I am honored to have been asked to contribute to a recent Houston Chronicle article on interior design. Enjoy!
What is good design? Experts weigh in
By Melanie Warner Spencer – August 12, 2011 © 2011 Houston Chronicle
Entire art, architecture and design movements have been built on the question, “What is good design?”
To achieve it, man has built, rebuilt, imitated, deconstructed, abstracted and reconstructed everything from skyscrapers to straws. Yet each decade brings a new design challenge.
Modernism shook the world with its radical departure from classic and traditional styles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The modernists brought their attention to craft and “less is more” and “form and function” mantras to the masses, along with the concept that through an improved built environment, we could improve our lives. Out of that philosophy has grown today’s sustainability movement, which focuses on conservation, reuse, adaptability and our relationship to the natural environment.
The next movement has yet to present itself, so meanwhile, we asked a few Texas designers and architects, ‘What is good design?’
David Lake and Ted Flato, Lake|Flato, award-winning architecture firm based in San Antonio, www.lakeflato.com:
Flato: Good design always considers the larger problem, considers the larger context. Good design needs to make the larger environment a better place.
Lake: A lot of times we work in an open landscape. We think of the larger landscape and where it should go and what’s appropriate. We’re also healing and mending an existing environment and trying to connect it back to that.
Flato: That idea can go in many different contexts. In an urban setting, we think of the entire block and how that building can be a good citizen with the buildings around it. Good design encompasses a broader design solution. Good design needs to be comprehensive. Comprehensive is also about health.
Lake: Everything we do has to be sustainable. The man-made world and the natural have to be in harmony. We don’t think of buildings or places being strictly for humans. We take into account the entire natural realm.
Flato: Good design is the result of working with the environment, working with the climate, working with the particular place. You are seeing the climate and the place shape the solution instead of indenting a shape and inserting it into a space.
Laura Umansky, interior designer and owner of Laura U Collection, Houston; www.laurau.com:
Good design must consider three things: intention, function and beauty. Every decision that I make for an interior is carefully considered prior to presenting it to a client or including it in their home (intention). It must also be smart, useful and have a very valid reason to exist in the space (function). Lastly, the space as a whole should have special meaning for, and elicit an emotional response from, its inhabitant (beauty). Beauty and enjoyment can be found just as often in the smallest accessory as in a large art piece. Ultimately, if the person experiences the space in a joyful way, then the design is good.
Liz Lambert, designer and hotelier (her projects include El Cosmico in Marfa, the Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin and the Hotel Havana in San Antonio):
Good design is often about knowing when to stop. It is about finding a balance between elegance and simplicity, vibrancy and calm, old and new. It’s about collecting objects that reflect your life experiences and your passion more than it is about filling a room. And for me, it’s usually about letting the people be the color in the room rather than the stuff.
Julie Schaff Risman, furniture and interior designer, owner of the Inside Story Design, San Antonio; www.insidestorydesign.com:
Some of my guiding principles: Follow the rules of scale and proportion. Don’t use small furniture in a large room with high ceilings. Better a few larger items than many small ones. Expensive purchases (furniture and rugs, for example) should be classic and enduring; other, less-expensive items can be more trendy — think pillows and accessories.
Mix materials and style to create interest – wood, glass, stone, metal and fabric. Mixing antiques with modern pieces makes a room interesting and not predictable. All of one material or style creates what I call the furniture showroom effect.
Your home should tell your story. Art and artifacts from your travels, collections and artful photos turn a house into a home and prevent the model-home look. Always add an organic element to a space: plants, fresh flowers, seagrass, shells and salvaged items breathe life and warmth into a space. Edit – if in doubt, leave it out.