Starting a Furniture Line

First it was what. Then it was why. When I decided to start a line of furniture, those were the first two questions that I needed to answer. How came later. Here's an account of the steps I took to turn a dream into a reality.

To answer "What" is a challenge because over the last 20 years I've designed many different types of furnishings for my clients, exploring all styles and types, and learning the limitations of the materials to make them. I love it all, so what characteristics are most applicable to me? I applied the method I use to help my clients discover their own personal style to me, and I was surprised by the result. I looked for consistency, and discovered there was a relationship between many of the pieces I'd designed over the years. A proportion, a simplicity, a structural tension, and some kind of reference to the past. It was most clear to me when they were all assembled in a room together, and suddenly there was a conversation. Like hosting a dinner party of friends who'd never met, but when assembled the buzzes with common interests, passions and opinions. It's a satisfying feeling, and I felt like I had arrived, but knew as well for a line to have meaning to others you need to answer the next question: "why".

I am motivated by a strong urge to create beautiful things. I enjoy most of all the moments when in making and modelling something, you refine and reduce. I love working closely with craftspeople and engaging in the conversation that eventually shapes the personality of a piece. When I travel, I see shapes and textures that I record in my mind, to come out in surprising ways. So the answer to "why", is simply because I must. 

Jeffrey Douglas

House Versus Home

One of the main reasons I was attracted to residential work while in school was because the notion of "home" is the one refuge we all have against the world. So I try to find time to think about the meaning of what it is that we really do. We define and organize space for sure, very well. We think about dogs and knap-sacks, and cookies, and 5:00 am alarms. We interpret need and hope and want. But ultimately what is it that makes a house a home?

A house is a structure, defined primarily by its physical elements. Brick and mortar and wood. It has rooms suited to particular purpose, well-fitted and fulfilling imagined intended needs. A house needs to be efficient, convenient, and practical. A well designed home needs to take optimal advantage of its site, offer views, suit the neighbourhood, and possess a clarity of architectural expression. It is a piece of real estate.

A home is entirely different from a house. It doesn't need walls, or a roof or efficiency. It can be chaotic, noisy and messy. It is a relational space, a place for drama and calm, for anger and love. It is an emotional place. It demands imagination, support, love and respect. A teenage boy can leave his abusive family to live on the streets, and find home. An old woman can be forgotten in a nursing home by her busy children, and find home in the spirit of an attentive volunteer. Home is a refuge against the world.

So how does a house, designed as a home, meet the emotional needs of its inhabitants? Well I believe it begins as an expression of the personality of its creator. It understands and accepts the chaos that will ensue and it wraps itself around the birthday candles and hurt from a first romance. When we love a room it's because it loves us back. And in my opinion that is the most beautiful space imaginable.

Jeffrey Douglas

Modern Comfort

In the initial consultation with a client, we always discuss whether they envision their home to be modern, transitional or traditional. These are general categories that I find everyone defines slightly differently. What I'm truly after is what they would find to be comfortable, because comfort for everyone is also slightly different. I love this moment where we have the opportunity to define for them a very particular vision for their very particular home.

For many, modern is a term that evokes a cold, minimalist environment. Primarily the architects Mies Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Richard Neutra defined the ultimate in modern minimalism that rests in the backs of western people's minds. It uses a material vocabulary of stone and steel and glass used with such corseted restraint as to suffocate free expression. To me, these beautiful sculptural spaces boldly created historically, in reaction to Victorian stuffy exuberance, are elegant and cool, and an excellent starting point for a discussion on comfort.

Comfort is defined by association. Period. We all grew up in homes created by our parents that like it or not shaped each of our views on what is comfortable and homey. Thinking about what you loved about the home in which you grew up, is the key to discovering what you will love in the home you're about to create. Sometimes it's the inversion of that home, what you will absolutely not repeat, that serves to define your own definition of comfort. Whichever of the two, you cannot escape the fact that our preferences are defined by our personal experiences.

It's worth noting that comfort is really found in moments. Imagine you're in a stark glass, concrete and steel environment. Now imagine a soft sofa, a blanket, a fire crackling with soft music, a book, and a distant view. You are fed, and perhaps a loved pet is nearby... These are comfortable elements irrespective of your personal preferences. As we work together to craft a unique home, my clients and I explore "the imagined life", and I often toss out a scenario that helps to bring a moment in that space into focus.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

Regional Design versus Global

I like to travel! It quenches my thirst for new ideas and challenges my preconceived notions of how things are meant to be done. One of the keys to travel being an enriching experience is the differences that exist between the various cultures that share this planet. As designers, the first step in our work is to interpret a client’s individuality and incorporate that into the design, thus ensuring that our work is different every time, yet the quality of experience is the same.

Since globalization began as a political and corporate idea, we’ve seen an impact on culture as expressed through the work of designers. What is considered cool and modern has become an international brand that is the same in India as it is in Rio as it is in Denmark etcetera. Well-travelled, design-savvy individuals can experience that same cool wherever they go.

But I think we’re cresting in our collective notion. It’s getting a bit boring seeing the same thing over and over. Whatever happened to getting into the culture of a place, its individuality? I believe we’re about to see a resurgence in regional expression.

For hotel chain operators, that resurgence will mean transforming the corporate identity model from the current homogeneous, consistent look and feel by understanding the vibe of each location and highlighting that difference. What becomes consistent to the traveller is the quality of experience rather than a look and feel.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

 

Room Sculpting and Interior Volumes

Many clients express some confusion as to what exactly an interior designer does versus the work of an architect or decorator. Simply put, interior designers are trained in understanding the construction methods relevant to the interior. That means they can make informed decisions that integrate the decorative elements more seamlessly into the architecture.

Architects carefully conceive the sculptural massing of the structures they design. As team members and interior designers, we want to respect that value and consider the sculptural nature of the interior volumes an important reflection of the original vision. Beauty is found in consistency and thoughtful design echoes the core ideas that inform the building. There’s nothing worse than an interior design and eventual decoration that is insensitive to the building!

However the building structure can present challenges. Daily, we solve problems relating to the often unavoidable exposed duct or structural beam that would otherwise be awkwardly covered in a bulkhead. Our goal is to integrate these elements into a continuous shape that serves to sculpt the space in a balanced and pleasing way. In the renovation of this 1920’s structure, we calculated the distances between exposed sprinkler heads to work out a coffered effect that hid the function and made for an appropriate design. Symmetry ruled!

Of course, symmetry is not the only way to resolve balance in a room; it is just the most traditional. Asymmetry must be balanced to be pleasing and in a modern environment can be far more dynamic. In any style of structure, the sculptural approach must be consistent throughout.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

Context and Longevity

The design of interior space must respond to specific time-related goals. For example, retailers are concerned about the next five years, while banks want to convey long term stability. The interior design of homes is generally approached with longevity in mind, whether as an example of contemporary thinking or as a connection to the stability of the past. In both cases, context is key to the longevity of the design.

You choose a neighbourhood for many reasons, such as schools, transit, safety or quiet and sometimes, the prevailing architecture doesn’t match your lifestyle. We’ve worked on many homes designed to blend within the context of the neighbourhood, but don’t fit with a vision of modern family life. With each client, we consider how their family will live in their chosen environment, and whether they want the interior to harmonize with the architecture or contrast with it. In each decision, it’s important to consider the architecture, in order to ensure a well-designed home with longevity.

Harmonizing can mean anything from an historic approach to a contemporary, clean-lined version of the traditional style. To ensure longevity, visual cues are implanted in the design that anchors it to the architecture. Reflecting the home’s exterior details, this long upper hall’s rhythmic pattern of doorways, arches and sconces is bathed in light from one custom polished nickel high lens. To achieve symmetry, the three windows were draped to look like two.

Contrast or juxtaposition is more challenging to design because the visual cues are more subtle, more an echo of the exterior than a direct quote. This clean, open, contemporary interior responds to this young family’s modern tastes, but references the home’s traditional exterior elements, grey-brown stone / black-brown trim, in elements such as the flooring material and stair’s dark steel patina.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

Creative Solutions for Fixed Elements

Zeitgeist is one of those succinct German words that mean “the spirit characteristic of an age or generation”. We can see it plainly demonstrated in all cultures in their design trends. There is a great value in knowing what is of interest to the greater population and a great satisfaction in knowing what we’re looking at is “pre-approved”.

Some trends are long and some are short lived. In a world with too much stuff produced to satisfy an increasing appetite for more, it’s becoming more difficult to see whether the choice you make is a lasting one and one that is beautiful to you. There’s an ecological angle to consider as well. If a thing is no longer right, then you throw it away to replace it with another. So there’s a great value in spending time understanding the inherent qualities of an object and learning why it is important to you.

Everyone has a personal design expression or “taste”, just as everyone can sing or cook if they put their mind to it. It’s only a question of how much time you’re willing to dedicate to honing your skill. So how do you develop such a thing? Exposure through reading and travel is the surest way to develop a skillful eye. Magazines inform about trends and designers help to balance the range of choice, but it’s your own interest that makes the final choice personal.

I’m not trying to talk myself out of a job – on the contrary, an educated client is a designer’s best friend. We all want to create something of relevance and knowledge of cultural trends and your relationship to that knowledge will lend your project the relevance if needs to be of lasting beauty to you.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

 

Addressing the Architectural Vocabulary

Our firm believes that respect for the architecture is the only way to create a harmonious whole. Residential interior design is really all about collaboration and integration – and understanding the architect’s vision is the first step. Every interior design decision must relate back to the architecture. As I explain to clients, sometimes a design decision isn’t about addressing what they or I want, it’s about what the building wants. The architect’s design establishes a vocabulary that is the starting point for the interior. If it is not addressed properly, than the home can become fragmented and discordant.

Since usually clients are not versed in the creative process one of the most interior designer’s primary responsibilities is to help them understand the priorities of what they’ve undertaken to create. We need to hear their wish list for the feeling of the interior – and it isn’t always the same as the one they’ve discussed with their architect. Then, we can negotiate ways in which to accommodate their wishes within the framework the architect has established.

Materials and colour selections and final room shapes must all relate in some way to the architectural vocabulary. We’ve worked on many homes where the client wanted an exterior that relates to the traditional nature of the neighbourhood and an interior that is starkly modern. To satisfy such contrasting desires, careful attention is paid to elements that establish continuity. In one home we introduced an interior split-faced stone wall made from the same stone used outside. In another, we repeated the window frame colour as a core element of the interior.

Jeffrey Douglas

 

Sketching On-Site Solutions

There’s a lot of pressure to keep things moving on a job site. Clients want the project to move quickly to keep costs down and contractors need to keep their workers moving to maintain a smooth rotation among all the jobs they’re managing. Also, typically, trades people work in tandem so one needs to complete his work before another can begin. Finding quick solutions to on-site problems is essential to any project.

The cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more true than in the creation and construction of space. When an on-site problem arises, sometimes there isn’t the time to go back to the office and draw an elevation; you must solve it right there so everyone can understand and move forward. Sketching quickly and accurately is the most valuable tool a designer can possess and it’s one that I use every day.

Typically, in our office, sketching starts before construction. Working with the client, we provide sketches that describe the shape and volume of each room. This gives the framers and mechanical contractors an idea of the final look of the space and helps them anticipate and avoid problem site conditions. Of course, we follow up with dimensioned elevations and plans.

Despite careful detailing, site problems do arise. To keep the ball rolling and to facilitate discussions about resolving the situation, on-site solutions are needed. You get a better final product when all of these smaller issues are resolved immediately, maintaining the original design integrity while keeping the builders on schedule.

Jeffrey Douglas