All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

All original work © Jason W. Wong. Please ask for permission to reproduce any work.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hang the garland high or close the door and throw away the key...

When I was working on my Victorian remodel project (2146 Pine Street, a fictitious address on a real street here in San Francisco) I was thinking of ways to update the exterior of the house while still keeping some traditional features...or at least the idea of the traditional features.

Plaster garlands and wreaths are a common decorative feature around here, especially in my neighborhood (the Castro.) As I learned in school, these details were a way to make new world houses look more rich and stately.

Now, my idea might not have ever passed any sort of review by the local historical preservation society or whoever it is that watches over the remodeling of these wonderful old home, but as a project I wanted to infuse the exterior of 2146 Pine with my style. I have a background in fine art, and up until I decided to study interior design last year I had kind of forgotten (or perhaps never fully realized) what that meant. For me, "fine art" wasn't about painting lifelike landscapes or portraits or creating incredibly detailed sculptures. Don't get me wrong, I was more than welcome to create those kinds of traditional pieces as long as they had some sort of deeper meaning or concept.

Studying art in London in the '90s meant that every one of us was primed to become one of the Young British Artists, like Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Chris Ofili, Sam Taylor Wood, or any number of thirtysomething Britons who made sensational, often controversial pieces that challenged your mind and perceptions. (In fact, their biggest collective show on either side of the Atlantic was called Sensation.)

So how does this relate to my current pursuit of interior design? I've found that my projects revolve more around a central concept or theme, and that I'm trying to challenge conventional notions of what can be used in an interior (or in this case exterior) space. Part of this Victorian remodel project required me to keep traditional features and honor the heritage of this house. So you want garlands and wreaths and pediments and a widow's walk? Check. But I'm going to etch them onto glass instead, making them spectral, ghostly reminders of a bygone era. Like this:

I ended up exploring the possibilities of turning the exterior inside-out, trying to reverse or invert as many details as I could. The dark exterior color became an homage to Queen Victoria herself, as I imagined this house as the grand dowager monarch of Pine Street, a bold contrast to the lighter, brighter houses surrounding it. The cornice at the top of the house was restructured so that it stepped inward, instead of flared out. Even corbels were flipped around so that they became vertical elements instead of decorative supports.

Next post--exploring the inside of the house!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I said, "Do you speak-a my language?" He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

Okay, so that's what I wanted to avoid when designing an Australian-themed hotel, cliches like Crocodile Dundee and Outback Steakhouse (not that there's anything wrong with either of those two--they just weren't right for this project.)

My clients reflected three very different facets of their country: one was a fifth generation Australian; another was the child of Greek immigrants; the third was born in Asia and moved there as a child. They wanted to create an international chain of hotels that reflected their home, so I designed this first branch as a mix of Victoriana and the Outback, East and West, ancient and modern.

A perspective rendering of the lobby is shown above. My floor plan below takes an older building and separates it into a lobby (center), casual cafe (left), and formal restaurant (right).

With the clients' needs in mind (spreading the culture, hospitality, and aesthetics of Australia around the world), I developed a concept based on the aboriginal belief of Dreamtime, the realm of collective unconsciousness which forms the basis for the physical world. This exhibition provided so much inspirational artwork, at first I couldn't decide what to do with it. But after a long lunch with my friend Nadine, inspiration struck.

Having lived for several years in Australia, she explained that these paintings were meant to be topographic maps of Dreamtime, often done as sand paintings on the ground. When I later laid them over my floor plan, I realized how well they worked as natural space planners. They created balanced (yet organic) groupings and areas for seating, dining, and socializing.

The maps of Dreamtime had come full circle to truly help map the physical world in this project.

My previous degree in art has also come in handy during this Interior Design program. I've realized that art plays a huge part in my life as well as all of my designs. This hotel was no exception. With huge structural columns that could basically be treated as walls, I wanted to have large projections of contrasting images of Australia: historical and contemporary, color and black and white, old and new. It was a nod to some of my old work in video art and installation. I decided to place these on either side of the reception desk, below.

Nadine (who reviews hotels for a living) did warn me that projections like these might give guests the impression that they were walking into an ultra-modern hotel filled with all sorts of technological amenities, so I made sure to balance this feature with rough materials like driftwood and particleboard as well as an eclectic array of furniture (see boards on previous post.) My concept revolved around the eclecticism of Australia, so I definitely wanted to convey that.

There you have it. The first North American branch of an international chain of hotels called Boomerang. Their slogan? "You'll always come back."
(Additional elevations, floor plans, and construction documents available on request :^)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

School's out...FOR...EVER!

Yesterday was my last day of class...ever! Normally I would have just had my Textiles exam, but I was invited to present my portfolio to a review panel of teachers and guest judges. This was entirely optional for me since I didn't take the official portfolio class, but in the end I'm glad I did it.

I've been an overachiever and consider myself pretty competitive and slightly obsessive-compulsive about certain things, so I at first I didn't want to present my work. But the instructor had been meeting with me weekly for these portfolio workshops during the entire quarter and invited me to present. The rest of his class had to do this for a grade. I did this just because.

Luckily I finished my hotel presentation a few days early, and had the chance to really polish my portfolio based on comments I had received from teachers, architects, and designers. (One of my hotel boards is shown above, board 2 of 7.)

Here's another hotel board, #5 of 7:

(I'll post more from this project, like a floor plan and perspective rendering, in another post.)

I was so glad I went through with that optional presentation. It made me feel like I really pushed myself during this 15-month program. I left that day with no regrets.

Afterwards, I got a martini with some classmates.

Portfolio available on request. Drop me a line!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

But you know that I'll forgive you just this once, twice, forever...

I know. I've been bad...about this blog, that is. When I started this nearly a year ago I thought I'd have time to update it once a week. Or at least once a month. Heck, my cat, Mister Chino, does a better job with his monthly blog postings on our family website.

But then school really got into gear. I started my Interior Design program at FIDM in San Francisco last October and after my first term I thought I was doing alright, learning the basics of drafting, materials, presentation techniques, etc. But then things ramped up and I had to put all those skills to use in my projects (along with a few old tricks--the best part of being a "mature" student!)

Before I knew it, I was designing an entire beach house, creating a retail space, remodeling a San Francisco Victorian home, interning for a huge retailer, and finally designing a hotel. A hotel! (Some materials and concept images are shown above.)

So that's what I've been doing over the past year. Along the way I read plenty of other blogs and I wondered how they had the discipline to post every month, week, or even every day. As each month slipped by, I felt worse and worse about not keeping this site up. But with my program ending this week I have no least until I get a job.

And until then, I'm going to use this site to showcase some of my student work as well as my thoughts about this ever changing industry. I've interviewed several interesting designers over the past year (another perk of being a student--no shame in asking for interviews!) and have gotten so many persectives. Each one has shaped the way I look at things, and I'd like to share those experiences too.

Here I am again. I feel like Rhoda Morgenstern returning to New York: "I'm back--this is your last chance!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stars Go Blue

This recent article in the LA Times about design trends that are "over" reminded me how fickle the industry can be. One day (or year) you're in, and the next you're out. It's kind of why I stopped following fashion so long ago. When it comes to things like clothing and the home, I begun to stick with that French/European idea of getting well-made basics and sticking to things you personally love and complement your body (or the architecture of your home.)

Now I know it often takes a designer or decorator to get into peoples' heads and find things/colors/whatever that resonate with them. It's too easy to just say, "be true to yourself" or "get what you love" when you don't always know how that translates into furnishings and your surroundings. God knows that if I wore what I loved all the time, I'd be a walking nightmare of plaid, stripes, houndstooth, and tweed. (Hmmm, kind of sounds like when I was a kid and started dressing myself.)

This retrograde period is hitting me hard. Schoolwork, a bad cold, and not enough "me" time have taken their toll on this new endeavor. So it's harder to get momentum going to post more regularly (is anyone out there?) But I'm still encouraging people to clean their homes and get organized, so when Mercury goes direct again, you'll feel that much better about their homes. Amy H.'s old studio (befores and afters above) is always a good example. One week and $200 later, this crazy girl slept soundly for the first time in a while.

Friday, January 9, 2009

We'll take our hearts outside, leave our lives behind, and watch the stars go out

Well, we're approaching a real, honest-to-goodness Mercury retrograde period in a few days. It'll run from January 11 through February 1.

I know most folks don't really care or believe in astrology, but I've named this blog (and my corresponding design/organization business) Retrograde for a good reason. According to supercool (and eerily accurate) astrologer Susan Miller, "Mercury retrograde phases urge us to look back to find things of value from the past." Regardless of what you believe, I  think that's a good attitude to have at various times of the year.

We should take time to organize our homes and offices several times a year, cleaning, rotating artwork and furniture, and putting up new things like fresh flowers or plants. Over the last few days I've used my own home as a place to experiment. I rearranged things a bit to come up with the photo above.

Here's how it was before:

Now I know there probably wasn't anything wrong with the "before", but I had been living with it for almost two years now, pretty much unchanged. So it felt good to shake things up a bit. I took out an old coffee table from storage and pulled back the sofa to make room. I moved the large blue painting to another wall and put up a new piece. The vertical bookshelf was actually there before, too, so I kept it there.

We shouldn't be afraid to re-examine our lives, and Mercury retrograde is kind of like a big cosmic "time out" forcing us to stay in a corner and think about what we've done. Embrace it! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We Don't Need Another Hero

Okay, so we need another interior design site like a gunshot to the head, and I can't guarantee that I'll be any different or special in any way. With an opening sentence like that, let me assure you that my bubbling personality will really help this blog take off.

Seriously, all I can offer is my own take on design and the way it impacts my life and the lives of my friends. Hopefully you're a like-minded person who can relate, or even open my eyes to new ways of thinking. How's that for interactive media--I could actually learn something from this blog by hearing from you, and not the other way around.

Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to become involved with interior design and architecture? I can assure you it's not because of the glut of home improvement shows and shelter magazines out there. Yes, I'm a fame wh*re and have tried my hand at acting. Yes, I actually watch those home improvement shows and read those shelter magazines. But you've got to try and make a living out of something you love, right? After 10 years of "just getting by" and making a good paycheck, I knew I could either keep doing the same thing and keep feeling miserable or I could actually try to make a break and switch careers.

It's funny, 'cause when I used to advise college art and design students I used to tell them over and over again that our generation was expected to have several careers over a lifetime. Now I'm finally following through on that lil' lecture. I've always loved seeing how other people live and carve out their own spaces. Other than anthropology (trust me, I tried it when I was 18) this is what I decided to do.

So just to give you fair warning, with each post I'll ramble on like this. Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. But I have this feeling that most bloggers out there started with similar notions. They just had so many ideas that they wanted to share. Regardless of whether people were going to actively read their posts or whether their words were just going out into the ether, they had this need to get it out in writing. Aw heck, maybe it's just the gin talking, but that's how I feel.

I'm not a multi-contributor machine like Apartment Therapy, so I'll just post ideas and observations as I see them, not every two minutes, six days a week. Heck, I've got schoolwork to do and a house to maintain--and after 11 years of not being a student, it's a hard adjustment. So check back whenever. I'll be around.

I look forward to hearing from you.