Tuesday musings

Monday, October 25, 2010

part 3: interior design is about…happiness

It was a plea­sure to meet and learn from renowned inte­rior designer and author Alexan­dra Stod­dard this past week­end. She began her design career in 1963 under the tute­lage of none other than Eleanor McMillen Brown — a pio­neer of 20th cen­tury inte­rior design. Alexan­dra came to adopt this maxim from Mrs. Brown: "if you love beauty and cre­ate it for your­self and oth­ers, you will live a long and happy life." Mrs. Brown lived to 100!

Still believ­ing beauty is "spir­i­tual and uplift­ing", Alexan­dra even­tu­ally moved away from prac­tic­ing inte­rior design to writ­ing about liv­ing a beau­ti­ful life. She believes hap­pi­ness is "self-diagnosed" and should be incor­po­rated by every­one into their daily lives. She advo­cates that an inte­rior designer's first goal should be to "step into their clients' per­sonal lives and try to make them hap­pier." I could not agree more!

Alexan­dra Stoddard

Alexan­dra believes that "so many peo­ple have trou­ble find­ing them­selves in their own homes" because they dec­o­rate for oth­ers. She men­tioned a client whose favorite color was red, a color she used to define her own personality, but red was com­pletely miss­ing from her home. When pressed, the client admit­ted her mother-in-law did not like red. For most peo­ple, only 5% of their homes' usage is ded­i­cated to enter­tain­ing. The Stod­dard credo embraces the idea of dec­o­rat­ing for fam­ily, not the 5%!

Another won­der­ful maxim: "your home should be an auto­bi­og­ra­phy". For many peo­ple, it's dif­fi­cult to keep that top of mind, or maybe it's sim­ply too reveal­ing? Mrs. Stod­dard rec­om­mends keep­ing per­sonal and pub­lic spaces strictly sep­a­rated. Pri­vate spaces are not for the con­sump­tion of visitors.

Above all, Alexan­dra advo­cates hap­pi­ness: "peo­ple will run bare­foot in a bliz­zard to be with you if you are happy at home". Inte­rior design should reflect your inner soul and every aspect should hold a deep per­sonal mean­ing for you. Keep your home cur­rent with the things you love today. It's okay for things to change — those that made you happy 20 years ago may not be the same today, or 20 years from now because you and your fam­ily grow and evolve.

From an author of 27 books on liv­ing a beau­ti­ful and happy life, one final bit of advice. "Make your life sub­lime". Words of wis­dom we can all try to emulate.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

part 2: interior design is about…emotion

Humans are emo­tional crea­tures — it is truly what sep­a­rates us from other ani­mals. Some peo­ple, espe­cially cre­ative types, embrace emo­tion more com­pletely, delve into it more deeply, explore it more intently than the aver­age per­son would con­sider wise. Some peo­ple are more sus­cep­ti­ble to emo­tions gen­er­ated by the envi­ron­ment in which they find them­selves. If you have ever stood in a red­wood grove or Notre Dame or your own liv­ing room and been unmoved, you are not one of these people.

The process of inte­rior design is fraught with emo­tion. If you read my ear­lier post, you know it often starts with fear. Fear of open­ing up, fear of let­ting go, fear of the unknown — inti­macy is scary. And inte­rior design is inti­mate. Start­ing a new rela­tion­ship can bring anx­i­ety and ner­vous­ness — how not when you are fil­ter­ing it through your prior expe­ri­ences? If you have no knowl­edge base to draw on, anx­i­ety is nat­ural.  But once you take a deep breath and that first step, those but­ter­flies morph into excitement.

With rap­port between your­self and your designer, explo­ration is a joy. Con­sid­er­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, see­ing how the ordi­nary can be ele­vated and changed to sup­port and enrich your life — inte­rior design is rel­e­vant to every­one, regard­less of bud­get. It's not about how much money you spend, it's about emo­tional invest­ment in the process and emo­tional return when the project is completed.

Well-designed spaces evolve from emo­tion — anx­i­ety, trust, joy — often with fits and starts along the way. Ulti­mately, they gen­er­ate emo­tion — con­tent­ment, pas­sion, warmth, peace — to those that inhabit them. Whether it's a tran­quil white oasis or a spir­ited mid-century mélange, your spaces should embrace you and engen­der the emo­tional sup­port you need.

Go ahead and take the leap — the return is worth the investment.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

part 1: interior design is about…personality

Inte­rior design­ers, at least those I know, rec­og­nize well-designed spaces. We under­stand the effort that goes into each aspect of a room, and see how the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Even when the style does not match our per­sonal aes­thetic, we appre­ci­ate the com­plete pic­ture. So too, when we eval­u­ate a poorly designed space, we see where it falls short — be it func­tion­al­ity, color, tex­ture, scale. It's not meant to be judg­men­tal, it's more an occu­pa­tional haz­ard — we can't shut it off. But what none of us can see with­out direct knowl­edge is the ulti­mate link between all the parts — the client.

I think suc­cess­ful inte­rior design has tan­gi­ble per­son­al­ity — and that per­son­al­ity should always be of the peo­ple who inhabit the space, not the designer. How do you explain, to some­one who has never expe­ri­enced it, the added value an inte­rior designer brings? That abil­ity to instill com­pletely per­son­al­ized solu­tions ver­sus the "room in a box" one can pur­chase at a major retailer? I think it is human nature to seek out the famil­iar — hence the pro­lif­er­a­tion of chain stores and cat­a­log fur­ni­ture retail­ers. But have you ever looked around, a lit­tle dis­sat­is­fied, and thought "is this all there is?"

It's an inti­mate busi­ness, inte­rior design. And there are a lot of peo­ple uncom­fort­able with inti­mate rela­tion­ships. Those peo­ple are going to be hap­pier pick­ing from the lim­ited menu at their local store. No need to open up to any­one about how they live or want to live. Pick one from col­umn A and one from col­umn B and call it a day.

For peo­ple who are not afraid of a new expe­ri­ence, the design process can be eye-opening. It's a chance to explore and exam­ine your own per­son­al­ity, wants and needs, along with those of your fam­ily, and see it all made manifest.  It can be a lit­tle scary to unveil so many aspects of your­self, but free­ing too. Inte­rior design at its best is about com­mu­ni­cat­ing per­son­al­ity — yours, not your neighbor's or your mom's or that guy in the next cubi­cle at work. Clients who rec­og­nize and embrace that are always the hap­pi­est.  They enjoy the jour­ney and the destination.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

musing on muses — interior design inspirations

A client recently asked, with some sense of amaze­ment, “Where do your design ideas come from?”  I believe I man­aged a coher­ent answer at the time, but the ques­tion started me mus­ing on muses.  The idea of a Muse as a source of artis­tic inspi­ra­tion orig­i­nated with the ancient Greeks. The Muses, orig­i­nally three but later a set of nine god­desses, embod­ied the arts and inspired the cre­ative process with their graces.  I love the idea of hav­ing a Muse (or three or nine) for my work! Poets and writ­ers, artists and musi­cians have had Muses since ancient times, so cre­ative design­ers are in good company!

Muses…inspirations…what launches a room design?  My first muse has to be Fab­ric.  I love every kind of fab­ric – from col­or­ful print fab­rics to cot­tons, linens, silks, wovens…they all have a place in my heart. Fab­rics are a muse on every one of my designs.  The col­ors and tex­tures, the com­bi­na­tions and vari­a­tions — they are a prime dri­ver on every project I design, every space I trans­form. I am always search­ing out the newest arrivals from the mills, exper­i­ment­ing with unique com­bi­na­tions I have not tried before, mix­ing col­ors and pat­terns to find those that res­onate with my clients and myself.  Def­i­nitely the first of my Muses is fabric.

a few lovely fab­rics from Kravet

The sec­ond Muse I’ve been mus­ing about is Books. I love books and could not live in a home with­out them.  Read­ing is a pas­sion of mine and I enjoy the solid feel of a book in my hands.  Books are so multi-purpose! They are enter­tain­ing, inter­est­ing, and beau­ti­ful all at the same time. I never feel remorse for spend­ing money on books — they offer so much and always make me happy.

Books are always part of my inte­ri­ors. I think book­shelves are for books, not a lot of tchochkes. I love them on tables and desks and benches. They make inte­ri­ors feel loved and they make peo­ple feel wel­come. A room never feels clin­i­cal if it includes books.  Design inspi­ra­tion might come from a col­or­ful cover, a descrip­tion in the text of a char­ac­ter or place, even the feel of worn leather and faded gilt let­ter­ing.  Favorite Muse #2 – Books.

books add instant warmth to this renewed fam­ily room

Finally, what can be more inspi­ra­tional that Art?  I am an art lover! From the clas­si­cal greats like Bot­ti­celli (whose lush “Birth of Venus” is my all-time favorite) to neo­plas­ti­cist Mon­drian and con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian Karen Rieger, all art urges me to look at color and con­text in new ways.

botticelli's birth of venus

mondrian's com­po­si­tion ii in red, blue and yel­low 1930

rieger's win­ter

When I travel I always make time for muse­ums and gal­leries, and have been lucky enough to visit many of the world’s great art muse­ums. I could spend days in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.  Such color, tex­ture, and pas­sion despite the artist’s per­sonal depths of despair – how can a viewer not be moved?  The third of my Muses – Art.

van gogh's self por­tait with felt hat

I’ve mused on three of my design Muses. What inspires you in your own home?

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