Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are Decorators Really A Punch Line

The NY Times had a little tidbit called In Defense of the Decorator (by Penelope Green). I didn't know that decorators were under fire, or on trial, or in any trouble.

Designed by Brian McCarthy, a Parish-Hadley alumnus - photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg
The article praises the profession of interior design for providing hefty trickle down employment for all the vendors it takes to complete a project.  As we all know, it takes a village, maybe a small city of carpenters, wallpaper hangers, painters, upholsterers, drapery makers, flooring contractors, electronics experts, electricians, landscapers, home furnishing vendors, etc. to complete a major project that can take months into years to complete. This is good for the economy, and also a boon to keep the trades in crafts alive.

The dining room on the Paris apartment of Rudolf Nureyev -  Can you imagine the village it took to decorate this?  photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg

Bunny Williams said that on any given day, “There might be 300 or more people doing something for our jobs. And their work is what makes our work unique: we can do things that are unique, and not mass produced.”

The article talks about the instability of the profession,  about the ranks of talent being decimated by AIDS, of people going under with the passing of three recessions, and the shift in the paradigm of needing a decorator at all, with the avalanche of years of relentless D.I.Y. cable programming, along with shelter guides like Martha Stewart Living and the late Domino (not to mention blogs, Pinterest, Houzz, Decorpad, et al).

The library in the country home of Bill Blass - Was it  a DIY project? - photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg

Apparently it's also not cool for young people with new money to openly hire a decorator (note to my young clients: please close your ears), preferring to make it seem that they decorate and design on their own. Stephen Drucker, who has been editor in chief of House Beautiful and Martha Stewart Living, put it: “It’s not so cool anymore to credit the decorator. You’re supposed to have curated your own eclectic, wonderful life, not order Mario by the yard.”

Tuscan home of Mimi O'Connell - Was she her own decorator?

I don't care who gets the credit for a beautifully decorated home, steered through the land mines of expensive decisions, while project managing the above noted army of vendors and craftspeople. I just want to keep getting jobs. I can be a silent partner if need be.

Designed by Catherine Painvin - photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg

The One Percent, as the super rich are now called are still openly using decorators, and I suspect always will. It's not that they don't have taste or opinions or a certain innate expertise. They do, but the time it takes to put it all together is what they don't have, or don't want to devote their time to do the grunt work.

At 76, Mario Buatta is still answering his own phone, as he always has, to take care of clients like Mariah Carey and the financier Wilbur Ross. Bunny Williams, who though only 67 is the decorating world’s grande dame, noted that while business has steadied in the last year, “no one is taking it for granted,” she said. “Everyone is working harder than ever.”

Some nuggets from the article:

  • Decorators find they are behaving more like C.E.O.’s pitching their shareholders.
  • Decorators are more engaged in conversations about an interior’s investment potential than in conversations about how the space will feel.
  • Why is my time any less valuable than anyone else’s? Because I’m choosing wallpaper? Well, if you think choosing wallpaper is insignificant, then you go do it.
  • I’m not a discount shop, I’m not here so you can get the cheapest price, I’m here to spend your money well.
  • Everyone wants their home to reflect themselves, but how do you do that in a time of globalization? How do you create your own taste, if everyone has access to the same goods?

A stunning book published recently by Rizzoli, “Be Your Own Decorator” by Susanna Salk, is filled with the glossy projects of high-end designers like Celerie Kemble, Miles Redd, Katie Ridder and others (Note: Others - that would be me ha ha). 

One of the Others in Be Your Own Decorator

The intention is to draw inspiration from the pros. But page after page, its perfect vignettes unintentionally make the point that civilians may be incapable of replicating a skilled decorator’s work, in the same way that the pages of Domino magazine used to elicit a sort of panic in some readers. 

A perfect vignette at Chateau de Montmirail - photo by Fritz von der Schulenburg

“The ability to walk into an empty room and see it finished in their heads — that is a gift that most people do not have,” says Stephen Drucker.  “I certainly don’t. It’s a crazy, God-given special gift. Yet decorators have been targets of ridicule forever.” 

I don't know, do you think decorators and designers out there feel like targets of ridicule? I think that we are very lucky professionals, in good times and in lean times. And if that's a punch line, I'm having a good laugh.

Kathy Griffin with her punch line decorator Lara Spencer -  Read more at The Zhush

Excerpts taken from the article In Defense of the Decorator.

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  1. Valorie,

    First, I think your blog is fantastic. I love reading your opinions and seeing photos of your projects. It's wonderful to have a seasoned professional that understands the importance of the internet and social media.

    Second, in response to your article, my father was a decorator, and as a tween/teen in the mid/late 80s, I always felt that I had to provide an explanation about why he did what he did because it was less. *I* didn't feel it was, but I had the impression that others (my peers) did. Now, with shelter shows/blogs/mags/books being heavily in vogue, telling people my father was a decorator makes a fantastic impression. Showing his work (he passed when I was 20) to friends and acquaintances is a treat.

    Perhaps the article should have been titled "Decorators Save Specialty Craft Professions" I know plenty of people that are willing to paint, accessorize, etc. But no one I know is willing to try their hand at hanging wallpaper or laying flooring.

    That Susanna Salk book is on my purchase list. I'm hoping to get it as a 40th birthday present extra this summer!



  3. Tara Dillard writes:

    My work is thriving in this economy. Better, in fact, than before 2008.

    Plenty of those in their 30's-40's but also 50+.

    Put in a drive, pool, arbor, stone terrace, enclose a deck/patio, enlarge kitchen & etc? Significant chunk of money to get any of them wrong, consider in combination.

    I'm worth every penny. And I come with a great group of talented, honest, hardworking men.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    1. Hear, hear, Tara! I'm in the same business as you and I ditto the above and agree with you 100%. Yes, we are worth it.
      Happy gardening,

  4. All hype I predict! Not everybody wants to design rooms just like everyone doesn't want to be a banker. It's true that the influx of do it yourselfers and online info has opened up the mystery of design to many but people who really crave good design won't be discouraged. i did hear recently that to the trade resources will eventually be available directly to the consumer which is disheartening. Great post! Guess we all better go back to med school, huh?

  5. I was kind of confused about how I felt about this article when I read it last week.... I don't feel like decorators are used as a punch line (except maybe by "designers") and I also don't really think that the DIY/HGTV blog culture is really bad for the decorating business. More people wanting pretty rooms and homes is a good thing. And most people aren't 1%ers buying $1000/yd fabric for a million dollar chair (Not exaggerating, that was in the article.) they are everyday people who spent most of their money on buying their homes and now have some money left to decorate... Id rather more people lived in homes that they didn't buy en masse from crate and barrel or raymore and flanigan. Because thats really the alternative here- its people DIYing and being creative with the resources available vs people buying mass produced rooms. They aren't the people hiring the decorators interviewed.
    That said, I think when most people with enough money come to a point where they are going to spend a lot of it at once, they hire someone. PERIOD.

  6. Oh and I think its 100% better to find the right decorator and spend the money you do have wisely rather than just buy anything... but I also agree that the "decorator was here" look is not en vogue these days, but a good designer should be able to make a room feel personal!

  7. I think Stephen Drucker is right. There is a real art to this. Absolutely. And real designers are paying the price.

  8. yes, she is a decorator - she is huge in england she had a store for years and years that was very famous. i showed her london apartment - gorgeous pcitures that she sent me herself.

  9. If I have the money I would definitely hire a decorator
    to execute how I envision my home would be. It is hard to do if you do not have the proper training and skill. Love decorators.

  10. Decorators are more engaged in conversations about an interior’s investment potential than in conversations about how the space will feel.



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