Saturday, November 13, 2010

Artistic Miscarriage: The Design Not Chosen

Mood Board for the 1920's WFCP Color Challenge

It happens to the best of us.  You pour out your heart and soul into a design for a client, spending hours searching for the perfect chair, the perfect fabric, the perfect sconce.  Every element of the design, every detail, is carefully selected to complement and contribute to the design as a whole.  It feels great to put the finishing touches on the design rendering, knowing that all of the client's needs and objectives have been met, sure that you've exceeded her expectations and come up with a concept that she will be as excited about as you are...  Except that sometimes the client just doesn't go for the design.  Maybe it's too expensive, and they don't want to drain the college funds to pay for it, in which case you have to find a less expensive fabric, eliminate costly trim, or substitute a more affordable light fixture.  Perhaps the client just doesn't like the painting you selected, or wants a sofa with a different arm style.  In which case, you revise and hopefully get it right the second time around.

Recently I was given the opportunity to participate in a WFCP design challenge for Window Fashion Vision, an online and print magazine in which my work has previously been published.  The design challenge was to create a fictitious room elevation and window treatment design inspired by a particular decade in American history, incorporating the Colors of the Decade provided by Benjamin Moore.  The only rules given were that you had to use the colors on your mood board and that your design was supposed to be inspired by your decade, but updated to be appropriate for a modern client.  The challenge was presented as "first come, first choose," and I was delighted to be assigned the 1920s.  The colors on my mood board were kind of weak and sickly, not my first choice, but I was determined to do the best with them that I could.

Well, anyone who knows me won't be surprised that I put many, many hours into this project, while my husband kept asking me, "Why are you doing this again?  They aren't paying you for this, are they?"  I researched the decade extensively, not just a quick google search or two, either -- I read entire books like Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression by David E. Kyvig, Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz, and Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's by Frederick Lewis Allen, originally published in 1931 when the Roaring 'Twenties were still fresh in everyone's memory.  I wanted to dig deep into the decade and distill my own essence of the era before extrapolating and updating the inspiration decade in my design for a modern client.

Madonna, Pop Icon, Modern Flapper, and Collector of Art Deco Paintings
Now, in real life, the biggest influence in any of my designs is always my clients' personal style.  When I learned that the Material Girl herself collects the iconic 1920's-era Art Deco paintings by flapper artist Tamara de Lempicka, I knew Madonna would be the perfect fictitious client for this project.  Her bubblegum even goes with my mood board!

I was asked to submit "a few paragraphs" telling the story behind my design, and this is what I submitted:

Looking back 90 years later, biased by our knowledge of the impending Great Depression and the horrors of World War II lurking just around the corner, it’s easy to oversimplify the 1920s as a decade of flappers, speakeasies and frivolous binging that was inevitably followed by the collapse and come-uppance of the stock market crash at the end of 1929. Yet, to those who lived through this decade, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead, the 1920s must have been an incredibly exciting and terrifying time to be alive. Just imagine: The Great War has just ended, and Europeans and Americans are celebrating peace and focusing on rebuilding and renewal. In the United States, we’re so sure this peace will last that our Senate rejects membership in the League of Nations. Also in 1920, the 19th Amendment went into effect after ratification by the 36th state, finally brought the vote to American women after 150 years of struggle on the part of the suffragists. However, the changes in women’s political status, opportunities, and fashions were deeply disturbing to many Americans, particularly among older Americans, those living in rural areas, and in the South (I was horrified to discover that North Carolina did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1972!). The New Woman of the 1920s was not as welcome outside of the big cities, and her risqué clothing, independence, and flagrant sexuality were viewed by many as androgynous or even dangerous.

Almost a century later, American women are still struggling to balance our professional ambitions with our romantic and maternal instincts, to find that equilibrium between power and femininity, to figure out just what it means – and what it doesn’t have to mean – to be a woman. So for this design challenge, I wanted to create a luxurious, feminine, but empowering retreat for today’s American woman, inspired by the aspirations and contradictions of the New Woman of the 1920s.

Portrait de Madame Allan Bott by Tamara de Lempicka

Art Deco exploded artistically in the 1920s, and although I adore Coco Chanel and industrial designer Donald Deskey, I turned to Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka for the chief creative catalyst for my design. Portrait de Madame Allan Bott presents the New Woman of the 1920s against a backdrop of harsh urban skyscrapers, her skin soft and sensual, but her expression chiseled and impersonal. She’s dressed in a feminine embroidered silk dress, draped and flowing and skimming over her curves, but I was struck by how muscled and strong her bare arms and shoulders look – so different from the traditional feminine ideal of the 19th century, yet so remarkably similar to the more athletic ideal woman of the 21st century. Once I found this painting, everything else fell into place.

My 1920's inspired Fantasy Room Elevation

I chose the arched window shape and the geometric limestone fireplace surround as a nod to Art Deco architecture a la Deskey’s Radio City Music Hall on the Inspiration Board. My lambrequin design is from Jackie Von Tobel’s The Design Directory of Window Treatments. I just love how the sensuous lines of this lambrequin shape echo the curve of the raised shoulder in my painting, and I deliberately allowed some of the window molding to peek out on the short sides of the cornices above the swags because it felt risqué and accidental-on-purpose to do so, like the model’s knee peeking out from the folds of her dress. The face fabric on the lambrequins is a knife pleated, subtly patterned silk incorporating the blues and greens from the inspiration board and is the same fabric I used on the sofa. The strong vertical lines of the lambrequin pleats, as well as the vertically striped silk and velvet fabric on the bases and inside backs of the French tub chairs, are intended to echo the strong vertical lines of the cityscape in the painting’s background. The seat cushions are in a green silk velvet pulled from one of the stripes in the main chair fabric, and that’s as close as I got to color AF465 Wind Chime (I think the nurse’s office of my elementary school was painted that color, and when I look at that shade of green for longer than a minute I feel ill).

Because this design is pure fantasy, I found a single vintage Art Deco rhinestone brooch on eBay to substitute for rosettes or medallions on the window treatments, and fantasized that I could find six identical brooches to secure my swag valances to the lambrequins. I suppose if this was a real-life design I would have had to use reproduction costume jewelry instead. The swag valance is a lightweight, self-lined iridescent silk charmeuse, without interlining, and it might need a little tag gun magic on installation day to train the folds and a couple of drapery weights in the tips of the cascades. The drapery panels are in a fabulous three-dimensional embroidered silk fabric from Vervain that reminded me of the dress fabric in the painting, interlined with bump, and I used color AF610 Batik for my welt cord on the lambrequins. The banding on the lambrequins is a matte silk satin in a deeper shade of color AF670 Nightingale. My walls are in color AF55 Sonnet and the baseboards, crown molding and window trim are all painted color AF490 Tranquility. I found a beautiful hand-woven cotton and wool area rug from Lee Jofa called Mayapple, with the pale pinks and blues of the inspiration board against a neutral background, and something about the happy little circle motifs on this carpet reminded me of the patchwork quilts from the 1920's. I love to play fast and loose with pattern mixing anyway, partly because of my personal quilting fetish, but also because I like to use a lot of high end silks and other formal fabrics in my designs but I don’t want to create rooms that feel too formal to relax in. Mixing multiple patterns and avoiding the “matching look” as much as possible helps to take the edge off formal fabrics, makes a room seem more comfortable psychologically, and injects playful energy into my designs.

I knew early on that I wanted to select light fixtures from Fine Art Lamps’ Beveled Arcs collection for this design challenge. The innovative curved crystal prisms in this collection are a perfect example of the impact of technology on design, and the muted silver finish on the crystal sconces and the mirror-topped metal end tables are my updated interpretation of the chrome that was all the rage in the 1920's. The vase of calla lilies on the far right reminded me of my grandmother’s wedding bouquet, and the disheveled stack of books indicates that someone does a lot of reading in these chairs by the fire. Finally, the romantic in me couldn’t resist – I found a circa 1920 bronze sculpture of a pair of dancers that was auctioned off recently at Christie’s (on the console behind the sofa) and decided to further accessorize my fantasy interior with champagne for two and a little blue box from Tiffany’s. I liked the dichotomy between the tough girl in the painting who doesn’t seem to need anyone and the tenderness of the little bronze dancer, content for all time to be locked in a loving, supporting embrace.

Here's a closer look at some of the fabrics and other goodies I used in this design:

Paesaggio fabric in Celadon from Vervain, used on sofa and on lambrequin cornices

Fleurs de Mer-BD fabric in Peridot, from the Barry Dixon collection for Vervain, used for drapery panels

Greenland Sea silk fabric from Beacon Hill in Mimosa, used on seat cushions and outside backs of tub chairs

Beveled Arcs sconce from Fine Art Lamps
Faux Calla Lilly arrangement from Natural Decorations, Inc.
"Manier" limestone fireplace mantel from François & Co.
So I submitted my design to the editors, pulling an all-nighter to get everything finessed and perfected in time to meet the deadline, and waited nervously for the October issue of Vision to come out so I could see my design in print.  Then I waited another month, because for some reason they didn't publish this piece until November.  Then I finally saw the article in print... and my design was not there.  There was another design published for the 1920's instead:

from the November 2010 issue of Window Fashion Vision magazine
The winning design belongs to Candace Phelps of CPDC Décor.  I've never met Candace, but our mutual friends tell me that she's a wonderful person.  I'm sure she worked as hard on her design as I did on mine, and is justifiably proud to see her work in print.  Congratulations, Candace! 

What disappointed me most about this is that, unlike with a real project with a real client, I never got any feedback on my design.  No one told me what they didn't like about it and I didn't get a chance to make revisions.  I can speculate that maybe they wanted brighter colors for a more attention-grabbing spread in the magazine (although I thought that using the colors from the mood board was the whole point of the challenge)or that they didn't like the lower-resolution product images I incorporated in my design because they would not have printed well in the magazine, but I really don't know where I missed the mark for sure.  Anyway, that's the way the cookie crumbles.  At the end of the day, my husband was right -- it was foolish of me to put so much time and effort into an imaginary project, especially when I have so many other things on my plate right now.  Also, I had misunderstood the terms of the challenge -- I didn't realize that multiple designers were all vying for the same decade; I thought that I was the only one working on the 1920s decade so I was really shocked to see someone else's design published instead of mine.

A friend of mine suggested I turn this lemon into a lemonade blog post, so that's what I've done.  I don't need to have my design published in a magazine, but I really love what I did for this challenge and I wanted to share it with someone.  From here on out, I think I'll stick to creating designs for real clients who value my ideas enough to pay me for them.  So take that, Madonna!


Anonymous said...

Hey Rebecca!

I love the thought that you put into this and if you ever want me to make those window treatments for you, just call!
I know Candace personally, and this room is so her! I guess this IS a case of two great creative minds thinking alike because you both are awesome designers!
I'm also thinking that I would definitely be featuring yours in another issue of the magazine because of the detail.

Ivory Spring said...

I thought your design looks great - love the freshness the green brings!!

Unknown said...


Your design board is fabulous

Knowing Candace as I do, purely from forums, FB and her blog, she tends to analyze things and break them down to great detail so I'm not surprised of the similarities.
Did you contact the magazine to find out if they were planning to print additional designs in another magazine?

I am quite impressed with your research and translation. (I was planning to participate in this challenge but was unable to do to personal commitments...your post validates my decision; I just did not have the time to put in to it.)

A fabulous design is a given with you, but sharing "the building phase" of your design is a real treat that your readers and clients will value greatly. You've got a brilliant mind and talent Rebecca!! Thank you for sharing this with us all, it would have been a shame to miss it!!

Oh, and not sure you want to hear this, but as I read, I was thinking, "she really should be teaching interior design"!! :-)

Michelle Glauser said...

You really have an eye for design. I loved looking through your recent posts!

candace said...

Hi Rebecca,

Nice to meet you I'm Candace of CPDC Decor. I enjoyed reading your post. I like your design for the 1920's and enjoyed reading the blog post. I agree our designs are similar - but it's the 20's. I assure you no one shared your design with me. I had three designs this one made the cut.

As mentioned in a previous post, this room is sooo me. I love color so I intensified the color story.

I too am very busy with clients, staff and my new showroom/workroom store. I enjoy and find the time to engage in the articles and social media with WFCP members and other design enthusiasts.

I have submitted articles in the past that were not selected. I encourage you to continue to participate in requests for articles etc that interests you.

This blog post has great information a lot of people will appreciate. Share it with the world!


Rebecca Grace said...

Candace, you are so sweet for stopping by. I love the vibrancy and bold color of your design, and now that a little time has gone by my perspective is better. We obviously use the same design software, and that was really the only chair in the furniture library that made sense for the 1920s. I didn't mean to imply anything underhanded on your part or anyone else's.

I completely misunderstood what I had volunteered for; I didn't realize it was a contest. I was up until some crazy wee hour of the morning working on my design because I thought someone was counting on me and I didn't want to let them down. I probably would have pulled out if I realized they were going to have several designs to choose from for each decade, because I got wrapped up in a huge whole-house project for a client in between volunteering for the color challenge and the submission deadline.

Anyway, I didn't mean to disparage you or your design in any way. If I run into you at IWCE next year, I owe you a drink for being a spoil sport and a party pooper, okay? :-)

It made me feel better to use the material for a blog post so it wasn't all for nothing. Also, several months ago I stumbled across someone's post in an industry forum entitled "I Want to be Rebecca Deming Rumpf of Custom Interiors by Rebecca!" It was right after I'd won the Helser Brothers' Paris Deco Tour trip and the 2009 Dream Draper design competition. So the other reason I posted about this flop was to let everyone know that I DON'T always win -- sometimes I fall flat on my face and get my feelings hurt, just like everyone else!

Thanks again for stopping by.

Tammy@InStitches said...

I'm just now seeing this post. Your design is wonderful and it's obvious how much work you put into it. I love the way you used the painting as inspiration for the window treatment design. Great job !

Unknown said...

This is a great post, I've just stumbled across it as I'm about to embark on my final major project for my last year of University where I study a degree in Interior Design and this blog is of great inspiration. I'll be designing a trend package for my project, and one of my chosen trends is the Roaring 20's, based on the new edition of the Great Gatsby that is released this year. May I ask what software you use to create your designs?

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