On a cold December night, I had curled up on my favorite down sofa in my home office with my cashmere throw and my dogs to find an inspiring documentary on NETFLIX called, Abstract: THE ART OF DESIGN. There she was, Isle Crawford.
Now, I was no stranger to Isle Crawford. As a young man growing up in the cultural wasteland of Garland, Texas, I knew her as the Editor of Elle Decoration. I would turn through the magazine studying the designs and dreamed of a world outside my youthful confines of beauty.
By the time I was done with the documentary, I was obsessed. Finally, someone thought the way I thought. She believed what I believed. There was a purpose behind her design and not simply an aesthetic. Within the first minute, I was thorough engaged.
"Ultimately, design is a tool to enhance our humanity."
There it was! I remember my first day of design school when my professor Ron Reed said, "Every building you go into everyday was designed by an interior designer. Interior design has the ability to enhance the way people live, work, and play." That was the moment I knew I wanted to be an interior designer.
This was not the movie to watch and intend to go to sleep, shortly after. I arose inspired and aspirational. My passion had found purpose, again.
Of course, I am a researcher, so I wanted to learn everything I could from this documentary. Consequently, I proceeded to buy all her books and study her. I found her website for StudioIlse. I fell down the rabbit hole of YouTube. Needless to say, I wasn't in bed at my usual hour.
When her book, The Sensual Home: Liberate Your Senses and Change Your Life arrived, I read it from cover-to-cover hanging onto her every word. The amount of research about lifestyle, customs, traditions, history, religion, sociology, and psychology was so invigorating and interesting. Finally, someone was speaking my language. Someone was speaking about more than trends. Someone was speaking about more than aesthetics. Someone was speaking about enhancing people's lives through interior design.
"This book is an exploration of some of the ideas and things that make a home feel right, with a true timeless beauty. For so much of what we feel, or sense, constitutes comfort, and the notion of home is rooted in primal instincts. As Editor of Elle Decoration I have seen styles come and go, but beneath them all are certain fundamentals touching our senses. This book is not meant to be a style bible, because there are plenty of those around, but something to encourage your own thoughts." - The Sensual Home by Ilse Crawford.
This is the beginning of the book and speaks to its entirety.
For so long, many people have believed that interior design is an aesthetic. Yes, that is true, but for me, it is so much more.
It is a thought process. I can remember back to my days of school. Even my school projects had a thought process to them and still do today. There is a reason for the space planning. There is great thought that goes into a well-planned and executed lighting design. There is a reason I have chosen the finishes, fabrics, furniture, and art to carefully curate a space. I am constantly asking myself, WHY. Why am I making the choices I am making? I am very critical of everything from the space planning, lighting design, the choice of finishes, fabrics, appliances, plumbing, etc... Why are these the best choices for my clients and how are they going to enhance their experience in their spaces.
I also found that in school, many of my peers had no explanation for the choices they made in their design decisions, and I find this rampant in our profession.
We spend 87% of our time in buildings. Whether I am designing a home, a hotel, or an office space, I take into account how they make you feel. When I do a consultation, one of the questions I ask my clients is, "How do you want this to feel when it is complete." This is truly different for everyone, because it is a thought process and a decision that comes from within. You must go inside yourself and ask yourself the question - answerly authentically is the only way to get what you truly want in a completed project.
Whether you realize it or not, interior designer (those that prescribe to a philosophy that interior design is more that a style) have to ability to manipulate the way you behave, subtly, without you knowing it. Today, many of my clients are asking for an open concept kitchen that connects with their family room and dining room. This really has an impact on our behavior when we are a guest in someone's home. It says, this is relaxed atmosphere, enjoy conversation, and revel in the smells of the meal being prepared. It invites you to engage in the cooking process.
One of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles is Petit Trois. It is located in an outdated and nondescript strip shopping on Highland Avenue. You would never know that their is an exquisite French restaurant inside. The way the restaurant is designed, the back of the house is part of the front of the house design. There is a honed marble bar with wooden stools where you can watch and smell your meal being prepared. I always find it enjoyable to engage with the chefs as they prepare the meals and see the quality and passion they put into creating the food. The wood stools are comfortable, but they certainly don't encourage you to stay long.
On the other hand, I recently visited the new Jean-Georges at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. I opted for the Chef's Tasting Menu, which provided well-proportioned samplings in a five-course meal. The feeling is formal. All the meal preparation is performed where you do not see it. It is elegantly presented at the table. The space is large in volume, but the tables and booths provide intimacy for a small party. They even offer a private dining room. The cozy chairs and banquettes are upholstered in buttery leather and the classic Dorothy Draper palm leaf pillows in the banquettes encourage you to stay a while and enjoy.
We are visceral people with five senses. As an interior designer, I notice that people often want to touch fabric samples, feel textures of stones, and test upholstery furniture to ensure the comfortability of it. We want to see colors in different ways. Recently, I had a discussion with a client about the amount of sensory overload we have being hurled at us all day everyday. She wanted a home that was soothing and contrasting to her busy life. The fabric we chose are luxurious and have a beautiful hand to them. They are muted colors that make you feel calm. There is a whole psychology of color and color theory that has been studied over decades. In addition, we each have our own innate ideas of what makes us soothing.
Recessed lighting has taken a turn for the worse in recent years. I have noticed that many of the new construction homes are relying only on recessed lighting as the only source of lighting. Many of the homes I see look like you could land an airplane in the rooms with all the recessed lights lined up in rows like soldier going off to war. Honestly, you really do not need that many, and please, put them on dimmers. Mix in other forms of lighting such as: cove lighting, up lighting, sconces, chandeliers, floor lamps, table lamps, and task lighting for a more successful lighting design. This not only has an effect on our vision, but it also determines how we feel in a space. Even think about low lighting and candles. They are not only beautiful, but they also smell great, too.
Naturally, as humans, we are drawn to contrasting colors and textures. Used in the right way, this can create a visceral experience for the senses. When I design spaces that are monochromatic or predominantly neutral in the color palette, I use different textures to create different feelings. A velvet pillow on a velvet chair is not always the best option for creating contrast, but a leather seat and back with quarter sawn European white oak makes for a beautiful dining chair.
Remember, "Home is our emotional heartland - a place to restore balance."