A few years ago, I read an incredible four-part series on the artistry of Benjamin Lai and it was easily one of the best interviews I’d ever read with a decorative painter. Fast forward a few years and I meet the hugely creative designer Alison Causer by chance on Twitter and find out that she and Mr. Lai are partners in Causer + Lai! Kismet. They are based out of Brooklyn, NY and working as a team of Designer and Master Painter, they create unique and exclusive, decorative finishes for a variety of surfaces within private residences and commercial interiors. I hope you enjoy this feature on their beautiful collaboration and artistic work.
Benjamin Lai finished the highly acclaimed Van Der Kelen in 1995 and was immediately immersed into the high end residential sector after returning to his hometown NYC. He spent the better part of his career continuing to fine tune his skills, learning about the other aspects of decorative painting, job management and also adjusting and creating new techniques. Alison had gone from wanting to be a fine art painter to majoring in Interior Design at The Columbus College of Art and Design. Alison continues, “Soon after graduating I had a successful career in Ohio and even garnered several awards for my interiors work, but working for a large firm was wearing thin and moving to NYC was enticing.” She then worked with a few designers in NYC as well as doing independent work.
Alison shares their fated meeting, “Ben and I crossed paths via NYC Craigslist! He placed an ad to meet creative people, chat and hopefully collaborate on an experimental level.” Of all the intriguing personalities that he met, one person stood out: Alison. After many cups of coffee, Alison and Benjamin knew that there was a unique connection between them. Meaningful design and philanthropic resolutions were the initial subjects that inspired the two, but also the realization that the unique skills and ideas of both could translate into a great combination.
Alison and Benjamin spent more than a year developing samples, concepts and ideas. During this time they were able to collaborate on several jobs together by bringing each other onto their own jobs. This helped them to really establish the logistics for their working relationship and fortify their beliefs in each other. Now Alison is the Creative Director for Causer + Lai and Benjamin, the Technical Manager.
Where do you see decorative painting headed?
Decorative Painting is a very misunderstood field in America. In Europe, decorative painting is a skilled trade and there are very serious schools that teach it. I think the widespread understanding of it is basically whatever sells in Home Depot. It’s amazing how even a lot of interior designers and architects don’t really understand what it is. Most people think that it’s this weekend craftsy thing that can be done by most do-it-yourselfers because of all the ready-made stuff. I think that there will better exposure and understanding in years to come. The trend will incorporate much more complex modern color themes and active layering techniques.
Above, some of the intricate work that goes into the decorative painting process. Below, some of the gorgeous finishes created by Causer + Lai.
What is your personal artisan philosophy?
Surface Design Collectivism! We love collaboration. Every job is an extension of not just us but the client as well. Art is a form of expression and our roles are pretty well defined when clients hire us, but it is this need to express that a client feels when desiring to redo their home. Our projects and spaces are shaped by this type of social environment. Working together, respecting and understanding each others ideas is our philosophy.
What are your favorite go-to materials?
All of our techniques vary a lot but you would be amazed at what we could create with metallics, some beer and shellac!
What is the best professional advice you have received?
We believe strongly in Clean. Clean. Clean.
I first got this advice while studying with Monsieur Van Der Kelen in 1994. Monsieur’s smock was always pristine and white. All the student’s smocks, on the other hand, were filthy from paint. One day he told me that my smock was a reflection of who I am as a professional.
The majority of our work is in private homes. We like to treat their homes with respect like our own homes. We arrive in clean clothes, work neatly, clean up and organize at the end of every work day. Our tidiness is a reflection of who we are as professionals.
What is your ideal job for a month?
We would love to do a boutique restaurant or hotel in a Biedermeier style. Or really any style… We would also really enjoy working on a job that is giving back to the community such as a whole shelter, with murals and texture work.
Professionally, who are some of your inspirations?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at an innovative, forward-thinking studio that still respects the disciplines of artistry. You can see more of the work of Causer + Lai on their website as well as their Tumblr, Facebook fan page, Twitter account and Pinterest boards. I thank both Alison and Benjamin immensely for their time and for sharing their projects as well. Hope you have an inspired day!