Personal style verses market style

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When I designed a house in Miami Shores for the Rosen family, I remember the question Jennifer and Steve asked me, right from the start, "Can we use our old broken tile, bits of artifacts and nic-nacs we've picked up in our travels?" As a fairly new designer to residences, having built mostly restaurants and hospitality projects, I remember being a bit timid with the prospect of building anything permanent into their home. Maybe we would make a mosaic cocktail table or a threshold at the front door.  It occurred to me though, over the time of working with them, they had adventurous spirits and liked the idea of effecting their home with their own personal style. I followed their cues. Eventually we built a mosaic embedded border containing fragments of  broken china, mirror, marbles, broken tile, silver flatware and charms, into the coral stone floor slabs, in their kitchen. I designed various style kitchen cabinet doors from lath scraps, chicken wire and old pine planks washed with a dusty olive stain. The artful mosaic was used in the backsplash too. The stainless steel appliances were a nice contrast to the earthen look of the stone and wood of the farm style cabinets. In the end, their home took on a very individual and unique look unlike anything shown in the market place at the time. 

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Since then, I've always explored my clients tastes before designing. Sometimes it takes a few weeks of intense exploration. What color does the man of the house have inside of his car? What color ties does he wear? What color was on the walls his wife picked out in their first apartment? What kind of things do they buy for their home together verses individually? As time progresses into a custom interior remodel, the spirit of my clients comes out in the choices we make. I act only as a beacon for what I've seen them embrace before. Often it's not the torn magazine articles they show me, although it certainly indicates preferences. It's the history of two lives, where they've lived, what they've collected, what they've inherited and of those pieces, what they choose to keep or have never liked. These are true indicators of how a project develops.  Then the choices of modern mid-century or arts and crafts or Asian accents are made. The market helps us find inspiration, but the style of those seeking to build an environment is always the jumping off point. It just needs uncovering. Once I find the vein of gold in the individual style of the people I design for, the process of designing is ten times easier. 

Grace comes in many ways

It's taken me almost four years to create and find an inventory of products and learn what it takes to put up an on-line store and a professional website. That's not including the two years before of failed attempts with Wordpress and Drupal on two websites. Those were the years of customized websites, before the age of template platforms, when viewing on all devices had to be rendered well, to succeed in a launch. Yes, it was brutal losing the money on what never happened and probably worse in archiving the artwork of unusable web pages. To better illustrate this: imagine preparing a complex dish by shopping for the ingredients, chopping, blending, tasting   and then...the oven doesn't work. But hey, I've only got one life to live and being that I'm not a quitter, the path to get here, to this very moment of completion, to this sweet side of "Yes!", means I'll never have to go through that again...whew! (big long sigh). Although, don't think for a second I'm not aware of the glitches going forward. Something to look forward to and be challenged by.

Here's the main thing about shopify and boxify, canva and campaign monitor and all the other programs and apps for making it all happen: we are living in a brand new constantly changing world of technology, both with milestones and limitations daily. Each day we can render something possible, that wasn't yesterday. When I close my computer at the end of the day....a day where I didn't have the pleasure of designing an interior project or stitch the trim on a bag or sand a wood surface smooth for painting or re-wiring a lamp.....I've gotta love fixing a program glitch. I find satisfaction in the help given to me by people smarter than me. They bend me and shape me into a tech savvy user. I read help pages and search forums as comfortably as making my morning coffee. Sometimes it's terribly boring and tedious to say the least, yet I know the reward in doing it, lies close behind. It's impossible to do what I have done without reaching in and appreciating the technology that is truly magical.  I live in and around it everyday...especially the nerdy kids bopping along the streets of SF, clutching their phones, plopping their brains behind screens all day, making it possible for me to create a place to sell and teach and learn. They help me when I'm the only senior in the meetup with my hand up! How lucky to live in a place where I can keep building new things and stretching my brain. What one program can't do, another crew of brainy kids can. Whether it's configuring the size of a box to hold many boxes or attaching graphics to an instagram post or keeping track of who went where and what they found there. At the end of a frustrating day, when one small glitch takes me inside the maze and back, I  stand awed by what is possible on a world wide stage. That I can take an old lamp, make a custom shade for it, photograph it, write a little story about it and show the world..... that is what I call remarkable.

Sometimes I miss my studio with visions of what I can transform in collaging old newspapers or cutting up an old motorcycle jacket. Perhaps like leaving a child at school for the first time, it hurts to leave my projects unfinished on my work bench, only to sit for hours tackling tech mazes.  There are still things like snapchat and why we 'like' something on social media instead of writing a word or two, that I don't get and maybe never will. Yet with all of its challenges, I think I'm kind of a tech junkie with a message of saving resources by building cool stuff. I try to keep the website work balanced between the taste of a perfectly ripe avocado at the farmer's market or the hand stitching of lily petals or wandering the city for hidden treasures. Balance is the key when you aren't of the tech world, but then you are. 

I could have been born in a covered wagon with my parents crossing the great plains. I could have scrubbed my fingers raw on a wash board, lost a child to typhoid fever or had to stoke the coals for a pot of tea....but life has been good to me. I've learned the techno two step while foaming my milk with the press of a button! Who can beat that?

 

Here's a big huge virtual hug of thanks to the people who made my new site, antaresfurnishings.com, come to life. Without them I could never have gotten here! They are:

Suzie Aguirre was a calming influence while moving a lot of inventory and entering data.

David Bishop enlightened me to exchange artificial lights in a studio shoot, for natural light.

Alexis Castro posted with patience and reassurance beyond her years.

Daniella Castro gave me the straight talk when I most needed it. 

Jeanne Claus gave me design wisdom and gracious understanding while building my inventory.

Vianney Fernandez gave me inspiration in using hand made materials. 

Lyle Fong who in his blunt force style, always made me nod my head in the affirmative. 

Dolores Heeb edited my copy into the wee hours and made me look better.

Ashley Johnston in her infinitely patient way, worked with me side by side with everything.

Loel Mitchell conceptualized the unrealized custom website. She set me on my path.

Paul Perez at always the right moment, made development fixes no support staff could touch.

Rob Robbins dedicated his time making a workable shop and solving innumerable problems.

Michael Szymanski became my analytical mind when Ms. Carolyn Artist got a bit wacko.

And to all of my friends who offered many hours of consultation and support, thank you. 

 

 

finding a balance

I've been kind of a snoop these last two weeks. I’m in the process of surveying my friends for do's and don't's on classes I’m building, most likely offered on-line. I've gotten over feeling intrusive. At first it felt so odd to ask people about their design habits or desires or frustrations. I’ve never minded asking people how they live, especially if I am designing for them, yet asking about design habits is different. It seemed more personal….which I suppose it is.

How can I design a class without knowing what people want to learn? So I ask. From the answers, I've determined there is generally a lack of interest in finding the balance between the function and the esthetic nature of a space. It's the sort of thing I think about every day. In the branch I bring in from outside, or the color of a square on the wall. Hmmmm, maybe because I'm a designer and a kid at play? Yep. Duhhh.. Yet I believe everyone is a designer. I contemplate the inclusiveness and the difference between taking an account of how we work or live and making artistic choices in changing a space. 

Steven Covey in his book: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, taught me: "Seek to understand before being understood". Those simple words changed my career at a crucial time and helped me remember to listen first. Really listen. How does my client feel? What drives him or her or brings happiness to their lives? When I have these questions answered, then I can design. Before, I might as well be threading a needle in the wind. Only through the eyes of my client, can I view the world I am entering, if I am to design for them. I become an actor of their life and sometimes I am two or more actors if there is a family living in a space. Or I become the public impressions of a business. The constraints of the space, the existing furnishings, the way entertainment time is spent or meals are eaten or if there's a need for a work station among children playing with toys. This is all evidence. From this investigation, bones are built. The first steps are the functional bones. After the bones, then artistic decisions are garnished from 'who is the client?', if I've been privileged enough to find out. What inherent and driven styles emerge? Is the client aware or not of their style? My mission then, is to learn how the functions of the place play a part and then, who are the people? What is their natural style? From years of experience, ever person has a style. Very unique. Very their own.

How might I teach this balance of function and esthetic, is my first hurdle. 

I ponder two questions for a person wanting to design on their own, or work with a designer.

Have you listed all the functions of the space you are living in, or working in? Do you know your own style and use that knowledge, when you consider the task at hand? 

It seems natural to me that before looking at what the market suggests, explore history and the present the life you are living. Look for the signs of what makes up your very unique individual life.

I am always changing my style, adding things for a while and then moving them out. Yet certain pieces usually stay with me. I have a little gypsy-hippie from my Mill Valley days so I like slouchy and informal. Pillows and low light. I also a have a bit of South Pacific Mid-Century Modern Miami, from living in South Florida for twenty years. There are usually orchids growing in my bathroom and old bark cloth remnant in my furnishings. I like woods more than metals so I suppose a bit of wood elf is in me too. Rich color and grain I prefer. I set one of my bonsai trees on a pedestal and imagine I'll create more of a Zen like space someday although I have some already with a wooden Buddha and blank walls. I am past, present and future...and the future shows itself in what temps me from the outside world right now. What is new that appeals to me? How could it be part of my present?  

I believe if you find your style, you are ready to begin an interior.

hostess of the party

 

 

When I first lay out a project, I ask: “Who am I working with?" like it's a first date. I don't ask, “What is the budget?” or “What style does the client prefer?” The reason being: these questions are secondary to the intuitive process of who is the client and what potential lies in the site itself.  

Imagine the character of the kitchen cabinet: she's a modern gal, or is he a studious collegiate type? Or the character of a fireplace face: is she ornamental or is he minimal, earthy or slick? Some of these imagined characters might be my client's preferences but not necessarily, just like we have friends that aren’t like us. I've seen furnishings clients love, that remind them of their ancestors but aren't necessarily their style. How can they become their style is the question, or will they ever? 

If I start with a party  of materials in a room and I want my guests (newly added furnishings, embellishments, architecture, landscapes etc.) to feel comfortable, I introduce them to what is a common thread between them, like a good hostess might do. The blue of the skyline out of a Miami high-rise might be reason enough to use the same shade of blue for piping on a cushion.

The inspiration of the Japanese bath wall designs shown in the above photo, came from the grassy hill outside the window of the soaking tub in the Fong house. Interior meets exterior using fifteen colors and ten sizes of 2" tile. Thank goodness for expansive product lines.

To summarize metaphorically what I'm saying, is that I like to go out and create a party of meandering folks. One material girl attracted to another material guy, with a handshake, a curtsy and a poetic proposal. Now that's a good time.