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Category: Faux-cus on the Pros

06 Jan

Faux-cus on the Pros: Gina Garner

Faux-cus on the Pros is the series where we talk to other artisans in the field of design. Today, I’m thrilled that we have the chance to speak to Gina Garner, who creates incredible Italian-Renaissance inspired ceramic pieces. Her work has received many accolades, including features in museum collections and magazines such as House Beautiful. She writes a beautiful blog, Art and Alfalfa, that focuses on her wonderful country life, her travels and of course, her hand-painted ceramics. Let’s head to Utah to sit in her lovely home, relax and chat a bit.

Gina Garner

Gina Garner: I was born in a small fishing village by the Baltic Sea, in East Prussia (Germany).  During the war, my mother, sister and I were forced to flee our home and relocate to East Germany.  When my father was released from prison camp in Siberia, Russia, we planned our escape to West Germany.

I have painted since I was a small child, influenced by my father, a master woodcarver and watercolorist.  I would accompany him on painting expeditions to small farm villages in East Germany.  While living in East Germany I was trained as a topographic draftsman.  My first job, after escaping to West Germany, was hand painting greeting cards for a German card company.

After immigrating to the United States, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Utah, focusing on Anthropology, The Applied Arts, Art History, and in particular, the Italian Renaissance.   Each year, my husband and I, travel to various regions of the world, bringing back new ideas and many Old World techniques.  With the renewed interest in decorative painting finishes, I now devote much of my time teaching workshops at our local college and teaching classes to designers, professional painters and private individuals.

In 2004, I designed a kitchen for a local attorney.  When we searched for hand painted tiles they were not available.  Those from Europe were too expensive mostly because shipping had become prohibitive.  So I decided that I would learn and teach myself how to paint ceramic tiles.  It was not that difficult and with a ceramic shop willing to fire my tiles, owning a kiln was not so important.

I have since traveled to Italy, Holland, France and Belgium and I have made it a point to learn and paint ceramics with several fine maiolica (or majolica) painters of Europe.  For the past 4 years, I have painted with Professor Nicola Boccini and Maestro Romano Ranieri of Deruta, Italy, one of the major centers of Maiolica production.

My husband Gene and I live in a small artist/farming community of central Utah. After many years of travel to Italy and studying the work of Andrea Palladio and his country villas in the Veneto, Italy, we decided to build an Italian inspired small villa in the middle of an alfalfa field.  Here is where we tend our fields and gardens and take care of the many animals that have adopted us. We designed every phase and did a lot of the physical work, such as laying all of the marble and I did all of the wall finishes, including gilding and marbling.  Several years ago, a Hollywood film company filmed our house.  We were awarded first place in International Design an in addition, an award winning Magazine featured our house in a 13-page spread.

Central Hall

Front Facade

The incredible views along their pond.

Where do you see ceramic design heading in the future?

We traveled to Deruta, Italy, only a few months ago. Things have changed. No one was visiting Deruta, one of the major centers for hand painted ceramics.  Ceramics are expensive and because of their weight, shipping is very expensive. U.S. companies are not importing  for those same reasons. The more than 600-year-old ceramic industry of Italy is suffering. Artists are looking for solutions and they are also looking for employment in other industries. I’m afraid, that at least for now, a very old tradition is losing its fine artists.

What are some of your favorite color and/or product combinations you’ve seen?

I’m no Minimalist. I like living with  objects and art which we have acquired from our travels. I love color. Not garish colors. The kind of colors designer John Saladino chooses for his interiors…the lavender that is almost gray and the green that reminds one of the foaming ocean. The charming and warm interiors designed by Charles Faudree hold just about the right amount of  exuberance. I like classic designs and I love to mix the humble with the splendid. Too much is not enough has always been my motto.

What are some of the most wonderful materials you’ve come across?

Italian powder pigments, which I bring back from Italy, provide color and an intensity that is quite remarkable. While taking lessons in Belgium, I was introduced to a product, Peptapon. It is made in Germany and acts as a binder with ceramic powder pigments. It is a product that prevents the smearing of pigment.

What artist would you like to commission to create a work of art for your home?

That’s easy. An Italian artist and mural painter who lives in Calistoga, California by the name of Carlo Marchiori.

What one existing book or movie title describes your life?

Actually it is a piece of Music from an opera by Verdi, Nabucco, the Slave Chorus.  Not because I see myself as a slave but because the music has just the right amount of  highs and lows, which describes my life perfectly.

~ ~ ~

Such an incredible life. Her artistry is sublime, no? Speaking of sublime, I’d also love to commission Carlo Marchiori! Interestingly enough, I found out via Art’s the Answer that the architects who designed Carlo Marchiori’s Ca’Toga also designed Gina’s home. Very nice! Gina does have a wonderful, refined and warm way about her — it truly reflects in her colorful work and in the blog posts she writes. She also sells her work via eBay and her Etsy shop, Maiolica, and explains that, “I have found a niche for a product that has not been imported in the last few years.  There are only a handful of  tile companies who will import special orders”. Every year, her town of Spring City, Utah is “open” to the public and they have several fine artists living in the small community with visitors coming from far and wide to purchase art. Sounds like an amazing way to live life!  Thank you, Gina, for sharing your life and artistry with us. Have a wonderful day, everyone!

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08 Jul

Faux-cus on the Pros: Annie Sloan

The quick story is that Annie Sloan is a decorative painter who is also an author that helped elevate and popularize many beautiful techniques.  The long story is that she has been in the industry for over 40 years, her books have sold in the millions, they are available in eleven languages, she creates phenomenal products and oh, sparked a painted furniture revolution.

Annie Sloan

Annie Sloan

We’ve written about one of her books before as well as her popular Chalk Paint line.  Today, we spend time with the fun-loving woman behind the business.  “I was in art school for 7 years and then in a band for 2 and then I was a journalist for a year before deciding I wanted to paint paint paint. The band was pretty exciting and we did a lot of very cool things – we made a film in Berlin and performed with Roxy Music among others.  David Bowie used to love us and Mick Jagger came to see us perform.  But this is all a LONG time ago. My youngest Hugo is a singer and will be touring with his solo project, Chad Valley, this summer in the States.”  Intrigued?  Let’s learn more…

What are some of the best designed spaces you’ve seen in your travels?

I like organic growth very much so I do love the randomness of an English village or a Mediterranean town, with higgledy piggledy lanes and big and large houses pushed together on top of each other.  We also visited Seville a few years back and went to the Alcázar, the Moorish eleventh century palace.  That is one of the most relaxing and stunning places I’ve ever seen with a mix of Muslim and Christian design that is both breathtaking and inspiring.   It was great to see a culture that allowed both to flourish.

Where do you see decorative painting heading in the future?

I think it will become more integrated into the rest of interior decoration – there will be more interior decoration shops, vintage shops, more recycling, upcycling and repurposing.  Modern Country will be a new look – colours will be lighter and brighter and the French look will continue to be popular.  There will also be a lot more DIY.

Annie Sloan

Annie Sloan

Who are some of your inspirations?

Duncan Grant and the rest of the Bloomsbury group at the Charleston farmhouse in Sussex in the south  of England – a stroke of genius I think!  David Hicks, English decorator who was big in the 1960/70s – the ‘haute couleur’ of home décor!  Coco Chanel, too – simple classic sensitive style. No fuss chateau chic!

Annie Sloan

List five (5) hobbies that sound fun.

Gardening, orienteering,  singing, canoeing and  playing a musical instrument.

What one existing book or movie title describes your life?

Eyes Wide Shut.  Not the film itself, just love the title as it sort of describes how we go through life thinking we know what’s going on but….  Also, Sense and Sensibility would be how I hope I have lived my life…ha!

Annie Sloan

One of the sensibly beautiful techniques she teaches in her books.

Which artist would you like to commission to create a work of art for your home?

O goodness what a delight!  It would have to be David Hockney.

Any books on the design or art industry that you recommend for us to read?

Probably Charleston – a Bloomsbury House and Garden by Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson.  It is something well-known to British readers but not so well known to the US.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you have received?

There are enough things against you in life so make certain you stay friends with everyone in the industry. We need to work together not against each other.

What photo or picture really moves you?

So many pieces but the last piece I really was inspired by deeply was in the Picasso Museum in Paris – he worked with pink and browns yellow and purples – difficult weird colours and made them look splendid. He apparently found colour very difficult so it is inspiring how he worked first with neutrals then he worked through his blue and pink periods then with a mix of colours. I love his JOY of expression, too.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I think Annie has a definite joy in expression as well — and you know I love the advice to work together, not against each other.  Please do take a moment to check out her informative website to learn more about her company, product and books.  She also has a Facebook page and a Twitter stream.  Did you find out something new about this industry icon?  I think her five chosen hobbies sounded pretty cool and I loved her suggestions…  Have a great weekend, dear Readers!


03 Jun

Faux-cus on the Pros: Melanie Royals – Part 2

Our Faux-cus on the Pros series profiles creative entrepreneurs in the decorative painting and design industries.  This week, we profile Melanie Royals, who has helped shape our industry with innovative ideas, products and finishes.  In Part 1, we covered the beginnings of her career and talked a bit about the history of the humble stencil, too.  We continue our interview with Melanie today and talk about design leanings and what’s coming up next for her companies, Royal Design Studio and Modello Designs.  I think what I admire most about her team is that nothing is ever taken lightly. Everything released — be it a video, webinar or even a marketing flyer — is consistently done with an impeccable creative edge.  I find that spirit of Excellence inspiring.  Let’s continue with the interview!

What are some of your personal favorite designs and styles?

Well the whole “modern movement” has been a bit rough for me because I’m a classics girl, all the way! There is SUCH a rich history of centuries of pattern that has been beautifully cataloged in design books, and I have tried to buy all of them!

A small portion of her bookshelf...

The classic forms and shapes of ornament that developed independently all over the world all come from nature and I believe that they speak to us at a deeper, more personal level and are a part of our collective creative souls. Other design trends come and go like fashion fads, but we keep coming back to the classics. You can see evidence of this in all the design magazines and blogs. Can I get an AMEN that the whole stripped-down, chilly modern look is fading away!  (Fauxology Note: AMEN!)

(above) Celestial Turkish Emblems, Tooled Leather, Fortuny Silk and Foiled Again (below)

The great thing about what we do is that we can recreate classic styles for artistic contemporary applications. I love using pattern as just one ingredient of surface decoration, and combining it with texture, patina, light reflection, color, etc. This is where we can really use our individual creativity and artistic exploration.

I am not so much into historical recreation…

…as historical reinterpretation.

When I am looking through classic pattern books or reference material, my eye sees an image of a pattern, but my mind is racing ahead to place it into a context that contains all the possible surface and combination of materials I might use to create a unique effect with it. I have always thought of stencils as just an ingenious means to and end; a simple tool to create a unique, artistic surface.

With my love of classic, European design, I am feeling super fortunate that I was approached this year by the licensing director for The Hearst Castle Collection to develop a series of Royal Design Studio stencils and Modello masking patterns from the extensive library of pattern and design that can be found at Hearst Castle. For me, this is like a beautiful gift! Hearst Castle is filled with exquisite antique ceilings rescued from palaces, villas, churches and monasteries from Spain and France, and I have access to the architectural drawings of the prolific Julia Morgan.

We will be offering both single layer and multi-layer (theorem-style) versions of the designs, as they lend themselves to some more intricate and ornate pattern work. I will be introducing these designs at the upcoming IDAL convention and also on my painting trip to Barcelona in June, where the students there will be the first to use them as we complete several complex panel samples during our stay in a former monastery just outside of the city.

I have also always loved Arabic and Moorish decoration and been heavily influenced by the 3 painting trips I have led to Marrakech, Morocco. To me, these are also classic patterns and I love the spiritual geometry behind the pattern development. The complex, interlacing designs have a special way of drawing you in, and they seem to have a universal appeal as well. I’ll be leading a fourth (and probably last) trip back to Marrakech this coming October.

YouTube Preview Image

It is a very special, inspiring place, especially for those who appreciate art and beauty the way that decorative artisans do. Being able to experience other countries and cultures with and through the eyes of fellow artists has been such a gift and blessing in my life that I am very grateful for.

Do you believe in destiny or choice?

Both. I believe that we are all here to serve and work towards a higher path and purpose, but WE make choices every hour of the day that affect how we travel quickly or with what degree of difficulty we travel on that path. Sometimes our choices lead us to detour and dead ends, but what we learn on those side trips helps guide us later on down the road. Or at least that’s the hope! I think the trick is to try to learn from our mistakes (which are really valuable lessons), but not to dwell on them. I try to live in the now but my focus is definitely always on what’s coming over the horizon!

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Good words to live by! I do hope you have enjoyed our two-part chat with Melanie Royals.  Please be sure to also check out her Facebook Fan page for Modello Designs and Royal Design Studio as well as her Twitter profile.  Her blog, Design Amour, is a fantastic read and she does posts videos frequently on her YouTube page.  A big Thank You! to Melanie for e-chatting with us and sharing her story, insights and more about her businesses.  I hope you’ve been inspired as you go into the weekend!

02 Jun

Faux-cus on the Pros: Melanie Royals – Part 1

Melanie Royals has been showcasing her considerable passion for pattern and design since 1983.  She is a self-taught artist who, in 1994, established Royal Design Studio, her signature stencil line, and followed that with 2003′s Modello Designs, a decorative masking pattern company.  She is also an accomplished author, releasing books on subjects such as decorative finishes, stenciled murals and travel-inspired finishes, among others.  An international instructor, she plans and leads painting trips abroad to locations in France, Italy, Spain and Morocco as well as teaching in her California studio, online webinars and studios nationwide.

The above is the shortened bio of one of the most prolific artists in our industry.  Chances are high that you know the name Melanie Royals, or at the very least, her incredible businesses.  A few years ago, I met her when I took a class in her lovely studio.  We’ve kept in touch since then, from e-mailing to showcasing at trade shows to attending a blog conference together.  She has been blessed with an almost otherworldly creative sense as well as keen business and marketing insights — a rare combination.  In person?  Witty, insightful and a girl’s girl — plus, one of the most fun people you could possibly spend time with.  Seriously — I’ve had tears streaming down my eyes in laughter from her stories!  We had an e-chat recently for Fauxology and I hope you enjoy both her story and insights over the next two days. We start today with her beginnings and inspirations and conclude tomorrow with all that’s coming up for her (and for us!).  Let’s dig in…

It’s been said that all incredible journeys start with one step.  How did yours begin?

I actually started on this journey with a trip to New England in 1983. We went to some historic places, like Sturbridge Village where I saw examples of historic New England stenciling. It wasn’t until we hit the Boston Museum of Art, though, where I picked up the book The Art of Decorative Stenciling by Adele Bishop and Cile Lord that the whole thing clicked for me. That book was filled with stenciled images that made me HAVE to learn how to stencil!

There were some more simplistic designs for sure, but it was the photos of intricately detailed and shaded furniture and floor screens that I kept going back to. They just looked so magical to me! I discovered that they were achieved with “theorem-style” stencils, where different parts of the design are cut on different layers. When all of the layers are completed, you end up with an image that looks as if it could have been hand painted, because there are no bridges or broken areas in the design.

I poured over the book, and spent many hours at my dining room table drawing and redrawing designs and then cutting them by hand with a Stanley knife! Unfortunately, these amazing artistic and pioneering women worked long before the digital age, and all that I can now find about them online is a photo of a very “now” stenciled graphic floor by Cile Lord in a House Beautiful magazine spread from 1970 and Adele’s obituary from 1996. It’s sad to think that two women who truly had a great affect on the resurgence of stenciling in this country and a lot of what we do today are not being properly honored, remembered or respected as they deserve to be.

In the late 80’s I was contacted by a very eccentric retired interior designer who had just move from Connecticut, named Evelyn Tasch. Evelyn had actually worked quite a bit with Adele Bishop and Cile Lord (Bishop & Lord) on residential and commercial projects in and around New York City. She even had some of their original pieces in her home, which amazed and intimidated me to no end! She had a vision and style like no other, and working with her over two of her houses fortunately pushed me to think outside the box along with her. I think that the challenges she presented me with (and she WAS challenging) had a huge effect on shaping my approach to pattern to this day.

What are some misconceptions about stencils and stenciling that you encounter?

Ha! I could write a whole book on that subject alone. Sadly, it seems that classic, oft-repeated misconception about stencils (that it’s all about crafty ducks and bunnies) has existed for almost 30 years now. Seriously! Those types of designs were popular for about 1 year back in the 80’s and people either overlook, or don’t have the knowledge, that stencils have been used elegantly and artistically for 1,000’s of years by both primitive and advanced cultures all over the world! I wrote a blog post on Design Amour just recently about a wonderful new book, Walls: The Best of Decorative Treatments, by Florence de Dampierre. Amazingly, it has a WHOLE chapter devoted to the extensive history of decorative painting. I was thrilled to see the poor, lowly stencil get its just due, finally! I highly recommend it as required reading. Of course, the stenciling photos are divine as well.

Another misconception I’ve heard over the years is that using stencils is “cheating” somehow. As if it’s an art “test”?! Of course, there are all kinds of mechanical means for transferring pattern, such as pounce patterns (used by the Renaissance artists), tracing, and projecting. Stencils are just a different, friendly tool for pattern transferring-with benefits, as you can create the transfer with paint in one fell swoop, or swirl, of the brush.

I don’t think that misconception is as common now as it was back in the day before stencils and decorative finishes became as integrated as they are now. There WAS a time when people drew lines in the sand as to whether they were stencilers, faux finishers or muralists. I am really proud to have been involved in that line blurring. I took one of The Finishing School’s first classes here in San Diego using the “new” finishing line from Faux Effects back in the 90’s. I took my activated glaze samples home and applied my new Damask and Free Form Fruits stencils to them. When I took them back to class the next day everyone went crazy over them. Bob Marx then asked me to develop a class to teach at TFS in New York and Extraordinary Stenciled Effects was born! Some notable students from that first class were Sean Crosby and Randy Ingram. After that I traveled extensively, teaching stenciled finishes at Faux Effects schools until I finally developed The Extraordinary Stenciled Effects home study program of videos, technique manual, and recipe cards.

One special thing that I have seen over the years is that stencils can be a gateway for beginning budding artists to grow and blossom in their skills. Stenciling can help ignite a passion for color, form, pattern and design.  I have seen many decorative painters start with stencils, and then go on to become highly skilled trompe l’oeil or mural artists once they discover their own innate skills and enthusiasm for decorative art.

Where do you see pattern and design headed in the future?

Well, the good news is that pattern is currently BACK in a big way and a whole new generation of young, trend-setting decoristas are discovering stencils as the hottest, “newest” thing! Can decorative finishes be far behind? I see the whole “glaze craze”, crackled finishes, distressing, etc. cycling through again-but with twists!  I think that this is a really important time for our industry to seize the moment and the conversation in this amazing digital Web 2.0 environment.

Unfortunately, many decorative painters, companies and organizations are on their heels with their backs to the wall from the housing bust and the ongoing recession, but I think that there is going to be a lot of opportunity in the future for artisans and companies who are willing and able to hang on and to rethink, re-strategize, and reposition themselves.

Beyond stenciling and decorative painting, I am most pleased with what we have been able to accomplish and offer with the introduction of our Modello decorative masking patterns 8 years ago. Trying to convince people to consider a one-time-use, custom pattern over a reusable, mylar stencil was a super tough sell for several years, but they have now become an industry standard. It’s been really gratifying to see the amazing work, artistic work our customers have done with our patterns. It was such a thrill to be able to honor THEM with our two Modello by Design books.

From flooring to walls to ceilings…Modellos make an impact.  Artists (clockwise from top left): Utah’s Metamorphosis, Nancy Jones, Jason Lucas and Lynn Smith

(cont.)  I think where Modello patterns continue to shine is for taking complex patterns and making them “doable” in a way that is time efficient, yet allows for over the top artistry and execution. I think a great, classic painted ceiling or wood floor can be an “heirloom” that gets passed down through generations of homeowners. Heirloom decorative painting. Now, there’s a nice thought!

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Heirloom decorative painting — I’ll always like the sound of that!  I hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of our 2-part interview.  Tomorrow, we talk a bit more about her design leanings, her affinity for “historical reinterpretation” and see what is coming up (Hearst Castle, anyone?).  Please come back to read more — and of course, see more gorgeous images.  Have a wonderful day!

21 Feb

Submissions to Fauxology

I’ve relied on all types of social media and blogs to lead me to beautiful discoveries that I then profile here on Fauxology. A curious thing has happened in the meantime. As some of you have commented, become fans on the Fauxology FB page and also signed up for our newsletter, I’ve noticed that there are some Readers with extraordinary work and viewpoints — and I haven’t come across you yet! I was interviewed recently for a blog and the last question was “What’s next for you and how can we help you?” and I thought that was so, so thoughtful…and then, of course, I wanted to share that sentiment with YOU, dear Readers.

So, I’m listing all our regular series and features to let you know how to submit your artistry, your products, your studios…

1) Portrait of an Artist – This series focuses on artists around the world with extraordinary work. If you’d like a chance to share your story, please send 3 – 4 photos of your work and website link with the subject line: Portrait of an Artist. The two requirements are that you have a website and that you work professionally in the decorative painting industry.

2) Faux-cus on the Pros – This series focuses on anyone involved in the design industry who’d like to share their artistry, products and/or services. The two requirements are that you have a website and that you be involved within the design industry. Past profiles have included Interior Designers, Social Media Mavens, Wallcovering Artisans, Photographers, Product and Stencil Manufacturers. Let’s add you to the list! Please send your website link with the subject line: Faux-cus on the Pros.

3) Spotlight on Studios – This series focuses on showcasing innovative studios within the decorative painting industry. Have a super-cool class with finishes we must see? Incredible Master Artisans teaching at your place? Send your studio info along with the subject line Spotlight on Studios. The two requirements are that you have a website and that you have a current schedule of workshops available. [...and btw, do you know about the Faux Calendar? Very cool for you as well. :) Ok, moving along...]

4) The Deets – This brand-new series (debuting soon!) focuses on the innovative, wonderful products and tools in our industry. Do you have cool ones to share with our Readers? Please send your website and a quick synopsis of your product with the subject line: The Deets. This is not an interview series or to necessarily showcase an entire product line but rather a beautiful, quick way to share what a particular product is and what it does.

5) Blog Beat – Have a blog that you think is amazing? Let us know about it! It does need to be updated regularly (at least a few times per month) and be of interest to our readership — those are the requirements!  Subject line: Blog Beat.

6) Special Projects – Is there a special project you have that you know should be featured?  A restaurant, a hotel or an incredible room in a wonderful residence?  If it’s a gem of a commission, we want to know…and, of course, share your artistry and company with everyone.  Subject line: Special Projects.

The e-mail address is

Of course, you can always submit compliments — those are welcome, too! If you have a complaint, send that along with the subject line “You’re Gonna Need Some Coffee for This”. ;) Please note that not all submissions will be chosen for publishing but I daresay you, dear Readers, will share many fantastic discoveries. These get booked up months in advance so I just want you to be aware of that, mmm-kay? An effort is made to respond to all e-mails but know that it might take a bit of time as well. Thank you — and have a great day!

14 Jan

Faux-cus on the Pros: Leslie Carothers of The Kaleidoscope Partnership

When I first came upon Twitter, I encountered Leslie Carothers of The Kaleidoscope Partnership, a very successful social media company for the furniture and design industries. She seemed so knowledgeable and gregarious — I followed her immediately. We met in person while in NYC meeting my fellow design bloggers and she was warm, generous and kept introducing me to one wonderful person after another! Her social media acumen helps her clients achieve many professional goals. I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation for an interview.

Our Faux-cus on the Pros series profiles inspiring people in related design trades. As a fellow studio owner, I want to not only provide lovely design posts but also share valuable business advice as well. Today, both are accomplished as Leslie Carothers shares her background, talks about social media and relays a very special encounter of her own.


Leslie Carothers

How did you venture down this career path?

I have always loved furniture and design, but thought I was going to have a corporate career as my degree was in management. Once I graduated from college, I did become involved in a corporate career – first with Dun & Bradstreet, then within the securities industry and finally working as VP of Investor Relations for a large company in California. Due to a combination of factors, I found myself in Houston, TX. I went to work (for what I thought would be a short period of time until another Investor Relations job opened) at Roche Bobois. I loved working around such luxurious and beautiful furniture, though, and stayed 10 years! After this, I was recruited by Cantoni Design where I worked for 6 more years as their Senior Designer and was fortunate enough to design some of the finest residences in Houston and have my design work featured several times on TV and in the Houston Chronicle.

I had also always loved the Internet and was intensely curious about it. Even back this many years ago, I was sure it was going to change how furniture retailing worked. However, no one else believed me…then.

Along came Sept. 11, 2001. The day that changed my world and of so many others. I thought, “If I don’t start my own business now, it will be too late.” I wanted to sink or swim on my own so I formed The Kaleidoscope Partnership in July, 2002. I wrote a 64-page training manual about how to use design in the retail sales process and started out doing sales training for retailers, reps and manufacturers. I also made it my business to get to know every supplier or Internet-related service to the furniture industry. I trained for 36 retailers around the country and my business flourished. My clients were getting more and more interested in all things web and the questions about the Internet kept increasing over dinners!

With the advent of my father’s death in 2005, I regrouped and moved to Florida to be closer to my mother. I stopped traveling so much and stepped back to look through my personal kaleidoscope to see a fresh perspective. Sometimes you are in that spot of transformation or what seems like a holding pattern until your next move reveals itself. I knew for sure that my next step was going to be related to the web as that was my real passion. Not long after this came an offer related to the web that brought me to Minnesota. I ended up loving Minnesota and then came the perfect new tools and way of doing business that allowed me to use my management skills, my sales and sales training skills, my furniture and design knowledge: Social Media!

I have had the joy of working in social media now (and only within the furniture and design industries) and helping TKP’s clients understand how to use it to impact the bottom line of their businesses. It is the most fun I’ve ever had and I am so blessed that I am now able to use my skills in a way that can help connect the dots for the entire ecosystem of the industry in order to create opportunities not only for our clients, but for others, too.

What do you think is the best thing that’s happened to the furniture and design industry as a result of using social media?

The best thing that’s happened is collaboration, learning and the speed at which work can get done. The furniture and design industry for a very long time has been hyper competitive and none to keen on working together. That is changing. Retailers and manufacturers are learning how to work with bloggers. Bloggers are learning what retailers and manufacturers need from them. Designers are collaborating together because they are realizing how much they have to learn from each other and that they have complimentary skill sets. There is a huge mesh taking place between traditional media- magazines, newspapers, television and designers.

It’s all about listening and, for the first time, the tools are available that are able to help the different stakeholders in our industry listen to each other…and respond…in real time and fast. Learning is taking place much, much faster.

For instance, one of our clients is Cargill, the largest privately held company in the US. Their BiOH polyols division produces a soy polyol ingredient that replaces a portion of the all oil derived polyol currently used in flexible foam. When you see a cushion or mattress that contains soy, it is more than likely being made with BiOH polyols ingredient. In 2010, we implemented a very successful social media campaign for them called Project UDesign which was an international contest to crowdsource the first eco wing chair in the history of the furniture and design industry. The campaign involved 3 other partners, Savannah College of Art and Design, Century Furniture and Toray Ultrasuede. The campaign generated 4500 contest votes on the BiOH FB Page, 19 non-sponsored blogs were written, over 10 million impressions on the BiOH brand were created via Twitter and thanks to our Editorial PR partner, Leslie Newby, we had hundreds of pieces of media coverage. Ryland Quillen, the crowd’s winner, will receive royalties on every chair that is sold. He is now an official furniture designer for Century Furniture and his chair, Alifair, will become a permanent part of Century’s line up.

Are there any books you recommend for us — both business and design — to look into?

The book I recommend for understanding what is possible with social media is Engage by Brian Solis. The book I recommend for understanding what is possible with social media and furniture and design hasn’t been written – yet.

The best book I read in 2010 about furniture and design was Barbra Streisand’s book about her home building process,My Passion for Design. If every homeowner and designer read this, they would learn so much about what it takes to create an extraordinary interior. You may not like her taste, but that’s not the point. The book is FULL of very, very useful information. Finally, the most beautiful book on design in 2010 was, in my opinion, Carolyne Roehm’s A Passion for Interiors.

Leslie, tell me about your most cherished social media experience.

In early 2009, I met Kathy Ireland on Twitter and we struck up a conversation in 140 about the importance of social media to retailers. I was shocked that I was actually getting to tweet with Kathy in real time as she and I had had no previous contact . Shortly after that conversation, I was invited to Maui to speak to retailers attending the annual conference for the Western Home Furnishings Association about social media.

When Kathy found out I was going to Maui (because she saw my tweets about it !) this is what she did – which still amazes me to this day since we had never met in person and she just knew me from Twitter. She offered to have me picked up at my hotel in a limousine, treated to dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House (where I was personally waited on by a dear friend of hers that works there) and then taken back to my hotel in that same limousine. I felt like a princess and couldn’t believe that Twitter alone had brought this wonderful event into my life from someone as famous as Kathy! I was glowing for days afterwards that such a true kindness had been shown to me from someone I had never met face to face.

I ventured to think that maybe, just maybe, she might be willing to be my honored guest speaker later in 2009 when I was invited by World Market Center Las Vegas to be their featured speaker with respect to social media and retailers. I was nervous but I asked Kathy publicly via Twitter (she asks that all requests of her be made publicly and not via DM) if she would consider it. To my utter amazement and genuine delight she said *YES!*

It was a red letter day in my professional life when I had the honor of introducing Kathy to the delighted audience of retailers who hung on her every word when she shared her heartfelt story about her business and the role that Twitter and social media were playing in Kathy Ireland Worldwide.

I will never forget that Kathy Ireland, the most successful CEO in the furniture industry (she owns a 1.3 billion dollar company that she started from absolute scratch!) bent down to lift me up and help me in this manner with no expectations of anything in return. Her outreach and kindness were genuine, there was no ulterior motive (she didn’t ask for anything at all and she wasn’t then and isn’t now a client) and to this day I look up to her as an example of a business woman that understands the true meaning of the word Mentor.

All of this was created through 140 character tweets…yeah, those little sentences that have no value… where all people talk about is food and what movie they saw last night. :)

~ ~ ~

Social Media is a force with a powerful reach, especially in our design industry. Knowing how to wrangle it can increase your business success exponentially. Please note that you can follow Leslie on Twitter and be sure to check both The Kaleidoscope Partnership website and its Facebook page. Leslie bridges her true passion with incredible personal gifts — a knack for bringing the world together, so to speak, and consistently providing wonderful information to that world. I’m glad to be a part of it. (…and I hope she does write that book on social media that hasn’t yet been written…) Thank you, Leslie…and much continued success to you.

23 Nov

Faux-cus on the Pros: Modern Bird Studios

Our Faux-cus on the Pros series highlights companies that may not be directly involved in our decorative painting industry but do produce incredible artistry. I met Megan Deal on Twitter and although we were at the Nate Berkus show together, we totally missed meeting each other. She and her husband, Gregg, run Modern Bird Studios together and they create beautiful “wall couture — custom, modern, personalized art inspired from photographs”.

They are also incredibly engaging — she is easily one of my favorite people to interact with on Twitter. (Why, oh why, didn’t we meet? Curses!) As we are wont to do, we talked online and that led to a chat about their company, their beautiful artistry and being inspired by your bills.

Megan and Gregg Deal of Modern Bird Studios


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