A Single Mom's Triumph: Tammy Mathews' Thriving Career and Life on 30A - 30A

A Single Mom’s Triumph: Tammy Mathews’ Thriving Career and Life on 30A

By: Shannon Mekeel | Posted Jun 7, 2023

Divorce is a dirty word. It means the bride and groom are done. The dream of the wedding day has failed, and love has been replaced by hate. It’s an end to the fairy tale. At least that is what we have all been conditioned to believe. But, what if ‘divorce’ could instead be the beginning of a new love affair and the start of a life others could only dream of in one of the world’s most beautiful settings?

This is the tale of a love affair with 30A and a story in which a single mom and her two children redefined sadness and transformed their lives and the lives of everyone they touched by daring to dream.

Tammy Mathews of Birmingham and her family of four first visited 30A in November 2010. The family was house shopping for a vacation home on the beach, so they could give their boys memories of growing up with sand between their toes, much like the childhood that Tammy had experienced when her family had lived in New England. Tammy, an established interior designer, and her husband, who owned a glass store in Birmingham had decided that 30A provided the idyllic beach setting they were seeking. “The restaurants, George’s on Alys, walking on the beach in my Uggs…everything about this place hooked me. I just loved it.” Tammy said of her first visit to 30A in the fall of 2010.

Tammy’s sons, Jack and Gabe

Back in Birmingham, life went on. Tammy said their marriage was in a good place, their businesses were thriving and so was the family. They were young, healthy, and involved with the boys’ school and sporting events, and they had a full social calendar with friends and family. Sadly, their beach house dream was put on hold because her husband realized that peeling himself away from the day-to-day duties of his company and working remotely from the beach house was unrealistic.

Tammy remained committed to her marriage and over the next two years visited 30A whenever she could.  Each time she visited the sand, the surf, the people, and the vibe of 30A pulled harder and harder at her heart. She wondered if her gypsy soul could ever find the solace she was seeking in this splendid place.

Tammy has always been confident, resilient, and fiercely independent…character traits that draw people into her presence. Tammy Mathews Interiors in Birmingham was a successful business because she cared so deeply about her clients and gave them her complete attention, her fiery personality, and unending dedication to finishing the job to exceed her client’s expectations.

The couple started counseling to save their marriage in 2011, but they couldn’t make it work. “My ex and I remain friends to this day. We both know we did everything we could do to save our marriage. I have an incredible amount of respect for him,” said Tammy regarding the father of her sons.

Grayton Beach

In the summer of 2012, when the marriage was finally done, Tammy heard the beach calling louder than ever, and as luck would have it her dear friend, Lucy Farmer had a home in the area. “Come join us,” Lucy told Tammy. So, Tammy packed a bag and drove the four hours to Lucy’s house. The closer she got to her beach cottage on 30A, the more peace she felt. She knew she was driving home.

Tammy was finally able to relax, recharge, and get a little sand between her toes and on her first night with Lucy, when things were quiet and the moon shone over the Gulf of Mexico, the two friends drank wine and laughed at the ironies of life. Then Lucy just laid in on the line. “Your marriage is ending, and you love it here. Just move here already!” That was the first big push that Tammy needed to make the plan her new life.

Soon after her trip to see Lucy, Tammy decided that the time was right for a change. She desperately wanted a fresh start, away from their network in Birmingham where everyone knew them as the power couple and beautiful family that they had become. The final nudge came when the counselor assured the disjointed couple that, “wherever the primary parent is happiest and will thrive will be the best place for her to be.” The boys would be driven back and forth to Birmingham every two weeks to see their dad, sometimes begrudgingly, as it turned out that Jack, their oldest, especially, preferred the perpetual Spring Break that is 30A to the ordinary suburban life of Birmingham.

Gypsea’s Grotto

By August 2012, Tammy and the boys had relocated and enrolled in school. Tammy soon bought a house in Santa Rosa Beach and lovingly dubbed it Gypsea’s Grotto, but life didn’t resume to normal right away. How could it? First, she and the boys needed to breathe after the blow of the divorce. They needed time to recalibrate. So, for the first 12 months after the move, Tammy didn’t work. Instead, she focused on her boys. They explored 30A and celebrated the restaurants, shops, beaches, and bars that they had enjoyed on holiday. Now, all of this was literally in their backyard and they were going to enjoy it. Tammy and the boys were becoming locals on 30A, making friends, and she was preparing for the next stage in her life and career.

In 2013 Tammy landed a job in Seaside at Pizitz Home and Cottage, which provided a valuable opportunity for networking. “It was a nice place to work,” said Tammy. “It was bougie and all my friends from Birmingham liked to stop in to see me. They would all say how jealous they were that I got to live full-time on 30A.” But what her Birmingham friends didn’t know was that she was making only $12/hour at her new job. Tammy recalls, “My wages were not even enough to pay for gas so I would shuttle in with the chefs who all had their knives wrapped up on their laps. I used to sit on the bus and humbly remember my married life vacationing on 30A. Now I was a server, like everyone else.” Those were the times, she said, “that really built my character.”

“People were staying at their beach houses full-time, and their sanctuary had to do it all now. I was converting patios into sunrooms where families could come together to play games, watch movies, or stream their favorite programs, and everyone needed functional spaces…offices they could work from or attend school.”

She told her friends, with a smile on her face, that “at least the beach is free.” And every day after work — even if only for a few moments — Tammy would find solace at the beach. She would stop to take in the sunset, and she would recharge for the next day of work. “It was not a glamourous time,” she said, “and there was struggle. It is expensive to live here and it’s expensive to divorce.” She recalls the wisdom of her marriage counselor back in Birmingham about how her life would inevitably change if she went through with the divorce. “No matter what you think you have when you divorce…welcome to poverty,” he had told her.

Interiors by Tammy Mathews

Tammy considered herself lucky throughout this time, however, because at least she had gotten a settlement in the divorce and had the good sense to buy a home. Admittedly, Tammy said that the power and water were cut off at Gypsea’s Grotto a few times, but the family always had a roof over their heads. She taught the boys to save their money and hustle too. Gabe and Jack had to be smart with the money they had. The boys would go to a buffet and share a plate, they would borrow sporting goods from friends who had outgrown them…anything to save a buck.

In 2015, Tammy’s luck changed when her friend Debbie Rackard mentioned an opportunity that she had heard about that Tammy would be perfect for. Debbie helped make the introductions and Tammy landed a job as a designer at a local furniture store in Santa Rosa Beach. “In my first month as an interior designer, I made more than I had at my last job in six months.” She encouraged the owners to bring in higher-end furniture pieces and accessories and as the store grew, so did her commission checks. Things were starting to turn around for Tammy and her boys. For seven years that job allowed her to get the bills paid. She could pay for school dances, trips, and sports; everything that they needed.

In the Spring of 2020 when Covid hit, many at her office chose to stay home and apply for unemployment benefits instead of risking their health, but Tammy needed to work to support her family. She didn’t have the luxury of not working — even with the threat of contracting the virus — she had to earn a living. The delivery drivers too, who served the company needed to work, so she organized her home office and her team and continued to serve her clients who needed her services for their primary or secondary homes. Tammy and her team became essential workers during the lockdown.

The essential aspect of her role became clear very quickly. Those vacation houses up and down the scenic highway that usually sat dormant before the pandemic were now becoming many people’s primary homes during the lockdown. People were starting to look at their homes on 30A as a sanctuary, and so was Tammy. She loved working from home with her dogs at her feet. But most of all, Tammy loved being accessible to her boys as they tackled online school and the three of them discovered their new reality of navigating the pandemic together. During this time, the beach became especially important to Tammy and her boys. It was the only place outside of their home that was socially distanced and safe. So, as often as possible, Tammy and the boys would go to the water’s edge to talk, laugh, and find joy in the small things.

“People were staying at their beach houses full-time, and their sanctuary had to do it all now. I was converting patios into sunrooms where families could come together to play games, watch movies, or stream their favorite programs, and everyone needed functional spaces…offices they could work from or attend school.”

 “Anytime my guys are on a job without me the client will call to tell me how amazing they are. I am very lucky to have them.”

Tammy is an experienced professional interior designer, and those who have never used her services may not understand or appreciate the service she provides. “It’s easy to buy furniture and put it into a home…anyone can do that. What I do is get to know the family and how they want to use the rooms in their home,” said Tammy. She recalls that what all her clients needed during the pandemic was an office because when mom or dad needed to take a Zoom call, they needed to be in an office setting and not have the kitchen in the background. COVID-19 lockdowns brought families together, and at that time, the last thing any family wanted was to have mom or dad not come to the beach with the rest of the family because they couldn’t work there.

Tammy Mathews designs

During Covid, Tammy encouraged her clients to make a home that worked for them at the beach and use their vacation home to recharge during the pandemic. Tammy’s design concepts have always been high-end but her clients are price-conscious and appreciate her transparency in sourcing pieces and pricing. Tammy tries to save her clients as much money as possible to create an amazing aesthetic and then encourages them to splurge on that one special art piece that will become the focal point of the home. Tammy has a great appreciation of fine art and works with many of 30A’s galleries to help her clients find an original piece of art that speaks to them in a big way. The process of choosing that piece becomes a quest that helps the homeowner connect more deeply to the creative community of 30A and during Covid, shopping for art provided a welcome diversion for families struggling with their new normal.

Tammy recalls one of her first clients she served in 2020 who was moving to 30A from Hawaii during the pandemic. Her client needed furniture to move into her home. Tammy assisted new residents of 30A who were struggling to make a home in which they could find safety from the virus during the lockdown. She recalls, “This woman could have been my mother and she needed help.” So, she and her team found her furniture, masked up, and made a home where there were once only four bare walls. For over two years, Tammy continued to serve her clients throughout the uncertainties of Covid, safely, efficiently, and joyfully.

She made a name for herself and earned Designer of the Year in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Then, when everyone was expected to come back to the office, Tammy saw an opportunity to go out on her own. In 2021, Tammy Mathews Interiors reopened on 30A.

“At every time in my life when something was going bad, I could always save myself with my skills. You need to love what you do because it will save you right back if you let it.”

She hired two full-time employees, organized four warehouses of inventory, and got so much work from referrals that she didn’t need a website. Then in July of 2022, the universe threw Tammy a curve ball when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her thriving business would have stopped if it weren’t for her team, who she refers to as her right and left hand. Juan Waters, who was a biomedical engineering student, and Ashe Lewis, a hard-working young man from Jamaica helped Tammy when she was recovering from surgery and during her chemotherapy. They have become like family to her.

Ashe and Juan would tell Tammy to take it easy and she trusted them to get the job done right. They did the running around to get her jobs done during this time and the trio would work together via FaceTime to ensure Tammy’s impeccable standards were met. “Anytime my guys are on a job without me the client will call to tell me how amazing they are. I am very lucky to have them.” During her cancer treatment and recovery, Tammy would do as much as she could from her bed and her guys would do the rest. “I didn’t have to worry about anything, and that made all the difference,” said Tammy about Ashe and Juan.

Tammy with Jack and Gabe

Tammy did as much as her tired body would allow, but it was important for her to keep working. Always fiercely independent, she explained to Ashe and Juan that focusing on her business was what was saving her through this very dark time. “At every point in my life when something was going bad, I could always save myself with my skills. I could feed my kids, buy what I needed, or meet a fabulous new friend. I could do that, and this is what a career should do for everyone. You need to love what you do because it will save you right back if you let it.”

Tammy is thankfully in remission and she, Ashe, and Juan are still enthusiastically serving the 30A community, creating spaces that their clients consider sanctuary.  Jack, her oldest graduated from the University of Alabama in 2021 and is now working in the finance sector in Tampa. Gabe just completed his second year as an art major and is now at home on 30A from Tuscaloosa for the summer.

As far as that dirty little word, ‘divorce,’ Tammy said that is so far in the rearview mirror of her Mini Cooper that even the dancing hula girl who sits on her dash doesn’t give it a second thought. 30A gave Tammy the opportunity to build the beach life she has always dreamed of for her and her sons, and through her tenacious work ethic, Tammy has created a career that knows no bounds.

Tammy and the writer, Shannon

To learn more about Tammy’s work, check out her website, or get in touch at 205-937-4398.

Shannon Mekeel is a writer, editor, marketer, and consultant focused on improving the American workplace. Originally from Colorado, she has lived and worked in the Inland Northwest, across the Florida Panhandle, central, and eastern Florida. Shannon is also a proud Air Force veteran.