Modern Melting Pot

Last month at High Point Market, a lively panel of renowned designers Jamie Young Jeter, Thom Filicia, Michelle Nussbaumer, Ron Woodson, and Jamie Rummerfield – moderated by artist, designer, author of the New York Times best-selling book The New Bohemians and founder of JUNGALOW© Justina Blakeney – discussed “How to Incorporate Worldly Influences in Modern Design.” By Linda Longo

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ustina Blakeney began by asking the group, “What makes something global in design?” Thom Filicia – design expert on the original TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and now starring in Get a Room With Carson & Thom on Bravo and a licensed product designer for lighting, rugs, wall décor, bedding, and home accents – noted, “If we’re talking about Millennials, then what I love about this next generation of influencers is that they’re into bringing a collection of inspirations together to create their own point of view.”

Even throughout today’s marketplace, “there are all of these ethnicities that we’re able to bring together [for our clients], such as a French leg, marquetry, and different metals — all in a way that makes it feel very bespoke to the individual,” Filicia said.

Panelists (from left to right) Jamie Young Jeter, Thom Filicia, Michelle Nussbaumer, Ron Woodson, and Jamie Rummerfield

Interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer, who operates her own home décor shop Ceylon & Cie in Dallas, quipped, “No one wants to walk into a space that looks like the interior designer just left. We want to bring the client into the design.”

Jamie Rummerfield, co-owner of the Los Angeles-based award-winning interior design firm Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design with design partner Ron Woodson, noted, “For a designer, nothing replaces travel. The more influences you have, the more you can bring to your design.” Woodson added, “Our clients tend to be more worldly and international as a whole, so bringing in finds from all over the world is essential to our work. People are enriched by travel.”

Avid traveler Jamie Young, founder of her namesake California-based lighting company, regularly visits the landlocked country of Bhutan in South Asia, bordered by Tibet (also ranked among the “happiest countries in the world”). There, she finds, “the more remote [of a travel experience], the more immersed you become in the culture, which makes your work more authentic.”  

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“If you can’t travel, then find inspiration by visiting different neighborhoods, ethnic food stores, and restaurants.”

— Justina Blakeney


Travel Is Essential

There was one common chord among the panelists. “On some level, we are all storytellers; that’s what we do,” Filicia commented. “When you examine cultures through the ages, you see how they tell their story…some use art, some use rugs, some use textiles, etc. Layered stories are always more interesting!”

Nussbaumer added, “I love to work with the artisans [I find in other countries] and redefine how they’re making things. After all, they’ve been making things a certain way for generations. They may have never thought of a different way to do it, such as to try a different color or pattern in the tile.”

Blakeney then broached the topic of inadvertently misinterpreting a revered symbol or upsetting a culture when employing its use in your design work. She asked, “How do you honor those cultures when appropriating items for your client, who is not from that culture?”

Young was quick to point out that a motif does not have to be an exact copy. “Find out [the essence] of the culture and bring that [to your design]. For example, Bhutan is a Buddhist country known for happiness and mindfulness. You can incorporate elements of that [as a theme].”

Filicia noted, “Bringing these influences into a space is more about sending the message of being open [to the world] and staying interested [in others]. It’s about being open to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and life.”

Rummerfield observed, “We live in a disposable society. As an interior designer, our clients come from all over the world. We have to understand how they live and honor their different traditions and regions.”

Blakeney concurred, stating, “One of the things I love is the conversation that ensues when you put all these elements together [for clients].”

“The beauty is in the mix,” Nussbaumer nodded.

“It’s about that provocative moment that creates a reaction and causes an interesting conversation,” Filicia remarked. “One of the responsibilities we have as designers is to interpret [these elements] in a way that is more of an inspiration than a literal interpretation. It doesn’t have to be something opulent; it can be something ordinary, but you adapt it in a way that personalizes it for your client.”

Global Awareness Is Popular

Nussbaumer said she is thrilled to witness worldliness as a design theme. “Globalization doesn’t have to be ‘hippy chic,’” she explained. “It can be done [to resemble] a very sophisticated global traveler.”

The ability to travel to distant cultures and observe their traditions, food, and design has become an important tool in today’s designer toolbox. “It brings a huge freedom to all of us,” Young remarked, citing, “I might find an old tile somewhere in my travels and bring it to the Cloisonné factory we work with and then it becomes a lamp.”

Rummerfield concurred, “What we love to do is go treasure hunting. We can’t stand seeing repeat offenders, you know, the patterns/designs you see everywhere.” Her design partner Ron Woodson added, “It’s really fun to go back to clients years later and see that they still have that [item you brought] into their homes and that they are still enthralled with it.”

Made in the Philippines, the Lava Slice from The Phillips Collection resembles the natural material, but is made of resin with a Silver finish. It measures 24” high x 18” wide x 5” deep and can be ordered as wall art or displayed on a stand.

Favorite Countries

Each designer on the panel spoke about the country that has influenced his/her work the most. “The thing I love about Italian design and the Mediterranean as a whole is the laid-back – but classic –
approach, which is interesting because those are two opposing forces,” Filicia said. “I love when people really live within the space [we design for them] and really celebrate in that space and enjoy life. We essentially create a beautiful backdrop for them to live their lives.”

Rummerfield relayed how Morocco has influenced her work. “One of my favorite films is ‘Auntie Mame,’ who was a bit of an eccentric,” she confessed. “[Similarly] a Moroccan lantern can add so much personality to a space! When you go to a place like the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech [a two-and-a-half acre botanical garden created by the French Orientalist artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923 and now an art museum], it is such a source [of design] and history,” she noted. “If an element is authentically from there, it carries that history and context and enhances the design.”

Nussbaumer maintains a home in Mexico (which was recently featured in Architectural Digest) and has an affinity for that country. “I think Morocco is Europe’s Mexico and Mexico is America’s Morocco,” she explained. “Both are desert cultures that don’t have a lot of color naturally, so they bring it in [through their art]. It’s in their soul. My main concern is that they keep their craftsmanship alive in Mexico; I don’t want it to die as the country becomes more industrialized.”

Woodson and Rummerfield find inspiration in Istanbul. “In our designs, we’re not shy on color. Turkey is just a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you walk, there’s color,” Woodson related. “I found all of these incredible sources for lighting and stained glass, rugs, and textiles — and the craftsmen are thrilled to share that with you. The history I find in Turkey and Egypt is, for me, very big.”

Young delights in the remoteness of Bhutan. “Since they are landlocked, there aren’t a lot of outside influences on their culture,” she said. “When we were there, the country had just installed their first streetlight…and people hated it, so they took it out.” In that regard, the modern age was just too intrusive. “Bhutan has a unique landscape [in The Himalayas]. In some parts, you can feel as if you are in Switzerland, and in other parts it looks like Santa Fe or Mexico. The design influence is everywhere and you leave there feeling very relaxed.”

It’s a Small World

Blakeney observed, “By traveling, I’ve learned there’s so much that makes us different from one another, and yet so much that makes us the same.”

Nussbaumer added, “The more I travel and meet people from different cultures, the more I realize that we’re all pretty much the same.”

Noting that the ability, time, and affordability of travel might not be available to all, Blakeney suggested an alternative. “If you can’t travel, then find inspiration by visiting different neighborhoods, ethnic food stores, and restaurants.” By expanding even our suburban horizons, we can become more open to cultural influences that may enrich our lives as well as our home design. 

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