maggie’s dream report: week nineteen

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There’s a reason he’s one of the greats! Room by decorator Billy Baldwin from the 1970’s (though it looks current!)

Like much of the Western World, I was saddened and touched by the recent passing of Steve Jobs. It surprised me, in a way, just how much it affected me – I didn’t know him, and didn’t particularly think about him much when he was alive. But as someone with a purpose and drive he made an impression on me.

In the days after his death I saw his Stanford address for the first time, read inspiring quotes from his speeches and interviews, and started to piece together what impressed me so. His ability to think outside the box. His striving for the perfect product. Always trying something new. He changed the face of technology and then continued to improve and shape it.

Now, I’m not a software engineer (I’ll leave that to my boyfriend) but it made me think a lot about interior design and what “making an impact” means in my industry. I realized that for me, it’s not enough to spend an entire career just “making things pretty” but rather to change what design IS. To do something new and different. Try new ideas and create new trends, not just follow them. I don’t want to be satisfied with putting the latest “hot” fabric on a pillow, painting the walls the “in” color, and making a “nice” or “cute” room. I want people to walk into a room that I designed and say “WOW!”

So, um, how exactly do I plan to start doing that?

There are lots of nasty arguments on the internet about the difference between the term “decorator” and the term “designer” (for the record, I am a decorator) that primarily has to do with education. For the sake of staying on topic, we’re tossing that out the window right now. What I’m talking about is SELF-educating.

The difference between a good decorator and a GREAT decorator comes from, I think, the ability to start trends and predict trends and not just follow them. In order to do so, I think it’s key to have a fundamental understanding of what came before you, what’s going on around you, and how to tap into your creative voice that says, “To hell with it all, paint it red!”

Since going back to school isn’t something that I’m interested in right now, my plan is to voraciously learn all about design on my own. Sure, I am a good decorator and I can think outside the box once in a while. But I want to understand where the design trends of today are coming from, what they’re building off of, and where they might go next. By looking back into the history of design and significant designers, I think I’ll gain insight and add a layer of depth to my work that is only hinted at right now.

My curriculum:

  • The work of past designers, notably Billy Baldwin, Dorothy Draper, David Hicks, and Albert Hadley.
  • The work of current designers that I admire, notably Miles Redd, Steven Gambrel, Molly Luetkemeyer, Kelly Wearstler (so crazy, but she’s just light-years ahead of us), Mary McDonald, Thomas O’Brien.
  • Architecture
  • Art history
  • Textiles – design, manufacturing, history, etc.
  • (more to be added!)

My materials:

  • The library (basically everything I can read)
  • The internet
  • Job shadow or tours
  • Hands on – Dying to learn to paint, for instance

Ideally we’d be adding some “travel” in there too, but from my last post you’re right to assume that it’s just not in the budget now (although we are planning a visit to New York in the spring and I will be making the most of it!).

My hope is that studying the work of the designers whose footsteps in which I wish to follow will open my eyes and brain in a way that will make me a better decorator. And that I’ll always strive to be better and to learn more and not be satisfied with just doing well, but instead always be trying to improve and grow.

Maggie Morgan is an interior decorator in Seattle. Visit her website to see her work and read her blog, Maggie Rose.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Jillian

    Hi Maggie,

    I am about halfway through a grad program in interior design (I don’t have an undergrad in design, so I also take undergrad classes). For what it’s worth, they don’t really teach us what you already know – that education extends far beyond the classroom. We don’t cover classic designers like the ones you mentioned, and they certainly don’t (can’t) teach us taste. I have noticed that the design students who are most successful are the ones who are doing exactly what you’re doing and are aware that design doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your dream reports, because you’re exactly where I hope to be in a couple years. Thank you so much for sharing!


  2. karlita

    I would like to know.. what makes someone a decorator? I would like to be one for now! thanks for sharing!!

  3. You’re absolutely right. I think that continuing to self-educate, no matter how much education, training and experience you already have under your belt, is the best way to be the best you can be in what you do. There are always new things to learn and discover, and that’s how you stay on the pulse of what is new out there in your field.

    BTW, um Nate Berkus never went to school for design and you can THAT throw into the argument of “decorator vs. designer”. I don’t think anyone can doubt his talent and vast success and he’s completely self-educated!!

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