Asking a designer what his favourite colour is is a bit like asking a composer what his favourite sound is. A good designer will deftly orchestrate his colour notes in an arrangement that is both pleasing to the eye and inspiring to the senses. Much as a flatted note may sound dull or lifeless on its own, when partnered with other tones, it can bring depth, richness and contrast to a piece of music.
Nobody understood that better than the masters of impressionist painting. These virtuosi skillfully combined disparate colors to create effects that were larger than the individual values. They understood the interaction of color, and how color adjacency impacts the way we perceive hue, value and intensity.
These concepts were brilliantly presented in Joseph Alber’s 1963 publication, “The Interaction of Color”. I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the exercises he used to illustrate just how our eyes and brain interpret colour. Albers helped me never to consider colour application outside of the context where it will ultimately be applied. This is why today I often suggest that people painting a room create a large sample board that they can move around the room to see the colour in all lights and next to each of the furnishings in the space.
Sometimes I find it hard to bring clients out of their comfort zone, to consider the use of a colour or even a fabric that they don’t love. It takes a leap of faith on the part of the client. But if they can step back and wrap their heads around the overall effect and the context of all of the contributing elements in the scheme, the project can develop in a direction with greater depth and complexity than it would with a “Garanimals” approach to design.
Today there are literally thousands of chair forms to choose from. Each is tailored to meet intended functional, cultural and stylistic design criteria. However, with the needs of spines, pelvises and knees that bend in certain directions, the ergonomic formula for chair design remains prescriptive. And so, to understand the multitude of forms, we should take a look at the evolution of the chair.
Man has been sitting since, well, the beginning of man. And while he no doubt found rocks and logs to perch his hind end on, it is not until around 3000 BC that we find evidence of a built chair. The Greeks were the first to address the issue of the seated form by crafting simple stools. By the Second Dynasty, however, lower back support was added to provide relief to the sacrum and pelvis.
By around 400 BC, the Greeks had taken the basic geometry of the Egyptian chair, and contoured the form to create the first chair to exhibit a ‘Western’ comfort. The curved upper back support suggested a more relaxed posture. The Klismos Chair has an iconic profile that has endured the test of time.
While the chair adapted to different needs and uses, it did not change much until the mid 17th century, when, as a reaction to cold, drafty environments, the English added padded panels, or “wings” to the chair, giving us what we know today as the Wing Chair.
The Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century brought many changes to the production and distribution of all sorts of goods. Furniture was no exception.
With the efficiency of mass-produced, decoratively adorned pieces by the likes of Charles Eastlake and others, a whole labor force of craftsmen became free to pursue other trades. Here we find the birth of the Upholsterer Era. Soft pieces with rounded edges and no apparent skeletal structure suggested a passive posture associated with leisure. Contemporary club chairs and lounge furniture evoke the spirit of these “comfortables” of history.
Today’s designers are challenged with creating inventive solutions to the age old challenge of providing a place to rest. Each variation points back to human needs, proportions and cultural preferences.
In the end, we find that there truly is little new under the sun. The primary criteria I use to make seating selections are use, comfort, scale and proportion. I’d rather stand than spend time in an uncomfortable chair!
I’m often asked about the process of bringing my textile designs to fruition. So I thought I’d take a moment to shine a little light on the process.
Sometimes my inspiration comes from something that I’ve seen. Sometimes it is a reaction to a trend. And sometimes it’s ignited by a specific commission from a special client. No matter where it comes from, inspiration is the most important aspect of my designs. It is the life-source that establishes the DNA that will inform all decisions in the process.
While I have created over fifty patterns in nine lines, and am constantly thinking about new designs, as a case study, I will walk you through the process of the Farmyard fabric, the star of the Kedron Valley collection.
It all started with a couple of wonderful clients and the hunt for the perfect fabric to be the basis and inspiration for the library in their 19th century country home. They came to me with the notion that they wanted to create a jewel box of a room, done exclusively in a red toile de Jouy fabric. So off I went to the design center to see what I could find…
I returned with over 40 samples ranging from the mild to the wild, but all lacking that special pop and statement that they were looking for. Any one of them would have been fine. But none of them had a voice that captured the vibrancy of these two remarkable people. This is where I went out on a limb.
“We could certainly use one of these, and it would end up feeling a little twee, more like your grandmother’s Dorset bedroom. Or… I could design a fabric for you!” They enthusiastically embraced the idea of developing something specific to this project. After looking through some of my previous designs, we came up with a plan. We would use a process similar to the Safari Strie that I had done, but do it with an emphatically North American agricultural theme. This approach brings together the pastoral imagery of the toile with the more exotic feel of a warp-thread icat. We settled on the idea, and I was off to the races!
The first step was to develop some concept sketches. Rolling out sheets of tracing paper, I doodled and drew until I had a pretty clear idea of the form and layout of the pattern. In this case, there would be two bi-laterally symmetrical compositions that would fit together as interlocking pieces.
When I was happy with the proportions and shapes, I scanned them and used the scanned images as background references in a CAD drawing. Here I was able to manipulate the geometries and scale of the pattern. For upholstery and home décor fabrics, it is important to consider the size of the repeat in order to minimize waste. (Two chair backs can be covered from side-by-side cuttings of a 54” wide fabric.)
Happy with the layout, I print the drawing at full scale. This then gets transferred to illustration board by the old-school method of rubbing graphite on the back and re-tracing the drawing. Once I have a pencil drawing on board, I sit down with my paints and render it with color. I have to be mindful of how this pattern may translate to other color-ways, and what colors I may want to alter later. I then follow all of these steps for each companion pattern that I want to add to the line.
When I have a complete line worked out, I get the boards professionally scanned as high-resolution files. These files I bring into my computer, and through a graphic design software, manipulate the images to create the multiple color ways and to work out the seamless repeat. (Remember that each image is hand-painted, so getting one side of the image to blend with the other, both horizontally and vertically can be a challenge.)
Once I am satisfied with each color and repeat, the files get uploaded to my textile printer’s server and out of my hands! Now I sit back and wait for the samples to arrive. Assuming that I don’t have to re-work my files, I am ready to produce the yardage required to fill an order!
Whether bold or subtle, vertical, horizontal, or even diagonal, stripes have been a part of our design vocabulary from its inception. Early Stripes evolved from the changing of either warp or weft threads in textiles, a simple act with a great graphic impact.
Today we are seeing a resurgence of this powerful geometry. Striped flat-weave runners bring direction and organization to both classic and modern interiors. This classic from Dash and Albert brings life to these stairs and invites you to explore by accentuating the perspective.
The powerful linear aspect of stripes needs to be considered when working with them. Mitred corners, end-bands, borders and other visual devices help to contain or re-direct the energy inherent in the pattern.
And stripes need not be purely geometric. Floral and pictoral stripes bring both the graphic impact and movement to a space with the added interest of texture and pattern.
Large, bold stripes are making an appearance in interiors throughout the globe. Their clean geometry offers a culturally broad appeal, and contributes to both classic and modern spaces.
I am currently working on a project with the folks at Authentic Designs. They are a small company that produces exquisite bench-made lighting. From their humble facility located in a former toothpick mill in West Rupert, Vermont, they craft reproduction and interpretive fixtures that can be seen all over the world.
Owners, Michael Krauss and Maria Peragine, are largely responsible for the family culture that embodies everything they do. Maria’s quiet but strong business acumen is well complimented by Michael’s ebullient enthusiasm for his trade. Michael is a second generation lighting manufacturer. His father, Danny, grew the business from a personal need for period lighting, and opened his first shop on 61st Street and Lexington in New York City. Danny passed on to his son and daughter-in-law a passion that is palpable.
Hearing Michael talk about the process, he could just as well be choreographing a dance. Words like turning, spinning and flaring are common to the language of his trade, and he imparts them with enthusiasm. When discussing a new idea, his eyes light up and he immediately visualizes the process for bringing it to fruition.
A tour of their shop is a sensory workout. The showroom is bedecked with hundreds of glimmering lights, housed in warmly burnished metals and hand-blown glass. Every piece tells a story of the hands that made it. Step into the workroom and watch the craftsmen cutting and soldering copper, assembling components, carefully running wires and fine-tuning and balancing the fixtures.
So what is beauty? Every civilization has a different standard or ideal of what beauty is. It is based on our history and our collective cultural experience. Moreover, within each culture, our tastes, likes and dislikes are unique to who we are. What I find beautiful, my wife or son may not.
As a designer, I find that one of the greatest challenges is to create beautiful objects, be they buildings, furnishings or graphic patterns that have a broad appeal and aesthetic longevity. After all, isn't one of the greenest approaches to design and manufacturing to create things of enduring relevance?
I think it's important that we all pause to take stock of what we find beautiful. Look around your home. What objects have you cherished for more than a few years? Is there a consistency to those things. What about your community? What are the structures that are preserved, restored or well maintained?
While beautiful things do not guarantee happiness, they add a texture of palpable vitality to our lives. And yet as Alain de Botton notes in his book, The Architecture of Happiness, “To care deeply about a field that achieves so little, and yet consumes so many of our resources, forces us to admit to a disturbing, even degrading lack of aspiration.” Yet given the seemingly folly character of aesthetics, we are driven to continuously appreciate, and even rival the beauty that nature surrounds us with.
I’m not sure what constantly drives me to want to make beautiful things. All I know is that I am driven. I hope that the work I create is met with eyes that appreciate my personal interpretation of beauty, and derive pleasure in doing so.
In this crazy fast-tracked life where we live, there is a strong movement from high-tech to soft-touch. While the i-phone has become the de rigueur accessory for the average American, we yearn for the feel of natural materials with a palpable sense of life.
Designers in all disciplines are tapping into more natural pallets to soften the edge of life. My 15 year-old son recently purchased a “skin” for his i-phone that is made of bamboo veneer. I own a pair of eye glasses with teak temples. And I recently received a Fathers’ Day gift of a Wee Wood watch that my thoughtful wife found on Pinterest!
Natural materials are being rethought in the home as well. Exquisite tiles are cut from hardwoods. Vessel sinks are honed from solid blocks of stone.
We at Ramsay Gourd Architects recently completed a restaurant design that acknowledges the region's rich history of quarrying marble. There we back-lit locally sourced marble in order to highlight the materials natural characteristics.
I am thrilled to announce my new business! Ramsay Gourd Home is a collection of fabrics, furniture and wall coverings that grew from years of design observations and musings. The collection reflects my appreciation for classical design, infused with an energy that befits our modern lifestyles.
I have designed each fabric line with a number of patterns and color ways, making them easy to coordinate. Illustrative designs, strong geometries, and subtle patterns come together to offer a wide range of visual emotion. Many of the patterns are available as wall coverings as well. Contact us if you have a special application. I love to explore new possibilities and have great flexibility with short turn-around times!
My bench-made furniture line is individually crafted in the U.S. by hand-selected artisans. The finest materials and workmanship go into every piece. Each design is fully customizable and may be tailored to meet your specific needs. New pieces will continue to be added to the collection and I offer a bespoke design service, collaborating with designers and owners.
As an architect and designer, I am thrilled to offer my work to a much larger audience. I am excited to see how the patterns and forms I have developed provide inspiration to your next project!
I invite you to explore the web site at ramsaygourd.com and see what I've been up to. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or observations. One of the beautiful things about a small young business is its ability to nimbly respond to market demands, and with our bespoke service offerings, we know that Ramsay Gourd Home can find a place in your home!
I woke this morning to a fresh dusting of snow. It blanketed the lawn and garden with a downy quilt, tufted by the undulating greenery that is our simple border garden. At the end of the row stands a moss-covered stone cherub. In his snow cap and cloak, he stands sentinel as some form of punctuation, pausing the eye before it explores further into the woods.
My little friend reminded me this morning of the power and importance of structure and hierarchy in the garden. When abstracted to its simplest form, as ours was in its snow-covered essence, a garden should have a clear, legible concept. Because we split time between Martha’s Vineyard and our Vermont home, I have not had a real garden since our days as innkeepers. But the principals of good design are pertinent on all levels, from formal parterres to simple flower beds.
When planning a garden, I like to think not only of the context of the environment (Solar orientation, nearby structures, approach and point of view), but also of the experience and story it wants to tell. And so, I look at the layout as the story outline that will be in-filled with colorful words and phrases. However, it is the permanent forms which add punctuation and structure that outlive the panoply of seasonal greenery.
Whether intended as passage or pause, the offerings of garden elements are unlimited. Garden gates and paving materials speak of movement and regulating the gate at which you pass through the experience. And while benches and shelters are often literal destinations for pause and reflection, garden sculpture acts as visual respite, and a place to stop, observe and mentally regroup.
There are many different styles and aesthetics of garden elements. If looking to add a sense of history to your landscape, one of the East Coast’s greatest sources is Barbara Israel Garden Antiques in New York. Her inventory of both period pieces with significant provenance and impeccable reproductions is unparalleled.
For a fresh approach to garden furnishings, check out John Danzer’s hand crafted designs at Munder Skiles. His updated pieces add elegance in their abstraction and grace of form.
Flat-weave rugs have become the de-rigueur selection for floor covering of the millennium. They have a simplicity that denotes a casual, laid-back lifestyle. That having been said, the offerings run the gamut. From synthetic weather-resistant outdoor carpets to hand woven bath-mats, there is something for just about everyone and every budget.
Stripes are a staple of the flat-weave market. This effect is simple to achieve by varying the color of the warp threads in a pleasing pattern. However, world-over, there are historic examples of wonderful geometric flat-woven designs. From Navajo blankets to Indian Dhurries, tribal traditions have infused meaning into the patterns that represent their cultures.
For a truly special application, you might want to consider a custom woven rug. Select colors from a wide range of pom-poms. Develop a design or select a pattern from the weavers’ portfolio. And roll out your truly custom creation. These rugs make for great stair runners when woven in all wool. Working with a skilled installer, fine details like mitered corners and hemmed edges bring a level of sophistication to this simple material.
When working with clients on interior projects, one of my first tasks is to inventory their existing furnishings and artwork. I am often asked by my clients the benefits of reupholstering versus buying new furniture. Here there are a number of questions I ask to establish the viability of recycling a piece of upholstery.
Does the piece have sentimental value? Was this your father’s chair that was reserved solely for him when you were a child? Does it evoke visceral memories of pipe smoke, single malts and newspapers?
Is it beautiful? Ignore the thread-bear arms that are held together with duct tape. Does it have sensual lines or unusual massing. Think about it as if it were a person. Would you be interested in knowing it’s story if you met it on the street?
Is it exceptionally comfortable? Does it have the perfect seat depth for your extra-long legs or the ideal angle of repose for napping?
If you cannot answer one of these questions with a resounding “yes”, it may be time to reassess your relationship with this house-mate of yours. And while jettisoning an old couch and finding a fresh new shape might be OK in the world of furnishings, I don’t recommend taking this approach with spouses prior to serious soul-searching and intense counseling!
The truth of the matter is that, depending on the condition of your frame and internal support system, it may be cost effective to buy a new piece altogether. Some things to look for in an older piece might include:
One of my closest friends, Isaiah McCauliffe, is an exceptional upholsterer. And I am often intrigued by seeing his patients lined up in the waiting room, ready to go under the knife of this skilled cosmetic surgeon. Each has a story. Some are nostalgic, like sofa that was laden with presents every Christmas morning for as long as memory serves. While others are tragic, like the chair with three broken legs that was the collateral damage from a dormitory brawl, or the couch who’s back panel was chewed by a teething puppy.
My friend, Isaiah, was quick to remind me not to give up hope when you think a piece is too far gone. Even with internal organs trailing across your living room floor, that beloved ottoman may be salvageable. “It’s what I do!” said Isaiah, referring to the reconstructive surgery of his trade.
If, once you have weighed the pros and cons of the decision of rehabilitating versus replacing a piece of furniture, you still cannot decide, flip a coin. If you’re not happy with the outcome of the coin toss, you had already made up your mind!