Tastemakers: An Interview with Interior Designer Lonni Paul...

Can I just say I love Lonni? Popularly recognized for her appearance on Design Star and her nursery furniture & bedding line PetitNest, this Los Angeles designer is one I always look to when I need a dose of West Coast inspiration. Perhaps inspired by the laid-back California lifestyle and all that sunshine, this LA designer manages to effortlessly balance glamour and a "come on in and take your shoes off" air of relaxation in their work. I admire that skill greatly. 

When Lonni's smiling face appeared on Giuliana & Bill it was a welcome surprise. As the celebrity couple's designer, we saw her navigate the needs of these two very different personalities and the usual (and occasionally opposing) husband and wife desires in terms of interior design. The results (and broad client smiles) speak for themselves. 

The beautiful images seen here show her ability to balance the needs of a young family with those of a professional couple that loves to entertain. It's chic, it's pretty and yet it graciously lends itself to that laid-back vibe we all crave. Mom to twins herself, Lonni is a natural at serving up that special blend of glam-meets-casual. The result is a warm and inviting suburban pad with a generous helping of up downtown high-rise elegance. 

Design fans will note that the feature in Traditional Home appeared last fall. but I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Lonni, so it seemed apropos to showcase her work for the celebrity duo again. 

I am excited to share my interview with Lonni below. Suffice it to say this talented designer is just as lovely as her work. Read on to gain insight on how you can channel that West Coast cool into your interiors, relate to her love of wallpaper and learn how a good blowout can make a busy modern girl's life easier (and decidedly more fabulous)... 


Between Design Star and Giuliana & Bill, television has played a very positive role in expanding your fan (and hopefully client) base. You are such a natural in front of the camera. Since you’re based in LA, is being on air a natural extension of your brand building strategy - or were these happy professional surprises?
The shows I’ve worked on were really not part of a strategy.  In fact, I was very reluctant to audition for Design Star but was called several times and asked to send in a tape.  I finally did and as difficult as that experience was I’m glad I did it. 

For Giuliana & Bill, someone involved in the show’s production saw a house I had designed and recommended me.  Their show has definitely expanded my client base.  It’s amazing how many people watch the show!  It’s also been such a great experience. 

The Rancics are definitely the same people on and off camera and it’s been such a pleasure getting to know them and their families.  We have become close friends over the last few years. They are very supportive of me and truly want me to succeed.   

CHANNEL YOUR INNER CELEBRITY CLIENT

Club House Chair // Orchid Vessel // Bungalow Side Chairs // Safavieh Handknotted Wool Rug // Etched Mercury Glass Vessels // Venetian Mirror

PetitNest: It has always been very difficult to source great nursery furniture. Your line is modern, cool and yet somehow classic. As your twins grow are you looking to expand into beds and “young child” furniture? 
Thanks so much!  My twins, Jett and Sophie both have PetitNest dressers in their rooms.  Jett has the Odile, and Sophie has the Sophie of course!  I designed a bed for Sophie’s room as part of a young child's line for PetitNest.  I haven’t put them into production yet but it’s in the works!

How else do you see that line evolving over the coming years? 
I’d love to design a line of PetitNest accessories and a party line too!  

Tell me about LA style. Your work has such an effortlessly chic vibe to it. Nothing is forced and yet everything is fabulous. How would you describe your approach to interior style? How does the laid back California lifestyle reflect itself in your work? 
Wow!  Thank you so much for that!  That’s what I strive for so I’m happy you see it that way.   I think LA has such a relaxed atmosphere because the weather allows us to be involved in an indoor/outdoor lifestyle!  My approach to design is to sit down with my clients and really have a conversation about how they live. 

What do they do when they wake up?  How do they spend their weekends & evenings?  How do they entertain?  Do they have kids, dogs, parents that visit often or live with them?  So I take the clients lifestyle and put together an interior that works for the lifestyle. 

I love so many different styles of design. I like modern design but I also like classic.  So my designs usually lean toward classic with an updated feel.  It’s funny, I was just in Chicago at a dinner and someone asked me “what is your style”?  I said 'it’s whatever the client will love for years long after I’m out of there'. 

A contractor at the dinner said “oh no, she figures out the style and before she’s done she convinces you it was all your idea!!”  I thought that was very funny but maybe true.  It’s important to not only give your client a home they will love and feel comfortable in but to educate them along the way with ideas to make it even better than they were expecting.  Everybody needs somebody to help them push outside of their comfort zone a little!

Let’s talk balance: We all know work/life balance doesn’t really exist. How do your lovely twins influence your work? Are they quick to offer input on your designs or do you compartmentalize those portions of your life? 
You’re so right! It really doesn’t exist.  No matter how hard I try it’s such a hard line to walk.  I don’t always do the best job at it.  I travel a lot so when I’m home I definitely try to have alone time with each of them individually and together too. 

I chose to work from home (I have two separate offices there) so that I would be there when they come in after school before their activities start and then when they get home in the early evening.  It isn’t a perfect situation though. 

At the end of the day I can be on the phone with a client and hear someone bounding up the stairs yelling “MOM”!  I used to worry it came off as unprofessional but I’ve never had a client have a problem with it.  Anyone who’s a parent gets it!  And those that don’t are also understanding when I let them know my reasons for working from home.  

Recharging: The west coast offers so much visual inspiration. What are some of your favorite spots to catch the sunset or get out in nature to unwind? 
The ocean has always had such a calming affect on me, as I’m sure it does to most people.  I love to go down to Santa Monica or Malibu and watch the sunset from the beach.  I also love to try different restaurants with friends.  I love the food and the ambience!   I have a client from England who comes over several times a year and I think we spend more time eating than working!  

Beauty: You manage to stay so gorgeous while chasing twins and rocking it out for celebrity clients. Are there any beauty tricks or special products you’d love to share? 
Oh wow!!  You’re so kind to say that!  You haven’t seen me at the end of the day or when I drag myself out of bed! ha! I can’t stand to spend time on my hair or in front of the mirror.  I can put my face on in 5 minutes flat. I’m really lucky that I have thick hair so it doesn’t show easily that it’s dirty. 

I love DryBar.  It would take me twice as long to do it myself and it lasts over a week!  (unless I go to the gym—so I use it as an excuse—I can’t go to the gym and ruin my blow dry!)  My beauty regime is really simple. 

I use Clarins tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, Clinique blush, Clinique eyeshadow and Revlon mascara.  Oh, and Chanel lip gloss.  I do the same when I’m shooting but I just darken everything and add lip pencil, eyeliner and powder. I don’t wear powder in the day because I hate that dry feeling.  I have a lot of allergies so I’m very limited in things I can use.  I wash my face with Borage cleansing gel and moisturize with Borage sensitive skin lotion from Whole Foods!  

SHOP LONNI'S BEAUTY FAVES

Clarins UV Plus with Tint // Clinique Blush // Chanel Glossimer Trio // Drybar Morning After Kit // Buttercup Blowout Kit

Let’s talk shopping! LA is known for amazing boutiques and legendary flea markets. What insider sourcing favorites would you say are a “don’t miss” for a designer visiting Los Angeles for a week? 
I love finding going down to the La Cienega Design Quarter on La Brea.  There’s some great shops there.  I love the Pacific Design Center to shop for fabrics and wallcoverings.  Beverly Blvd near Robertson is great for a more modern vibe and design inspiration.  

Your design for Giuliana & Bill’s Brentwood home was every bit chic, but definitely family friendly. That’s no easy feat. As a mom yourself, you must love designing for families. What are some of your favorite design strategies when creating a home for adults and children? 
I do love designing for families.  When I first started PetitNest I made all my gliders in fabrics that were normally used outdoors.  People thought it was such a good idea!  I thought it was common sense.  The glider in my twins’ room was heinous after a couple of years so that’s where it started for me.  I think an investment in a piece of furniture should last longer than that.  There are a lot more indoor/outdoor fabric choices now and more designers are using them indoors.  I just think about practicality. 

Depending on the home I like to have a casual family room that never feels off limits and then use the living room as more of an adult space but still doesn’t feel like it shouldn’t be used.  What’s the point of a room you can’t live in?!  In the family room I love a deep sofa so the family can spend time together watching movies. 

I also like to use a fabric ottoman because it’s much better for kids that are running around but I always add a big tray in the center for snacks!  When space permits I always put a small sofa in a nursery along with the glider so the dad and/or siblings have a place to sit when mom is feeding the baby. 

I LOVE LOVE LOVE wallpaper.  I really explain that small hands with chocolate or a sharpie is a death sentence for grass cloth but when people are fine with it, I use it in the living room and master.  If kids are older it’s great everywhere.  Many now come with a wipeable sealant on them!

You’ve really mastered “calm sophistication” in your work, yet you are not afraid to throw in some fun patterns and bold color. It is truly an art! What are your secrets for mixing patterns while still maintaining your signature sense of luxe zen in a space? 
I think it’s important to go neutral with your big investment pieces like sofas, but I love to bring in color and pattern on pillows, walls, accessories and even a chair.  It’s easy to change the look of a room with new pillows.  I always change my rooms up for fall and summer and then at Christmas it’s a whole new thing too!  

And finally… What’s next for Lonni Paul Design?
Right now I’m working with a production company on a new show. I’m also working on Giuliana and Bill’s new Chicago home and I’ve fallen in love with the city and the people.   I’m planning to open an office there next.  I work all over the US so it’s a good location for an east coast office.  I’m designing an adult line of furniture, a lighting line and fabrics!  I always keep myself open to new ideas and opportunities.  I feel fortunate to be doing something I love, so I’m really grateful everyday!


Don't you just love her? So refreshingly candid and so at ease doling out sage design advice. Hopefully we'll be seeing much more of Lonni and her work in print and broadcast. Her natural warmth and expertise comes through in everything she does. I'm sure her clients (celebs and otherwise) truly enjoy the process and find they've made a friend during the design process as well as a sensational living space. 

Thank you for reading! For more of Lonni's insights and inspirational design, find her on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter. Until next time... live stylishly! 

{images via Traditional Home

Tastemakers: The Softness of Saladino...

My first meaningful exposure to professional interior design was the result of discovering the work of John Saladino. This legend has a way of infusing a space with his signature softness without leaving any telltale designer fingerprints. The heady mix of classic yet streamlined upholstery in touchable textures amidst vast open spaces occupied by whitewashed solid surfaces is intoxicating. Even in still photos I can almost feel the breeze blowing and smell the Belgian linen in his spaces.

Hallmarks of his work: lots of linen, few if any patterns, classic silhouettes, unfussy styles, skirted chairs and sofas and an undeniably serene quality to houses he has designed. I love his barely there signature style which allows the architecture and a few exquisite pieces to shine. Nothing is forced. Nothing is overdone. Nothing is complex.  

A few images above are from project he recently completed for clients in Palm Springs as featured in Veranda. Seeing him use vivid pink fabric is such a surprise to me, but a welcome one. 

Artist that he is, John possesses the ability to use even this punchy color judiciously in an effort to allow the expansive views to be the focal point of the room. Which isn't to say that the interiors are anything less than spectacular. His pretty combo of neutrals, lilac and butter yellow act like a soothing balm to the soul. Can you imagine coming home to such a peaceful pad? Dreamy.  

Looking to channel John's effortless luxe look? While no one can rock his signature cool look quite like John, you can look at the broader strokes of his brush work to pick up some of his laid back luxury goodness. Here are the pieces I suggest to infuse your home with his softly welcoming style. 

Regency-Style Bench // Safaveih Vegetable Vines Rug // Matilda Skirted Sofa with Dressmaker Details // Mango Wood Pedestal Table

For a better look at John's work overall, don't miss his sophisticated portfolio. Designer friends: John offers his 10 best tips for making new construction feel aged and familiar. 

Tastemakers: Michelle Nussbaumer's Inimitable Style...

If you're going to adore a designer, it helps is she has outrageously stylish taste, a fabulous sense of humor and an enviable Instagram life. Michelle Nussbaumer is such a force, and to know her style is to be invited to peer through the creative lens of a well-traveled, life-embracing design dynamo.

 
More is more. Less is never more. Less is obviously less. Who wants less?
— Michelle Nussbaumer
 

I was first introduced to her via her Dallas outpost Ceylon et Cie (mentioned here) and developed a fast crush on her warmth and passion for all things colorful and richly storied. There is no designer thumbprint on her work, as every project is a unique work unto itself. Yet what does radiate through everything she creates is her authenticity. Michelle is living her own life according to her rules - and loving every moment of it. And I certainly want more of that in my life, don't you?

Fortunately, we have a few great resources to draw upon to infuse a bit of the designer's globetrotting joie de vivre into our lives. First up: her brand new book Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring the World Home. A richly hued tome certain to set your passion for life, travel and decor on fire. Over 300 pages of pure design inspiration reside between the hardcovers of this colorful book.

Your next step? Go. Go anywhere and everywhere. Open your eyes to the world around you and develop an awareness for those things that make you gasp, cause you to flush, make your eyes open wide and beg to be examined. Because you need more moments like that. You need more experiences like that. You need more LIFE in your life.

So let's get going. Journey far and wide, seeking out the aforementioned life-altering pieces to call your own. Perhaps it's a hand-painted plate from an off-the-beaten path boutique in Portugal, or a peculiar piece of art you spied at a London art show. Maybe for you the temptation is a piece of pottery from an artisan in South America, or a remnant of a woven Moroccan textile you found at flea market. See it, seize it, bring it home and build your collection of adventures and, yes, meaningful decor elements along the way. It's not about feathering your nest you see. It's about feathering your life. The artifacts and collector's items are simply the evidence of a life well-lived. Daily reminders of adventures past and reminders to keep going, to keep exploring.

 
Q: When decorating, what should you never skimp on?
A: Art
— Michelle Nussbaumer
 

A life richly lived is the true lesson here, and what better way to do than by exploring the world at large with eyes (and mind) wide open. Travel far, travel often and if something strikes your fancy and makes your heart skip a beat, you can be confident there's a place for it in your home - and in your life.

Stay tuned, friends. Book review of Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring the World Home is coming soon. Until then, enjoy the Feeling Bookish section for dozens of incredible reads to inspire you to live your best life.

PIECES TO INSPIRE YOUR OWN COLLECTED INTERIORS

Tastemakers: Capturing the "Lived In" Luxury of Benjamin Vandiver...

By now you've seen Benjamin Vandiver featured in every impressive design magazine and blog around. He's risen from "Nashville sensation" status to top designer faster than you can say Kings of Leon. Thanks to a few high profile clients and an uncanny ability to infuse any space with lived in appeal, Benjamin is at the beginning of a very long, very successful career trajectory. 

His trademark style is that he doesn't have one, although one would be quick to notice his deft use of black in almost any space as a grounding element. To me his projects reveal a sensual side and a love of carefully chosen, fine quality pieces. There's no "excess" and yet each room (and each room lived within the spaces) feels full and ample. There's a sexiness to his work that works in concert with his skillful restraint. To me this visual tension is palpable and highly coveted. It's no wonder he has a long line of successful projects and no doubt a full calendar ahead.  

Interview: Discussing Timeless Design with the Illustrious Jan Showers...

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Photograph by Eric Piasecki for ELLE DECOR, featured in March 2015 issue.

A recent issue of Elle Decor featured a beautiful project from Jan Showers. As you know from reading, Jan is one of my absolute favorites when it comes to making interiors look positively gorgeous and timeless but still fresh and exciting. It's a delicate dance, but the gorgeous blonde Texas designer seems perfectly suited for creative luminous interiors that balance glamour and sumptuous comfort.

This project, however, posed an unusual challenge: the client was her very own daughter Susanna. Fascinated by the idea of family dynamics and the normal client-designer tango, I reached out to Jan to ask about the project as well as tap into her glorious wisdom on all things beauty, style and design. 

Pull up a tufted velvet chair and ready yourself for Jan's infinite wisdom (and a few lovely tips for you fellow jet-setters):

Jan, first - thank you for your time. You are a shining star in the design landscape and a professional icon for many of us. It is a pleasure to talk with you and glean a bit of insight into your approach to design. With that, a few fun questions…
Thanks for you kind words!
 
I loved the Elle Decor feature about you and your daughter Susanna working together to freshen up her family home in Houston. It’s clear that you both have great appreciation for one another and the collaborative nature of residential design. She really embraced the strong influence of color and you honored her personal attachment to many furnishings and special pieces. How was this dynamic different from the normal give and take process with other clients?
It was actually very similar---we always try to incorporate pieces that have special meaning to clients and certainly colors that are complimentary to the clients or the art.  I suppose that it could have been different in that Susanna and i certainly speak the same design language (at least 95% of the time).
 
Often, spectacular results come from happy accidents. Was there a particular area or feature of the Moldawer redesign that resulted in a “wow moment" due to a mutual compromise where each of you had to “bend” a little? This is a great question!  Because I love happy accidents.  I honestly cannot remember one on this project---we thought everything through so completely---Susanna is very detailed and knows what she wants.
 
Susanna, like you, has a tremendous respect for family heirlooms and antiques. When did you first discover your passion for furnishings with history?  
When I was in my early teens---i most fortunately had a mother and grandmother who both had a great eye and amazing taste.  
 
How has that influenced your work?
I go to Paris once or twice a year to buy antiques and have for the past 20 years.  Before that, I was going to New Orleans, New York and LA to buy with occasional trips to Paris.  I am so inspired by unusual pieces, particularly those with a history.
 
Amazingly, I've never seen a Jan Showers project that looks dated. Your timeless style is nothing short of impressive. And yet you are able to achier a fresh, fun, contemporary feel to your spaces. How would you describe your creative approach to designing timeless interiors?  
Thanks, again!  This is what I strive to do at all times.  I think this happens because i am not fond of trends—i never want to use fabrics, colors, wallcoverings, etc. That are trendy.  This is why I love the work of Billy Baldwin, Mark Hampton, David Hicks, Frances Elkins and Sister Parish----their rooms stand the test of time because they ignored trends.
 
Chic high-rises, sprawling vacation retreats - you master them all. Can you share any favorite projects that you look back on and feel they perfectly captured your vision and aesthetic?
This is a question I never answer---I love all my projects and hope that they fit my client, not me.  Guess i would pick our two houses since they reflect exactly what I like.  Our country house is more traditional and our city townhouse is a bit more modern while still comfortable and inviting---two elements that must be present in any project I do.
 
Your book "Glamorous Retreats" offered us insights into vacation homes and hideaways of some of your clients. Designing in various locations offers exciting challenges. What is it about designing secondary residences that you find rewarding?
In general, they are lots of fun---clients tend to take more chances with their second or third homes---they always want their second residence to be different from their first.  It's fun to have the challenge of making the project appropriate to its environs.
 
How do you recharge and unwind from professional demands?  
I love to read, watch movies and great cable tv shows which i record---i love bbc mysteries if they are well done---foyle's war is a great example.  Writing relaxes and challenges me---i love to write on my mac air on the weekends.  The most important thing for me to unwind is to get to our country house at least every two weeks----every week is even better!
 
Travel is a necessary part of your profession. Often there’s the need to be fresh & fabulous as you step off the plane and into a client meeting. Any “must-have” items in your carry-on you could share for keeping chic on the go?  
I always wear something that will look good when I arrive---in other words, no fabrics that wrinkle easily.  I carry makeup essentials in my carry on so that I can freshen up on the plane.  I also carry a scarf in my handbag to add to pants and a blazer when i arrive---a trick that all french women use.
 
Dream project… what type of challenge would set your heart on fire if the call came to your studio today?  
We just got a job for an apartment in new york and have done 2 projects in London, one in Toronto---i would love to get a project in paris.
 
And finally… what can we expect to see next from jan showers?
I am doing a wonderful lifestyle line for Kravet Couture that will be introduced in the spring of next year. We have been working on it for well over a year---very exciting.  Details to be released later this year.

Isn't she just a jewel? Jan is widely regarded as a Texas favorite and Dallas couldn't be more proud to call her their own. If you haven't yet visited her site, I encourage you to take a closer look at her portfolio and designer collections for serious style inspiration. Next, grab Glamorous Rooms and Glamorous Retreats and consider these two critical design books for your private library. Yes, they are gorgeous, but each volume is also filled with fantastic ideas and solid wisdom from the AD100 designer herself.  While we're a bit spoiled by our ready access to her furnishings at local showrooms, you too may have a Jan Showers Collection showroom near you. If so, I encourage you to step inside and immerse yourself in her beautiful world of effortless glamour.

Now, for a bit more inspiration....

CHANNEL YOUR INNER JAN SHOWERS

DANGEROUS CURVES AHEAD
Consider a sinewy curved sofa. It encourages conversation and lends subtle energy to an otherwise linear floor plan.
(Velvet Curved Sofa via Horchow)

LET THE SUN SHINE
I can't help it. When I think of Jan my mind immediately imagines stunning sunburst mirrors. Classic, chic and always visually appealing.
(Gold Mirror via Horchow)

GILDED GOODNESS
Set the tone for functional glamour with gilded tables featuring tapered legs and durable marble tops. Form & function align to create small (and incredibly useful) masterpieces.
(Global Views Table via Horchow)

SHINE ON
A little reflection is good. A little eglomise? Even better. Place a showstopper like this gold leaf-edged chest on a long wall to make a grand statement without saying a word.
(John Richard Mirrored Chest via Horchow)

leopard.jpg

ANIMAL INSTINCTS
Add a bit of verve to shake up a room. This exotic leopard curule seat is a regal as it is feisty. 
(Macayla Bench via Horchow)

EMBRACE THE ABSTRACT
No doubt about it, art sets the tone for a home. Add a cheerful, colorful painting to your walls for an instant mood boost.
("Cherry Nuance" via Horchow

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Tastemakers: Wade Allyn Hallock + Van Cleef & Arpels...

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It's no secret that we see clear parallels between our fashion sense and how we outfit our homes. Modern leaning types likely gravitate towards clean lines in their wardrobe as well as in their furnishings. Classic lovers may crave a linen bergere and a timeless LBD. Those with a fun mix of high-low, vintage and new are likely channeling that same sense of eclectic chic right into their living rooms. It just makes sense. The way we live is an extension of our sense of style and an expression of what we love. 

But have you ever considered a room design inspired by jewelry? Hmmmm. How would beautiful baubles and sparkling crystals translate into furniture and accessories? An interesting concept, isn't it? 

Interior designer Wade Allyn Hallock is known for his unique ability to blend eras, styles, colors and textures in a way that has earned him major celebrity clientele and industry giants. It's his chic and sexy mix that keeps his work fresh looking and his skills in such high demand. 

When tasked with the challenge of designing a room inspired by the legendary High Jewelry Maison luxury accessory brand Van Cleef & Arpels, Wade knew just what he wanted to achieve. Leveraging the allure of of French Art Deco was key. The resulting living room is sophisticated, classic and exudes understated glamour via in his signature heady mix of color, texture and styles.

I placed emphasis on the overall quality of design and overall aesthetic With this room, I attempted to achieve the classic brand essence of Van Cleef & Arpels which is both equally beautiful and timeless.
— Wade Hallock

The whimsy of overall room is a nice counterpoint to the fantastic detail and craftsmanship of the pieces themselves. A glamorous cocktail table is inspired by a spectacular yellow gold & black lacquer minaudière dating back to 1935. (Can I get an amen on both the table and the minaudière? Mais oui!) Art on the walls draws direct influence from a remarkable set of Oiseaux de Paradis diamond earrings in white gold. The elegant console table is a play on a curvaceous Couleurs de Paradis Volutes rose gold long necklace which seems to dance with its abundance of diamonds and white pearls. 

These intricate design details are paired with upholstery with clean Mid-Century leanings, a sleek ebonized wood herringbone floor and modern brass lighting. The result is a high luxury living space with a wink of insouciance. 

Elle Decor offers us an interview with the designer giving even more insight into his inspiration...


How did this project come up with Elle Decor and Van Cleef & Arpels?

Van Cleef & Arpels and I agreed that the worlds of jewelry and home furnishings have so much in common and wouldn’t it be fun to have both worlds meet.  

What interested you most about designing a room inspired by jewelry?

I’ve always thought of furniture as being “jewelry" for the room. The way furnishings accentuate a room and give you a glimpse of the owner’s personality is similar to to the way jewelry can encapsulate personal identity.  

Was there a hero piece from Van Cleef & Arpels that drove the design?

There were actually two.  The minaudière and the earrings drove the design because they were so representative of the deco-era style for which Van Cleef & Arpels is famous. Of course I re-envisioned the minaudière as a massive lacquered coffee table and re-created the earrings as sparkling wall sconces which are essentially earring for the walls!

Tell me about the design and how you'd describe it in your own words?

The design is clearly inspired from the French deco era.  It is timeless and elegant. 

What were your thoughts towards color in regards to the room design?

You’ll see that the room is relatively monochromatic.   I wanted the pieces to speak for themselves rather than have them be overpowered by an element of color.  The pieces are more about the lines and the curves rather than color. 

What are ways people can bring subtle feminine touches into a room?

Through the introduction of curved lines as in the base of the console and within the wall sconces. Soft fabrics accentuated with delicate pattern can bring a sense of fashion into a room. And, of course lighting can also be introduced to bring a certain femininity into a room setting. 

What type of person do you see in this living room?

A sophisticated couple who love gracious entertaining.  They are a well cultivated couple who appreciate historical references to the classic deco era.

What are your five essentials for a beautifully styled room?

Scale—the furniture must be in keeping with the dimensions of the room and be able to “speak to each other” without any one piece being overpowering

Color—Creates the mood of the room.

Function—Keep in mind the purpose of the room—is it a room to be used for entertaining or merely to kick back and relax?

Location —How does the room flow into the other rooms….There are subtle things such as lighting, flooring and painting that will allow one room to flow into another without creating a schizophrenic interior.

Surprise—add an element of surprise to focus the room and add an element of suspense.  In this case the lacquered coffee table is the focal point of the room.


Talk about a wealth of design advice from one of the industry's greats. For more of Wade's fantastic style, visit his site. See the rest of this feature on Elle Decor and watch for your December issue which will showcase this beautiful living room. And of course, draw your own inspiration from legendary brand Van Cleef & Arpels. Perhaps an elegant living space reflecting your love of the esteemed maison is in your near future.

Interviews: The Novogratz, A Family Affair...

Watching the first episode of 9 by Design filled me with wonder and awe. Not because it was so different from everything else on air (and believe me it was)... it was because I was living it. My first daughter was just a baby and my design business was also in its infancy. I was sure I was the only one in the world taking a Bugaboo to fabric showrooms and a baby (and husband) to High Point Market.

And then there was Bob & Cortney...

Here was this dynamic couple, embracing both family and a full-throttle creative business. Where was the usual distinction between the two lives that we usually see on television? Where was the sense of complete separation between being a mom and being a professional? I watched this couple seamlessly mix the two worlds in much the same way I was living my own life.  

To say I've adored them ever since is an understatement. Fast forward to today, my daughters are as well known in Dallas's design district and showrooms as I am myself and it's become understood that when I'm attending an out of town design event I will more than likely have my small tutu-wearing crew in tow. It's how I roll. 

The Novogratz clan, however, takes this to another level. They operate as one amazing, creative, collaborative, individuality-embracing team. It is a thing of beauty to behold. Cortney and Bob may be the dream team of top to bottom renovations, but their growing family members are quickly earning spots at the creative round table of product design. This work-life experience is truly a family affair when it comes to the couple and their seven gifted children. 

I had the rare privilege to interview the couple this week and am excited to share what they had to say about collaboration, creativity and family...


What I have always loved about both of you is your ability to embrace the family-meets-work dynamic rather than struggle to keep them separate. How much influence has your gifted young posse begun to have on your projects? Which of them demonstrate a passion for the field of interiors?

Well, as we get older and therefore less cool, our kids definitely keep the family’s take on things fresh. Everything they’re interested in, from fashion, to music, to social media, really inspires us and helps us to keep our designs young and hip. Between our kids and the big cities we love and have lived in, we’re constantly inspired.

Your business has evolved tremendously with several product lines and a history of impressive renovations. Are you still able to work side by side on the designs? How has that process changed as the business (and the family) has grown?

The process hasn’t changed much, even though the types of projects we’ve done have evolved through the years. Our mantra is always to divide and conquer, while still communicating about each major decision. We love what we do, so our jobs are really just an extension of who were are. This process has remained the same even with 7 kids, although nothing could have prepared us for teenagers!

As an creative entrepreneur who often collaborates with her husband, I find that it only works for us because we have very different areas of expertise. There’s no overlap in our skills. You are both so incredibly creative and innovative. What are the differences in your areas of expertise? What do you do when - inevitably - you disagree? 

While we’re both really similar, I think that we work well together, as neither one of us has a huge ego, and we both care most about the projects themselves. And of course, Robert always gives in to my opinion at the end of the day! Ha. (From Cortney)

9 by Novogratz is a very young & modern approach to home decor. What impact did your kids have on the designs? 

A couple of our kids helped with the designs, as they’re just as design oriented as we are. They’ve really all been involved with the design process at one point or another. Our daughter, Bellamy, had the idea for the #9 pillow in our new walmart.com line. Again, we’re inspired by everything they’re interested in, so we don’t think any of our designs would be the same if not for them.

Novogratz Collection for CB2 is gorgeous and truly diverse. It seems to beautifully reflect your eclectic style and ability to mix modern with classic pieces. Tell me about that amazing acrylic locker. What inspired that piece? What do you love about the collection overall?

We love CB2! It’s really a tremendous company, and the people who work there are amazing. Our goal for that collection was to bring a classic look to modern design. CB2 let us have complete freedom in the design process, which is really rare, but which almost always results in our best work. That locker was inspired by one we saw at a Paris flea market a long time ago. We’d always wanted to design a similar one, and CB2 was able to engineer a high quality locker that embodied the feel of the Paris locker. Whether modern or traditional, the key to great design is to achieve a timeless feel.

Let’s talk art! It is a integral part of life and your designs. What advice can offer to my readers on growing their personal gallery? 

Our best advice is to buy what you like. Go to galleries and museums, and start small. Photographs and prints are a great way to start a collection. If you’re ready to purchase something that’s more expensive relative to your budget, do your homework first.

You’ve traveled far and wide as a family. I can attest to this feat not being easy. What tips can you share on going abroad with your brood? Where do you love to go on vacation?

We have a home in Trancoso, Brazil, which is a really special place for us. We also love traveling to France, as we’re truly Francophiles. To keep the kids occupied while traveling we pack Mad Libs, and to keep them clean, we stock up on disposable, prepackaged toothbrushes. We also let each kid be responsible for his own carry-on suitcase. This makes traveling more fun for them and gives them a sense of responsibility, which is great. You can start them earlier than you’d think! It’s not easy traveling with such a large family, but we’ve just learned to not sweat the small stuff, both at home and while traveling.

You recently made the move to California. The west coast sounds perfect for your family. The kids will surely flourish there with so much to do outdoors. What inspires you most about California living?

Everything about it inspires us…the weather, the fresh food, and the laid-back vibe of the people here. Living a creative life is really about embracing change and being open to new ideas, and after so many years in New York, it’s wonderful to see how people on the West Coast are able to balance work and family life so gracefully. The environment has definitely rubbed off on us- we’d like to think we’re becoming a little more zen and settling down from the intensity of New York.

Let’s talk dream projects: is there one building or home or client you secretly dream of taking on? 

(Cortney)- Honestly, we think it would be a blast to help bring some color and style into the Duggars' home, from 19 kids and counting! We definitely know the chaos of having a lot of children and staying busy with all of their schedules, but we’re such believers that chaotic schedules shouldn’t keep you from living a life of style. We love how family-oriented they are, but every mom needs to treat herself once in a while, and Mrs. Duggar is no exception.

Your fans read your books for design insights and “ah ha” moments. What do you read for ideas and inspiration? Magazines? Books? Blogs? 

We love too many blogs to mention! We’re so grateful for how graciously the bloggers have helped us spread awareness of our new lines, including your blog. We feel it’s really a great way to be in touch with the rest of the world’s design aesthetic at such an individual level. As per magazines, Living, Casa Vogue, and Australian Vogue are some of our favorites. We’re also really inspired by fashion and design books, and keep a board in the office for pinning all sorts of inspiration images.

Finally… what truly excites you about your next project?

The ability to bring cool and affordable design to lots of folks.


If I admired them before, I believe they are genuinely amazing now. Bob & Cortney really "get it" that this life experience isn't a dress rehearsal. You've been given one precious lifetime to enjoy. Seize the day, embrace the moment and enjoy the ride - the ride you should take part in designing yourself.

As a creative professional and mommy of two growing forces of nature, it makes so much sense to me that the Novogratz have embraced the concept of work-is-life-is-family. Trying to keep these two worlds separate is fruitless and less fulfilling for all involved. Once I let go of that inner resistance and allowed myself to embrace the beautiful opportunities of exposing my children to my work and my work to my children, life (and business) flourished. It is not always easy and I've certainly had to make adjustments to succeed, but the blended life experience is rich with authenticity, creative inspiration and a feeling of "we're in this together" on a daily basis. 

This is something Bob & Cortney do with great aplomb and I can only hope we begin to see more examples of families like theirs in the future. 

Another aspect of the daring duo I respect is their creative integrity. To the outsider looking in, they've not compromised their distinct approach to life or design to become successful. Bob & Cortney celebrate their unique creative point (points?) of view which sets them apart within the interior design community. They have built a family of successful brands on their vividly colorful outlook on stylish living. They've published two remarkable books. They've conquered unbelievable renovations in cities all over the globe. They've become household names due to their successful television shows. They are truly a dynamic duo that shows no sign of slowing down or turning down the volume on their signature style. 

It's a beautiful thing and I can't wait to see what cool things the entire talented nine will do next. You can bet it will be authentic and truly creative, just like each of them. 

Discover more at thenovogratz.com.

Tastemakers: Barbara Barry's Signature Outdoor Serenity...

Oh, how I love Classicism in my outdoor spaces, and no one does it quite like Barbara Barry. Boxwoods, planters, wrought iron furniture and blooming flowers conspire to create pretty patios and formal gardens that are dreamy and inviting. True, a home in Montecito or Corona del Mar would help to facilitate this lush green fantasy of mine. In lieu of that geographic option, I've found a few weather-worthy elements you can add to your patio to help you bring a bit of Barbara (and Southern California) to your own backyard. 

Warning: they are ALL on sale right now at Horchow at extremely good prices. Don't say I didn't warn you! ;)

Tastemakers: Laura Lee Clark...

When you begin pinning the same designer's images over and over again, that's a good sign. For me, Laura Lee Clark can do no wrong. She is known throughout Dallas as quite the star. He distinctly European style no doubt stems from her time as a student of the Parsons School of Design in Italy. Her work is infused with French flair and Italian grandeur. She has also been named "Best Designer" by her peers in D Home magazine in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Talk about accolades! Further drooling and inspiration can be found here

Feeling Bookish: Kasler's Timeless Style...

As I continue to study my copy of Suzanne Kasler's Timeless Style - the newest book from this petite design powerhouse -  I am reminded of how much I love her work. She has a "light" touch when it comes to design, allowing the often delicate forms of the furniture to be the star. Her portfolio of projects never looks contrived or "overdecorated" in the least. Her aesthetic isn't eclectic, by any means... but neither is it forced. 

I share her love of French furniture mixed with modern art. It is playful and witty and somehow sublime. I love her subtle color palette with her occasional burst of "wow" color. Oranges, aqua and occasionally lavender. All so lovely. Regular readers will readily know that I share her passion for an abundance of gold accents. (Hey, if it was good enough for the Egyptians.... ;) 

In Timeless Style, Suzanne shares glossy page after glossy page of a private guided tour of her favorite projects. Notes are offered on why a specific table shape was selected or a passion for de Gournay wallpaper. We see not only glimpses of her own Atlanta home, but up close views of spectacular rooms she has designed for clients. 

There's a warmth to her work, I think. There is perfection to be found in the imperfection of heirloom pieces. There is personality to be celebrated in a quirky collection of unusual objects. I get the sense that she never fights a client if they are committed to keeping a particular piece of furniture - she might even relish the challenge. 

Stay tuned for the full review of her new book, as well as an interview with the divine Mrs. Kasler and many, many more photos of her lovely professional work. in the meantime I might encourage you to grab your copy of this lovely volume here.

If you have not read Inspired Interiors, toss a copy of that into your cart as well. All of her books are rich with information and key design insights. 

{all images via Pinterest}

Feeling Bookish: Glamorous Retreats...

Choosing your favorite Jan Showers project is a bit like identifying a favorite child. It simply cannot be done. In Glamorous Retreats the delightful and talented Jan Showers invites us into the private retreats of her clients. These are finely appointed escapes and secondary residences by notable personalities. 

With jawdropping homes scattered about the country in locations that play host to us during our playtime (Palm Beach, Bachelor Gulch, Nantucket et al) it wasn't difficult to draw inspiration from the projects featured in the book. However the Dallas project, a sky high penthouse for Kari & Kirby Schlegel (well-known on the Dallas social scene) certainly takes the cake. Perhaps it is the abundance of oversized beautiful gilt mirrors, or the seriously "happy" color palette of vibrant yellow, Granny Smith apple green and oodles of white, white, white that wins me over. But those elements alone weren't the governing aspect to the home that made it shine. 

Located in Dallas's W, the Schlegel penthouse is flooded in my favorite thing: sunlight. Natural, joy-giving, life-breathing light. You simply cannot fake good natural lighting. And with that bounty of beauty, Jan has masterfully captured the feeling of sunshine. She let's the light shine and gives it beautiful surfaces and styling upon which to shine. And yes, this is when that happy sunshine yellow & charming green really begin to sing. This luminous home feels open, young, fresh, inviting and decidely optimistic. Just like the owners themselves. 

If you're a book lover and a Jan Showers fan, I urge you to grab a copy of Glamorous Retreats for yourself. Inside the cover you'll be treated to brief (albeit imaginary) imaginary trips to an equestrian compound, a chic beach sanctuary, a luxe lodge and a mountain hideaway amongst others. But the true journey is inside the mind of Jan Showers. Her willingness to point out design details we might have missed or unique considerations that were made for her clients. And therein lies the true beauty of this amazing book. Jan is a southern belle opening her home (and the homes of others) to you and inviting you in for a long, langorious visit. So step inside and stay a while. You might learn a stylish thing or two. 

Happy reading, friends! 

{images of Kari's home from D Magazine's fabulous coverage}

Objects of Desire: Krushing on Kasler...

There are few designers that I bow to as much as Suzanne Kasler. From the moment I stepped foot in her jewel-box like room in Hickory Chair's High Point showroom I was smitten. Each piece of furniture was lovingly designed, thoughtfully executed and dreamily detailed. I share her love of French antiques and quiet color palettes. What I love most about her, however, is her ability to marry supreme glamour with a relaxed sensibility. In her designs, she dances the line between formal and approachable like no one else. A heady mix of soft linens, painted finishes and gilt opulence makes me swoon.

Designing award-winning spaces is just the tip of the iceberg for this multi-talented designer. In addition to her wildly successful line of furniture for Hickory Chair, she boasts a lighting collection for Visual Comfort, a line of retail goods for Ballard, art for Soicher Marin, rugs for Safavieh and fabrics for Lee Jofa. It's enough to make your head spin! 

Let's not forget she is also an author. Thankfully - for those like myself who adore her - she has a new book coming out this fall. Timeless Style will no doubt build upon the work shown in her previous tome, Inspired Interiors. I can hardly wait to receive my copy! Suzanne's ability to infuse her spaces with dressmaker details and fashion house details always inspire me to add more femininity to my own designs and my own home. And having her books on hand for reference and ideas has proved invaluable to me time and time again. 

Talent aside, she is also one of the warmest and most personable designers of her stature I've met. Seeing Suzanne is always like seeing a girlfriend. You want to squeeze her and go sit down and catch up on all the latest things that have been happening in your lives. It's easy to forget she's one of today's top interior designers. Like her designs, she is elegant yet approachable and has a rarified ease about her. Beauty, talent and warmth all wrapped in one sweet package. What's not to love? 

Stay tuned Venti Cup readers... I'll have the priviledge of interviewing Suzanne right her for you to read. Look for it in the next few weeks. In the meantime, pop over to Amazon to pre-order a copy of her latest book for Rizzoli. I can hardly wait until mine arrives! 

{featured: Suzanne's work featured in Veranda,Hannah Two-Light Sconce for Visual ComfortLillie Bench for Hickory ChairTuxedo Cabinet for Hickory Chair}

Dreamy Spaces: Effortless Amethyst...

It goes without saying that a space designed by Suzanne Kasler (one of my personal icons) & William T. Baker oozes relaxed sophistication. There are hints of John Saladino (yes, "THE icon himself) to be found in the look, including actual upholstery from his collection. Ample use of solid fabrics, touches of elegant damask, hints of black to "ground" the space yet an abundance of light offering an ethereal look.

To me, the winning looks can be found in the master bedroom and bath. This is wehre the gilt touches, white linen settee and amethyst silk draperies push me over the edge into major a design crush. This, you see, is design with a soft hand Nothing looks overly decorated or staged - and yet, one must assume that this look is a bit too pulled together to have just occurred haphazardly. Masterful.

ArchDigest describes the look as "elegant meets eclectic" and I'd say it is an apt summary of the style. Flourishes of gilt and soaring ceilings elevate what could otherwise be a rather understated design. When studied closely, I would say that this project is much like the "no makeup" look which takes a deft hand and a considerable amount of makeup to achieve. The process requires skill and an experienced artist to pull off, but the resulting look seems effortless. Perfection.

Now if you'll pardon me I'm off to see about getting some floor to ceiling amethyst drapes for my master suite...

Tastemakers: Benjamin Dhong...

I think we've all had our moments of obsession with the work of Benjamin Dhong. But I just can't shake my desire to look at his work. Which is really heavy praise when I consider myself a talented designer. 

What is it about his spaces that I love? They are both outlandishly luxe and restrained at the same time. Each piece is exquisite in its own right... but there's a quiet sphistication as well. Nothing is overdone even though on their own merit each piece is carefully designed, collected or selected.

His rooms are lyrical, beautiful and completely livable. We share an appreciation for pile fabrics, antiquities and patina. And there's something to be said for adding a black occasional piece with gilded accents to a room. Instant wow! 

Now, unfortunately, I am truly and completely obsessed with the chinoiserie daybed at the top. Ideal for nurseries, guest bedrooms or libraries. I need one. His was sourced from Michelle Nussbaumer's Ceylon et Cie - one of the best shops here in Dallas. I'll have to nudge Michelle to see if she can find another one on one of her many journeys. 

For now... enjoy a little more Benjamin here.

High Point Market: A Delicious Invitation...

There's always party somewhere at High Point Market. This year the fete to attend is the star studded Rizzoli book signing. Sunday from 4 - 5:30 PM in the Courtyard at Market Square you will be elbow to elbow with some of the brightest stars and biggest names in the business. 

The Trendsetter Book Event will offer for sale the fresh titles from top designers, who will also be on hand to sign the books. Are you ready for this list? Martyn Lawrence Bullard, signing his tome Live Love & Decorate. The impossibly glamorous Mary McDonald penning your name in her book The Allure of Style. Suzanne Kasler (a dear personal and professional favorite of mine) with her fabulous book Inspired Interiors. Designer Bobby McAlpine signing his book The Home Within Us: Romantic Houses, Evocative Rooms. Star Michael Connors with his volume Caribbean Houses, The Splendor of Cuba, and British West Indies Style. And last but not least, Florence de Dampierre with the terrific title Walls: The Best of Decorative Treatments, and French Chic. 

Put away your corporate AMEX, the event is free and open to all who attend High Point Market. Insider tip: the fab designers will only be on hand for an hour to sign books, so be sure to get there early. 

Bring a tote to lug away all of those terrific hardback books. These are more than just pretty coffee table books to decorate a space, they are incredible published works you'll want to devour when you have a free moment. They are indeed seriously delicious. 

For more scheduled events, be sure to visit the High Point Market Authority's comprehensive site.

Feeling Bookish: American Modern...

One of the nicest and most thoughtful designers I've had the opportunity to meet is the incomparable Thomas O'Brien. It is interesting to note that highly creative people seem to fall into one of a few camps. You have the butterflies: those bubbly types who seem to flit with ease from one topic, specialty and interest to the next without so much as a moment's hesitation. As I write that I realize I should admit that I fall into that camp, as do most of interior designers I have met. We tends to be lively and fun but lack much interest in pesky things like paperwork and other things that can slow us down. This does not mean we lack attention to details - we pay plenty of attention to visual details. But words, rules and parameters tend to make us feel pinched and uncomfortable so we avoid them like the plague.

There is also the "artiste" that special breed of creative who sleeps until noon, is suspiciously calm at all times and seems to feel it is there moral duty to be true to their art, their passions and themselves. I've worked with these intense creatures from time to time. They take their art very seriously and are typically not motivated by worldly possessions or critical acclaim. It is all about the art, and that shows in their expansive collections and large body of work. They tend to be painters and sculptors and it is their life's mission to express themselves.

 And lastly, you have the rarest of types. The intellectual designer. They might just as easily have pursued a career in academia as art. They share a love of books, have an affinity for words and are whip smart historians who bring much more than just a creative eye to the design table. These are great minds and make for fascinating conversationalists at parties, as there seems to be no end to their vast encyclopedic knowledge.

Thomas, the great Thomas O'Brien, is easily one of the shining stars of this category. If you doubt this, I challenge you to grab a copy of his fascinating book, American Modern. In it, he discusses the back story, motivations, considerations and implications of many of his amazing projects. And while it is rich in text, he is affable, approachable and engaging throughout the entire book. I found myself mesmerized by his stories and thoughtfulness. If compelled, you could easily just flip through page after glorious page staring at photos of beautiful pieces and spaces, but there was something about his warmth and intensity in the writing that had me glued to this book. 

With Thomas, there is a generosity of spirit at work. He wants to you be more informed. He hopes to encourage you to understand the how's and the why's of design. He invites you to uncover the very reasons that you're attracted to certain styles. And he wants to help get you there. And if you're paying even light attention you can't help but walk away from this book more knowledgeable and more curious about how design and form shape the way we live and breathe. 

Do yourself a favor, grab a copy of this beautiful book in hardcover and add it to your design library. But go a step further... read it, consume it, digest it and absorb it. Thomas is inviting us into his world and generously offering us a glimpse into his razor sharp mindset as a designer. You'll never think of furnishings the same way again and you'll certainly fall in love with the talented and warm Thomas O'Brien.

Tastemakers: Suzanne Kasler's Effortless Glamour...

I've been giving it more thought and come up with a great way to describe the three designers from the Hickory Chair event. Here goes: Thomas O'Brien is the designer you want on your team for Trivial Pursuit. Although I did not quiz him, I'm certain he could regale you with detailed stories of historical events just as easily as he could recite Yeats without a moment's hesitation.

Alexa Hampton is the girl you want on your Pictionary team. She's bold, vivacious and wouldn't think twice about performing in front of a crowd. I adored her energy and her contagious laughter. Alexa is a girl who knows how to enjoy herself, and it shows. Having said that, she, Suzanne and Thomas could go head to head on their exhaustive and comprehensive knowledge of the origins of design and the history of furnishings. Each of them shared such a rich passion for design and the classical references of each piece in their collections at Hickory Chair. It was beyond impressive. (more on Alexa in an upcoming post!)But let's talk about my favorite girl's girl of the bunch: Suzanne Kasler. Where do I begin? Suzanne is a woman blessed with radiant warmth. She's gracious, feminine and absolutely charming. Standing in the midst of her gorgeous collection in the showroom, it was clear that the sheer beauty of the pieces themselves was a direct expression of her inner glamour and her ability to translate that sophistication into three dimensional forms.

So if I'm continuing my theme of games I'd play with each designer, Suzanne would certainly be my partner for a game of dress up - as silly as that sounds. She's so warm and inviting that you immediately feel you could spend a full day weaving through the cobblestone streets of Rome in search of the perfect dress. You'd laugh at yourselves as you tripped on the cobblestone along the Via Condotti. Inevitably, you'd find yourselves losing track of time as the afternoon passed. You've chatted so much and admired cultural surroundings so much you'd nearly forgotten to shop. The two of you would share stories as you sipped your afternoon espressos at Sant'Eustachio (the best espresso in Rome, in my opinion!). And you'd continue the fun through dinner and well after dessert at the most quaint local restaurant, barely noticing the waiters who would no doubt be trying to catch her attention. Yes, she's that approachable and that remarkably beautiful. You meet her.. you feel you've known her for ages. She has a sort of quiet charisma that pulls you in and akes you take notice.If you haven't familiarized yourself with her work, I recommend you take a peek at my post from the springperuse her recent collection for Hickory Chair and most certainly pick up a copy of her latest book, Inspired Interiors. I've still clinging to my signed copy (woohoo!), thinking it might be nice to read over coffee on a quiet afternoon. (Rome, anyone?)

In spring I was overcome by the sheer beauty of her icy blue color palette with gold accents. A chinoiserie inspired look. This season's palette featured an invigorating orange, perfect for fall, but timeless on it's own accord. I can hardly stop thinking about this stunningly simply orange leather chair. It strikes me as the ideal perch from which to write - espeically if paired with one of her sexy desks. Yowza!

As I look back on my experience with Suzanne, I can't help but feel that she has altered my view of the typical successful businesswoman. She embodies a certain quiet confidence and graciousness I haven't often encountered. As I observe all that she has achieved and the body of work she has produced, I realize that never for a moment was she anything less that generous with her time and sincere in her interest of the talents of others. It's that same grace that can be seen in her work. Her furnishings are lovingly designed and exude quiet elegance. They are feminine without being frilly. Warm and approachable without being casual. Elegant and wise without losing that fresh edge. Full of authority without the use of any visible force. Much like the woman herself, the pieces feel inviting, as if they're good friends you can't wait to spend more time around. If you have the opportunity, be sure to go to a Kasler book signing near you. I promise it will be an experience you won't soon forget. You'll meet a fascinating woman and acquire a fabulous book at the same time!

Thank you, Suzanne, for serving as such an inspiration!

Tastemakers: Thomas O'Brien, The Thinking Man's Designer...

Funny how certain people strike you as extraordinary. Persons teeming with so much star quality that they'd have been famous whether they drilled oil or worked in a paper factory. Thomas O'Brien is certainly one of those rare individuals with "change maker" written all over him. He enters the room and the energy shifts. It's a wonderful quality and I found his frenetic energy quite refreshing. 

Last Saturday night I had the rare opportunity to share a meal with Thomas and a small group of other bold-faced names in a private dining room in High Point, North Carolina. (For the record, what he ordered looked far better than my choice.. but I digress...) As you surely know if you've read PalomaHeather or Cassandra's posts, we enjoyed the company of Suzanne Kasler, Ron Fiore and the impossibly fun Alexa Hampton. And while it seemed the entire room was abuzz with conversation, I suspect our table might have been the most rambunctious of the bunch. Between me, Ron, Thomas, Karen (Thomas's PR guru), Keith (Thomas's right hand man) and my husband, I can safely say we were not a quiet bunch! To say that we had a great time would be an understatement! 

The thing about Thomas that stood out to me was how he simultaneously embodied such precision and absolute chaos. Everything about him is a study in contrasts. His perfectly tailored clothing, masterfully tossed on with a devil may care attitude. His mathematically precise furnishings that somehow still ooze laid-back ease and comfort. His freshly cut hair that's haphazardly coiffed - making you suspect he only had moments to fix it, but it looks great regardless. Anyway you look at it, Thomas enjoys the dichotomy of his (and my) Gemini personality. Fully controlled, drawn to precision, a total perfectionist - and yet a total riot and easy to be around. Spend a moment in his company and you'll find yourself laughing hysterically. His quick wit and sheer breadth of knowledge makes him a powerhouse personality. Trust me, you notice when this guy walks into a room. And you'd better be prepared.  

Back to my story... dinner was amazing. The group of us laughed so hard we nearly cried. And the next morning Thomas and the other designers walked us through the Hickory Chair showroom discussing their respective collections. It would be difficult to overstate how well informed Thomas is about design. He understands scale, historical significance, functionality and attention to detail in ways many of us can only dream. Much of his influence comes fro his New England upbringing. He recalls the furnishings of his childhood home and appreciates quality pieces that can be passed down from generation to generation. This all very clearly translates in his work. Each piece easily can stand on its own and could be repurposed in near limitless arrangements in almost any room of the home.
 
Clearly, the collection is beautiful. A classic settee covered in a tweedy menswear fabric was completely modern and fresh in a strangely familiar way. A geometric sectional finished with touchably plush upholstery straddled the line between masculine and feminine design perfectly. It was all absolutely flawless and just slightly "off" in that uniquely TOB way. If you can imagine staying with well-heeled friends in the Hamptons for the weekend in a house that exudes relaxed elegance - that's how every piece of the Thomas O'Brien collection reads. Utterly fabulous and over the top in a completely approachable and familiar way... much like the man himself. Genius. 

Many more tales to come.. stay tuned!

Tastemakers: An Interview with Ron Fiore...

Lately it seems that durable pieces of furniture look...well, durable. Not stylish. Not luxurious. Not achingly beautiful. And the pieces that I typically do pine for simply aren't designed to endure the challenges that my husband and tiny daughter are sure to put them through in years to come.

I've scoured catalogs, showrooms and web sites in search for pieces that look sensational and can hold up over time. I've spent the past few years convinced that these pieces existed. There must be furniture that gets better with age. Louis Vuitton luggage, a prized vintage bottle of Lafite Rothschild, George Clooney...some things simply improve with age.

So surely a settee, a sofa, an end table, a dining room chair could look as timeless and grand in 20, 30, 50 years as they do today. Well...they do. I've seen them. I've sat upon them, I've touched them, smelled the kiln dried wood that they are made from and - yes - met the man largely responsible for their beauty.

Ron Fiore, creative director for Hickory Chair,  is a creative visionary with a "venti cup" outlook on design. Rather than ask why, he and the team at Hickory Chair ask "why not?" The result is a brand of furnishings unlike any I've ever seen. Handcrafted, made in the United States, allowing customization down to the most minute details. This, my friends, is the very furniture I've been seeking for years. Sophisticated, sexy, classic and timeless.

I had the privilege of asking this creative genius pressing questions about style, today's clientele and even what lies beneath the lid of that Venti cup. Ron shared so much insight that I've decided to break this into two posts. Pour yourself a fresh cup and settle in to see what he has to say today...

ON FASHION

You worked in the fashion industry prior to becoming Creative Director for Hickory Chair. There's certainly a visual dialog between trends in fashion and changes in how we style our homes. How strong of an influence would you say the fashion industry has on home furnishings? How do you consider those changes in your work?

Fashion has a huge influence in home furnishings. By the way, I just saw a fabric collection by TRINA TURK for Schumacher. It was awesome. It really, really looked like her clothing. The color is amazing. Anyway, fashion is a part of our culture. Incorporating it into the home is a bit more difficult. Clothing and accessories are more “throw away”. Furniture and renovation projects are more permanent. For us fashion works best as an accessory….. Throw pillows, bed dressings, accent lighting……you get the idea. Design and fashion oriented fabrics are great for wood frame chairs, large ottomans, fabric covered screens, accent type furniture, etc. because they are easily and cost effectively recovered and changed out. Very tailored slip covers are also great for this reason. Paint is another great way to refresh a space and create a “fashion moment”. 

A very long time ago, I worked on a study about HOW WE DRESS vs. HOW WE LIVE. The most interesting thing that came out of it was the greatest percentage of people who dressed classically usually lived very classically or minimally. But, the greatest percentage of people who dressed modern and chic usually lived with a more vintage style………I’m taking COUNTRY here. Interesting…………………right? But, that was a long time ago. I often wonder if that has changed a lot since that time.

ON THE MODERN CLIENT

Customers are so informed today. We know what's happening on the runways, we've seen interiors of otherwise private homes around the world and we've got an eye on international style thanks to technology and our the ease of international travel. Even ten years ago this kind of VIP access to otherwise elite information was almost unimaginable. Customers are more informed or at least more interested in design, it would seem. What observations can you make about designing for the more informed client?

People are more informed about design. Many people just don’t know where to start. There are many, many beautiful images out there. Some are “staged” within an inch of their life. But, I think the bottom line is what are their needs or how do they live……being honest. Are they a cook, do they work at home, do they have children, do they entertain a lot, etc. I also like to take a look in their closet……how they dress or favorite things. Checking out their personal style is essential. If someone doesn’t wear color or pattern, they probably can’t live with it either. She may have a closet full of black /white and neutral clothing, but the handbags, shoes and accessories are vividly colored. Which, for me, would mean a whole house full of neutral backgrounds with colorful accessories…………..simple, right? Favorite possessions are another indicator. At some point it all should come together.

ON CLASSICS

There's a lovely quote from you regarding Alexa Hampton's collection for Hickory Chair: "I think that the whole world has been looking for what's the next traditional. And this may be it." It's an interesting way to phrase it... "the next traditional." How would you describe today's "traditional" look and what does that say about how we live? Are we rejecting the past? Embracing it? Where do you see us going in terms of interior style?

Never, ever in a million years ever reject the past……………reinvent it. Today’s classic look is not all buttoned up. It is very easy, personal and livable. We don’t live in museums. We are using all of our living spaces. Alexa’s collection is all about that. It’s all about comfort. It’s all about mixing it up. These are great classic pieces that mix well with both antiques and modern furnishings.

ON MUSES

In the showroom, you mesmerized us with tales of various muses. Sometimes it's a destination, a shop, an object, etc. But I am always intrigued with the idea of a person as muse. I've often wondered...how closely do you like to work with a muse. Is it a glimpse from across the room and an idealized vision of his or her lifestyle that fuels the imagination? Do you like to leave most of it to mystery or does it help to get to know them? Do tell...

I gotta have a muse. It makes all the work interesting. When you are merchandising a showroom as big as ours that character becomes apparent without even knowing what the story is all about. The muse creates a visual dialogue or reference………….it creates a familiarity. “This reminds me of something” ……………you know what I mean? And, you know, that glimpse from across the room always works for Hickory Chair.

 Ron shared so many insightful observations that it warrants two separate posts. Tune in tomorrow to find out where he goes to get away, his thoughts on collaboration, what his favorite pieces are and - last but not least - what's keeping warm under the lid of that venti cup. 

ON COLLABORATION

Hickory Chair has teamed up with some amazing designers to create collections. Suzanne Kasler, Thomas O'Brien, just to name a few. It takes confidence to invite the disruptive force of outside ideas and opinions. Is it challenging to ensure the capsule collections relate the "whole" of the company's furnishings? How does the collaboration process work? What is it about these designers that make them ideal for collaboration?

"The collaborations between Mariette Himes Gomez, Alexa Hampton, Suzanne Kasler and Thomas O’Brien are amazing. These are real people. Each one of these designers brings something unique to Hickory Chair that complements the other and the architecture of our merchandising philosophy. They are family…………..family with great style."

ON GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL

In my mind it would be a dream come true to design beautiful pieces of furniture. The concept...the sketches, the revisions, the finished work. It is an amazing profession. But we all need to get away once in a while. Where do you go to relax and refuel? Do you love to travel? What does Ron Fiore do to recharge his creativity?

"It’s great when it all works. At the end of the day though, it’s most gratifying when you get an order……you know what I mean?

Honestly, I have traveled all over the world and have worked in amazing, amazing places. Never in my life would I have thought I would have been allowed such a life. But, I actually love to stay home, clean, move things around, read, watch sports on TV. I’m kind of boring, really. Books allow me to recharge and refuel. I am able to travel in my mind. Been there, done that. 

I was at an event recently (you know I am not going to tell you where or what) and was told the event was designed in the Belgian style. Unfortunately my response was “Have you ever been to Belgium?” Travel makes you honest."

ON PLAYING FAVORITES

I must know... what are some of your favorite pieces and why?

"Hands down it has to be the Hallings Secretary from the Thomas O’Brien Collection. That piece just works……..with anything."

FINALLY...JUST WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING IN THAT VENTI CUP? 

"I am typically sipping an Americano with WHOLE milk and REAL sugar OR I drink an espresso doppio with sugar………not in the Venti cup."

Ron's take on coffee pretty much sums up my view of him as a designer and by extension, the essence of the Hickory Chair brand. The focus is on top quality ingredients and authenticity. There are no shortcuts, no substitutes, no quick fixes. Start with the best and the results speak for themselves.

Thank you, Ron, for taking time out of your busy schedule. We look forward to seeing what your next muse inspires you to create!