Saturday, December 8, 2007

Gift ideas from a designer on a budget

Shopping for people, whether it be for the holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions, can be a challenging task. Not only do we want to feel as though it shows that we've put some thought into choosing the right present, but most of us also have to respect a limited budget. Plus, it's always nice if we manage to give something unique - there's nothing worse than learning that the recipient of our gift already has enough of the same item to start selling them in bulk.

Not long ago I rambled on about how all items are designed whether they are considered "designer" items or not. Now I have managed to compile a list of 10 incredibly designed items that make unique and fun gifts and won't put your bank balance into the red, with price tags ranging from only $15 to $120.

1. Clocky by Nanda. Guaranteed to get you out of bed in the morning! And it's adorable, available in different colours. $50 Also available at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art's boutique.

2. Hearty Cup & Saucer by Wgokoro-Ya. With every coffee or tea you are reminded that somebody loves you. Drinking glasses and tea set also available. $20

3. The Come In Go Away Doormat is both practical and unusual. Suits almost any sense of humor. $30

4. Foot in the Door Doorstop. This doorstop speaks for itself and saves your own shoes from damage from misuse. Available in black too. $15

5. Mansion Planter by Pull + Push Products. What a neat idea! A planter that looks like a building, complete with stairs and balconies. $120

6. Rock Vase. A practical vase for one or two flowers and matches any decor. Under $50 from

7. Skyline Memo. Perfect for home or office use, for adults or kids. Put your mark on the city. $30.

8. Time is Money Clock. Unique gift for a professional, and so true... Time is Money. (The clock doesn't have to be broken to get hard-earned money out - there is a removable plug.) $120

9. Original art. There are countless sources for reasonably priced original artwork, Idealspace Design's mini art gallery being one of them. Galleries are easy to find, and you can also contact art schools to enquire about students' art for sale, or browse the Internet. Whatever you are buying, make sure you are informed if it is an original, a hand-painted reproduction, and so on.

10. Gift certificates from Idealspace Design start at only $60 and are definitely a unique gift. I have never heard of other interior designers giving gift certificates for interior design or decor services, but if you're not in or around Montreal, you could ask designers from your area if they would be interested in selling you gift certificates.

There are countless items out there that are unique and affordable, and often it only requires that we step off the beaten path to find them. Happy shopping, and happy holidays!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sympathizing with the Shoe-maker

We all know the story about the shoe maker whose kids had no shoes. Sounds stupid until you give it some thought. If the guy can make shoes why would he have his kids running around with ill-fitting or torn shoes? But then there is the cabinet-maker whose own kitchen dates back nearly 40 years. There is the psychologist who has major issues in her personal life. The chef often serves store-bought frozen foods to his own family...

And this interior designer refers to her own home as a "project-in-progress" to keep it sounding reasonable. The truth is, it is a series of things put together "for now" with ideas for what to do with varying degrees of thought put into them, varying levels of complexity, budgetary requirements, and some "what-ifs" thrown in for good measure.

From my point of view, there are three possible explanations for this:

A) we don't want to do for ourselves what we do (for pay) for others because either we can be making money doing the same for someone else or because we do it all day long and don't want to continue once we're on our own time;

B) we've gotten so used to working for a client that we cannot properly put ourselves into the position of client;

C) the grass is just always greener on the other side - our clients' projects are somehow more worthy and deserving.

People working in a creative industry have other traps that we fall into also. Attempting perfection is one of them, and another is that we don't necessarily want to have to look at our work (or perceived imperfections in our work) daily at home too. There have been numerous famous artists who have refused to hang their own art in their own homes. Or, as in the situation in my own kitchen, I see now that there are a few little things I should have done differently -- would never have done them this way had it been for someone else's kitchen (my house is, to some extent, my experimenting space) -- and changing it now would involve dismantling the whole kitchen. Who in their right mind would take apart a 2 year old kitchen and spend a few thousand dollars to correct a minor annoyance??

People hire accountants, interior designers, fashion designers (even if just by purchasing ready-made clothing), house painters, real estate agents, and countless others not because we cannot do our own taxes, plan our own renovations projects, determine our style preferences for clothing, paint our walls, or even sell our own homes. We hire people to do these things so that we don't have to assume the responsibility of doing it ourselves, so that our time can be spent doing other things, and so that hopeful these things will get done with fewer hitches and glitches.

As an interior designer, would I ever consider hiring another designer to do my own home? No way! I would be overly demanding, inhumanely critical, and a general nuisance of a client. That's why the shoe-maker couldn't take his children to his competition, why the cabinet-maker didn't call in another company for his own kitchen, and why my own home is still very much in a state of chaos. Oops, I meant to say a "project-in-progress."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Designed by who if not a designer?

"This weekend only! Designer housewares 25% off." That's what the ad reads. Designer shoes, clothing, bedding, scrapbooking paper, eyeglasses, and more are routinely advertised, written about, or otherwise featured. But what exactly is a "designer" product? As a designer, this has turned into a mind-boggling question.

Blank paper is a good place to start. Canson and Arches Buff were designed to accommodate certain artistic media such as paint or pastels; ledger sheets were designed to simplify life for accountants and bookkeepers; waxed paper was designed with baking in mind; ink jet paper was designed to work best with ink jet printers... Although each was designed, none is considered to be a designer item. Every single item we own was designed, and therefore had a designer.

The Eames Chair, the Louis Vuitton handbag, Philip Starck cutlery, the Hermes scarf... Why are these considered as "designer" items while the high-quality, beautiful chandelier I bought recently is just a light fixture as opposed to a "designer chandelier"? The chandelier obviously had a designer - and the designer is good enough to be employed by a well-known and respected lighting manufacturer, but still, it is just a chandelier.

On a similarly mind-boggling note, there was recently a house for sale in my area, and the ad read "designer kitchen." I was curious... it's not everyday an ad for a house for sale is worded that way. After some investigating, I learned the cabinets, flooring, and so on, were all purchased from the local big-box hardware store, and there was in fact no designer involved.

We really do have to stop and think: we are referring to mass-produced cabinetry as "designer" stuff, and beautiful, well-designed items as just ordinary things. Designers deserve credit whether their names are household words or not.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The luxuries of design & the design of luxuries

In an average week at least one person makes a comment to me along the lines of, "Ooh! You're an interior designer - what a luxurious job!" And I never know quite how to respond. On one hand it is a luxury, but simply because I love what I do. On the other hand, it really isn't so luxurious sometimes to be responsible for other people's homes or businesses, money, and even their own perceptions of the finished project.

Looking at this from another point of view, I have to wonder if it is being implied that I am a provider of a luxury service. Interior design is not a luxury. Is it a luxury to have a work environment that accommodates all necessary equipment and supplies, tasks, and people? Is it a luxury to have a kitchen designed to take into consideration your right- or left-handedness, and shopping and cooking habits?

Interior design, or rather good interior design, is first and foremost about function - then come the luxuries and aesthetics. Yes, it certainly is a luxury to be in a space done in your favourite colours and motifs, and yes, it is a luxury to go home at the end of the day to a beautiful house. But it is not a luxury to make sure you're doing something right once you have made the decision that you will be doing it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Designing for people, not only for appearances

Recently commercial design has been on my mind quite a bit. It seems that more and more often design flaws are evident in the places we go routinely. Sometimes it could be because of a decision made by the client, or even because of a change made too late in the project; the blame can't always be solely on the designer.
  • At a restaurant I had to give my daughter permission to climb on the bench-style seat like a monkey because the table legs did not even leave 2 inches of leg room to get in and out of the seat. A pedestal base on the table, instead of four legs, would have solved this.
  • In a professional's office the coat closet for visitors was filled with office supplies making hanging your jacket quite challenging and more time-consuming than it should have been. Meanwhile, the open closet door prevented anyone from entering or exiting the office.
  • At another restaurant the booth seating is raised on a platform that extends about a foot beyond the edge of the booths. It was almost comical to watch restaurant staff avoid tripping while serving diners.
  • In a shoe store in a shopping centre, you're carrying shopping bags, your purse, and your jacket when you want to try on a pair of shoes. The seats provided for trying on are only inches wider than the average back-side. If you put your jacket next to you, it risks falling on to the floor. If you put your shopping on the floor, the contents risk spilling out.

It makes me wonder, "What were they thinking?" But in all honesty no design can be perceived as being perfect to everyone. The goal of interior design has never been perfection, but rather the creation of a practical space that conveys a certain image while being aesthetically pleasing. But that doesn't justify blocked doorways, tripping restaurant staff, or unusable tables. There are countless possible causes for these types of design inadequacies, but the bottom line is that those who hire interior designers for non-residential projects really have to raise their expectations once they've properly set their priorities. A wall that is a bit too pale or a piece of artwork chosen that should have been inches larger becomes irrelevant when customers are leaving remembering a closet door blocking their path, or a table that was 50% unusable.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blog entry #1

The last several months have been full of "firsts" for me - first time I moved the office out of my home, first time I've cut my hair short and liked it, and now a first time blogging.

Also on the list of new firsts is that as of tomorrow the office (Idealspace Design, of course) will be open with no appointment required from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. This is something I'm going to do every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in an attempt to draw more attention to the mini art gallery in the office.

The article "Using art to advantage in your home" (written by Susan Kelly) which ran on page F-8 of yesterday's Gazette mentioned the art gallery, but when the interview took place I hadn't yet decided to have walk-in hours. Oh well.

More to follow soon...