I’ve always known that it was my destiny to work in the field of design. I can still recall my mother’s shriek the day she went down to our basement to discover that I’d taken colored chalk to the walls and transformed them into a mural of marine life, drawing my inspiration from pictures of aquatic animals I’d found in an encyclopedia. I was eight at the time, and I’d been creating these murals since I was five years old. As my artistic aspirations grew, I started to create three-dimensional, web-like objects by spinning threads around the basement’s beams. While my siblings were outside playing, I stayed busy hosing down the walls and redecorating them with drawings of the interiors of the cabin cars on the Orient Express. Even at that young age, art was my life.
Growing up in Philadelphia, a city of both august history and urbane modernity, definitely influenced my sensibility as an artist. While attending the Philadelphia College of Art and later the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, I lived with other students above the shops of Antique Row in funky apartments that lacked even the barest amenities. Roughing it without heat or hot water was a challenge, but we felt that the struggle was part of the storyline for artists, and we treated it as a badge of our sincerity and passion.
My studies taught me about composition, balance, color and texture—all elements I use today in my work as a designer. At the time, however, I was determined to be a painter, but not in the usual sense. I would take old, worn Persian rugs, stretch them like canvases, and paint on top of them. I also created stained-glass windows and art pieces that incorporated articles of furniture. My fellow students would ask me, “Why don’t you just become a decorator?” But I was happy in my mixed media of furniture, found objects, and rugs.
The early eighties found me in New York, where I worked at a series of different jobs, each of which taught me valuable lessons and laid a foundation for my life and career. As an artist’s assistant, I witnessed the creative process that brings an artist’s vision to life; from waiting tables I learned to deal with a variety of personalities.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, is where everything came together for me as an interior designer. I moved here in 1987 to help some friends open a restaurant, working as waiter at night while spending my days painting. I’d bring my work to galleries, and the feedback was remarkably consistent. “I admire the work,” said one art dealer, “but it looks very laborious, too gothic and architectural. Perhaps you should pursue architecture instead.”
It was yet another message pointing me back toward interior design. Then, in 1988, I began working with Seret and Sons, an import company that sells rugs, furnishings, and reclaimed architectural elements to designers and homeowners. I was thrilled to work with these exotic materials from different countries and eras; I steeped myself in the esoterica of tribal arts, palace carpets, and the aesthetics of far-flung lands. Owner Ira Seret’s wife, Sylvia, is a master tile and mosaic artist who taught me a great deal as well. Ira and Sylvia thus served as key mentors for me, introducing me to worlds both ancient and current. While working for them, I had the opportunity to meet architects, designers, upholsterers, and builders, all of whom shared their expertise with me.
I sent pictures of Ira’s work to all of the designers in the Architectural Digest Top 100 Designers list, which brought me into contact with renowned figures like Juan Pablo Molyneaux of New York, Linda Bedell of Aspen, and Jan Showers of Dallas. When they would come to Seret and Sons, I’d watch how they worked with floor plans to fill a house with rugs. I learned about combining different styles and eras, mixing old with new to create a unique look and feel. The designers kept telling me, “You need to go out on your own.” But at the time I was content to work with the Serets, and I stayed with them nine years.
Then, in 1996, designer Carolyn Riechow hired me as an apprentice at Visions Design Group, where we worked side by side as I learned about new construction and state-of the-art fixtures—plumbing, electric, lighting, appliances. I also learned about establishing ongoing relationships with clients that can endure over the years. Eventually I became a partner there, and in 1999 I purchased the business from her.
Now that I have my own firm, the learning process hasn’t stopped. I’m always developing fresh ways to see the world, seeking talented new collaborators and envisioning the creative opportunity in every challenge. My gratification comes from merging my own vision with the clients’ expectations and dreams to create a workable blend of fantasy and pragmatism, a design that reveals the owners’ true nature.