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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Voices of Design: Michael Wollaeger, Western Interiors


Today I am introducing a new regular feature called "Voices of Design." The goal is to interview leaders in the design community, and present them with a forum where they can talk about their unique outlook on design. In the next few weeks, I hope to present renown Interior Designers, major Magazine Editors, and other voices of the design community.


My first interview is with Michael Wollaeger, Editor-in-Chief of Western Interiors. I specifically chose him for a number of reasons, firstly he happens to be a very nice guy, but perhaps more importantly his magazine takes a very specific view on design. It is one of the few that really fosters the link between Architect and Interior Designers and also the idea of the context of the project as a vital aspect to the projects that they feature.


I hope that you enjoy what he has to say, and for those of you not familiar with the magazine (especially readers from outside the United States), I hope you make an effort to get a copy, it really has the pulse of design in the Western United States. WWW.Westerninteriors.com


Mark: You worked in the design community for many years, most notably at Architectural Digest, before founding Western Interiors, what was the void you were hoping Western Interiors would fill?

Michael: About six years ago, I was looking at the so-called "national" magazines, and I realized that they were doing a poor job covering the design and architecture community in the West. In fact, when I counted the pages in those magazines, I found that less than 10 percent of them were devoted to anything west of the Mississippi! Meanwhile, I had seen the western design community growing in size and sophistication and influence. And nobody was covering it! Even when I was at Architectural Digest, we covered only a relatively few of the "top" designers in the West, and often those stories had a celebrity angle. We were covering a lot of New York, a lot of New England, a lot of Europe. But the West was neglected, and the vast, growing readership in the West was also being neglected. People who lived in the West didn't fully realize, I think, that they were reading "Eastern" design magazines! So I wanted to create a magazine that showed how real people were living in the West today, showcasing the work of design and architecture professionals from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Montana--the places that were being ignored, editorially, by those "national" design magazines.

Mark: Is there a typical reader of Western Interiors?

Michael: In my experience, there is no "typical" reader, though our readers do share common interests. The magazine is edited for people who have a strong interest in beautiful design, architecture, art, and gardens. Of course, a good many of our subscribers live in the West and are looking for design ideas that relate to where they live, and professional design services in their region. But we also have many readers in the East who enjoy the fresh point of view coming out of the West. They want to see what's new, what's exciting, what the trends are. They also like to see incredible western landscapes that they're not seeing in the other design magazines. And, of course, many people back east own (or dream of owning) a home in the West.

Mark: Your magazine has brought to light some shining talent, that has otherwise been overlooked by some of the other major magazines. What are the biggest challenges, as an editor, in finding these people?

Michael: The biggest challenge once a magazine is up and running is getting out of the office to explore, scout and discover. Two summers ago, I was driving through Saint Helena, California, with my wife, and I spotted a great little design shop. Unique items, and a wonderfully quirky eye. We pulled over to check it out, and the shop happened to be run by Erin Martin, who was a new talent to me. It turned out she had some beautiful design projects, and we've now published two of them (one is in our current issue). So staying alert and keeping our eyes open is key! We have a small but active staff who are constantly out and about, on the lookout for new design projects. Of course, now that we've been around for four years, more and more designers and architects are sending us projects, which is exciting.

Mark: Trends are easy to spot in retrospect, the white on white California look of Michael Taylor in the eighties, the French deco of Barbara Barry in the nineties. Do you think we are in the midst of a trend now? If so what is it?

Michael: That's always a tricky question, because once an editor declares a trend, he or she is usually proved wrong, immediately, by the design world, which is constantly changing, spurred on by the personal vision of talented designers such as Kelly Wearstler, Kenneth Brown, Tim Clarke, Madeline Stuart, Gary Hutton and so on. But I am seeing more of a mix of old and new, unexpected juxtapositions, a renewed interest in great natural textures in furniture and fabrics. In the West, it's all about the connection with the outdoors, too. Sustainable design is a hot topic, but that doesn't dictate any one aesthetic. I think clients are tired of by-the-book minimalist looks, by-the-book traditional looks, by-the-book anything, really. It's a fairly wide-open period in design, which makes things more interesting.

Mark: Coming from an architectural background, I appreciate the importance of context. Your magazine does a great job of this. Was this a conscious decision?

Michael: Yes, I wanted to bring in as much of the natural western landscape as possible, because that's what good design and architecture is a response to. It's exciting to see how the context of New Mexico, Malibu or Montana determines design and architecture decisions. I want readers to come away with a complete experience of a project, and in some ways that's kind of like a travel piece. I want readers to feel as though they've been somewhere.

Mark: In what ways do you think that design on the West Coast is unique beyond its geography?

Michael: There's an open-mindedness in the West that extends from the professional design community to the clients, who after all are the ones who are commissioning the work. The clich├ęs about "pioneering spirit" and "rugged individualism" really do apply! People here are more willing to pursue their individual vision in their homes and are less concerned about "fitting in" with their neighbors. That's why, say, Frank Gehry is a prototypical western architect. He broke all the rules of the eastern and European architecture world, and set architecture off in an entirely new direction.

Mark: Do you think that with more and more access to media, through magazines, television and the Internet that design is becoming more homogeneous?

Michael: No, I actually think that with more exposure to a wide variety of design, people are feeling more empowered to put together their own look, and to feel okay about it. There's a new excitement about design today, about the possibilities of expression, and I think that that's a good thing.

Mark: Imagine, we were looking forward to the 50th anniversary of Western Interiors, what is it that you would like to have seen the magazine achieve?

Michael: I'd like the magazine to have been able to stay completely current in it's look and coverage, but also to have earned a certain cultural importance by having shown, over the years, the key designers and architects who made a difference, set the tone for their times, created lasting contributions to the design vocabulary. I like to imagine someone picking up an "old" issue from 2007 and saying, "Wow, look at this! They covered X, Y and Z way back then, and the work still looks great!" Of course, I'd like to be around for the 50th anniversary, too, but that's a lot less likely.....!

Mark: Much has been made of consumers gaining access to resources that were previously available only to Designers. Do you think that this a positive thing.

Michael: Yes, I think more access is always better. But consumers can't do what designers do, even if they have access to the same resources. They don't have the training to make informed decisions, and they don't have the time. Designers should be hired for their professional talent and vision, not for their access to materials. Talent and vision are rare commodities, and they're worth a lot!

4 comments:

Sue G. said...

Any word on whether Michael Wollaeger will be hired by Luxe? I was so sad to read the WI&D has been subsumed. I so looked forward to getting that magazine.

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