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WESTWEEK offers look inside careers, homes of designers
Apr 10, 2015

Collaborations and social media were themes during WESTWEEK, as panels and presentations focused on how top designers built strong industry partnerships and advanced their own brands using the web. Here’s a rundown of the best tips and takeaways from the events:
At the Crestron Design in the Digital Age panel, California Home + Design Editor at Large Jennifer Mehditash served as moderator while founder and executive of Design Milk Jamie Derringer, product designer Brendan Ravenhill and bloggers/designers Christian May and Justina Blakeney discussed how the digital age changed the design industry.

“Things are changing,” said Mehditash. “There’s a shift in our landscape, and [our presence online] is one of the ways that change is happening. There’s a constant communication that’s happening online.”
May, who fell into blogging by accident shared pragmatic advice for designers interested in crossing over into blogging:
“Make sure that you’re aligning yourself with a blog that works with your aesthetic,” said May. “Submit your projects to other blogs in addition to the usual suspects of print magazine. Once you start establishing relationships with editors of those publications, they’re more likely to reconsider more of your future works.”
Blogging was also the focus of the Using Social Media to Grow Your Brand panel held at Reagan Hayes and moderated by Luke Hayes. Designers Betsy Burnham and Benjamin Vandiver, blogger Erin Gates and Viyet Founder Louise Youngson-Klasfeld discussed the ways in which design and digital media intersect in the modern economy.
“My blog built my brand,” said Gates, founder of Elements of Style. “The more I shared about my personal life, the more readers I got, and the more jobs I got. People like to see that you are real. I think that clients like the blend of e-design and in-person services.”

Left to right: Luke Hayes, Betsy Burnham, Erin Gates, Benjamin Vandiver, Louise Youngson-Klasfeld.
“My advice is work on your web presence and make it what you really want people to see,” said Burnham. “Don’t just put up press to have a full page—put up what shows you at your best online.”
Personal and brand identity can also impact relationships between designers, clients, architects and others who might become part of the design process, the topic of the showroom discussion Co-Dependent Relationships at Thomas Lavin. Elle Décor Home Furnishings Director Karen Marx moderated the discussion between furniture designer Dakota Jackson, interior designers Madeline Stuart and Chris Barrett, architect Andrew Skurman and homeowner Cecilia Soto-Loftus.
“The interior designer is no longer the singular visionary,” said Marx. “Very rarely do homeowners, end users or tastemakers surrender their home to one person.”

Left to right: Karen Marx, Madeline Stuart, Andrew Skurman, Cecilia Soto-Loftus, Chris Barrett and Dakota Jackson.
“In the past, it was the wife and the decorator who made the decisions,” said Jackson on how client relationships have changed over his 40 years in the business. “Because of magazines and the internet, the public is more educated and personally involved. The consumer has become a connoisseur. Now clients have become active participants, and the husband is a partner in the relationship.”
Stuart spoke to the importance of collaboration between architects and designers.
“They’re integral to one another,” she said. “Interior designers approach a project and come up with solutions differently [than architects]. Architects see things in a more linear way. The best results are collaborative.”
A keynote presentation featuring AIA Executive Director Nicci Solomons, interior designers Joan Behnke and Dorothy Macik and architects Hagy Belzberg and David Hertz also touched on the relationship between architects and designers. While discussing Belzberg’s latest project, the Gores Group Headquarters, he noted how important Behnke’s involvement for the building’s success.

From left: Hagy Belzberg, Joan Behnke, Nicci Solomons, Dorothy Macik and David Hertz.
“We see the success of this building because of Joan,” said Belzberg. “For this particular project I don’t consider there to be an architect and interior designer, I consider there to be two offices that really pursued a design intent with a client who had a different perspective on the difference between modern architecture and a more traditional approach to architecture.”
Macik and Hertz collaborated on a home remodel for developer Abbot Kinney who brought in Macik to assist with the interior architecture.
“I typically have a very set idea of what I want to do and what I want to design,” said Macik. “When I knew I was working with David, I was really looking forward to stepping back a little bit and hearing his vision of the space and wanting to have that collaboration. I wanted to learn as much as I could from his experiences.”
Another panel explored the “design-art” relationship. Moderated by C Magazine Editor in Chief Melissa Goldstein, LA>Oliver M. Furth and artists David Wiseman, Stefan Bishop and Tanya Aguiniga discussed and attempted to define the meaning of art and design and how the two concepts should or shouldn’t be conflated. The discussion covered the meaning of “design-art” and how functionality and utility play into this concept in contrast to  the larger construction of “art.” It also touched upon how historically, guild systems helped to define the place and value of certain crafts and arts, such as sculpture versus design, and how that tiered value system has changed over the years.
However, not all of the participants found such definitions conducive to the creative process.
“I think for me, a lot of this stuff is interconnected with identity,” said Aguiniga. “I think it needs to be taken piece by piece and further examined as amore holistic approach to the person’s practice.”
WESTWEEK attendees had the opportunity to see how top designers choose to renovate their own homes, thanks to the keynote presentation moderated by Architectural Digest Editor in Chief Margaret Russell and featuring the homes of Alexa Hampton and Michael S. Smith.
“Creative people usually use their own homes as laboratories, testing new products, tinkering with unusual materials experimenting with color palettes, fabric patterns and textures, and refining floor plans,” said Russell. “So many great talents' first published projects were simply what they finished first, their own homes.”

Margaret Russell, Alexa Hampton and Michael S. Smith.
In a building overlooking the 59th street bridge in Manhattan, Hampton merged three apartments into one home, and incorporated experimental finishes in her “black, moody kitchen” in the form of a digitally printed aluminum back splash with a fake restaurant menu that incorporates all of the family members’ initials.
Smith displayed unique details from his Palm Springs home, including Mayan and Aztec influences in the form of hieroglyphics and the Mayan calendar. He also paid homage to Billy Baldwin by turning the breakfast room/family room into a chocolate brown room.
After peeking into some designers’ homes, another keynote brought attendees into a designer’s life. TV personality Mary McDonald sat down with Luxe Interiors + Design Editor in Chief Pamela Jaccarino for a one-on-one conversation about McDonald’s style icons, her journey to becoming an interior designer and what she looked for when designing a space.
“I am more a classicist than anything else so I'm always looking at balance,” said McDonald. “Even if it meant to be kind of funky, I'm looking at what would give me that internal vibe of balance. I usually look at the space first. I don't just start willy-nilly. I have to start with a furniture plan. What is going where? Where's the balance? Then I can color it in.”

Pamela Jaccarino and Mary McDonald.
To conclude the conversation, Jaccarino touched upon McDonald’s new collection for Schumacher, a chinoiserie-based, island theme available in a variety of colors.

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