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, February 24, 2010

I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road...

I love how so many high-end designers are revealing their "secret weapons" in design. Like Vanessa Vargas. In Lonny magazine, she 'fessed up to using JC Penney's for lamps. And Target, which has sold items from great designers for years, is partnering with Liberty for a collection next month. You know I'm going to snatch up a few pieces. (Having lived in London for a few years, I have fond memories of Liberty and browsing through all their fabrics and even books.)

What are my secret weapons of design? You know I have several, since my target client (no pun intended) likes a mix of high- and low-end pieces in their spaces. I admit to spending a little too much time each week at Community Thrift on Valencia Street. It's where I scored some great space-age lounge chairs as well as this midcentury table:

The table might fit into a prospective client's new loft in downtown Oakland if it's refinished. Left distressed, it might fit into the little Mediterranean-Revival apartment of a current client. For now, it makes a nice space for me to meet with clients and talk over ideas in my living room.

These chairs (one pair of black and one pair of white), I'm holding onto until I find the right project:

One secret weapon must remain under lock and key. Let's just say that I whenever I go out of town to visit my mother, I always make a stop at a few shops in her city. These midcentury smoked glass bowls were literally pennies each:

I didn't snatch up this clock, but I might see if it's still there next week. God, I love the '70s...

If you love the '70s too, the thrift-store price of this floor clock might just kill you. A similar piece was offered on Craigslist in LA for $350.

Another charity shop was selling this never-been-opened bedding set by DwellStudio for Target. Retail price is $80, but I scored it for $35 (and no sales tax!) I think I know whose home this will go to...
I really enjoy hitting the road and finding unique items for my clients. I think it's part of the job to always have one eye open, to be constantly thinking of how an item can fit into someone's space. Just today, I popped into a local thrift store after meeting with a new commercial client and scored this great midcentury ceramic and wood lamp:

Any takers? Just drop me a line and let me know. (Oh and that Nagel tile above, featuring a rare male portrait? I found it at the Salvation Army store in Santa Cruz. It is not for sale!)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone...

Last fall I went around to all the local design and home furnishing shops in my neighborhood, seeking donations for a charity fundraiser held by my chapter of ASID.

I've lived in San Francisco for just over 11 years (the last three and a half of them in the Castro), but in all that time, it wasn't till last year that I stopped into Earthtones. I learned that proprietor Omar Hampton has been in business selling antiques and lighting for 30 years and was always more than happy to support the local design community. When I went to pick up his incredibly generous donation (a beautiful porcelain lamp with silk shade) I realized what an important resource Omar truly was.

I was taken by the lamp's unique red, blue, and white floral design. "This is Imari porcelain," he informed me. "If you're gonna be in this business, you gotta know the difference between this and other Delftware and pottery." And with that, he spent the next 20 minutes schooling me in different kinds of porcelainware. This was a lesson I did not get in the classroom.

A few days later, he put up big "Going Out Of Business" signs in the window. I was shocked.

"Everybody's going to Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn (across the street) these days," he said. "They're not going for the antiques anymore."

Not true! I thought. Even though the current mass-market trends favor minimalism and simplified forms, the pendulum is swinging back. Many of my then-classmates (and I) prefer a truly eclectic design for a room, mixing periods and styles. (In fact, Caroline—a lover of antiques—ended up winning the Imari lamp donated by Earthtones at the charity auction.) I know that my clients want personalized spaces, not just a look from the pages of a catalog. (In fact, I recently read that the Pottery Barn across the street will be closing. So much for the power of the major retailers.)

Sadly, Omar is still clearing out his extensive inventory. Earthtones will still be around for a few more months, and merchandise is at least 25% off regular prices (some pieces have additional discounts.) New items come in constantly from his warehouse. I picked up a pair of these Chinese zodiac incense holders a couple of weeks ago:

In the same way I envy Accident & Artifact, there's a part of me that wishes I could have a retail space like Earthtones. There's even a raised, dais-like area that would be just perfect for an interior design office. Currently, it's the perch for Omar's big friendly dog:

(Any shop with a dog or cat always gets points in my book!)

Stop by and check it out before it's too late. You might score a piece with an interesting story, like the half-finished Korean painting of Quan-Yin. Better yet, you might just learn something from Omar.

Earthtones is located at 2323 Market Street, between 16th and 17th Street. Hours may vary during the liquidation, so call ahead. 415-626-1460.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This time I know it's for real...

Amy and her fiancĂ© Akhil are old friends of mine. I knew them both separately from different circles of friends and then one spring they met at the wedding of mutual friends and—long story short—they’re now engaged to be married this summer. I began designing their home in the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco back in 2008 just before I started my interior design program. It was an experiment in how to deal with clients and eventually helped me create the rate structures I’m currently using. (As renters, they couldn’t perform any structural changes to their small house, but as professionals they wanted a sophisticated home to entertain friends and family.)

I had organized and designed Amy’s old single-gal studio apartment years ago, so she and I had worked together before. And I had been to many dinner parties and events at Akhil’s old apartments so I knew his style as well. As a couple, they compromised well and we spent a several weeks deciding and executing purchases, paint colors, etc.

But then I had to start classes and my studies ramped up. Running out of hours, I had to leave them with a checklist of things to purchase (mostly art and accessories). A year and a half later after graduation, I realized they hadn’t had the time or energy to follow through (they are busy professionals after all) so I offered to bump them up to the next level of service and procure the aforementioned art and accessories as well as do a follow-up staging of their home. With assistance from my former classmate Lily Hanna, I spent an afternoon installing the new pieces.

(Click on photo for full-sized image.)

Here's the "before":

The bedroom was the biggest challenge because Amy and Akhil tend to gravitate toward the dark side (dark furniture, frames, square angles, and even dark bedding). By injecting white pieces and varied color, I tried to showcase their original furniture selections.
The living room had been well-maintained since my initial consultation in 2008. But Lily and I created more varied vignettes out of their collection of things (along with additional pieces taken from my warehouse). Dream clients, Amy and Akhil are incredibly well-traveled and about 90% of the art and accessories in this room were taken from their own collection, which had been languishing in the basement.
(Click on photo for full-sized image.)

The family room received a coat of yellow paint back in 2008 which really brightened up the space. They both loved bright Indian-inspired accent colors, but didn't want anything that seemed like a themed room. I chose art and a rug with bright pops of orange and purple that could easily be switched out if their tastes ever changed. Their old leather sofa is a classic piece that they decided to keep.

Here's the "before," when they tried but couldn't find any art on their own:

As I've stated before, art plays such an important role in our homes. I love being able to introduce clients to pieces that resonate with them and make their homes feel so much more complete.

Thoughts? Opinions?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you...

On Tuesday I went on two tours of commercial design firms made possible by IIDA, one of the interior design associations of which I'm a member. I came home that night feeling overwhelmed and dejected. The scale of work that both firms did was just enormous and I felt like my competition (the other hopeful designers on the tours) was so much better trained and educated than me. The next day, I went to the San Francisco Design Center (a collection of luxury showrooms featuring what used to be only to-the-trade merchandise) to attend a lecture on luxury and the current economy held by one of my favorite lighting companies, Boyd. Like the tours of the previous day, it was sponsored by an interior design organization (ASID, the other one I belong to) and it was a worthwhile event. I learned quite a bit, but this time I was surrounded by high-end residential designers (only one of whom had a client that earned less than six figures, a fact that ellicited gasps of disbelief from the others.) As I walked back to my car in the rain, I was hit by serious doubts.

Where do I fit in this industry? On one end of the spectrum there are the large commercial firms designing universities and corporate offices. On the other end are individual designers creating homes for millionaires.

Over a glass of wine, I tried to explain my feelings to my partner.

"Well, isn't there a middle ground?" he asked.

I think the people who can't afford $12,000 sofas fall into two camps, I said. They either have their own interiors down already, or they simply don't care.

"Now that can't be true for everyone! Look at us, we live comfortably in the middle ground."

Only because I care. And you're cheap.

"Come on. You can help guide people like us, help them find or refine their tastes."

True, I thought. I'd been contemplating becoming a clearinghouse of sorts, snatching up items I thought were interesting or that our friends would like, and then sell those objects to them if they were interested. If they weren't, I could easily find someone else. But even amongst our friends my hypothesis of the two opposite camps seemed true. While we know people who don't care (and will probably never care) about how their homes look or are perceived by others, we also have friends who inspire me: I always look forward to seeing how Lamar has inventively rearranged and reconfigured his flat, filled with found treasures and memorabilia; Julie has had the hipster midcentury aesthetic impeccably executed in her various homes for years; our friends and neighbors Chris and Alexis prove that young roommates can live in streamlined style.

"What about Gil and Debra?" he asked.

(Gil is one of my old roommates and Debra is his wife and my friend. They had recently asked me to help them decorate their three-bedroom craftsman house in our old neighborhood.)

I know it's going to take time to do that house, I said. Probably months. But what if the entire project falls apart? What if they don't really want such an undertaking?

"You're an interior designer," he said. "It's your job to convince them."

Wise man, I thought.

Two examples of my middle ground. One of my previous homes (left/top) and my current office (right/bottom).