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.

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).


Jim N. said...

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right...don't worry, you'll find your niche!

jenfranklin said...

I think people legitimately want their living space to look nice, but 1) don't have the vision and need to be convinced (great point, Jim!) or 2) don't have the money or time to sort through Craigslist.

I, for one, am in LOVE with your clearing house idea. As one who absolutely adores thrift store shopping, I just DO NOT have the time these days. I think the key is to figure out a way to make the mark-up work and somehow see a profit.

Then, you have the buyers at your finger tips! You offer other design services, provide a rate card and an estimate and go from there...