Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Inspiration vs. Copycatting

I've been thinking about writing a post like this for a while now, but a comment I received yesterday was enough to actually start my typing. Now, I want to preface this with the fact that I enjoy all of the comments I receive from the blog, and I understand that when you put your words and pictures out onto the great wide web, you're going to hear and read things that aren't necessarily flattering. I also understand that often times, things do not come across as intended, and things that may seem offensive in the text, simply aren't.

With that said, the question that started this train of thought came after reading: "You spend so much of your time copying other people." Needless to say, I was hurt, but I knew that the person who wrote the comment didn't intend to hurt me. In fact, the comment started with a wonderful compliment. Still, I began thinking, what is copying and what's truly finding and then executing inspiration?

In my opinion, design is fluid. Your sense of style and your aesthetic changes with the experiences, places, and things that you see, touch, and learn from as you grow older, wiser, more aware. I can remember the first time that I went to Winterthur, the DuPont estate located in Delaware. I came back from that experience with a new found love for American antiques, and keen sense of furniture placement that helped me redecorate CDLV (my old house) for the last time. Was I copying Winterthur? No. Quite frankly, I can't even begin to think about affording to copy anything there, but I was inspired, and I took that wonderful experience as a lesson in design, and I brought it back to my own home and created "my look", well, "our look" at the time.

One of my long-time and dear blogging friends is Joni Webb, who writes Cote de Texas out of Houston. Her home is stunning, a vision in white linen and seagrass.

Joni is an inspiration to thousands, literally. But she herself has been very public about sharing designers that have influenced her, and who have helped her to realize her visions for her own home including Carol Glassier, Pam Pierce, Charles Faudree, Dan Carithers, and Gerrie Bremerman. Take for instance this dining room, designed by Gerrie Bremerman years ago:

Stunning, without a doubt, and as relevant today as it was then. Notice the slipcovers on the chairs, that beautiful scalloped detail.

Now notice the scallop skirts on Joni's daybed in her living room. Did she copy Bremerman? I venture to guess that Joni didn't have the Bremerman article in her hand when she hired Hien Lam to make these slips. But had she seen it? Had she been inspired? Absolutely. No doubt in my mind that Joni (an amazing designer with stunning client work featured in magazines and books) can come up with brilliant ideas all on her own, but when you see something that works, and you love it, why not employ that detail in your own space.

It's not a secret that when I left CDLV, Joni's home inspired my first apartment. It was affectionately referred to as "the cotton ball" by all of my friends.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I chose white slipcovers purely because I had been so in love with Joni's home and all of the photos of the "Houston look" she had posted on her blog. For 8.5 years, I read Cote de Texas itching to do white and seagrass, but it never looked right at CDLV. NEVER! As soon as I got out on my own, I jumped at the opportunity, and I loved it. Did I copy her? No. Had I learned from her? Yes!

Joni and I communicate often. She's always been an incredible sounding board for me, and a resource beyond belief. Spending time learning from Joni is an education not to be matched. Truly. I have taken cues from her, evolved as a designer and understood better of my own aesthetic because of what she has done, and what she has helped me to do.

After living with the all white in my first apartment, I branched out a bit with the second space I moved to. Still all white, still inspired by Joni, but this time, I also took inspiration from designer Renea Abbott, of Shabby Slips in Houston. Her home had beautiful white slip covers, taxidermy and the Scalamandre silk velvet tiger print that I've since used in every apartment and for several clients. 

Renea had actually been a huge inspiration in the first apartment as well, but in my second apartment I started to really refine the things I was picking up from all of these inspiring images I had collected. That apartment felt more like me, and it was beautiful ...

Here again I took a lesson from Joni, hanging bamboo roman shades above the window height, all the way at the ceiling to trick the eye into thinking tiny apartment windows were more impressive. Was it copying her? I made a large antique mirror alcove after seeing this one by designer Brian McCarthy, was it copying him?

I was inspired for better flow and use of my living room by building the large daybed/ottoman after seeing how well it seemed to work for antiquities dealer and designer Tara Shaw:

In fact, it was actually Tara Shaw's beautiful home in New Orleans that greatly inspired my new apartment. Her bedroom had beautiful antique leather and iron Savonarola chairs that I instantly fell in love with. I knew that the shape and the scale and the unique beauty of those chairs would be gorgeous in my new space. I also knew that I didn't have the $15,000 to buy a pair on 1stdibs. 

Aren't they lovely? I tucked them away in the back of my mind. Perfect chairs I knew I'd love but never be able to afford. Until I found a pair!

They certainly aren't as beautiful or as old as Tara's but the inspiration I took from her, tucked way back into my mind, was instantly thrown into overdrive when I saw these. They're actually very different from Tara's, made by an amateur welder as outdoor patio chairs, undoubtedly inspired by chairs like the antique Savonarola. But the scale was perfect, and the interest was there! I designed the slips and had them made to soften the hard iron seats and backs. Did I copy Tara? No. Was the image from her bedroom the first thing that popped into my mind when I found these chairs? ABSOLUTELY! Why? Because I was so inspired by the beauty of that room, by the formality and the simplicity of it all.

Another designer and dear friend of mine is Joan Ross, who writes for the love of a house out of New Hampshire. Joan and her husband Dan invited me to the farmhouse years ago, and I accepted the invitation without hesitation. As I roamed the house freely with a glass of champagne in hand, I captured in my mind every detail that could possibly fit. It was (and frankly, still is) the most beautiful house I had ever seen in person.

Joan creates layered and meaningful interiors. Everything has a story. EVERYTHING! Even the cowhide that she bought for the living room has her initials stamped into it! A lucky ikea find. It was Joan who inspired my dedication to creating layers now and at CDLV, both inside and in my garden, and who gave me two bits of advice I'll never lose: "buy what you love" and "trust your gut".

Joan's terrace off the barn room inspired my own pea gravel garden at CDLV:

It had been years since I had been to the farmhouse and yet, I still remembered this beautiful scallop shell that Joan and Dan found in the yard of a home in Dallas. (I told you everything had a story.) When the pieces of my plaster capital broke (thanks to Louna) this room popped right back up in my memory bank and I was inspired to do as Joan had done:

I placed the fragment on the floor, and it's been there ever since, a beautiful and artistic piece displayed in a unique way. 

Joan is not without her own list of inspiring designers in her life, including none other than Bunny Williams. Joan toured Bunny's estate in Falls Village, Connecticut one year for her birthday, and came away with stories and inspiration galore, including the champagne toast to guests. Sometimes it's not even interiors that we are inspired by, it can simply be divine entertaining. That dinner and evening with Joan and Dan will stick with me a lifetime, and I will always be inspired by their beautiful home. 

Another dear friend, blogger Deserae Crafts who writes Peeking Thru the Sunflowers from Kansas has been published more than six times. Over the years Des has decorated and then redecorated, sometimes making small changes and sometimes redoing a room completely. Each time she knocks it out of the park. 

Designers like Charles Faudree shaped her love for French antiques and generous layers of beautiful things. Did she copy him? No. Has she learned from him? Yes. And have I learned from her? Absolutely! Deserae and I chat nearly every day, always about decorating. It seems that we are constantly in project mode, and it's fun to bounce ideas off of each other until we hit the buzzer just at the right time.

But it wasn't until recently when I started following and posting so much about Mark D. Sikes that I really started to get accused of copy-catting. Mark's house is definitely one of my favorite homes being passed around the internet, without a doubt. I find him to be incredibly inspiring, and I have certainly been inspired by him in my own home, but not any more or less than I've been inspired by Mary McDonald or Jeffrey Bilhuber, each with a similar aesthetic to Mark's who I followed far earlier. 

I found one of the most inspiring spaces, for me and my own home, that Mark ever created was the living room in the 2016 Southern Living Show House. 

It's seriously beautiful. I could move in right away. When this room was first featured, I was in the process of pulling my move together to the new apartment. So many ideas flooded my mind. I felt so connected to this space, and yet I had never even seen it in person. It felt all at once familiar, and too perfect to be real. I knew that I wanted my new apartment to be light, shades of cream and camel, with a mix of modern and traditional, and I hoped that it would be as welcoming as this was. It wasn't too long after that I caught a glimpse of this room Mark had done for a client in Pacific Palisades, California: 

The room had the same feeling as the Showhouse, but it felt even more like me. Black and white art, blue and white porcelain, that same fresh camel and cream color palette with modern touches like the glass coffee table paired up with Chinoiserie, brass, and books. 

Here all of the things that I loved started to come into play, thanks in large part to a finished room with similar elements created by Mark, but also with the things that I had learned from Joni, Joan, Deserae, Renea, and other designers like Mary McDonald: 

French antiques, blue and white chinoiserie, bamboo, and terracotta. Divine! Without a doubt, Jeffrey Bilhuber:

who created this glorious cream and camel color palette long before Mark, and who quite literally inspired the trim detail I used on my living room sofa:

There's an old adage, "No man is an island." We all (no matter how talented) are inspired by the things that we see all around us. Even Mark, who has been such an inspiration to me, has been inspired. Take his guest room:

It's gorgeous right?

So is this. Look familiar? It's the same fabric, covering the walls of Givenchy's le Jonchet. The room was a huge inspiration to Mark, and to other wonderful noted designer Alex Papachristidis, who used a similar fabric in his partner's dressing room/guest room in NYC:

Recently, as recently as yesterday, I blogged about artist and designer William Rankin McLure. He is another designer I admire. His loft in Birmingham, Alabama is nothing short of stunning:

McLure credits Mark D. Sikes with being a huge inspiration, and even hopes to work with him some day, but I'm sure that whether consciously or unconsciously McLure is inspired by other designers, like Betsy Brown, also in Alabama:

and architect Bill Ingram, who he worked with for quite a while before branching out on his own to focus on art. Again, everything around us (especially when you're an artistic/visual person) shapes the framework of your next idea. It could be as simple as a beautiful day, or as obscure as the perfect detail on an old iron fence, the stitching of a dress, the published room of a designer who you admire.

Life is a collection of experiences, as are our homes. If you're keenly aware or interested in interiors, you are undoubtedly shaped by the spaces you see. And when you tuck away those things you see and love, only to have them reincarnated in some small or large way later, that's not copying. That's truly inspired ideas surfacing in their time.


  1. As any of us artistic, creative types know very well, inspiration comes from EVERYWHERE. One cannot help admiring brilliant work, be it art, interior design or fashion. And, in the admiration we often take away a bit that we particularly liked. Actually, if we go back long enough in history we'll find almost nothing is new, it's translated into a new idea. You're wonderful just the way you are. And, I love love love Joni too. She's a Houstonian as I am. Big hug !!

  2. One could say the same of the Old Masters or the Impressionists or any other movement of art. Ideas ebb and flow. Why do we all wear more or less the same clothes? Is it because fashion designers are copying each other, or because they all consciously or subconsciously set limitations on what women today will accept? The same with decor. For one thing, not everybody is going to get furnishings and fabric made to order; one must work with what's in the market. And anyway, our sensibilities are shaped by what is happening in our era; it's completely normal. I also have all-white slipcovered antique furniture. Whom did I copy? I'd be hard-pressed to pinpoint it.
    Thank you for the introduction to Joan. I already am an enthusiastic fan of Joni Webb.

  3. You're so right, Artie. Inspiration is all around us, and our styles, tastes and preferences evolve as we are exposed to new things. Your ability to take what inspires you and make it uniquely yours is truly a gift. Love your interiors and your blog!

  4. Ideas do not come out of thin air. Every designer is inspired by someone or something. Their talent lies in how they make it their own. I love how you make it your own. You are a true talent. -Kathryn

  5. Artie, we are all influenced by that which we see. I am a fiber artist and am always influenced by anything and everything around me. What I do with that "idea" is not copying, it is evolving. I love your evolving style. You do shine through even when you spin off of someone else. Life is a learning process which you've embraced. Love what you do.

  6. Oh Artie, I really can't believe the gall of some people. I get these types too on occasion and it always makes me so sad for a time. These are not happy people.

    But, I encourage my readers to copy the masters! And BTW, I adore every designer you hi-lighted as well, including your own gorgeous work!

    I give my readers permission to copy because no matter what, it will never be an exact replica. And by "copying" is how we learn. And if a designer does something right like the bamboo shades hung up high, are you supposed to hang them differently in order not to copy? That's absurd. Right is right!

    So, to the cow who thinks she's being "helpful" by saying something nice followed by something demeaning and hurtful. You spend a lot of your time being a b*tcH.

    I wonder where she learned that from. :/

    Big hugs ~ Laurel

  7. There's slavish imitation and then there's inspiration, and even if one's aiming at slavish imitation, a home's distinct architecture and one's budget will dictate different outcomes.

    Landscape designer Tara Dillard's first dictum is "copy, copy, copy" when it comes to designing your garden, and according to her, copying is much more valuable than any landscape design course one could take.

    Several years ago I found this quote from Albert Hadley, which gives me (an amateur design fan) hope: "Obviously, you can’t have much of an opinion if you don’t know anything about what you are talking about. You have to have some education or some exposure. I am always interested in young people who have some kind of knowledgeable background about the business and about the people who have been involved in it over the years. … When I was growing up, I was educated mainly from magazines because in those days that’s where you could get at it. All of the magazines were so fabulous because they showed how the best of the best people lived — the ladies and gentlemen of style and taste, and what their houses looked like. The articles were wonderful and many of the magazines in the thirties had marvellous illustrations by the artist of the day." If it's good enough for Albert Hadley... !


  8. Artie,
    I rather think of design like the ocean. We flow forth with ideas that we implement, new, adapted, re-formed, a riff on the original-hopefully inspiring others, and then we pull back into the great collective of inspiration so that we might go forth again to flow out. Sometimes, the design is so stellar, so amazingly well-done one does knowingly recreate it, though it never feels quite the same. Who are we to say how or where the Muses work. It is all expansion, anything else is stale and stuck. Fashion shows us this; my teenagers are wearing a version of jeans that I wore in the 80's...and it's not much better now lol. I love to study a well-done room and see the references; the nods are an homage to a well-curated design. Thank you for sharing your spaces and ideas.

  9. You get inspiration from them...we get inspiration from you...so it goes. Please just keep doing what you do.......I love watching the way you transform a space. xo

  10. Two thoughts: there's nothing new under the sun (Old Testament)...whether it's inspiration or copying, it takes TALENT to create a pleasing design.
    You have the artistic eye to make things beautiful, and your living room is proof of that.

  11. Artie-

    Just chiming in to say that every room I've seen you put together is a beautiful blend of designer influences, yes, but is also distinctly YOU and unique to my eyes. I love that you've managed to curate such a layered and timeless look to your spaces that is an assimilation of classic and modern sensibilities. Please never stop doing what you do - as I learn so much from watching your style evolve!

    Also - I just received my pair of ginger jars in the mail today and gasped when I opened the box! They were expertly packed (thank you) and even more beautiful in person! They're now sitting atop my mantel, and I smile every time I look at them!

  12. I am so happy to have found your blog! The information you have shared is very informative. thanks

  13. ...what a wise and thoughtful post...blessings...laney

  14. Hey Artie,
    I absolutely love every incarnation of your design, and all are uniquely your's. I have read your blog for several years, maybe through Joni's blog, or maybe through Joan's, and have always found you entertaining and delightful. Thanks.

  15. Artie, first of all, thank you for including me in this post... I am honored.
    Secondly, Oh my gosh... I can't even imagine what my aesthetic would look like if I hadn't copied/taken inspiration/tried to emulate my favorite designers over the years. That is how I learned. Back in the old days;) before internet I would study the design magazines like they were design books. I would study a room I loved for days/weeks trying to figure out the how they did something, and more importantly why they did something. I would "think" I liked everything in a room except for one item and then would place my finger over it (as if to remove it from the room) and have an ahhh-ha moment of that is why it is there! Always so much to learn if we just stop and observe, inspiration is everywhere! I love how you take inspiration from others and make it your own. Keep inspiring us Artie!! xxojoan

  16. Your rooms are lovely. I do love to see some depth and contrast.

  17. Your blog is one of my go to places for mind cleansing and inspiration- love every one of your posts and want to thank you for sharing and for providing lessons in style and d├ęcor. Everything is derivative of something else and those who think otherwise aren't well versed in art, music, literature or basically anything else for that matter. Aristotle studied with Plato who studied with Socrates.......

  18. This entire post is one large 'touche' and it's great. Well written -thanks!!

  19. Artie,
    Even if you did slavishly copy someone, there is certainly nothing wrong with that! Your idol, Mark Sikes, admitted to copying Renzo Mongiardino in the detail of running decorative tape up the walls in a Park Ave apartment he decorated which was published in House Beautiful I believe

  20. omg. this made me cry a tear!!! this is so sweet! I love you!!!!!! and come on - hell yeah I copied those slips! not Gerrie. I think it was Pam. I can't even remember for sure - but yeah. nothing is real.

    ok = Miles Redd on the Skirted Roundtable told us that he had only 3 true original design ideas. One was the zebra covered door. I don't remember if he told us the other two - you might want to listen to that. Miles Redd. Plus I have a comment to tell you in private. lol. a complaint about a photo you showed. the fabrics are so off - the colors are wrong. !!! call me.

  21. Well stated Artieben! That said; regardless that I have the highest respect for Interior Designers, IMHO unlike that of an 'inventor' they cannot patent their creations nor do they have a monopoly on their ideas given good reason if one studies the history of Interior Design. (Its origin, theory, elements etc.) To conclude; it would be wonderful if it were otherwise however unfortunately that's the way it is. Warmest hugs -Brenda-

  22. Wonderfull thoughts Artie. mrsben in her comment above had an interesting point about designers vs inventors and the inability to patent an idea or creation. What comes to mind is Shabby Chic and Rachael Ashwell. We all use the term "Shabby Chic" to describe a certain look and everyone knows what it means. That doesn't happen very often with interiors because so much replication often dilutes the original design. When someone says "that's a "Mark D Sikes look" I think we know what they mean but its much harder to pinpoint. I love MDS too, by the way

    Any way...your apartment...so great! ; ))

    xo K

  23. WTH?? How ridiculous. I read Joni's blog, but I NEVER equated your rooms with hers. I love what you do - your rooms are relatable and livable while still being innovative and beautiful. I think you inspire people in a down to earth way that makes them feel they can achieve beauty in their own homes, too - design within reach, so to speak.

  24. I have no idea how I missed this post but just read it today. Probably a good thing because my first thought was a blustery defense of your amazing talents. Everyone else has pretty much covered my sentiments exactly. Every single time you share a room in your home I am bowled over by how FRESH and AMAZING it is. You have taken more than one "sows ear" of an apartment and turned it into a "silk purse"!!!! I adore your work. You and McLure & Sikes: all cut from the same cloth....you DESERVE to be mentioned in the same breath as those two...and many others. God bless you!!!