Do Greater Charlotte—an organization that builds creative confidence in kids by providing training in design, entrepreneurship and creative technologies.

“I knew I wanted to get involved in an organization that worked with middle-school-age students and represented many of the creative aspects that are close to what I do in my career on a daily basis,” says Sivilay. “It’s important to expose young people to a world of possibilities. Otherwise, they might never know how big their dreams and ideas can be. This is a nurturing community that helps kids discover their potential.”

It’s important to expose young people to a world of possibilities. Otherwise, they might never know how big their dreams and ideas can be. Sivilay Xayasaene Senior Interior Designer, Gresham Smith

What caught her attention was the organization’s vision to transform a former day care space into a dynamic creative lab for underserved youth from Title 1 schools. Sivilay volunteered her time to develop the pro-bono interior design for the 8,700-square-foot center, located on the bottom level of a local church. In addition to four studios for music and video production, photography and podcast recording, the design includes a centrally located creative café component that helps connect the adjacent community to the organization. Supported by the latest creative technologies, the center allows students to see what it looks like to develop businesses around their individual interests and skill sets while having fun in the process.

“There were times when the project called for Sivilay to be on-site during the workday. Because of our commitment to community engagement, we were more than happy to provide her with the flexibility to do whatever was needed to ensure that such an important project to the local community and its youth was a success,” says David King, senior vice president of the firm’s architecture, engineering and design practice in the mid-Atlantic region.

Gresham Smith’s Sivilay Xayasaene, David King, and Emmalee Hackney join Do Greater Charlotte Founder William McNeely at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The CRTV lab was constructed in an underutilized space donated by a local church.
Sivilay brought William’s “Apple-meets-Nike” design vision to life.

In giving back to the greater Charlotte community, the project not only aligns with Gresham Smith’s Core Purpose to plan, design and consult to create healthy and thriving communities, but is also faithful to Sivilay’s vision of creating an inspiring learning space that instills a sense of hope, confidence and belief in the students—just as her parents instilled in her—and helps them turn their ideas into future opportunities that will benefit the entire community.

“I can’t help but get excited when I talk about the project—it’s just so rewarding, and I feel like I’ve grown so much in the process,” says Sivilay. “It’s heartening to know that there are organizations out there like Do Greater Charlotte that are breaking cycles and providing equitable opportunities for kids. I’m so grateful to have had a chance to delve into this world and take risks with new ideas. I hope the creative space we’ve designed and brought to life inspires young people to pursue their passions and fully realize their infinite potential.”

Sivilay is also warmed by the support she’s received from her office—and the firm. She was honored with Gresham Smith’s “Community Impact Award” at the firm’s annual Celebration event.

“I think about who I was as a person prior to joining Gresham Smith—and it’s like night and day. I have truly grown, and I think a lot of that has to do with the support I’ve received from leadership and the potential they’ve recognized in me. I feel that everyone has that potential, and when they’re in the right environment they have a chance to flourish. The Do Greater Charlotte project is a true embodiment of that.”

I have truly grown, and I think a lot of that has to do with the support I’ve received from leadership and the potential they’ve recognized in me. Sivilay Xayasaene Senior Interior Designer, Gresham Smith

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