I have to admit, that this was a very long week, it's been hot, I have had a ton of things to do, then our internet connection went down mysteriously for a couple of days. Amidst all that, I have to admit that I simply did not get the chance to pull together an interview for the Voices of Design segment. Then it occurred to me that I had done an online interview for our friends over at Design Talk a few weeks ago, and some of you might not have seen it. So today, I am posting that, I hope that you find it interesting.
On a separate note, if you haven't already, you should check out Design Talk its a great site. One of the things that sets them apart is that they bring it lots of experts on different topics to answer questions and provide tips. Today there is a Feng Shui consultant, and I know Susan Serra from The Kitchen Designer, appears on there also, so please drop by and see whats new over there.
DesignTalk: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a designer?
Mark Cutler: Every good story has a beginning, and mine is no different. I grew up in Australia, and went to Architecture school in Brisbane. After graduating, I planned to move to London for a year or so to gain some experience before heading back to Australia. On the way to the UK, I stopped in New York City for what was meant to be a two week vacation, which turned into a stay of more than two years. While in New York, I worked at a variety of different architecture firms and art galleries. I eventually went on to London to work for about six months, and then packed up my bags and moved to Los Angeles.
So, here I was, new to town, and barely knew four people in the city. What to do now? Well, this was 1990/91 and the recession in the construction industry was just getting into full swing. Here I was looking for work, not knowing a soul in the industry of my choice, and of questionable immigration status. So one day out of frustration, I picked up the phone book and started dialing every architect in town, starting from A. Trust me, there are a lot of architects in the yellow pages. Eventually on my second or third day, I got one positive response. A guy offered me a few days of work, which ultimately led to 10 years of work, and eventually the founding of my own firm.
I started in his firm doing all the usual stuff and eventually found myself specializing in interior architecture, all on residential projects. Then one day we got a client from overseas who wanted the firm not only to do the architecture, but also the interior design.
Naturally, I raised my hand and volunteered. Now, I had no business volunteering for this assignment. Prior to this, I had only watched interior designers. But I thought, how hard could it be? Though I didn’t know it then, that day was to be my first day as a designer — and one that has lead me to a career path that is both incredibly challenging and splendidly rewarding.
DT: Where do you find inspiration for your incredible rooms?
MC: When I start a room, I like to spend time there and just hang out. I think it is important to get inspiration from the context, whether it’s the geography, the lighting, or the architecture. If you sit still long enough, something becomes the predominant element, and that is where I start. Sometimes it is instantaneous, sometimes it takes days or even weeks — and then almost out of nowhere the idea will come. But once you have that one big idea, everything else just falls into place. If that idea is strong, it is like a spine to support all of the other decisions. Without that strong base, it is just “decorating,” and not design.
As far as general inspiration, it comes from almost anywhere. I read huge numbers of magazines every month. I am always looking at images or reading books, and it is like the rooms — sometimes you just are flipping through a book or a magazine and a color or pattern will strike you, and it becomes an idea that you just file away. I also have some designers whose work I really admire, and I will study their work and try to work out how they did it, not to copy it, but to get an insight into their design process, and how their mind works.
DT: Have you ever been stuck in a “creativity rut”? How did you break out of it?
MC: Oh, sure! You just pray it doesn’t happen when you are operating on a deadline! When it happens you have to accept that it is just part of the process. Usually a walk outside will freshen the mind a bit, or else I will just go and work on something else. I have learned that you have to be patient, and the idea will come when it comes.
I am reading this and it’s sounding all very Zen. I am really much more pragmatic than that, but all ideas just seem to show up when they do. It is hard sometimes to explain that to clients who want it all when they want it, but we do our best. I also have an amazing team of people who work here, so having a group behind you really can help.
DT: Do you use a sketchbook, idea notebook, or inspiration board to explore new ideas?
MC: I wish I did! No, my designs are a bit more organic than that. I have things that inspire around me all the time, so limiting it to a book isn’t really my thing. I totally see the value of that though, but I have a pretty unique sense of organization so I would probably lose a book if I started one. When I design I tend to use a large pin up board in my office and pin up images, fabrics, and furniture pieces I like — then I walk away and visit it again later. But once the design is done, it’s pulled down.
DT: What is the most popular decorating style you’re asked to design?
MC: When I first started out, I designed a whole bunch of different styles, including a lot of Italian and a few very formal French homes. Pretty much I hadn’t found my voice. My work is still pretty diverse, but as I stand back and look there are some common threads. It tends to have an informality to it, as well as a bit of a sense of humor. I think growing up in Australia gave me the ability not to take myself too seriously, so I bring some of that to my work. I tend to do a lot of celebrity work, and I think that that is because I am able to stand back and remove myself from the process to some extent. In my mind what I do is a form of portraiture. I like to think that when people look at one of my projects, they recognize the personality of the family that lives there before they recognize my styling. One of the greatest compliments I have ever had came from a celebrity client I had recently, who (upon seeing the house finished for the first time) said, “We didn’t even know that this was our style, until we walked in and it felt more like home than any place we have ever been.” So as far as style goes, I do pretty much anything as long as it feels authentic to the people that live there.
DT: What is the most unique room you’ve ever designed?
MC: I have been fortunate enough to work on some crazy projects, from secret rooms where the couple can spy on their friends, to home massage rooms and even hairdressing salons for their friends. I am just starting a project now where the owner is a Star Wars fan, so we are building a replica of the Death Star control room with X wing fighters and all. When it’s done, it is going to be wild. I really embrace that sort of idea, I love people who have passion like that for their home, albeit a little unique.
DT: Wow, that room sounds incredible! We can’t wait to see pictures when it’s done.
Moving back to this planet, what are the most popular colors or palettes you’re seeing this year?
MC: I am a huge fan of pink. I think it is such a fresh and warm color, and I am finally getting to use it on a library that I am doing in an old house, that has lots of Mahogany woodwork. I think it’s going to be terrific. I tended to use a lot of soft blues for the last year of so, but recently have been drawn to more difficult colors like mauve's and purples. When I shop, I tend to shop with a color in my mind’s eye, even though it is often hard to find the one you are looking for. I see a lot more metallics and black around these days, but I don’t tend to be drawn by trends. Chocolate is always a favorite, too, because it makes a nice counterpoint to almost any other color. As far as paints go, I am a huge fan of Farrow and Ball paints from England and they have a white paint called Clunch that I think is one of the best white paints I have ever used. I am using a ton of that at the moment, but that is subject to change at a moment’s notice.
DT: After working with furniture and fabric all day, is it exhausting or invigorating to decorate your own home?
MC: It is really tough to work on your own home. I find it almost impossible to make a decision that I am willing to stick with. My partner and I just bought a new home last November, and it needs some love and attention. I have done no fewer than 10 schemes, each one perfect at the time — but I keep finding new ideas. It’s a nightmare! I have a clearer idea of what I want to do with the garden, so I think we will tackle that first, and I hope I will then be more comfortable about working on the interior. I am a bit of a work-aholic, so I am always doing something for a client, or shopping for someone, or writing my blog, so finding time to settle down and work on my own house is a problem. At the moment it’s a bit of a mishmash of old and favorite pieces. I will send some images of my last house that was more “done.” My style is a bit looser now, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
DT: What styles do you prefer in your own rooms?
MC: Comfort above all else. I want my rooms to be stylish, but very approachable. I hate rooms where it looks like everything is in its place. I like piles of books and magazines, a place where people will put their feet on the furniture. I also have two dogs and they have the run of the house, so I can’t be too much of a neat freak. This house is an old 1930s English cottage style house, so I am sure that I will have some elements of that in the design. I am toying with some painted wood paneling in the dining room to add a bit of visual weight. My last house was more Mediterranean, so it had a different kind of feel.
DT: What room (either for a client, or in your own home) is giving you the biggest decorating challenge right now?
MC: Well, it’s funny you should ask. I am working with a client now on a new house on the beach in Santa Monica, and I thought that we were on the same page as far as our ideas for her new house. So I was very excited to show her my presentation, but it was clear from the first few minutes that there was a disconnect. The look on her face was miserable to see — I just didn’t get it. In talking to her afterward she was having a total crisis of confidence in me. So, I had her pull some images from magazines that she liked in the hope that we could find a visual language that we could agree on. When I saw the images, it was weird because in my mind that was what I was showing her. So the next week I had another chance to present, so I took a bit of a different track. I changed a few things, but not a lot, but I talked about the way the room was put together in a different way. I talked about using this color on this side of the room and balancing it with this texture on this side of the room, and really laid it out from a very fundamental way. It turns out she used to be a lawyer and was used to looking at things in that building-block sort of way, not in a more visual, “here’s the sofa, and here’s the fabric” way I would normally do. It turns out she loved it, and I learned a valuable lesson about how different people look at my work and how I need to be able to tap into that.
DT: What’s ahead for your work? Can we get a sneak peek of any new projects?
MC:I am working on a book at the moment, trying to marry the idea of design and well-being together. It will feature a bunch of my projects and will also incorporate some of the ideas from the blog. So that is a big thing for me. I am also looking to expand my product line as well. As far as the design work, I have a bunch of very interesting projects all over Southern California at the moment, ranging from the house on the beach to an old Spanish house in Santa Barbara. So there will be plenty to see from me in the future. I have some articles coming up in some of the major magazines, so that is exciting, too. I was just named one of the Top 40 Interior Designers in the country by Robb Report and one of the Top 5 interior design blogs on the web by The Times of London, so the future seems bright and I am loving every moment of it.