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.