Wright Inspiration

Recently a friend invited me to go to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture, on his birthday for a special event they were having in his honor. I have been there several times and I never get tired of seeing it, I find it very inspiring even.

I have a hard time remembering when Taliesin was started because the date was so long ago it doesn’t sound like it could possibly be right,1937. He had just completed Falling Waters and was receiving major accolades on the project. He took the profits from that project and decided to go to the middle of nowhere Arizona and build his second School of Architecture. He was almost 70 years old, an age where most would be retired already, but instead starts this whole new adventure on an incredibly bleak part of the desert, and talks his first group of students into paying for the privilege to build the place…amazing!

What really strikes me is how “current” his style is, to this day nothing looks “old fashioned” like other homes from 1937 look to us now.

I had the privilege of working with Bing Hu, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, the home we did is on my website. It was the feature article in Luxe Magazine, so it also was on the cover. I knew pictures had been sent to Luxe, but I didn’t know it was going to be on the cover. When I saw it in the grocery store I excitedly showed the checker the cover and said, “This is mine! I did this!” She looked puzzled and said you mean you bought the magazine already and not to charge you for it? I said, “No, I want to buy all of the Luxe Magazines you’ve got!”

The same elements, the same concepts that Taliesin has this current house has, even though it was close to a hundred years apart.

Wright said “Arizona needs its own architecture…Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, uplifting planes”… need to be reflected in its architecture and this sentiment rings true today. When working on this project I kept many of the Taliesin qualities in mind. The stone wall comes down the front walkway, creating Wright’s idea of a sense of compression, and continues into the house, visible through the glass front door, and travels across the room and curves around to the back of the house and out again onto the patio. Wood tongue and groove ceilings follow through all the area as well, creating Wright’s concept of bringing the outside in and the inside out. The Bedrooms and Master Bath have butt glass windows, also a Wright idea, that creates a virtually seamless view from one direction to another. The home is on four levels and looks like it just emerged from the hillside, following the Wright philosophy of a home being set on the “brow” of a hill instead of of the top. A home should be inviting, like one’s eyes, not a fortress.

Once Wright had to testify in court and upon being sworn in he was asked to state his name and occupation. He said, “I’m Frank Lloyd Wright and I’m the Greatest Architect in the world”. Later his wife scolded him and said, “Why did you say that?”. He replied, “Because I was under oath and could not lie!” I have got to agree!

Leave Your Egos at the Door

Working with an Architect as a Designer….or Leave Your Egos at the Door

Working with an Architect on a project is my favorite way of approaching a new build or remodel. Architects are often coming from a fresh point of view which can make things exciting, and sometimes drive you crazy. But the key here is leave the egos at the door and focus on the best possible project outcome for your clients.

Once as an in-house Designer for a local builder, I was handed a set of plans almost before the clients saw it. The plans were from an extremely well known Architect with offices literately around the world. Right off the bat, I’m seeing the kitchen is a football field away from the garage, Okay, I’m exaggerating, as I’m prone to, but it was really far if you were carrying a case of Coke!

So I am honored and excited to meet this Architect, but afraid the first words out of my mouth were going to be, “We’ve got to move the kitchen!”, which of course means moving all sorts of rooms and other things, i.e. plumbing, as well. So we meet on the upper floor of his beautiful office, in a gorgeous meeting room, and I think I managed to get a few accolades out first, before I said the potentially deadly statement… “Have you ever carried a case of Coke from the garage to the kitchen?”

He laughed and said, “How far is it?” He then smiled graciously, mentioned he had seen my work as well and was impressed, and he was listening. He turned out to be one of the nicest, down-to-earth people I have had the pleasure to work with. He is a brilliant architect, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. I later learned his homes are truly genius. I went on to work hand and hand with his team and designed a singularly spectacular house that was later the featured cover home for Luxe Magazine.

The Architect’s lead in the home design allowed the creative juices to flow. The clients who bought the lot and plans opened their hearts and minds and allowed me fill the home with remarkable, unique details. The architect’s round wall that enclosed the Powder Bath, became a floor to ceiling wall of water cascading over a stainless steel super sculpture by a prominent local artist, Gary Slater. Artistic wall finishes graced many of the rooms and fireplaces. Even the granite for the kitchen was totally unique and outstanding.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many architects over the years and sometimes I have to admit that I could put most anything in a well designed room and it would look great! The architecture is the “bones” under the skin and if they aren’t right it makes my job a lot harder. And conversely, if I can get an Architect to listen to me and not treat me like a “pillow picker”, I can get the ideas across such as… although the glass window to the ceiling is dramatic…it opens to the pool and grandkids are going to be peering in at 6 a.m. saying “Nanny and Pappy, get up and go swimming with us!”… give me a couple of inches for a window covering of some sort please!

I truly do love working with architects and I always try to keep my ego in check because, as in any situation, there is always something new to learn if you stay open to it. Architects have extensive training and education and often brilliant vision. Working together as a team can make the magic happen.

Working with a Team

Recently, I updated my website and one of the comments I got was that it must be exciting to be an Interior Designer..made me think…exciting? Well, it certainly gets my blood pressure up sometimes, but I don’t think people realize the extent of what I do.

I’ve always said, “I’m not just a pillow-picker”, but that doesn’t begin to cover all that an Interior Designer does, and I think that is why sometimes people have a misconception about just what a designer does.

College didn’t really prepare me either, but I think that might be true of many occupations. I remember a teacher down- graded a project because I used pink and red together…I always have ignored “the rules” apparently… I use pink and red all the time, just needs to be the “right” pink and red.

I recently looked at my college transcript and most of the design classes I don’t really remember. However, the required, seemingly odd ones that have been the most valuable to me, like Geology! Never dreamt I would need to know granite is volcanic and has certain characteristics totally different from say Marble…and then there’s travertine, I could talk for hours about travertine and sometimes do, just ask one of my clients whose installed travertine recently.

What I should have taken were business and accounting classes, I need those all the time! I’m a great Interior Designer, but I’d get paid a lot better if I was a better accountant. The Calculus class I possibly could have done without, don’t think I use it on a daily basis like Geology… but don’t tell my grandkids that.

But after looking at my new website, a client said I should have a tab showing my “Team”. She was referring to all the wonderful people that make me look good by the talented work they do. An Interior Designer is only as good as the people she works with and the people she trusts to turn her ideas and dreams into reality.

Early in my career, I mentioned to my Dad, as I introduced a woman I had just hired, that she “worked for me”, later he said to me privately, “Don’t ever say that, and never think it, …she works WITH you..never forget that,” and I never have. My Dad was Capsule Engineer for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Space Program. He literally was part of a team that got men to the moon, so I think he knew what he was talking about.

I know I wouldn’t be the Designer I am without the great people who move walls for me, build walls for me, guide my selections of plumbing and appliances and make it all work together, plumb the water, create the electricity that makes my chandeliers glow, lay the beautiful tile I’ve selected with genius precision, turn plain wood into beautiful furniture for baths and kitchens, carve and create life into a slab of stone turning it into a magnificent piece of art.

Come to think about it…being an Interior Designer is exciting!

Hang ‘Em High

I am often asked as an Interior Designer, how high do I hang this picture? The question is not how high, but how low.

Clients often have repeatedly hung artwork and sculpture entirely too high without my advice and when I tell them, and show them where it should go I inevitably get a quick reply of, “Are you sure?” This always puzzles me, because I wouldn’t have said so if I wasn’t sure, but I understand that they think quite differently. I can’t figure out what it is about human nature that causes this reaction, but most people hang their art entirely too high.

Art should relate to the furniture in a room and not float disconnectedly above like some sort of ghost. Your eye naturally wants to travel in a pleasing circular fashion, the art needs to be part of that circle and not separated by a large wall space.

I’ve noticed this problem seems to be worse in men than women. My first thought is always that generally men are taller and their eye height level is higher, but in my experience it happens even with men shorter than my five foot eight.

On a large project in Aspen, Colorado, a eight thousand square foot Victorian in the downtown historic district, I had re-done every inch. We had all new flooring, wall treatments different in every room, drapes, furniture, bedding, everything changed and new and true to the time period the house was built in, which was around 1826. But I had saved a large collection of existing old artwork from being thrown out. These old Western art pieces and photographs, mostly related to Colorado and Aspen area, were all nicely framed and ready to re-hang. But as luck would have it, one of the investors in the property, thus one of the owners, was in town near the end of the project and asked if he could help me hang the old art pieces that I had saved. So I’m thinking, great! He can drive the mollies and screws and anything else I might need done that was a handyman type thing, but noooo, he was sure he knew better than an Interior Designer as to what height art should be hung. It was agony!

There were large long hallways, many bedrooms and other large dining and living rooms, with enough art for all of them, but every single one was a test of will when it came to what height to hang them. We were not even close to coming up with the same height. It was exhausting! He wanted everything at a fine height for a seven foot three NBA Center, or a small giraffe, but nowhere near where they should be.

Finally, he had to take a phone call outside. Hallelujah! We were in the library, I had the perfect antique Gibson Girl ad poster he wanted a foot off the ceiling, okay, I’m exaggerating, but anyway still too high. I wasn’t having much luck at wearing him down, he was Italian by heritage and very hard to wear down. But he condescended because he needed to take the call outside in private and he was leaving me with the hammer. He told me to hang it where I thought best, even though he was not smiling when he said it. In fact, he was very concerned looking. Now, I was raised the only girl with a younger and older brother, so I was constantly defending myself against practical jokes. So maybe that makes me too quick to pull something a little wicked, or maybe the Devil just comes out in me sometimes, but I could not resist. It was too easy and too much fun…I put two nails in the wall about six inches apart, one higher than the other. The top one was still hidden by the picture when I put it on the lower nail, but the picture was totally too low now, way below most people’s eye level. He came back in and I said, “What do you think?”. Now, he had promised that he wouldn’t say anything this time, that it was my call, so he looked, then looked some more, and said okay. But as we headed out of the room he just could not stand it, he had to say something about it being maybe, kind of, possibly, was it too low. I smiled and went over and took out the lower nail and re-hung it on the higher and asked if that was better. He was dumbfounded! The funny thing he said first was about that I had made two nail holes, I assured him I could fix that no problem, and that I just couldn’t resist the joke!

He was finally laughing about it later that evening when I pulled a bottle of red wine out of the fridge and offered him a glass. Now he did balk that I had put red wine in the fridge, but I promptly replied, “Oh, it’s a chill-able red!”

Now don’t get me started about TV’s….

High Definition Design

Ain’t Technology Great…

We’ve all got one, even if we say we don’t ever look at it, but the problem is… where in the world does the TV go?

Seems like many years ago when the first flat screens came out, that the new shape and size solved an Interior Design question that had plagued us from its conception, where do we put that big black box that is ruining this room?

I think because of its thin, lightweight design, the answer was get it off my floor plan all together and hang it on the wall, obviously, over the fireplace! And once the first boob tube was hung, we were all doomed! One gaping black box over another black box…lovely.

One of the projects I am tremendously proud of made the cover and was a featured home in Luxe Magazine. I designed all the fireplaces in the home, three of them, and the largest covered the entire Living Room wall. It featured a six foot fireplace, that required some clever flue planning for the builder, custom built, and painted three dimensional art for above the fireplace, art niches, and of course a ginormous TV!

It has always been difficult design problem to have two focal points, a TV and the fireplace, and then there is the whole issue of does this put the TV at the totally wrong height?

There is an overwhelming consensus out there that having the TV above the fireplace totally makes the TV too high for ideal viewing. My favorite comment online about this issue was by Dr. Obvious in a New York Times article.

Eye level.

Dead center of your eye.

End of discussion.

But in answer to his comment was an answer involving the 20 degree angle of your head due to the degree of tilt of said head, depending on the chair being used angle of additional 13 degrees… and two trains leaving the station with cargo of X tons, 20 mile an hour tailwind, and when would they arrive at the station?….I know I had that problem on a math test in the 5th grade!

One comment involved Alpha-Brainwave-Mode,( gotta love that title),stating that eyes have to be focused below your horizon line because focusing above your horizon line will cause not being mentally aroused. Or could that be the content of much of what’s on TV or a totally shut out game? I’ve actually got to try that line on my hubby tonight…Darling, I’m not mentally aroused by this show, could we change? (Should I be afraid of what he’ll change to?)

Years ago, I was hired by new clients to totally re-do their home from top to bottom, new kitchen, baths, flooring, carpet, every inch! When I arrived at the home for the first time, the TV was in the fireplace. When all the work was done, all the re-model behind them, the TV was still in the fireplace. It totally made sense and nobody wanted it moved, it worked great for them. Kids could see it from the sofa, parents could see from their easy chairs, and company could see from side chairs at the other end of the room. Bottom line, it’s their coin and I can’t see it from my house!

Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and I’m their Interior Designer!

Once upon a time, I was asked to speak to a class of Interior Design students. I prepared a (what I considered) brilliant presentation. At the current time, I remember nothing of the content, but what I do remember is at the end, I had a question and answer session where I was asked, “What’s the most important class you took in college, that has helped your Interior Design career the most?”

I promptly replied… It’s the class I didn’t take… Marriage Counseling! After the laughter died down, I said, “No, I’m serious.” Put two people together that think they know each other well, and have them make numerous decisions and they are always surprised at a preferences their partner has that they didn’t know about.

I remember one college class where the instructor said, “Here is your fictional client…design a house for them… they have two children, a dog, and the husband needs an office,” and that was it. So I dutifully designed an awesome home with everything “I” wanted, NO input from any fictional family whatsoever, and it was great! (I got downgraded half a point for putting pink and red together in a striped fabric I chose for the little girl’s room, the professor said, “pink and red do not go together!”… to this day, I DISAGREE!)

But the real world happened after college, and trust me husbands have LOTS to say and it’s more than just wanting an office. Suddenly, the strangest things happen and amazing discoveries come to light for both spouses! Recently with a new client, a couple whom I adore by the way, I was asking the usual questions,… likes, dislikes, preferences, style, etc., just to get started, and the husband said, “I DO NOT like orange!”

So, I simply responded by saying, “OK, duly noted!” Then a few days later we walk in and I’m showing them a gold-tan sofa, very neutral, and across from it are two gorgeous chair. My client says, “Love these chairs totally, want them definitely, how much are they?”

After a quick glance at his wife who is smiling and shrugging at the same time, after a very pregnant pause, I posed the question, “Do you do realize they are orange leather on the back?”

He says, “No, no they’re rust!” Got to love it! Often with clients when we are looking at granite or something, the husband will say, “No, I don’t like green, that’s ugly!” and the wife is blown away!

She comes back with, “I’ve been married to you for… (fill in the blank) number of years and I’ve never heard this one!” And what’s amazing, that number goes all across the board from year and a half to forty something or more. Strange preferences come out when you’re designing a new space for couples!

Even with my own husband and I, there are the same issues. Recently I decided I had “bathroom envy.” I’d been doing many Master Bath remodels and one was coming out more gorgeous then the other. So, I decided it was time to re-do our own bathroom. Our shower is large with shower heads at both ends. I’m asking what preferences he has on “his side,” and as the discussion goes along I’m starting to get confused. I finally said, “Which side do you use, the left or the right?”

He comes back with,“The right.”

To which I reply, “That’s my side!”

No, it’s not,” he replies, “I get up way before you, and I use the right side, not the left.” Fifteen years! Who knew? I changed the whole design!

The Silk Road

I saw a very amazing museum exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colorado. It was about the Silk Road from China, Xi’an to Constantinople, 5,700 miles overall.

It spanned mountains and huge deserts, temperatures ranging from 120ºF to -50ºF. The Silk Road was used between 500-1500 b.c.e. The entire route took more than six months to complete, if you were brave and bold enough to try it. Most only traveled parts at a time, and traded goods along the way. The route was very dangerous, bandits were everywhere, and death was common for a bolt of precious silk, so travel was safest with a large group. Camels were rented or bought, as they were the most reliable form of transportation, and most travelers walked along side, as the camels were loaded with goods for trade.

But, how it changed Interior Design! Exotic goods from faraway lands coming overland from so far away and all in high demand. As a species, we love to “feather our nest.”

Interior Design has only been defined as a profession in very recent times. In early 20th Century, a group of all male designers, by the way, declared it a profession. But way back when, the Silk Road brought things to a whole new market, somebody, somehow, was declaring, “I gotta have this!” And somebody, somehow, had to make it all look good together, and someone, with no official title, made it happen.

Let’s take silk alone. It takes 2,500 silk worms to make one pound of silk. That’s one robe, and the worms die in the process. I use yards and yards for curtains for one room, and I’m talking now in 2014. The laborious process to takes to get that silk still to this day starts the same way. The Chinese kept the whole process a total monster secret forever so they could corner the market. But the “known” world was totally intrigued. Goods from all of these exotic places soon became status symbols of the rich and famous. You had to have on display these exotic items and wear these exotic fashions. The very dyes used to color the fabrics became a precious commodity. The quest for “goods,” things we decorate with, and use for all types of design, are influenced by the total world market the Silk Road opened up.

These things only have “value” if there is a market, and there is something, almost in our nature, that says we want to be surrounded by things of beauty, and that brings us comfort! No one “needs” such things as herbs and silk fabric, but we love the new tastes and exciting feel of luxurious things that are new to us.

The Silk Road was definitely a start that may have triggered so much more exploration of the entire known world, and in search of what? Something new and different! Isn’t that my job description?