Rio Hamilton

If Rio Hamilton were to meet his match, it would have been last March 28 when the New York Chapter of the International Interior Design Association (IIDANY) convened an illustrious panel of creative women at 3form New York showroom for an evening entitled, “Designing the Glass Ceiling: Shattering the Status Quo.” Rio’s job was to moderate the participants— Gisue Hariri, Robin Wilson, Malene Barnett, Jean Brownhill and Jennifer Graham—as they discussed their definition of success and the experiences they’ve gained on the way to the top of their respective fields.

Almost any moderator would have had reason to feel intimidated but if Rio did, it didn’t show. Instead, introduced as an “esteemed chronicler of the industry, an accomplish marketer and a wonderful designer in his own right,” it seemed as if he knew that he was just where he belonged.

Whether he’s coordinating an event for one of his clients or documenting one for his widely-read blog, Mon Oncle, Rio began early on preparing for all the roles he play within the various segments of the design industry. From the time he was a young boy in Las Cruces, New Mexico rearranging his mother’s furniture, design was something that pulled at him.

“I had this need to redecorate from a very young age,” he said. “So I’d enlist a friend to help me move the furniture. Mom would come home from work and it would drive her crazy. But she’s still in the same house and she’s kept some of my ideas forever.”

photo copy 2Little Rio

Rio’s longings took him first to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he majored in business and then to the University of California at Berkeley where he studied interior design and worked part time in the marketing department of Interaction Associates, a management consultant firm. He credits that firm with his communication skills and the foundation of his marketing know-how.

But the big city was a constant lure and, in the mid-90s, he went to work for Trout Studios, doing marketing outreach and event coordination for the Los Angeles-based furniture maker.

“I became fascinated with the in-house business model,” he said. In 1998, he went with Sally Trout to New York City to help her participate in ICFF and, during his 10-day stay, reconnected with old friends. He also fell in love, decided to relocate to New York and landed a part time sales position with Niedermeier. Within short order, he was promoted to manager of the Wooster Street showroom and a decade later, ran those offices in the D&D building and in Florida as the East Coast director of the company.

“Working for Judy Niedermeier who was known as the “Display Queen” for Bergdorf’s, Barney’s and Saks before she developed her own furniture collection, gave me the best business education,” Rio explained. “She had a great business mind and encouraged my creativity with my own line of furniture which she sold. It was the best of all worlds because I could pick and choose clients that I could work with and give them my full attention.”

Madison white compressedMadison White by Rio Hamilton

After her death in 2011, Rio moved to Assouline Publishing as creative director for their new furniture line, an ill-fated venture with three showrooms in New York, Paris and London that closed almost as soon as they opened. But his work there left him with yet another layer of experience in branding, marketing, sales and how to attract the interest of the press.

By that time, having already published his own blog covering design industry events, Rio formally launched Rio Hamilton Consulting to offer his strategy, public relations, social media, branding, event planning and, yes, moderating, skills to design industry professionals.

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“I realized that I was in a position to provide the kind of support creative, design-oriented people, especially those with products to sell,” he said. “Business owners have so much to concentrate on and it’s impossible to do it all. My job is to take you under my wing, attend to the details and make sure your work gets seen.”

 

 

James Swan

Although it might seem unlikely to find James Swan in a small town on the coast of Maine, this one-time LA designer to the stars and now ski and Cross Fit fanatic, is used to going where the opportunities are. The seeds of adventure may have been planted early on when James’ father, a radio engineer, moved his family from Sacramento, CA to the Philippines, where they lived for five years.

“It was an incredible adventure. President Marcos instituted Marshall Law 20 days after we landed,” he explained. “There were armed guards everywhere, which ironically allowed us, as young kids, to traveled freely around Manila.”

Back in the US, James followed the path his parents chose for him, directing church choirs and orchestras and attending Southwestern University in Texas for music and theology. But it was an uncomfortable fit and, after a lot of soul-searching, he realized that he was drawn more to architecture and design and he applied to transfer to Arizona State University.

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“Math was never my strong suit, but somehow I got accepted,” he said. “Then I switched from architecture to interiors and felt very much at home. I was finally right where I needed to be.”

James landed his first job in San Francisco creating interiors for an architectural firm, rising to the head of the department and gaining invaluable experience in design development and research for new residential construction. After about eight years, a friend in LA told him about a job that he “had to take.”

“I flew down on a Sunday for the interview and returned home to a job offer via fax—remember them?” James said. “I had no interest in living in LA, but my friend was right, I couldn’t turn this down.”

For more than two years, he worked as a senior designer in line for partnership at Frank Pennino & Associates dealing with all manner of celebrity clientele. But as the celebrity glow wore thin, he realized it was time to make another move. In 1999, with one part time assistant, James Swan Interior Design was born. Over the next decade, as he designed interiors for some of LA’s most powerful people, his firm grew to employ 14 people.

Then, as it did for so many in 2008, everything came to a screeching halt—from 22 projects to one, overnight.

Never in love with the relentless LA sun, James saw that this was his opportunity to leave that city and, with deadlines looming for a book contract, 1000 Things I Hate About Your House, and a writing partner in Boston, he headed for the East Coast. After a week in a friend’s cottage in Maine during the spring of 2009, he knew it was destined to be his next stop.

First, however, he had a book to promote, a project to help complete in Boston and some career decisions to ponder. It was during that time that the idea for the Million Dollar Decorating podcast was born.

“It’s about what I’ve always done,” he said. “But no one else was doing it like this.”

James began interviewing people in his Rolodex, launched his first podcast in March 2016 and, by early September, topped 100,000 subscribers from around the world. His success is built on conversations with what he calls “some of the most creative people in the world,” an intense social media marketing campaign, and a seven-day a week email publication and broadcast schedule.

And this one-man show continues to make plans. He’s booked speaking engagements at High Point Market, Las Vegas, the Atlanta and Dallas markets, and is creating an online and coaching course for homeowners interested in doing their own interior design.

His biggest surprise? “I believed my target market would be homeowners, but it turns out that about 40 percent of my listeners are design professionals!”

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Robin Baron

Robin Baron’s son and daughter are home from college for the summer. It’s a time that can challenge the schedule of any working parent, but Robin has figured it out. In the town house she re-designed from five apartments into a single home and office on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she can tune into their rhythms while managing the diverse demands of Robin Baron Design.

But it wasn’t always so well arranged, and it wasn’t always interior design. Robin first cut her teeth in another tough design business—fashion—and she did it in a big way. As a student at UCLA, when she saw a classmate launch a label and open a store on Rodeo Drive, she decided to do the same.

Robin Vintage

“That first collection was featured on the cover of the West Coast Women’s Wear Daily,” she said.

Pulled by an early memory of a cousin who decorated the home on Long Island where she grew up the oldest of four children, Robin also tried her hand at interior design. But she hated it.

“I didn’t have the life experience to successfully navigate the relationships that are part of the process,” Robin explained. “It was so intimate. Now it’s an aspect of the business that I love.”

Her work in fashion brought her back to New York City in the 80s where, while working as a buyer at Henri Bendel’s, she also took classes at Parsons in antique dealing and interior design. Little by little she began helping people redo their homes and within a year had enough clients to call it a business. She also had two children and worked out of her apartment, first with one assistant and eventually six. It was then she realized she needed to separate the two spheres of her life and she moved into an office on 57th St.

About five years ago, following the recession, Robin began creating the space she now inhabits, which can accommodate all the different facets of her life and career, including the licensing deals, speaking engagements and television appearances that she are helping build her brand.

“I always tell women who are committed to their careers and who want to also make their kids a priority that it requires the ability to be flexible, to have shifting priorities,” she said. “But I also give them hope. It’s my mission to empower people.”

Robin Baron Pic 1

James Rixner

James Rixner was 12-years old when he first started to redesign his family home. With both parents at work—his mother ran high-end fashion boutiques and his father was an electrical engineer—James took responsibility for his younger brother and the décor of their suburban Pittsburgh ranch house. Beginning with French doors in the dining room, by the time he left for college, James had redecorated the entire house from its Danish modern look to the chic Mediterranean avocado green and gold look of the day.

JR 8 years oldJames in his pre-decorating days

“My parents relied on me a lot to run things while they were at work and they encouraged my natural inclination to create a beautiful environment,” he explained. “When they got home, I’d have five estimates waiting for them on the dining room table.”

James arrived in New York City for a job at the New York City Regional Planning Office, which recruited him from the University of Pittsburgh where he studied Urban Design. That was when he met his husband, Stephen, and realized Urban Design wasn’t for him.

“So I did the actor-waiter-dancer thing and worked for Glorious Foods in high-end catering, just as the two owners made it really big,” he said, describing the City’s scene during the 80s. Through that work, he rotated through parties at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, Halston’s, Studio 54 and the Saint and rubbed shoulders with a cast of characters that included the Astor family.

It was though Pamela Astor that James ended up working for Harry Hinson. While Harry focused on his wallpaper and fabric showroom at the D&D, James took over his remaining interior design clients who were some of the city’s wealthiest families at the time.

“It was an incredible introduction to the business,” he said. It also led him to the interior design department at Bloomingdale’s (“that was like grad school”) and then to HLW, a high-end commercial interior design firm, whose four-day work week gave him time to begin building is own clientele. He officially launched James Rixner, Inc. in 1985 and, since the publication of the bathroom he was invited to do at ASID’s show house at the Ansonia, he hasn’t looked back.

“That bathroom led to my first of five invitations to Kip’s Bay, including the 25th anniversary in 1997, which changed my whole life,” James said.

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Arlene Angard

Arlene Angard was enjoying a collection of 20th century art at the 2015 Architectural Digest Home Show when she saw her opportunity. The gallery owner mentioned he was looking for someone to rent his space at 15 E. 71st St. and Arlene, who was nearing the end of a five-year lease on her two-story furniture, art and antique shop on 1st Ave. near 89th St., leaped at it. She had been thinking about sharpening her focus on a key component of her interior design work—art—and this was the place to do it. It was, she explained, the next step for the interior design career she had begun more than a decade earlier.

“That conversation made me realize that this was my opportunity to open the kind of gallery space I wanted to showcase the art that is the centerpiece of my designs.

IMG_6286Arlene in her gallery with Spring into Summer

Arlene has been fascinated with art and interior design for as long as she can recall. In her native Venezuela, her childhood home was filled with art and her parents were good friends with Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala.

But her parents steered her and her sisters toward professional careers in business and healthcare and Arlene became a dentist, working in Caracas—albeit in a “charming office.” When her husband, Jeffrey Angard, had the opportunity to come to New York for work, Arlene enrolled in a post-graduate program at NYU to study orthodontics and temporomandibular disorders.

The energy and opportunities of the city and the worsening political situation in Venezuela conspired to keep the Angards in New York longer than they originally planned. And as she became more and more discouraged by the state of the American healthcare system and more and more awake to the art and architecture around her, Arlene chose her passion and enrolled in the New York School of Interior Design.

“New York gave me the opportunity to do something I love, something I can do at any age, anywhere,” she said.

AAOn the way to work at Arlene Angard Designs at 15 E. 71st St.

How to Have “The Talk”

When I speak with interior designers and describe what we do—create custom art for their designs—the response is almost always a one-two punch. First, a designer will say that he or she LOVES art.

Winter's Window • Oil on canvas • 16 x 20"Winter’s Window • Oil on canvas • 16 x 20″

But then comes the bad news. So many interior designers see art as a problem. Their clients balk at the expense; they don’t have the vision; they don’t want to deal.

But why should what’s on the wall be less of a designer’s concern than, say, a sofa or a rug on the floor?

How can you successfully guide your clients toward the art that you think your design needs? Here are a few ideas for how to bring art into the picture before your clients exhaust their budgets, themselves and you.

Patch detail(Detail) Patch of Blues • Oil on canvas • 24 x 24″

Don’t treat art as an afterthought. Instead, consider it as an important design element and bring it into the conversation early in the design process. Help your client understand its value in highlighting an aspect of a room—or the entire room and beyond. It can also serve to direct the eye to details of the colors, shapes and textures of your design.

Do let a piece of art help define the mood of the space you’re trying to create. Different colors can uplift or tone down, help warm or cool a room. So can composition. Does it draw you in in an exciting way, or offer you something soothing to sink into?

Offer your client a narrative that describes why you think a particular piece of art belongs in a particular setting. Talking about a painting—why, for example, the palette, composition and texture will enhance a space—gives your clients a framework and context for thinking about a piece that they might otherwise not know how to look at. For many designers, this comes naturally. For others, well, give me a call!

 

A Lot Like Life

The new year has not yet begun, but I hereby resolve to be a better blogger and chronicle the Teters Art journey, because making art and building a business are a lot like life itself.

I hesitated before now, in part, because I believe that the art speaks for itself. And it does.

Falling Purple • OIl on canvas • 5 x 4'Falling Purple • Oil on canvas • 5 x 4′

But there’s also more to it. Each painting also has a story behind it (this was a commission for a client whose son’s birthstone is amethyst). There’s the story of making the painting and the story of everything that leads up to it. Once it’s left our studio, every painting also becomes part of another story. But that is rarely for us to know.

Here’s the broad sweep: Jerry is the artist, handy with a paint brush and other implements; possessed of an amazing sense of color and feel for texture; and the ability to translate words into a feeling on a canvas. I am the blogger, the marketer, the shmoozer and the schlepper, everything it takes to bring his art to the world. I do that through emails, phone calls, showings and deliveries—to offices and client sites. Sometimes, if New York City parking is working against me (not often, I like to brag) or if a designer also travels to the city (as do I from New Paltz), I show paintings right out of my car on the sidewalk, where the natural light is usually excellent!

But I also help convey the needs of each interior designer for each commissioned painting—the palette, format and feel that he or she is after—to the artist. From there, Jerry and I collaborate pretty closely. I’ve even, once or twice, added a few strokes to a canvas, (both with and without him knowing). But more about that next time.

Copper detailDetail from Cooper & Gold II

 

But Is It Art?

An interior designer told me that you shouldn’t choose a painting because it “goes” with a room.

I couldn’t agree more.

The most important thing about a piece of art is that you LOVE IT. (And I’m loving this one right now…)

dancingDancing Oil on canvas 36 x 36″

But the wrong painting, especially an abstract painting, can conflict with a space and the things that inhabit it, no matter how much you love it.

Just as the right painting—the right size, palette, feel—can uplift and enliven everything around it. You select pillows, window treatments, a rug, and other artfully (pun intended) chosen items to enhance the mood, feel, to become an accent or a focal point of a carefully designed space. A painting will do the same thing in a powerful way. And if it’s real “art,” it will draw you in, touch your soul, make you look twice (every time), and become, over time, that thing you cherish, that doesn’t fade with fashion.

You can read about how commissioning a Teters Art painting worked for interior designer Tamara Stephenson here.

 

 

How a Commission Painting Unfolds

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The end result

When two interior designers, Robin Baron and Yudi Kaufman of Robin Baron Design, wanted a painting for their client Ryan Serhant, a man who knows his way around New York City real estate, we began with a 4-way phone conversation: the two designers, the artist Jerry Teters, and me. The designers envisioned a large, 5 x 4′ white-on-white painting for a specific space in the living room they were designing for their client. They wanted a canvas with the kind of rich texture that is Jerry is known for, with hints of purples, gray, pinks and perhaps chartreuse coming through to read and complement the the space and its furnishings.

They provided a few photos that showed furniture fabrics, pillows, and the rosy underside of an over-sized coffee table that incorporated some of the colors they wanted the painting to reflect.

Jerry chose to paint over an existing canvas which helped give a head start to the texture that he builds and manipulates as he works. With gesso, he brought the canvas back to a pristine white and then applied thin layers of color.

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When that dried, he used a gel medium and cold wax to continue to build the surface so it would  accept the layers of paint he applied and scraped off, reapplied, and moved around as a subtle pattern and sense of movement appeared.

White-on-white detail 1Detail of canvas

Allowing the paint to dry was key to achieving the effect of color peering through. Without patience, the white would become pastel and the contrast would be lost. Another challenge was to find the composition under the white and, when necessary, paint on top of the white layers to bring the color forward and create balance and movement.

One of the final steps was to go over any areas that weren’t crisp, pure white and remove any shadows or tints of color that weren’t deliberate to meet the designers’ specification of bright white, not cream, not off-white. The final painting (first image above), which is almost impossible to capture in a photo, glows and unfolds gradually the more you look at it.

Contemporary Art and Interior Design: Inspiration and Hard Work

Uploading images of not-quite abstract paintings to our new Art of the Drum page brought that wonderful sense of excitement; another “new” at the beginning of this New Year, when all things feel fresh and possible, vibrant and colorful. Architabla

Then I hit one of those technical snags, and then another and…(I’ll spare you the details–we’ve all been there.)

It was one of those small-scale moments where the sublime (I can’t wait to share this original art with the world!) gets muddied by the ridiculous (why won’t it upload right?) and I remembered, once again, that, yes, this is how it goes.

Which raises an interesting question.

When we view a completed work of art—whether it’s a painting or a beautifully designed space—do we acknowledge the effort, imagine the glitches that might be part of the process? Or do we prefer to think that the final product came seamlessly together, inspired by the talent and the finely tuned creative processes of the person or people behind it?

Success is, as Thomas Edison said, 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. You can argue with the numbers, but the point is well taken, in our experience.

So when you’re looking for art either as a focal point of a new interior design or as that final, essential finishing touch, let us do the hard work of creating the inspired piece you need.

We ask all the questions to help you get it right. What palette, size and mood are you looking for? What speaks to you and your client? Would Rose in Blue be perfect if it were in green?

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Our clients’ inspirations and creativity help drive ours. We’re eager to work as hard as you to create the paintings you need and that your clients will love.