When I was a student at Parsons, one of my instructors said that there’s neither good design nor bad design – just a better solution. I think that’s true, and it can be true with the art you keep in your home or office, too.
As both a designer and a painter, I look at my clients’ properties and blank canvases the same way. Art is a matter of interpretation and problem solving – speaking to an artist’s preferences on light, balance, texture, color, materials and more. When you choose a piece to display, you’re picking up that interpretation and adding your own voice to it.
I cringe when a client says, “I love that painting, but it doesn’t match the color on my walls.” You should choose art that makes you react – whether a piece raises your senses, provokes thought or arouses you. Take your first reaction to heart.
Adapt your art to the setting, but collect what you like. Although it might not be appropriate to hang nude paintings in an office, you can still cater to the style you like, be it modernist, Impressionist or anything else. Your preferred style of art can complement your setting or room design, or it can contrast it in an interesting and carefully considered way.
Think beyond the stretched canvas. You might come to love baskets, sculptures or glass work. In my own home, I have a collection of rocks that I took from beaches I visited around the world, and they sit center-stage in my entry foyer.
Having trouble getting started? Keeping your favorite pieces in storage because you’re not sure what to do with them? Give me a call. We’ll talk about your style and start wiping the dust off those frames.
“It is the creative spirit of man, expressed in a thousand different ways, that pushes him forward. And this is what makes craftsmanship so important in the present industrial sweep of our society.” Aileen Osborn Webb, founder of the American Craft Council, 1968
I was reminded, recently, of the profound impact of craftsmen on design. I attended the Structural Objects and Functional Art (SOFA) Expo at the Park Avenue Armory here in New York. This event showcases contemporary decorative art and design. Each item is individually designed and crafted using specialized techniques to create one of a kind hand crafts from glass, wood, ceramic, paper and other materials. It is amazing for me to attend this show each year, as it reminds me of days gone by, when an individual’s craftmanship was highly regarded and sought after. While we accept the homogenization of product and the immediacy brought about by technology,
these pieces of art (and they are art) represent hours of creation, in both thought and action.
In fact, this year’s show included a lecture by Jack Lenor Larsen, who is synonymous with 20th century textiles and the owner of Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton. Longhouse Reserve is a public exhibition space, arboretum and sculpture garden. Larsen lent his name to two awards this year – the first time awards have been presented in the 14 year history of the event in New York. In his lecture, Mr. Larsen commented on journalists minimizing the value of craftsmen through their over use of the word craft. He stated that the
crafts represented at SOFA are truly remarkable and created with hands guided by intellectual minds. I couldn’t agree more!
Like Larsen, I am inspired by use of different materials (Japanese safety pins vs. jeweler’s wire), texture (containers that looked like baskets yet were turned wood) and style (Asian ceramics reflecting both the organic and rustic). It is fascinating to see art emerge from the separating of individual bamboo fibers so that they can be woven into a vessel. Or, to be reminded that clay (earth) is the foundation for all ceramics and to see it transformed into a functional piece of art (vessels, plates, or decorative such as figures, faces, etc.. ) If you are a collector of fine art, this show is for you. It educates and informs the collector through the unique perspectives of each of the artisans present. These types of hand crafts have strong personalities and will be the center of attention in any room.
You may wonder which pieces interest me. I have long been collecting unique glass pieces. The piece (picture at left) fascinates mebecause of its use of color and the feeling of movement. On the other hand, while your eye is drawn to the wall hanging made entirely of Japanese safety pins, I am fascinated the piece on the shelf (picture at right). The shape and flow of it, invite investigation! What materials appeal to you? Are you, like me, fascinated by unique glass objects? Or do you prefer edgier ceramics or metallic sculptures? Whatever it is, do not be afraid to incorporate it into your favorite space!
I strongly recommend that you take time out to enjoy SOFA when it returns to New York next spring. I am very grateful to the friend who first introduced me to this event. It opens our eyes to new design, innovative use of materials and the output of the creative thought process.
Spring has arrived! although the cold, sharp, winter weather continues to linger, March has kept me, and the rest of the design community, busy with interesting activities and events. These events are de rigueur for designers. We network. We chat with suppliers, retailers and other designers. Let me share some thoughts from a few of this month’s activities.
I kicked off the month attend Antiques & Art at the Armory. This show is well known for dealers, of high caliber, presenting their incredible collection of antiques and art. Although I do not have a direct or immediate need for these types of purchases, as a designer this a show that keeps me up to date on what is going on in the world of fine antiques and art. This is a research trip for me. I thoroughly enjoy scrutinizing the details and craftmanship of fine furniture. I am fascinated to understand the current market interests in artwork that is showing in collections, galleries and future auctions. Studying the details in fine furniture opens my eyes to new ideas for developing custom pieces that would be appropriate for a modern lifestyle.
Sometimes, the hustle and bustle of life in this concrete jungle causes us to forget the respite of the quiet, gentle, greener side of New York. On March 14, as a member of the Horticultural Society of New York (HSNY), I attended an illustrated lecture by NY photographer Betsy Pinover Schiff. She took us on a photographic journey through some of the public and private gardens represented in her new book, New York City Gardens. Why, as a designer, do I spend time at HSNY events? I attend them because I draw inspiration from the shapes, colors, lighting and scent of nature. Even if we don’t have the luxury of a private terrace or garden, we can bring a touch of the outside – inside. We can avail ourselves of the new spring treats found in the Flower District or Greenmarkets. A simple plant on our window sill or in a small container can spark the green thumb in all of us – and bring a pop of color or warmth to a room.
Closing out the month, I and thousands of my colleagues attended the annual Architectural Digest Home Show. There were several inspiring lectures during event, one of which, moderated by Florence Perchuk (leading designer and author on kitchen design). was a dialogue on “Designing for the “A” Word”. (I’ll share more on kitchen design and the boomer generation in my next blog!) I found great new designs in exhaust cook top hoods from the Best Group – one shape reminded me of a lipstick tube! Besides new styles, Best is known for high quality products without the sticker shock!
A favorite aspect of the show for me, was the section devoted to Artisan craftsmen, exhibiting alongside a broad spectrum of talented artists. Some long time favorites for me are contemporary artists James Kennedy and Bob Bachler. One of the most fascinating exhibitors in this genre, was Art Donovan, who is part of the “Steampunk Movement”. These artists create extraordinary art from unique devices and ingenious contraptions. I felt as though I had walked onto a set of a Jules Verne film. Beautiful light fixtures and clocks from piles, valves – you name it!
It’s been a busy month filling my head with more thoughts on how I can best help clients create the spaces they have always dreamed of. If you’re in the early stages of considering a redesign, events like these may help you solidify some of your ideas or introduce you to new ones. Are there events you’ve heard about or attended that inspire design ideas for your home? Post your comments here about these events – I’d love to hear about them!
Since we are surrounded by all this snow, I highly recommend taking a walk in the park or escaping the city for a day. If nothing else, snow is peaceful. Just walking in the midst of a snow fall, is quiet. There is a special sort of hush. And it is possible to find yourself surrounded by inspiration, great and small.
Besides design and being inspired to create – I also love to travel – it can be a simple train trip up the Hudson to visit family. This is one of the most awe inspiring ways of traveling – especially on the East coast. Most of the trip takes you directly along the river. Each season has something to offer – the slow moving river during the winter with patches of ice floating, while the gray sky seems to settle on top of the river as the bare tree branches rustle in the winds. I love looking for the various shades of dark green in the evergreens, and then reflected as deep green blue in the river. The cool grays and earthy browns of exposed rocks, not normally seen in the summer, offer not only these wonderful shades of color but draw interest in the textures of these elements. Do not forget the white sky – when you look hard you see shades of grays with hints of lavender, smokey blues, soft whites.
If you find yourself in the forest for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, some of these same features, trees and rocks take on a deeper tone since the evergreens and bare trees hide the whitish sky without the brightness of a high summer sun. Or, if you live near the ocean and enjoy the cold, take that brisk walk at the beach. Look at the patterns the wind has drawn in the sand or snow. Take in the early morning light as the sun appears on the horizon. It has a special glow to it in the wee hours on a cold day. Just the other day, it was a rosie peach color, painting the sky – just for a few minutes. Most days, it’s the palest yellow spreading across the fading gray of the night sky.
I went to the Charles Rohfls exhibit in the American Wing at the MET this weekend. The inspiration for his Arts & Crafts style furniture comes from the movement of the grain in the wood that he uses. Design inspiration comes from many sources. Looking at the fabric swatches that I found at Kravet‘s and Flourishes, what inspirations do you see?
Every season is special. Which season inspires you? Do you enjoy the cool, subtle colors of winter? Or, are you bolder and warmer in your color palette? Transferring these moments that offer tranquility should be considered when developing your home or office design. Although they are wonderful, don’t always turn to the obvious – the fabric with leaves, the gray walls – look deeper, a chair with aged leather that reflects the movement of muddy waters. The soft white fabric with metallic threads as drapery that adds the glistening sparkle of ice on the lake into your decor. A room color can be inspired by that little speck of pink found inside a seashell.
Tell me about your inspirations, your favorite colors or textures. It will be fun to understand where they came from!
Have you ever walked through a butterfly house? I remember doing it as a child and recently visited the Butterfly Conservatory and The Museum of Natural History. What a wonderful experience! Everyone should take some time to enjoy the delicate beauty of these fluttering creatures. As I slowly walked among the butterflies I was drawn to the amazing patterns on their wings. I understand that these patterns serve a purpose in nature to attract and/or deceive. Patterns can help to attract a mate, but they can also help to hide from predators or aid in the capture of prey. I think of how patterns can impact the design of a room.
The best patterns come from nature. Think about the popularity of leopard prints, floral designs, grain like textures. Patterns can bring a room together or they can overwhelm a room. It’s all about how and where it is used. As I watched the butterflies I noticed that depending on the open or closed position of their wings, their patterns looked different. When the butterfly was still, sitting on a branch or leaf, the pattern was subtle. It was sometimes hard to see the butterfly as it blended into its environment. On the other hand, when the butterfly was flying, it was bright and magical. There are some lessons here that apply to interior design.
If there is an exuberant pattern you like, don’t be afraid to use it – let it complement or add interest to your overall room design, not overpower it. Imagine a client who loves paisley patterns. The focal point of their living room is a rather large sofa. A natural inclination might be to use a paisley fabric to upholster the sofa. However, this now makes the already large sofa seem even bigger! My suggestion would be to use the paisley for throw pillows on the sofa or for curtains – especially if the window views are interesting. By using the pattern in this manner it will add interest rather than taking over the room. Your large sofa, in a subdued neutral or texture, is still in the room, but it no longer dominates. Think of using patterns as the butterfly in the room. They attract interest and introduce complementary colors.
Sometimes our best design inspirations come from a casual experience. I highly recommend that everyone take some time as visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I found that you are never too old to enjoy the magic that exists within those walls.