Jay Johnson - A balanced diet consists of selections from different food groups, artfully juggled to avoid culinary boredom, and served up several times a day. But what if you decided to go with your favorite food and you only ate ice cream at each meal? You’d likely be bored to death, and soon find yourself very unhealthy.
Let’s compare your diet to your reading habits. Is what you read well balanced, too? There are sayings for both diet and reading that converge here:
- You are what you eat.
- You are what you read.
- Garbage in, garbage out.
If you're a home design fan, we can make a great case for reading the latest shelter magazines and designer coffee table books, and reaching into the past for inspirational guides to all facets of design—but if that’s all you’re reading, it’s akin to pigging out on ice cream. (Note: I love ice cream and I love interior design, so the two are directly related, and I challenge anyone to claim otherwise!)
My design partner Irwin Weiner and I came up with a non-traditional reading list of business books that we think were secretly written for the design industry. They share these traits: keen insights into the kind of behaviors we deal with daily, helpful tips for running and maintaining a successful business while keeping your creative edge, and a wicked sense of humor (without which, we would all dry up, curl into a fetal position, and continually suck our thumbs).
1. Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!). Advertising legend George Lois, considered by some to be the model for the Don Draper character in Mad Men, talks in short one- and two-page nuggets of business advice that even the busiest design lover or overall creative person can digest. I call this a “popcorn book,” because you can delicately pick out one nugget of advice at a time or consume the whole tub in one reading. Lois’ sense of humor is razor-sharp, and this is a stimulating read. The goal of the book is to “unleash your Creative Potential.” Typical quote: “There are only four types of person you can be. Identify yourself: 1. Very bright, Industrious (You’re perfect.). 2. Very bright, Lazy (A damn shame.). 3. Stupid, Lazy (You’ll just sit on your ass, so you’re a wash.). 4. Stupid, Industrious (Oh, oh, you’re dangerous.). If you’re a number 1 or a 2, you’ll get a lot out of this book. If you’re a number 3 or 4, why are you reading this book?”
2. UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging. Author Scott Stratten is an expert in viral and social media, music marketing, sales training, and “authentic” marketing. One of his stories is about how a carpet cleaning man at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas stopped what he was doing, looked him directly in the eye; gave him a friendly, natural smile, and welcomed him to the Wynn; that honest connection showed Stratten that the Wynn had more than any other hotel on the Vegas Strip, even though all the mega-hotels have basically the same amenities. The personal greeting was what made him choose to stay there. Stratten’s take-away message for interior designers is to avoid marketing to potential clients in ways we hate being marketed to ourselves (cold calls, ads, flyers, etc.). His book will help to position a designer as a trusted expert in front of a potential market of decorating clients so that when they need to hire someone, they’ll choose you.
3. Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. Sally Hogshead, an advertising brand executive, maps out seven ways to get people to be fascinated with you enough to hire you. This slim volume is a quick read, but the ideas it presents will be like bottle rockets going off in your head for days. The triggers themselves are fascinating: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust. Each has to do with how to fascinate clients and how to sell your clients on being fascinating to others by getting the kind of interiors only you can help them create. One could have some devilish fun knowing what triggers to pull with others—and knowing that we all respond to these triggers all the time, without realizing it. This would also make a great dating guide, come to think of it!
4. Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius. First, how did Erik Wahl, a graffiti artist, become a leader in business thinking? Seems farfetched, but we know that creative ideas and good business sense must co-exist—unless you’d like to work pro bono. The books helps you push beyond traditional thought patterns and being logical all the time. Wahl says, “Our greatest personal potential is reached when unbridled imagination is applied with critical competence and when business acumen is embodied with artistic finesse.” This book could change the way you organize your office, schedule, and patterns with clients. It will challenge you to live life in a more creative, childlike way.
5. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Every interior designer and design client will recognize some of the situations covered in this practical guide written by the team behind the Harvard Negotiation Project. Their goal is to help readers handle tough conversations “with less stress and more success.” Personally, you can improve relationships with co-workers and spouses. Professionally, move clients you’d love to fire—but somehow never manage to handle effectively, once and for all—away from emotion and towards productive problem solving.
So that’s our short list of recommendations. We should note that it’s also important to read recreationally, too: news, sports, literary fiction, science fiction, cookbooks, murder mysteries—anything that will make you a more juicy and interesting person. Most everyone in the design industry wants to relate to real people who have opinions and ideas and stories outside of the field, not design robots … or people who only eat ice cream. Let's broaden our horizons!
Irwin Weiner ASID - As an interior designer, I often tell clients that they should try to spend much more than they feel comfortable about for one or two signature pieces of furniture in each room of their home. I use the clothing analogy: Invest in a few well-made, stylish, high-end designer pieces that will last for years, and supplement your wardrobe with fun and trendy lower-cost items. The more expensive pieces may be museum quality or they be just very special and be made extremely well. They'll outlast everything else you buy and clients can proudly pass them on to the next generation as family heirlooms.
Not all my clients get it, of course. After all, we're conditioned to shop in big box stores, pay less, save money, make our hard-earned money stretch - and forego investment-quality furniture and purchase cheap-but-nice-looking items. Fashion in America has been a real "race to the bottom" over the past decade in terms of quality, style, and value. Some wardrobes are made entirely of cheap, inexpensive, poorly-made garments, and this is an alarming movement that influences the interior design industry as well. We just finished reading Elizabeth Cline's great study of the fashion industry, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, and it decries the cheap clothes/fast fashion cycles that have taken all the thoughtfulness and style out of fashion by urging consumers to spend less money, buy more often, and forgo solid investments in quality for spur-of-the-moment low-end purchases. We end up buying more, being dissatisfied with our wardrobe, having no real soul connection with what we're putting on our bodies, and ultimately filling our closets with cheap crap that we don't wear. Cline's book also documents the tragic economic and environmental costs that cheap goods create. We pollute more, exploit workers overseas, and wind up quickly throwing away things that are cheap or need repair.
Oftentimes when a parent dies, a client will ask me to evaluate the furniture that's about to be divided up by the children. Most of the time, the furnishings have no real value. I always find this sad. Perhaps there's sentimental value in the items, but much of what I see is so shockingly poor that it's not worth fighting with your siblings over. Here's my advice ... something to think about this week, if you're so inclined.
- It's too costly to be cheap. Most furnishings that are priced too low to be true are poorly made. They have no value. They were likely made by overseas labor not earning a living wage, they were made at a severe cost to the environment, they waste resources, and they'll soon wind up in an overcrowded landfill.
- Know where to look for quality. Auction houses usually have curated items with high value, but they'll sell for a relatively low cost. Compare purchasing a beautiful mahogany bookcase at auction against paying for a cheap bookcase at a mass production furniture house. You'll probably pay far more for the cheaper merchandise. Yes, it's new, but it soon won't look new!
- Listen to your decorator. Interior designers are trained to know furniture styles and periods. We're usually very good at sizing up the scale, balance, and harmony of a piece of furniture. We can point out the faults in a piece and tell you why you shouldn't - or should - buy it. This comes from a combination of education and training, experience, and talent. It's just like you can look at someone's face and say, his nose is crooked, the left eye is higher than the right eye, and his hairstyle doesn't fit the shape of the face. My savviest clients ask me a lot of questions with the intent of getting as much information as they can from my design education and training. But a number of clients think they know better, and not only will they not listen to design advice, they'll gravitate towards cheaper items of less value and bad design, with a limited lifespan. This can easily be avoided, and I feel this is one of the best reasons to hire an interior designer - we'll help you navigate through the maze of cheap choices and find quality within your budget.
Irwin Weiner ASID - I was fascinated by magnets as a child. Were you, too? I couldn't get enough of small magnets, bar magnets, and magnetic toys. I'd click them together constantly and then reverse the positions of the magnets and feel the invisible push as the opposing poles repelled one another. Talk about magic!
Watch the video to see the designer assembling one of his pieces in minutes. MAG has all the advantages of flat-packing furniture, but with higher-quality materials and strong magnets instead of screws, Allen wrenches, and other time-consuming fasteners. Smart and stylish.
Irwin Weiner ASID - My IWI team is in the process of renovating a mid-century colonial revival house in Bucks County, PA, and while interviewing contractors, we're hearing again and again that it would be cheaper to tear down the house and build something new. That's a problem mentality. Without markers from our past, where will our heritage be? Is it better to tear down a wonderfully sound, but in need of TLC, stone-and-stucco house in order to construct a new McMansion? Absolutely not. When I came across Nathan Eddy's documentary on the now-demolished Prentice Women's Hospital building designed by modernist icon Bertrand Goldberg, a film which had its premiere in my native South Africa, I see that the same fight for preservation is raging in our major cities.
The past, especially the "modern" past, is in jeopardy because it's simply not as cost-effective to renovate as it is to tear down and begin anew - and there's always investment money enticing us to opt for new construction. The recent past is often seen as ugly and startling, and the new as fresh and beautiful (which is seldom the case). Let's see what we can all do to act locally and stem the tide of demolition and empty-headed start-overs.
This is an amazing line. I can recommend it - and Joe's service - without hesitation. The elegant, flowing curves of the oak furniture are all steam bent by hand. Pure design bliss!
Irwin Weiner ASID - It's been a fun summer of sharing design resources and gardens we've admired from this year's New Hope Historical Society Garden Tour. This last Pennsylvania stop featured a lovely 1875 rural gothic home, built five generations ago by the owner's great-great grandmother and grandfather, and you can see some of their plantings in the garden - his great sycamore tree and her rose of sharons. The small town lot is extremely narrow, but every inch is packed with interest and discovery.
The three gardens featured trees and shrubs that add color and interest throughout the growing season. There was a simple traditional mixed border garden in the front line bordering a picket fence. The middle garden, shown above, was modern English style. And we headed down the gravel walk to the "hunter's lodge," the greenhouse behind the lodge, and the back garden which sloped down to the Delaware canal - a garden featuring magnolias and his great-great grandfather's sycamore.
Irwin Weiner ASID - As in most professions, interior design is a lot about research. There are new resources springing up every day, and we haven't done a good job putting together presentations to our clients if we haven't exhausted our search for something fresh and different. I love stumbling onto resources that are tangential to what I'm really looking for, too, and recently I came across Artaic Innovative Mosaics. Computerized processes digitize images into small squares of color, like pixels, and robotic hands select just the right color tiles to assemble foot-square sheets of tile; when all the sheets are put together, you have the image in tile. So very cool, I can't wait to use this on a client project. It would make for a fantastic focal wall, a sexy kitchen backsplash, or a new wave powder room or spa.
Irwin Weiner ASID - The New Hope Historical Society's 21st Annual Garden Tour was a highlight of our summer, and in this next stop on the tour, we saw what nearly a million dollars could do to transform a shady forested area and turn it into a showplace of architecture, gardening, and imaginative hardscaping. The rocky hillside was turned into a fairly kingdom of ferns, in many varieties and other shade-loving plants. The house itself was designed by Ronald Bentley and Sal LaRosa of B Five Studio and features a round stone tower that functions as an indoor-outdoor fireplace, clean mid-century lines, and glass walls that create a dialogue with nature.
From the house, we explored the lower terrace, marveling at the view into New Jersey from our Pennsylvania lookout, then went back up into the front yard to explore the main terrace, consisting of lots of perennials made for woodlands, supported by granite stones. The Jerry Fritz garden design was spectacular.
Irwin Weiner ASID - It's wonderful to see a consumer and trade resource like Serena & Lily mature into a grown-up household fabrics and decor company. When they first started, I wasn't entirely impressed. The bedding and linens were high quality, but the color palette and patterns were extremely subtle and faint. For my clients, they didn't present strong impact for the bed, the dominant statement piece in the bedroom.
Now that's changed. The product line is diverse, the patterns are on-trend and beyond, and the color sense is spot on and bold enough to please the toughest design client. Click on each product photo for more information.
Irwin Weiner ASID - Perfect hot summer weather greeted us as Jay and I went with friends Ed and Rick to the 2014 New Hope Historical Society Garden Tour. A true highlight of the six gardens we saw was a formal parterre garden lines by an allee of carpinus trees (ah, those trees were trained within an inch of their lives and were truly magnificent!). While a formal garden isn't my personal style, there's much to love about the great design and execution of this space, combining beautiful views of the Delaware River with a garden to die for.
Irwin Weiner ASID - I promised to update D2S readers about the progress on our new home improvement project which started around Easter 2014 in New Hope, PA. It's a joy to work with IWI clients and help them beautiful their homes, but it's a nice change of pace to also be working on our own property. There is much that has been happening, starting with the hay field (about 7 acres) in the front of our property. On the April weekend when we officially took possession of the 12.5 acre farm, we saw our farmer out in the field spraying "something" on the hay that made the field look emerald green. Fertilizer? Water? Both?
On July 5, the hay was cut in the afternoon and sorted into rows to dry in the heat. On Sunday, July 6, the field was alive with tractors and balers and the hay was rolled into bales but most were baled as the traditional "long squares." We've got crops!
Jay took some pictures of the process, and he got a bit of poison ivy as he moved closer to the action (wearing shorts). The farmer told us that we might get another cutting/baling this year if the growing season continues to be rainy and sunny/hot as it has been so far. More house progress to report:
- We've reclaimed the little guest cottage on the property as our weekend home and will be living there while the main house gets remodeled. We've been adding lighting, painting walls, cleaning, and filling the space with items we've borrowed from friends and purchased at area flea markets and country auctions. Our vegetable patch is growing well, with two kinds of tomatoes, honeydew melon, cucumbers, herbs, and red peppers maturing nicely. We've already had some great tomatoes and have barbecued whole chickens, sausages, and burgers on the grill. It's been a wonderful summer!
- With the help of Jeffry and his brothers, our new best friends from Honduras, we've been gradually clearing brush, limbing trees, cutting down dead trees, and burning debris in our favorite thing ever: a fire pit! The house is in an agricultural township that permits open burning of organic refuse, so we have huge bonfires every so often. We're shaping up the outside and maximizing the incredible views from the house, overlooking the hay field, our neighbor's corn field, and forested land all around. We have to pinch ourselves sometimes - we're only 5 minutes from all the action of New Hope, PA/Lambertville, NJ, but we're in the country. It's so peaceful, too, with the calls of wild turkeys and our neighbor's sheep being the only things you can hear on occasion.
- The plans for remodeling the main house have been drawn up and we've met with several area contractors to bid out the job. In the meantime, we've cleaned the house, top to bottom, and will have a big "before" summer BBQ party for Bucks County friends and family on July 19 to officially kick off the project.
More progress to report in a few weeks. I hope you and your family are having a great summer, too!
Irwin Weiner ASID - Who doesn't remember the Rose House from the iconic movie Ferris Beuhler's Day Off? Modernist, clean, and stately, you can see from the video below that it was an endangered property that could have been torn down. Luckily, the house sold earlier this year (click here to read more about the Rose House sale), and the owners will restore the house and the nearby pavilion to their original condition. Don't you love happy endings?
Stepping off the back porch, covered by a blindingly immaculate white pergola and a styled-to-the-hilt brunch party table, we began to follow the brick terrace, flagstone, and crushed gravel paths that led us through secret gardens and outdoor rooms. Let's just say the garden crew needs to make weekly visits to maintain the lush grounds.
From the bricks and flagstone path, we were led to lawn and an allee of trees - note the amazing swaths of lily turf surrounding the trees in gently crowned beds - that led us to a beautiful secret garden. A clever raised flower arrangement (urn on a pedestal) provided the focal point at the end of the allee. "Allee" is "avenue" in French, and the joke is that, like all things French, the allee is very high maintenance. But if you're the gardener, this is no joking matter; they're a lot of work to keep looking nice, and this home's allee was in fine form.
The Secret Garden ended in a series of meandering paths bordered by viburnum, hellebores, hydrangea, perennials, birdhouse apartments, garden sculptures, and lots of manicured lawn. One of my favorite features was a little cottage in the middle of the backyard. A small herb and vegetable garden was added to the back of the cottage, enclosed by a charming white picket fence.
Next post: another highlight of our tour. I hope you and your family are having a wonderful summer and enjoying your outdoor rooms, wherever they may be!
Irwin Weiner ASID - This fascinating video by James Munn will take you into a variety of movie sets, located in stunning modern homes. Movies love over-the-top locations, and oftentimes the architect, interior designer, and set designer can create mood by choosing a specific style of home.
These homes all had starring roles, both for their architects and for the roles they played in memorable movies. Which one is your favorite?
Irwin Weiner ASID - As global fashion became a huge multi-billion-dollar business, everyone wanted to expand from clothing and accessories to "lifestyle," and that means plenty of fashion houses that have gotten into designing and manufacturing their own furniture line. Here are some of our favorite fashion houses who have taken their trend-setting ways from the runway and turned them towards your home.
- Hermes: home goods ranging from decorative objects and linens to fine and casual dinnerware, all with French flair.
- Fendi Casa: a robust whole-house interior design approach, complete with furnishings, home fabrics, whole-kitchen systems, and outdoor furnishings. An impressive, all-encompassing design approach, geared to upscale contemporary lifestyles.
- Ralph Lauren Home: another whole-house design, with the upscale casual "preppy American" vibe, you'll find everything from paint and tableware to lighting, case goods, and upholstered goods for inside and outside your home.
- Alexander McQueen: the late fashion designer reached the heady heights of UK/global fashion through sheer imagination and genius, and the Rug Company's Alexander McQueen collection shows off the vivid patterns and colors and themes that made his art famous, this time in rugs, wall hangings, and pillows.
- Versace Home Collection: the Versace brand is synonymous with over-the-top Italian adornment, and you'll find the almost-baroque assortment of pillows, linens, tableware, crystal, and glassware a fun way to add punch to your home decor.
- Missoni Home: shop here for your home textiles, throws, pillows, poufs, candles, and bath linens and you'll be adding Missoni's distinctive, sophisticated eye for colorful patterns.
- Oscar de la Renta Home Collection: beautiful, romantic, colorful tableware, entertainment accessories, linens, and carpets - and his Century Furniture line, too.
- Etro Home Collection: Italy's oft-imitated, but never surpassed collection of home textiles is astounding. You can build a whole-house color scheme around their fascinating patterns and schemes and not go wrong.
- Vera Wang: her lifestyle collection and licensing efforts have extended her brand into everything from tabletop lines to home linens and textiles. The look is clean, classic, and romantic.
- Armani Casa: another whole-home experience, the world of Georgio Armani, tailored and richly masculine, extends to wall coverings, home textiles, furnishings, lighting, rugs, and accessories.
- Calvin Klein Home Decor: here is another example of fantastic brand expansion into home territory, with Calvin Klein branded furniture, accessories, bedding and bath collections, and other products.
There are many others we haven't gotten to, including Diane von Furstenberg, Pierre Cardin, Donna Karan, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Matthew Williamson, and others. The list of talented fashion designers whose brands have branched out into lifestyle is endless. But lucky us for this injection of beauty, style, and design into our decor selections!
Irwin Weiner ASID - Most world religions talk about stewardship. We must take care of whatever it is that we're in charge of and leave it in better condition than when we found it. If you're a farmer, you must be a good steward of the land, making certain that your agricultural practices don't deplete the soil or pollute nearby rivers and streams. If you manage a retail store, it's your responsibility as a good steward to build up your employees and the condition of your shop, making everything better than when you took over. And if you're a homeowner, you should maintain your home well and improve it so that it can be passed on to others in a better condition than when you found it.
Home stewardship is one reason why I love the interior design industry so much. IWI's work with clients helps to improve the function, beauty, and livability of a home. We improve curb appeal, we change the architectural structure so that the bones of each room are enhanced. We help clients make decor choices that have great foresight, that won't date in a short period of time, and that can be enjoyed for many years in the future.
With my own new home, we took on a property in Pennsylvania that needs lots of TLC. We know of people who were interested in the potential of what we just bought, but they were ultimately overwhelmed by the work it would require to update the house. Fortunately, it's my job to improve properties, and it's a pleasure to tackle this new home improvement project and practice good home stewardship. From time to time I'll be posting some updates on our house progress. The basic architectural drawings are completed and we're about to have the new renovation plans finalized and filed with the township. Then it's taking the project out to bid with contractors. The fun begins!