In many ways you could say 2020 started with an empty space full of potential, and a few words of encouragement from these two gentlemen. From politics to the pandemic, it was almost more than most of us could handle. And then they reminded me…
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso
So with the right side of our collective brain as well as the left, through the lockdowns and lunacy of it all…we just kept working. Organizing. Defining. Refining. Thinking. Creating…and connecting. Together.
Until one day in early December…all of the pieces just seemed to fall into place.
Our new creative home was finally ready.
We can’t wait for you to visit in 2021…know that there will always be an open seat at the bar, and that your table will be ready and waiting.
To my amazing wife and kids for always keeping this wide-eyed artist grounded in the important details of the day, and above all for bringing me an immeasurable amount of love, pride and joy.
To my extended family for always reminding me that enthusiasm is the genesis for all great moments in life, even when we’re miles apart.
To our cherished friends, who made everything seem as normal as possible, and reminded us we were never alone.
To my dedicated Design Coach Team for your continued support, encouragement and attention to detail. You are creative commandos, and I could not have survived this year past year without you.
To our incredible clients for continuing to give us the most precious of gifts…the opportunity to create something together. We’re so honored that you’ve allowed us to become a part of your lives on so many levels.
To the team at Starline Studios…your stewardship of this amazing place inspires us in more ways than we can possibly express.
And finally to the Lord above, for bringing all of these special people into my life when I needed them most.
Thank you all for giving me my momentum this past year. Here’s to 2021. Onward. Together.
In the Midwest, road tripping and the season of Fall just seem to be a natural fit. Not exactly sure why, as the need to discover has always been a huge part of my personal and professional DNA year-round. Nonetheless, I find myself longing for adventures this time of year, most of the time within an afternoons drive, all in an effort to invigorate my creative spirit and connect me with newly discovered puzzle pieces that complete my soul. Well, my friends another puzzle piece just found a fit. And I found it in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
Located 25 miles northeast of Minneapolis, the charming downtown district features some of the most unexpected, creative and welcoming experiences that will break even the most severe case of a Covid induced comatose state. Travel restrictions, mask-mandates and safety protocols aside, Americans love to travel. And these days, the road trip might just be the best way to feed that adventurous spirit…even if it’s only for a couple of days. From crafted cocktails to curated creations from local shops, this Main Street USA experience was one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. https://www.whitebearlake.org/
Nestled a stones throw from spring-fed White Bear Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area, the variety of unique shops and casual-current establishments have something for everyone. While many downtown districts across the country have been infiltrated by the homogenization caused by national chains, White Bear Lake is as local a gift as it gets. Life in a Northern town…they’ve got it down.
Having arrived in White Bear Lake in the early afternoon, before heading downtown we settled in at The Best Western Plus White Bear Country Inn. Styled in an understated current-cabin theme, the Lobby and Halls were teeming historic photos of the White Bear Lake. As an avid history-buff I loved the way they seamlessly decorated with them throughout the hotel. From the cleanliness of the room, to the friendly nature of the staff, and the proximity to the downtown…it had everything we needed. In addition, although we didn’t have the opportunity to get up there, apparently Rudy’s Rooftop residing atop the hotel is the perfect place for a meal and cocktail with a view. https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-rooms.24124.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:24124
After a quick drive down the shoreline of White Bear Lake to calibrate us, we arrived in the heart of the shopping district. Our first shop set the bar high featuring apparel celebrating what it means to be a Minnesotan. Nostalgic, current and candid, the hockey themed shop called The Minnesotan, instantly had me hooked. Harboring a particular affinity for brands that know who they are, and are visually unapologetic about showing it, this was the perfect introduction to the passion and pragmatism that permeate the local Minnesota mindset. Even if you’re not a hockey fan…you’ll leave thinking you should be. https://theminnesotan.com/
Our next stop was one of White Bear Lake’s newly expanded shops whose owner has been featured several times on Twin Cities Live. Danielle Jacobsen Rode’s stylish and affordable brain-child, Upsy Daisy, features an incredible blend of both new and upcycled home décor, as well as other amazing lifestyle offerings that make this place a true gem. And with a social media presence that showcases an ever-changing inventory on a weekly basis, you’ll certainly want to feature this fantastic shop in your feed. With a truly original product mix and purpose-driven mission, Danielle and Upsy-Daisy have captured the true essence of the concept of home. https://www.upsy-daisy.net/
After closing the shop with Danielle, she suggested we head to a local bar/apothecary featuring crafted cocktails just a few blocks her store. Named The Alchemist, the quality of the interior design and decoration was something I’ve only experienced in places like New York, New Orleans, Chicago or even Disneyland. The industrial, steam-punk styling of this dual-purpose bar and event space was absolutely top shelf. From the tables crafted out of iron industrial gears, to details in the lighting and even the bathrooms…the only experience that exceed the interesting nature of the décor, was the attention to detail found in the chemistry of their signature cocktails. Simply. Incredible. Justin, our server and cocktail concierge, was both knowledgeable and accommodating…even to the point of hand crafting a drink for Danielle and my wife Julie that was not on the menu. And to make the visit more special, we were treated to a personal tour of the event space Kellerman’s by the owner Terry, who mentioned that he completed much of the work on the interior himself. http://www.thealchemistwbl.com/
At the end of our day we landed at an establishment called The Brickhouse that boasts classic comfort food that is anything but boring. Housed in an incredible structure dating back to 1886, the menu and the décor embody a passionate expression for an experience that is as modern as it is Midwestern. After starting with a new twist on wings, and a plate of battered “sunnies” a Minnesotan staple, the rest of our meal was exactly as advertised. Upscale yet unpretentious, Executive Chef Peter Christenson and his staff served up culinary innovation that was anything but intimidating and utterly delicious. Familiar and unexpected is a difficult thing to pull-off. Make sure you reserve a spot at The Brickhouse. https://brickhousemn.com/
So there you have it. Another entry from my “Small towns with big ideas” road trip file. And if others can tell tall tales about the fish they may or may not have caught on lakes of the Upper-Midwest…I will have zero guilt about sharing the story of how I narrowly escaped the clutches of a White Bear just outside Minneapolis – St. Paul. Be back soon.
Special thanks to Julie Sassano & Danielle Jacobsen Rode! Further proof that true friendships not only transcend the boundaries of states…but also time.
Oh almost forgot!! We’re always looking to support the small towns with big ideas! If you’d like your town or business to be featured in the Design Coach: Road Trip Series, tell us where and why at email@example.com
It’s been awhile since my last post. Lots happened. To many of us. The fog seems to thicken and dissipate simultaneously these days. Which makes it a haze? Not sure. Maybe. Anyway, there’s one thing I know to be true. Clarity…these days…is more valuable than ever. But where do you find it? Like most of you, I find an abundance of it in my immediate family, my home and of course my dogs. I find it buried just beneath the routine of the day, in the honest and candid conversations with my kids and of course my amazing wife. In the purity that exists in a productive day. But you do have to dig a bit, ask the right questions and put in the work. After all, a perfunctory approach almost never leads to discovery or a meaningful realization.
But there’s another place where clarity has always existed for me. A place where total creative control awaits me like my labs in the Foyer of my home. That place is my studio. A place where anything is possible…and the fog of everyday life ceases to exist. This week we officially started the transformation that will take us more than a month to complete. Something we’re calling it “The Factory Loft Experience.” A space that will be as creatively ambitious as any environment we’ve previously crafted. And you know what…it’s as exciting as it is daunting…as are most meaningful endeavors driven from within by a deep sense of purpose and passion.
Lately, especially on the radio show, I’m having conversations about how we need to redefine our interiors. And not just to adapt to these unusual times, but also to inspire us to thrive and prosper despite the challenges that may lie ahead. In so many ways, your home is a lot like my studio. The place where clarity is in greater supply than we think…but only if we choose to create rather than cower. And have the courage to lead a life a little less ordinary. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that our homes are their own form of performance art. A stage on which our lives can either play out with a sense of incredible purpose, or pass us by with a passivity that paralyzes the soul…especially in times like these. Your approach and your effort will be the difference.
It’s never been more important to keep moving forward, and rise to the challenges in the moments that matter most. As for me, I cannot wait to shape this new artistic space and share it with all of you. And reflect on the thought that your home, like an art studio, is the perfect place to find clarity in the creation of something special.
Like so many of you out there, my heart is heavy and my eyes are open. May we be brave enough to have the uncomfortable conversation about our collective complacency on so many levels. And may those words transform into the necessary action, both politically and personally, that will truly make us One Nation, under God, Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All. It’s time.
I’ve been talking about this on the radio over the past couple of weeks, and I’m really excited to finally put this together! In an effort to support local Artists, Artisans & Makers of all kinds, we’re proud to announce with this brief blog post launching our #bringithome2020 initiative. As more and more light is shed on the challenges presented by the shift toward overseas manufacturing many of us have lamented for decades, The Design Coach would like to begin highlighting the people, passion and purpose behind some of the most interesting products made right here in the United States.
Over the next few weeks, we will begin compiling and promoting our links to these very special resources. Please know that the information, photographs and links on our site are free those who choose to participate, as this is our small contribution to begin to connect patrons to those who not only love what they do…but love doing it right here at home. It’s really that simple.
So, if you’re a maker, an artist, or an artisan of any kind we’d LOVE to hear from you! Please consider reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your purpose, your passion, your projects and products. And help us raise awareness during this time, and hopefully for years to come, that from now on…it’s going to matter where it’s made.
On the radio this morning I tried to move the conversation surrounding the Coronavirus Pandemic in a slightly different direction. Not about politics or propaganda…but with a renewed focus how people are dealing with the situation. And the tools we have within us to cope, persevere and produce for one another in these difficult times. I hope it helped some of you. For those of you who missed it, here’s my follow up blog related to the important role creativity and activity can play in positively channeling our fear and anxiety during this challenging time.
I am by no means a mental health expert…in fact just the opposite. As a Husband, Father, Artist, and Entrepreneur I often struggle with navigating and balancing all of those responsibilities without losing my mind. I’ve tried my best to embrace all of these chosen roles…but just as in these times…some circumstances add a level of additional stress that is totally unforeseen and unanticipated. That being said, all of these experiences, including the ones I never saw coming, have in many ways taught me how to redirect my fear and anxiety into a variety of productive, rewarding and creative outcomes. This blog is my way of sharing a tool box with all of you, in hopes that you might find something to help you and your family move your life forward…even if you can’t move around much these days.
As an independent business owner for over twenty years I’ve navigated through some difficult times. Not as difficult as some, but still some pretty scary stuff. The dot.com crash, September 11th, the financial crisis of 2008 and on the personal side, the unexpected death and illness of loved ones I never saw coming. And yet through all of these life-jolting events, the lessons learned, combined with the focus and strength to channel my fears in positive ways has made all the difference. Times like these have a way of stripping us of the emotional architecture we carefully construct to protect our core on a daily basis. And when our core is revealed so are our weaknesses…which also creates the opportunity reinforce that core, with the underpinnings of truth and love. Two things as an Artist and an Entrepreneur that have both served to frighten and drive me over the years.
Social media and the connectivity shared through it, has only served to deepen my understanding of who I trust by my side in the foxhole of life in times like this…and those of you who will be designated for reassignment in my feeds after this crisis has passed. All that being said, there is some really great information out there, both new and old that I believe is worth a deeper digital dive. And along with my own thoughts, I’ve included them as well, like this wonderful entry from Good Therapy outlining 7 Creative Ways to Turn Anxiety into Productivity. Originally written in 2016, this is a great primer before reading on, and worth a quick read: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/7-creative-ways-to-turn-anxiety-into-productivity-0406167
This is the perfect time to do an “Inventory” Rather than use technology to primarily inform and distract ourselves, consider using it to really connect. Reach out to those you may have not in some time to see how they’re coping, navigating and feeling. But it’s important to do get behind the cursory, ordinary and polite responses. In stressful situations like the one we currently find ourselves in, it’s important to ask the follow-up question. To ask not just what’s going on, or what someone is feeling but also why. It’s always the second or third layer of questioning that open up the most meaningful phases of a conversation. One cautionary note, try to resist the temptation to come to a conversation with an agenda or teachable moment. Just listen…it’s amazing the things we discover about one another when we free ourselves from judging someone’s opinion, comment or quip. Meaningful, deep and honest conversation often leads to emotional and intellectual exploration that nurtures relationships and feeds the soul. But it’s important to take an ego-free approach. So, why refer to it as an inventory? Well, it’s amazing the number of things you can discover without ever leaving the house, when you’re willing to take the journey with the purpose of actually cataloging the content of your conversations. To help you out a bit, here’s a link to several TED talks on the art of meaningful conversation: https://www.ted.com/playlists/211/the_art_of_meaningful_conversa
Clean and organize one square foot at a time. We’re so conditioned these days to think that life is a series of dramatic makeovers, whether it be our homes or our lives, that we forget that real progress is most often made in much smaller increments. But because there’s less of a wow factor (or exciting opportunity to promote to others our willingness to change) that we dismiss the important efforts in the form of the smaller improvements as insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The act of organizing, cleaning and nesting one square foot at time, for at least a small part of my day, not only gives me a feeling of control, but also a very satisfying sense of accomplishment. This suggestion might just be one of the easiest ways to channel your stress. This list of 33 Spring cleaning tips from Good Housekeeping, written in January of 2020, will most certainly get you off to a solid start: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning/g3345/spring-cleaning-tips/
Create. Build. Play. From crafts to cooking to card games, this is one of my favorite ways to channel our cocktail of complex emotions in uncertain times. That being said, the key to embarking and enjoying these activities is to NOT to focus the success of a particular outcome…but rather to focus on the actual joy, intertest and unknown that exists in the activity itself. We get so wrapped up in seeking approval or validation for a job well done, winning the game, or a perfect process, that we leave very little room for the love of just being together and sharing in these activities. Attempting to orchestrate, control or coax a moment to a desired outcome vs. taking an organic approach to letting things and naturally evolve is where it can all go off the rails. In my most difficult of times, it wasn’t whether or not the meatballs were made perfectly for the family dinner, but rather that we were able to share in the activity together as a family…and have fun enjoying each others company…even if we failed the recipe from time to time. Here’s a great article from Cooking Light focused on recipes families can make together: https://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/recipes-families-make-together Some great ideas here.
Prepare, plan and position. This can be easier said than done while trying to react to circumstances that can upend the best of plans…but to continually engage in these activities can be so important. Maybe now more than ever, get in the habit of writing things down. Whether it be making lists of things to complete, or making long range plans of things I’d like to do, try or achieve. Somehow making lists and that act of recording them makes them more real. We always say we’re going to do things, but often times they’re just words. Make the time to write things down, as in the chaos of confusing times, it’s easy to become distracted and lose your place. Lastly, finding the right positioning within your plan is key. As an Entrepreneur I know this all to well. Have a direction, a purpose and a plan…but be willing to be patiently pliable, as adaptability can mean psychological survival. Here’s an article from Very Well Mind that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-make-a-life-plan-first-steps-3144639
As we all look to manage both our physical and emotional well being, I wanted to mention one additional link from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html There’s some wonderful information here aimed specifically at helping us on the mental side of things related to the Covid-19 outbreak. Some of you might find this useful as well. One last note, to all of those on the front lines fighting the pandemic, working to keep the peace and maintain access to necessary supplies…thank you for your tireless efforts. You are our true heroes, and my thoughts and prayers are with you all. As always, be safe. Be kind. And keep coaching…as we need each other more now than ever before.
After last Sunday’s radio show, I felt compelled to follow up on this important topic with a blog post to further expound on a few thoughts. There’s another obesity epidemic in America that has nothing to do with anything we’re eating…but many things we’re consuming. As a primer, the topic of my radio show focused on the erosion of our collective understanding of quality, specifically related to the way popular digital design resources pitch their products. In addition, I framed many of my observations in terms of our apparently insatiable appetite for good design vs. the dynamics surrounding our mission at The Design Coach as proud purveyors of quality, substance and style. And my friends let me tell you, I believe we’re at a tipping point…and although there’s plenty of blame to go around…I believe there are a few remedies that may be able to reverse the effects of the pervasive poison posts and products so many of us so willingly ingest. The feeds and fantastic offerings that appear stylish on the surface, but are anything but fulfilling in terms of quality…and are digitally dumped on us daily, deteriorating our perception and understanding of real value. Welcome to the era of Fast Food Furniture. Quick, affordable and stylish…all designed to be just tempting enough to keep us coming back for more. And more. And more.
We’ve all seen the commercials from Wayfair, Amazon, Target and the like. You know the ones, where someone longing glances at an empty room, then back at their phone or tablet coveting the “perfect” piece, then just by presses add to cart…magically the room and their interior is complete! Or the happy family, shopping together grabbing “great” design right off the shelf all in an effort to “get it done.” Not to be outdone by the never-ending cycle of formulaic design shows that regurgitate the most unrealistic of budgets and timelines. Most of them sponsored by some of the very same companies who in many ways control the switch off the media hamster wheel I call the trend treadmill. This is not a conspiracy theory…it’s life in the world of interior design at all levels these days. Ask anyone in the industry, from manufacturers to design professionals to consumers. They all have stories to tell. And in many of them, the sacrificial lamb slaughtered at the altar of the religion of the new retail experience is quality…and the customers basic understanding of its very meaning. Today’s decorating landscape is littered with so much disposable design, and so many poorly constructed products, one cannot wonder where this is all going to lead?
Right about now some of you are screaming “Amen”, and nodding your heads with a sense of conviction, maybe even donning a half-cocked smile of approval. While others, a sizable number of you, are becoming increasingly annoyed, defensive and may even be ready to move on from this blog. But before you do, let me make something very clear. My purpose in writing this blog, as was the case on the radio last Sunday, is to educate and bridge the gap that between what we think we know…and what is actually available to us in the way of affordable and attainable, quality design resources. Because I must tell you…the digital design universe is full of black holes with will swallow your money, as well as your understanding of quality design, faster than a hockey team at a post-game drive-thru. So before you click away…please allow me to explain further.
Everything…and I mean everything in life boils down to play of percentages. It’s all about creating a sense of balance in an interior…and in your life for that matter. All work, no play. Bad. All fun, no self-discipline. Eventually bad too. Design is no different. A certain amount of disposable design in your life is not only expected, but absolutely has its place. Sometimes it’s a room or a life in transition. Other times it’s totally a matter of budget…or just because we like to celebrate a particular season. But always be mindful that the cost of something is only relevant as it relates to its value. And quality is often the key driver of somethings true value. For too many of us cheap, fast and stylish enough is trumping quality. So much so that the consumers don’t even now what they’re missing. After 20 plus years in the design and contracting business there’s at least one thing I know…if your interior suffers from a lack of quality elements, they will never reach their full potential, and are destined to become increasing unsatisfying over time. Leaving you searching for the magic decorating fix or rapid rearrange. I’m here to tell you that solution to elevating your design is easier than you think, and involves fighting the endless temptations that lead to the digestion of the devilish deals offered by the digital design demagogues. Just as there’s a fast food place on every block these days, there’s a digital design resource worming its way into your feed looking to sell you style that is more times than not too good to true. And if you want authentic interiors that last, ones that really satisfy your creative soul and function fantastically…then you need to limit consuming the offerings on the menus of the digital design drive thru. By the way, that goes for you Home Gooders and Hobby Lobbyists as well. Smash & grab, spray & pray and “But I got it on sale.” does not a design strategy make.
As I said earlier, there’s plenty of blame to go around. From the manufacturers to the design professionals to the consumers, we’ve all had hand in allowing this to happen. We’d like to think we make the case for quality, but all too often we’re just sultans of seductive style. I believe that the solution starts with us. So here’s my advice for manufacturers, design professionals and consumers to begin bridging the quality gap before its meaning is lost forever, or even worse is only available to the chosen few.
Manufacturers: First, manufacturers of quality goods need to do a better job inspiring and educating potential customers looking to elevate their design with next-level design offerings. In so many ways, you’re all still preaching to the same old choir of consumers and then left wondering why your customer bases are shrinking, sales are stagnant, or are shocked that people are unfamiliar with your products. If you what to grow your customer bases, you’ll need to educate and engage on more than just great style. Luxury/quality goods can be made attainable to everyone if sold and presented in the right percentages. Customers choose to afford what they prioritize. Make and approachable, inviting case for your unique quality AND style position…and you’ve got the start of an amazing relationship with a new customer. As the consumer continues to be bombarded with the case for cheap and fast, you’ll need to counter with substantive, value-based arguments for goods. Second, please stop hiring inexperienced representatives to pitch us your products that seem to be on an endless carousel through your organizations. It’s like rep roulette. We just never know who the next one’s going to be. As design professionals, we see ourselves as ambassadors of quality and style to our clients. But all too often the focus of the visits to our offices is high on style…and relatively uninformed on the true value and quality of your product lines. Over 20 years…this has gotten worse. And guess what, the digital design resources have figured you out, and in many cases ripped off your aesthetic and style for cheaper production overseas. How is the design professional or customer to know the difference, if you do not articulate the quality and artistry of your products equal to volume you amplify the style? The salvation of your brands moving forward will depend on our shared success articulating the value proposition of your offerings as it relates to both quality and style. Years ago, the luxury car industry created entry-level models in hopes of attracting customers outside of their traditional demographic. The result was once seemingly unattainable automobile brands, were seem to be accessible and approachable as they aggressively looked to cultivate relationships and build loyalty with a new type of customers. Too many of our industry’s best manufacturers still market their products like works of art, rather than art that should be put to work in lives…and in our interiors.
Design Professionals: Here’s where we can help. Many of us came into the industry with very little or no professional sales experience. The dirty little secret no one ever told us that we’re not really in interior design…we’re actually in creative sales. We need to learn how to play match-maker with all of the offerings in the marketplace, and look to apply them in the right percentages for each client. This means striking the right balance of items at all levels of quality. But many of us become too attached to our high-end look, process, idea or product lines, and forget to be the ambassador and adviser to quality, style and value so many of our clients need us to be. When something doesn’t go our way we professionally bruise. And even worse, our lack of sales experience, combined with a limited understanding of the important balance of substance and style, means we’re at a horrible disadvantage when attempting to make the case for the value of our idea, product or solution to our client. Many in the industry are uncomfortable when being cast in anything resembling the mold of a salesperson…as to do so in some way diminishes the art of it all. Nonsense. Real sales and customer-centered creative outcomes are about the relationship between a clients need, and the trust involved in the appropriate application of time energy, effort and investment to satisfy that need. Sometimes it’s furniture. Sometimes it’s contracting. Sometimes it’s art. Whatever the case, thoroughly educating ourselves on the brands and materials the we choose to market, means committing more of ourselves to the responsibility of helping the client, and less of a devotion to our idea, direction or creative desire. I’ll leave you with this. No one cares about your amazing idea or product if you cannot articulate it’s value to the customer. They need to know why they need it, and why you’re recommending it. And in today’s design marketplace, “Because it’s pretty…or isn’t it cool.” is not enough. It’s really that simple. Make your case. And if you can’t you’d better learn.
And finally to Consumers: For the love of God, have some patience for the process. Good, thoughtful, creative, quality design offerings take time to find, create, produce, deliver and install properly. But too many of you think it can be done on your schedule, and even worse, the digital universe and design networks have conditioned us to believe everything is available now…and can be completed in a snap just in time for the big reveal. Or before that party you should never have scheduled in the first place. Allow us to opportunity to invest time into introducing you to the amazing resources that lead to beautiful and functional design outcomes. Let us educate, elevate and create. And guess what…if we’re not doing this, I can’t blame you for moving on. But remember, when it comes to the budget, it’s okay to implement great design over time. Don’t be in such a rush, rather, be consistent and thoughtful with the effort and communication you put into the partnership. Just so you know, for most of us…it’s not about the money. It’s about the opportunity to create something special for someone else. The sense of enjoyment we get when you love where you live. Please view your design professional, your contractors and our resources as a team of trusted and valued creative partners. And lastly, if you want to elevate your interiors and get the most out of your design team, be open minded to the custom elements that in the right percentages are within reach. A task that becomes much more difficult if we continually default to the lower quality offerings so prevalent in digital design dynamic.
I’ll leave you with this. I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for temporary or transitional design offerings. All I’m saying is that quality products and services take time to create, produce and execute…and if you really want to elevate your design to the next level, you’re going to need more than the Fast Food Furniture outlets can offer. And in our rush to have it all now, on our terms, and with a skewed perspective of quality, we’re losing so much of the critical understanding of what’s actually involved in bringing lasting products to the marketplace. And at some point, if it doesn’t turnaround, the saying “They just don’t make them like they used too.” might just become “I didn’t realize they ever did.” And wouldn’t that be the real the shame.
Thought I would usher in 2020 with a quick inspirational note. As the world becomes increasingly more digital, data-driven and somewhat disposable, the world may need you now more than ever. Make 2020 you year!
Been a while…I know. Been busy. See. Already, the “B’s” are everywhere. Beware. Let’s get to it. Addition by subtraction…that’s what everyone has heard. Less is more right? Well, I’m not so sure. If I know one thing after twenty plus years in the business…I know this; Most interiors don’t typically underachieve because there’s too much stuff. They suffer from the wrong stuff, in the wrong places…and not enough of the right stuff exactly where it should be. But this is what we do. We settle. We design without a plan. We decorate in haste. And when the bad decisions pile up over the years, we convince ourselves it’s time to purge our decorating spirit from our visual and functional sins..and we “de-clutter.” Which begs the questions, who in world is collecting clutter? And why on God’s green earth are you pulling anything remotely classified as clutter into your homes or lives for that matter. But that’s a WAY different blog…or maybe even a vlog. I’m not sure. Nevertheless, for too many us…the cycle…is..endless.
We’ve all been there. It happens to even the most ardent editors of interiors. Things begin to pile up. But the best interiors account for your stuff in stylish and function ways poorly designed rooms do not. The best interiors know how to evolve, flex and scale without sacrificing the core of what they are and what they’ve been designed to do. The best interiors have been constructed with the bones, the backdrops and the brains to stretch and style seasonally, and still stay authentic and beautiful. And I would even argue the most inspiring and interesting interiors actually aesthetically “school us” when we’ve introduced an element into that environment that’s just not quite right.
To illustrate my point, let’s circle back and drill down on the three “B’s” that can help you to create interiors that account for the lifestyle confetti we call clutter. Save you from the silly cycle of constant purging. And lay the foundation for spaces that will evolve with you, your family and the passions that make them personal. To do this I’m going to reference a recent project where the three “B’s” carried the design day. And a little foreshadowing here…the order is important.
Bones: This is where we look to put function first. Otherwise known as the building blocks of a successful space. See, even more “B’s”. All too often we look to leap toward decorating, without addressing what actually makes great interiors work. And that’s function. What does the room need to do? And if not’s doing it, let’s define that before we decorate. No amount of decoration with ever make a room feel finished…if it doesn’t function first. I get it. Decorating is fun. I love the decorating phase of ever project. But let me ask you this; Would you ever wear an outfit if didn’t fit JUST because you liked the way it looked? No, you’d put the “fit” first. Including reviewing the layout and scale of the furniture to make sure that works too. Take this approach with your interiors and the decoration will only serve to enhance and elevate the interior to the next level.
In this Lower Level of a recent lake home project, the existing basement configuration just wasn’t working for the homeowner. Originally, the area pictured above was mostly all dead space and served very little purpose, but accounted for almost a third of the rooms total square footage. As is the case with many staircase walls in rooms like this one, the wall space and adjacent area were under-utilized. There was a rarely used place-holder of a pub table in corner, the existing wet bar had limited counter space, and the seating was inadequate for larger gatherings. Upon designing a much more functional room with client, they wanted more seating, surface area and overall entertaining space. They thought a bar might just be the answer. But where? In addition, a well designed Lower Level meant the first floor didn’t have to shoulder the brunt of the load when lake house gatherings started to grow. So, we took the least used corner of the room and transformed it into this beautiful bar area, which immediately added more seating and surface area. Plus, putting the bar in this under-utilized space meant we could still retain the existing generous seating area. Then we looked to add the necessary function into the bar in the form of lighting, refrigeration and storage. Note, we didn’t start with the style or even size of the bar, the decoration on the walls, the color room, over even the popular designer/homeowner “feel we wanted to achieve” discussion. No, rather we began with where and what the opportunities were that best met the lifestyle objectives of the client. Only after we applied functional design accordingly did we look to introduce the style. It’s simple, but often overlooked and under-rated…focus on function first. Then we talk about the fun stuff. But if the visual equation is flawed from the beginning, and the lifestyle math doesn’t work…neither will the room. And even the most inspired decoration will only serve to mask the problems or confuse things altogether.
Backdrops: Most interiors typically miss on the biggest canvases in a room. Floors and ceilings are most notable. Especially ceilings…they can be deserts of drywall. Endless expanses of sheet rock leaving too many interiors thirsting for interest…as was the case with this first floor interior.
The previous owner chose not to leverage the largest visual opportunities in the Living Room and the Kitchen. The vaulted and coffered ceilings. So, my client and I agreed to the introduction of a soft application of reclaimed barn siding in custom colors to canopy the Living Room, added grass cloth wallpaper to the insets of the coffered ceilings in the Kitchen…and then looked to enhance the very brown columns with linen fabric insets featuring nail head detailing. The addition of molding, millwork and other decorative elements to the largest or most visible canvases in the room ALWAYS pays visual dividends, and begins the important process of layering. From columns to crown molding, from wainscot to wallpaper, addressing these areas with interest sets the stage for the remaining finishing details to be competed with a sense of context, color and confidence.
Brains: Once the bones (function) and backdrops (context) have been addressed now comes the part everyone loves…the decoration. Or as I call it the brains of the space. While most might assume the intellectual nature of a room to attributed to function…I see it a bit differently. I think of it in terms of thoughtfulness and intent. The fabrics, finds and fantastic style elements, are the things that make great interiors personal, thoughtful and authentic. What is the special story of the space? And in my design studio, if an interior has nothing to say or unique to share…than it’s just not that interesting. And always feel a little flat when you get beyond the money spent and the materials chosen.
This is where accessories, artwork and other finishing details are so important. All too often we introduce elements at this stage that just don’t work. We settle. We force things. Or even worse…we copy. Whether they’re impersonal, lack quality, are unoriginal or are just plain forgettable, this where what you choose and how you choose to display it can make or break the room. Look to create a variety of well orchestrated groupings on walls and table tops. If a room deserves an enhanced level of decoration don’t be afraid to take it over the top…go for it. In this particular lake home, we looked to balance an upscale cottage feel on the first floor, with a well-themed Lower Level Lakeside Pub. Remember that the fabrics and special finds in a room exist to tell your story and punctuate the design statement. Be mindful that a well orchestrated fabric package is always worth the effort as it tends to visually tie spaces together. And never lose sight of the fact that the accessories and art should mean something to you and support the overall aesthetic of the interior. At this critical finishing stage, it’s not the quantity of elements in a room that makes them successful or unsuccessful…but rather the quality. That’s why the focus on addition by subtraction can be so misleading. It’s only true if you’ve collected too many things that don’t fit…or never really mattered in the first place. So, all that being said…I’ll leave you with a few more important B-words. Begin. Build. And Beautify.
Check out our latest featured project in Lakeshore Living Magazine: Summer 2019!
Well, there you have it. Thanks to Lakeshore Living Magazine for the beautiful photos. Thanks to our amazing client for trusting us with this vision. And for the record, I’m fully aware that you might want to flag this blog as a design note for 2020, as the carnival of Holiday Decorating is certainly upon us. But remember this, the cycle won’t end unless you design with a balance of passion and purpose, and equal parts substance and style. Be brave. Be bold. Be beautiful. And oh yeah…and you’ve Been coached. Design on.
Maybe it’s because it represents something unfinished that it appeals to me? To be honest, I see so many things in the same light. In people, places, projects I see possibilities…and in their own way unfinished works in progress, always evolving, curiously adapting and hopefully improving. Or, maybe it’s just the simple that fact that it’s so familiar as I grew up on a gravel road in the most unlikely of places. Either way, here’s what I know…lessons abound on roads like these if you will only allow yourself to slow down long enough to really let them sink in.
I always chuckle, mostly on the inside as reflected through a crooked smile, when people visit a make a joke or crack about driving down the gravel road to get to us. Maybe this blog will help put it in perspective on some small level. Maybe not. But this I do know. The concept of the well-paved, faster path or road can be appear convenient…but on many levels is so completely over-rated. Something I think you only have an appreciation for if you’ve “run enough races” in life. The kinds of races where life’s inherent, inspirational imagery blurs in a rush to beat the clock…and stay on schedule. That happens with less frequency on a gravel road for a number of different reasons. It’s one of the reasons my wife and I chose to live here and raise our family. And as we begin to finally celebrate Summer…I thought I’d illustrate a few thoughts from those of us who live on streets some refer to as “unimproved.” Hmmm…I guess I beg to differ.
1.) The best roads encourage exploration and discovery…that hopefully lead to knowledge and understanding. But it can be difficult to distill understanding into wisdom if you’re always trying to rush the process or needlessly push the pace.
2.) If you put too much of an emphasis on the potholes and imperfections in the road, you’ll miss the beauty that surrounds you. Negativity is everywhere. Rather than avoiding potholes, maybe we should all try avoiding that.
3.) We can learn so much from creatures that are completely obliviously to the concept of roads. Leave a little cushion in the pace of your life for the unexpected visitor, you just never know what they may share with you…or when you may see them again.
4.) Gravel roads have a way of transforming a mindset of maintenance into the concept of stewardship. Maintenance has become such a dirty word, but stewardship implies ownership and regular care. And, an understanding that sometimes the responsibility for the roads maintenance falls upon those who benefit from its existence.
5.) Don’t judge a road by how well it’s paved, or how it looks. As it’s value isn’t always in found in where it can take you or how quickly you can travel on it…but by how many lessons it can teach you along the way.
I hope you enjoy your Sunday…and this message from a middle-aged, middle-child from the Midwest who hopes you find a gravel road every once in a while. I’ve got mine…somewhere on a road called Ferris on the outskirts of Harvard, Illinois.
A blog dedicated to a Summer of discovery, the memory Illinois resident and screenwriter John Hughes, and immortalized in the words of one Ferris Bueller…