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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This is the sign of the times, piece of more to come...

Even though I've enjoyed working on my own for the past few months, targeting the middle market that includes my friends and their extended networks, I have to admit it's been daunting. I've often felt isolated and unsure, without any guidance. There are so many firms where I'd love to just intern, but for obvious economic reasons, no one is hiring. I think that's why I keep reaching out through my network to find professionals I can just talk to, to help me figure it all out.

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with my friend David, who works at NBBJ, a multidisciplinary architecture firm specializing in healthcare, education, and science. He's been an architect for years and said that he's always wanted to find a mentor, someone who could help guide him through his career, but it's only now that he thinks he's finally found one.

That made me wonder if we're all destined to figure it out on our own...

Then I met with my neighbor over the weekend, a contractor who works with a very high-profile residential design firm in the city. He said that starting with the middle market was a good idea for someone new to the industry, like me. And then he told me that, "It just takes one person to believe in you and give you a chance." His words of encouragement made me think that maybe I wasn't crazy, and maybe I was doing something right.

Luckily, I have two great new clients that make my work enjoyable. I went up to Sacramento to meet a young couple who have two small children. Their house already had a great mix of pieces and personality--truly eclectic. I was surprised because it was already closely decorated the way I'd do it, if I lived there. Their approach to decorating was organic and unfussy; they just needed a fresh set of eyes to recommend some new pieces. So I'm trying to interject more midcentury/modern pieces into their worldly collection of things.

For example, I think this Hans Wegner-esque table I picked up a while ago would be perfect in their kitchen/family room:

The distressed wood would fit right into their home, while the simple, modern shape would complement their more elaborate pieces. I'll post before- and after-photos soon.

You might remember how I wanted to use that table in my other new client's space, a renovated loft in downtown Oakland. Well, after meeting with her, I had to change my plans. The floor plan is a little tricky, and her budget is very small (she's spent all her money on the loft, after all). But I love a good challenge.

I've found a few pieces that will work nicely. Some won't need any work, like this '70s glass and chrome coffee table:

But others, like these great midcentury nightstands (I found a pair) could use a paint job:

...So they can look more like these Hollywood Regency chests:
Although my attitude changes almost daily, I'm feeling pretty good about these solo projects. Until the big designers and firms start hiring again, I'll just have to carry on by myself. Really, what are my other options, sitting around waiting for the phone to ring? I don't think so. As the Belle Stars sang, This is a sign of the times / Piece of more to come / This is a sign of the times / Time to be alone.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Three, that's the magic number (yes it is...)

You might remember Emily and Chris--they're my young creative Central Valley clients who were thinking of buying a new home. Well, plans totally changed a couple of months ago. Instead of trying to buy a tract home with lots of room for their creative endeavors (she's a writer/actor, he's a musician) they decided to chuck it all in to pursure their art.

Chucking it all in. Literally. They got rid of almost all of their possessions and scaled down to a small, charming 1920s one-bedroom Mediterranean Revival apartment near the downtown area of their city. I was in awe of their priority shift and was filled with this crazy mix of amazement and respect for their decision. In some ways, I wish more people would just let go like this...

But now they were starting fresh. More than ever, I wanted to help them create a stylish home that reflected their personalities and sensibilities.

Suddenly going from a three- to four-bedroom tract home to a one-bedroom rental was a shift. There wouldn't be any more talk of kitchen and bathroom remodels. But I saw it as a space planning and decorating challenge, one that we're still working through. After a long sit-down consultation, I was surprised to see that both agreed on a certain '70s glam/rock aesthetic. The patterns and textiles they gravitated toward were pretty bold and geometric, but sometimes a paisley would also grab their attention. Space age was out, but they could be swayed toward glass and chrome. Based on previous conversations, I was surprised that their tastes were actually so clean and modern.

I developed a furniture plan to show them how their living room could be divided into three spaces to maximize entertaining, living, and work:

As I continued researching different pieces for this space, we ran into some communication glitches regarding my overall vision for their home. I understood the look perfectly in my head, but how could I communicate to my clients how each piece related to the ones around it? We were all swimming in a sea of digital images, tear sheets, and magazine/catalog pictures that we were sending each other back and forth from our computers and phones. "Does this table go with that rug?" "What desk would look good with which combination of chairs?" "Where should that vintage cart go?" It was getting confusing, since they were trying to understand how to juggle all the pieces of this puzzle.

That's when it hit me. At least for this job I could explain the look as a formula that they could understand. The equation of their '70s chic apartment involved three factors: something geometric, something organic, and something classic (or "old school" as I explained to them.) For example, the sofa area could have a dark leather Chesterfield sofa (old school) with a floral/organic patterned rug and a geometric coffee table. I told them that if something changed (like their choice of rug to something with a geometric pattern) then they'd have to adjust accordingly (like get a more organic-shaped coffee table.) Even the entire living room fit into this equation: the sofa area tended to be more classic, with a traditional sofa and a floral rug, while the middle office area would be very geometric, with an angular desk and a graphic painting taking up most of the wall. The third area by the kitchen/entry would be the wild card, balancing out the other two-thirds of the room as we furnished it.

I created this collage to help show how these different parts of the formula relate to one another:

In the end, they were happy that they could finally have some "rules" to use as they hunted for certain pieces on their own. And I was just relieved to have happy clients. I poured myself a bourbon and slept well that night.

It's still a work in progress, but as part of my Redesign-1 package of services, I can only make suggestions for pieces that my clients can buy. They may find something better, more unique, or cheaper on their own. Luckily, I get one more chance to make the most of what they've purchased in a final staging/rearranging round. I'll take photos of the results and share them with you in the next couple of months.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Baby I can see your halo, you know you're my saving grace...

I always seem to get sentimental around my birthday, and this year is no different. Since I graduated from school in December, I've realized how truly lucky I am to be surrounded by a great community. My former teacher Ashley Roi Jenkins told me and my classmates how we'd probably start our careers by working on projects for friends and family, and she was right. Now my friends have begun referring their colleagues and associates and I currently find myself pretty busy with paying work.

On top of that, there are other communities I've discovered. Through ties with my old school, I got a chance to work on my first retail project last month. And through the online community I connected with a new client down the penninsula who's a joy to work with and is helping me grow as a designer. Today I realized how my local community (the Castro) has played a part with shaping my career, too. Omar and other local merchants have been a great resource for unique items, and this morning I got a call from a local contractor who was referred to me by my neighbor across the street. I really look forward to working with this new contact on two upcoming projects (and hopefully well into the future.)

It's through their help--your help--and advice and willingness to work with a newbie like me that my trusty vintage worktable has been piled high with paperwork and sketches for the past month.

Thank you.

I couldn't have wished for a better birthday!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Put that thing down, flip it, and reverse it!

At Retrograde, one of ther services I like to offer is the RETHINK*RECYCLE package, where I help clients reuse their existing furniture and accessories to update their space. Clocking in at eight hours, it's also the most budget-friendly service I offer and has very immediate results.

As my friend Nadine recently posted in her family blog, she and many others are trying to reduce their impact on the world by consuming and buying less. This attitude is also shared by my most recent clients, Gil and Debra. Parents of a charming 18 month-old daughter, they're ever-mindful of the world that their child will inherit, and wanted to make the most of their eclectic mix of vintage furniture, hand-me-downs, and street finds without buying more "stuff."

After taking some measurements of the three rooms they wanted to update, I gave them the option of receiving a series of floor plans and instructions on how to implement the changes themselves, or (this is maybe the best part of this service) have me come by for several hours and rearrange things over the course of one or two afternoons. They chose the latter because they're both visual people and wanted to see how their pieces would/could actually look in different areas. They also wanted the changes to happen quickly, so they wouldn't lose steam part-way through.

The living room of their large craftsman house had been left mostly undecorated since they moved in almost a year ago. In talking to them, I learned that one of their priorities was to create a cozy and inviting space for guests. But this was hard because they relied entirely on overhead lighting. I also found out that they had a hard time deciding where to hang art, and were afraid of getting large pieces.

Here are photos of the living room before:

Since the living room was where they did most of their entertaining, I had them gather all the artwork, lamps, and rugs from the entire house so we could concentrate on this room.

Using only their own pieces, here's what I came up with:

The dining room also desperately needed some art on the walls. Here are photos of it before:

They still didn't have much art to go around, but I made the most of what they had. Here are photos after:

The upstairs family room still needs some large-scale art. (It's one of their assignments to find more.) All we could really do in this room was tidy up. Here's the before:

Here are the photos after a good cleaning and a little rug switcheroo:

Like I said, with this service I can only work with what the clients have. To make this family room warmer, they'll need to get more lamps--it turned out that they only had three lamps in the entire house!

The little guest room off the family room needed some attention, too. Here are the photos before:

And here it is after, with a rug I stole from the baby's room:

Finally, the master bedroom needed some cleaning and rearranging. Here are photos of it before:

I rearranged pieces to create an additional sitting area opposite the bed. (Note that I cheated a little bit and  brought over new bedding to show them how to incorporate brighter colors into their home.)

Here are photos after:

In the end, I left them with a list of recommendations, like get more lamps (to achieve that keyword--"cozy"--that they want so much for their guests as well as themselves), find more artwork (to reflect their interests and passions), and--most importantly--keep their home clean and tidy!

Although the RETHINK*RECYCLE service is usually limited to three rooms, I decided to include the guest room and dining room since both were connected to other spaces and also reflected Gil and Debra's warm hospitality and love of entertaining. (They're also old friends who have used my services before at a previous home, so I thought, Why not?)

It's always great to step back and take a fresh look at how you can reuse your own stuff. What do you think?