Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Women in Design

I had the pleasure of attending Elle Decor's annual salute to Women in Design and thought I would share a few of the highlights with you. After Charlotte Moss was presented with the Vision Award from Margaret Russell they joined interior designers Michelle Nussbaumer, Kelly Wearstler and Holly Hunt for a panel discussion. A few of my male friends joked that a women in design event seemed a bit sexist but design is very important in the world of women since it was one of the first places that it was not only acceptable for women to work but to own their own businesses. When I look around now and see so many of my female friends who own their own firms, it's really amazing. We owe a lot to those designing women who paved the way such as Elsie de Wolfe, Sister Parish and Dorothy Draper.

The first question to the panel was what advice they have for design students or those who want to work in design. All of the designers had similar suggestion, such as reading, traveling, visiting museums, interning, and working for someone who you admire. Kelly Wearstler also suggested visiting antique shops and art galleries, anything to "fuel your vision." She also suggested never following trends or buying something because it's the hot new style.

Getting out to be inspired is something that they all practice in their own life. Michelle Nussbaumer had just visited the MoMA and Kelly Wearstler is often inspired by art and also jewelry and fashion. Kelly also has a large library of vintage books that she often consults. They all agreed that it's sometimes good to get away from a design dilemma and come back to it and for Holly Hunt, that means going out into nature and taking a run. I actually took a walk through Central Park with a friend last week and we ended up at the Met where we viewed the new Vermeer exhibit and Roman sculptures. I can attest that it's good to leave your desk sometimes!

One of the biggest challenges for women in design is balancing their family life and work. Michelle Nussbaumer said she tries not to bring work home at night or work on weekends. Easier said than done as we all know but you need to make time for the important things in life. Charlotte Moss also talked about having to make hard decisions such as when she decided to close her store which was taking her away from her family and taking the joy out of her life.

Another interesting question that was posed was "what makes a timeless room?" Charlotte Moss said that it's not physical and not an object but what designers get paid to create which is ambiance and atmosphere. They all agrees it's nothing you can put your finger on but you know when you walk into a room and it just feels right. Kelly Wearstler compared it to a painting that you can go back to time and again and see new things and never get tired of looking at.

A question from the audience that resonated most with me was "how do you stay organized, especially with multiple clients?" I struggle with keeping on top of my paperwork and organizing my tear sheets so it was good to hear someone like Holly Hunt admit that she never quite feels organized and the sorting can take the most time! Like me, they all carry notebooks and write everything down and also take lots of photos. Unlike me, they have a staff of very organized people who work with them and keep them organized! I'm going to have to work on that!

One of the last audience questions was about how they present to a client and their best advice is that you really have to tailor your presentation to the client. Charlotte Moss stated that, "there is no formula because every client is different." Kelly Wearstler called it "an organic process" and I agree. Sometimes you buy something for one room and realize later that it belongs in another. You can't be so tied to the furniture plan and you need to be flexible.

All in all, it was a wonderful event and a very inspiring one! If you ever get the chance to hear any of these women in design speak, I highly recommend making the time to attend! And I can't think of a better way to end than with a quote from the original designing woman, Elsie de Wolfe, "I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life."


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