The Foundation is Female

In a time when being a woman is the single most important role many of us must play, coming together to support and celebrate each other is even more necessary. At one point we have all studied an image of an iconic space, designed by an accomplished woman, that inspired us to become a part of this community. Each one of us has been moved by the words and thoughts of the most inventive females who give their all to curate not just spaces but to shape the lives of many.

In this story we brought together an array of creators whose collective body of work has crossed global boundaries. Whether demonstrating that design ideas are infinite, shedding light on the rarest makers or moving millions with the click of a mouse, each has given a piece of themselves that will change the path of another, all while empowering more women to do the same.

AMY KEHOE

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? I love the spirit of women like Gabriella Crespi and Greta Grossman. There is something really bold about female furniture designers in the mid-century era, almost renegade (from my point of view). While there were other well-known females working at the time, I love the sophisticated yet playful quality of their work.

WHAT IS MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BEING A FEMALE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? There are lots of challenges in design as the process involves so many details that need constant attention. It’s rare that I feel a specific challenge to being female. I would say that the early years of raising a child and having a design business are particularly challenging; there are even more logistics than ever! The transition into motherhood was a more challenging period, as trying to strike some balance just felt like I was setting myself up to not succeed in this pursuit of “balance.” Now I realize you just do your best. Certain days, it just all falls apart and it's okay because we know how to put it back together.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A DESIGN SUCCESS TODAY? I think vision is first and foremost, but what holds up any business is character. Our vision should stay fresh, incorporating what we find tried and true. As for character, having patience, being a good listener and owning your errors are all skills that I find necessary in our field.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE YOUNG FEMALE DESIGNERS? It’s important to maximize your exposure in the beginning and to put in time in the right environment. I also encourage our younger designers to not be reactive in situations. Staying calm allows for more creativity in difficult moments. We encourage them to realize that mistakes happen. Just come to us with solutions.

WHAT CHANGE SHOULD WE PUSH FOR IN THIS INDUSTRY? I love the idea of more mentorship, which led me to discussing
this question with my friend and peer, Sean Yashar. We have bantered about the idea of legacy in design firms. Most design firms
are not structured to allow for designers becoming partners. I think it would be so cool to circle back to this idea from the past, allowing the next generation to be supported as they rise to the top.

CATHERINE KWONG

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? I love Kelly Wearstler’s work. Her style is so distinct, yet no project is the same. You never know exactly what to expect from her, but you know it will be something layered and immersive, and effortlessly cool.

WHAT CHANGE SHOULD WE PUSH FOR IN THIS INDUSTRY? I think that designers need to really stand by what they bring to the table and know the worth of their expertise. I love that interior design is being democratized to be more accessible to everyone, but when clients reach out to interior designers for their expertise, they need to walk into the relationship with trust that they are working with an expert in this field. And, on the flip side of that coin, designers need to constantly evolve and educate themselves to stay ahead, and to be the steward of a client’s home. It’s a partnership, and the best results are born out of trust.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR DESIGN CAREER? I was always drawn to architecture and design in school but thought of it as something to enrich my life outside of work, not as an actual career. Then, one summer, I was working at a big advertising agency, and came across an article about Sheila Bridges in the Brown University alumni magazine. I was really moved by her work—her interiors are so rich, and every project has a distinct point of view. In the interview, she talked about the hard work it takes to manage projects, and how she built her business, which I found very inspiring. It was the first time I really imagined myself as an interior designer. She’s the reason that I went to Parsons for design school because she went there.

WHAT TREND DO YOU SEE EMERGING RIGHT NOW? I am definitely seeing a return to a more thoughtful way of designing. Quality over quantity or convenience. We have been conditioned to have everything at our fingertips and on our doorsteps overnight with free shipping! Which is great, but that mentality does not necessarily produce interiors with staying power. As time becomes more of a luxury these days, so too does a piece of artwork or furniture that is made by hand. Our clients are looking to create homes that are meaningful, even if that takes time.

 

ERIN MARTIN

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? Louise Nelson and Katherine Hepburn for their style, independent spirits and irreverence.

WHAT IS MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BEING A FEMALE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? Not looking as perfect as the boys like Jay Jeffers, Ken Fulk and Will Wick do, 24/7.

WHAT TREND DO YOU SEE EMERGING RIGHT NOW? I see designers really going for it! They realize that time is short, so you have to make it fabulous.

HOW DOES YOUR STYLE DEFINE CALIFORNIA? Scale. I followed and studied the greats who I believe mastered scale.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CREATE A LONG-LASTING BUSINESS? It’s all about the people around you. Do they challenge you? I would also say it’s about maintaining grace and passion even when you fall, so you will have the ability to get back up and try again.

 

JANE HALLWORTH

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? Eileen Gray, Andrée Putman, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli. All were strong, willfully independent, left of central, unconventional and unapologetic.

NAME ONE CHANGE WE SHOULD ALL PUSH FOR IN THIS INDUSTRY. Equal pay.

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED YOUR BUSINESS? There is so much about technology that I find a distraction. However, I do love how accessible and global the world of design has become. Even if you can’t get on a plane, you can see things that inspire and educate you about cultures beyond your imagination at the touch of a button.

WHAT IS MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BEING A FEMALE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? The industry itself is challenging, but my place in it doesn’t feel hindered or helped by being female. If you carve out the place you want, surrounded by good people, representing interesting clients, the challenges of those collaborations are immensely exciting. I have formidably talented vendors and craftsmen/ women and pretty badass clients. They are all creative and imaginative. I worked hard to put myself among all of them, and that was the true challenge.

WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE DO YOU GIVE YOUNG WOMEN BREAKING INTO DESIGN? Being creative and strong-willed is not a negative. It's important to have joy in what you do, and people will listen. Have your own North Star, work hard and earn your place. Don’t ever step on another woman’s shoulders to get higher up the totem pole.

 

JUSTINA BLAKENEY

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? I would have to say Frida Kahlo. What I love about her was how her vibe, style and talents oozed from everything she touched. Her sensibility, integrity, powerful stories and way of being in the world was so inspiring to me—what a force.

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED YOUR BUSINESS? Working in home decor as someone who embraced and harnessed the power of social media somewhat early has been hugely beneficial to my career. Since I got my start in design through my blog, I can say with a high degree of certainty that my brand, Jungalow, would not exist today if social media and blogging wasn’t a thing. Today, our whole model relies on the internet—from our online boutique to our media channels on Instagram and beyond, our whole strategy revolves and tech and the internet.

NAME ONE CHANGE WE SHOULD ALL PUSH FOR IN THIS INDUSTRY. I would love to see more diversity in our field. I believe that working with people from diverse backgrounds and studying things from vastly different viewpoints makes everything better. I believe that diversifying the design industry has the power to greatly improve the community as a whole.

WHAT IS MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BEING A FEMALE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? It’s hard for me to separate being a female in this industry from being a female of color who came up in this industry in a very unconventional way. I do find that at times I don’t feel I’m taken seriously. I also have experienced being offered less money than men for the same job, and I also have experienced unusual behavior, such as people asking to feel my hair. All of these things provide me with unique challenges, but they certainly have motivated me to push myself even more so that I may rise to the top.

HOW HAVE COLLABORATIONS AFFECTED YOUR CAREER? I’ve learned so much from each collaboration that I’ve done. I love learning about all the ins and outs of business and working with partners so I get an inside look at how other people run their businesses. Everything from product development (materials, time to create samples, engineering) to marketing (photo shoots, social media, events), and it’s endlessly inspiring with so many takeaways. I think in many ways, collaborations have been a huge asset to my career and I have learned so much. One thing I would caution against, however, is making collaborations be the core of your business. Over the years I’ve learned that collaborations are truly amazing, but they should be a side dish, or dessert—not the main course of your business.

 

GULLA JÓNSDÓTTIR

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? Zaha Hadid. She crossed the boundaries of avant-garde architecture and design and paved the way for female architects.

WHAT IS MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BEING A FEMALE IN THE DESIGN INDUSTRY? I tend to like challenges, and I consider myself a human first before I consider myself a female in a man’s world of architecture. I love the fact that now more than ever before, women are taking up space in architecture.

HOW DOES YOUR STYLE DEFINE CALIFORNIA DESIGN? My work is always site-specific and inspired by its surrounding nature or city. My Californian style reflects its nature and climate as well as the international group of people who reside here. For example, when designing the La Peer Hotel, the first hotel in the West Hollywood design district, I looked to the art, furniture, fashion and design communities for inspiration. I wanted to create a space where the community would feel comfortable. First, we create the spaces, and then the spaces create us.

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED YOUR BUSINESS? We can draw faster, build faster, print objects with a 3-D printer and design across the globe without having to travel. Although today’s technology is fascinating and advanced and extremely helpful, I still like to use the old-fashioned technique of sketching by hand as the first inspiration for projects.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA DESIGN COMMUNITY? California’s soul is rooted in the diversity of the artists and creators relishing in conversations and collaborations that celebrate the uniqueness of voice and expression. Cultural boundaries and norms are lifted, ideas and global influences are diffused here. There is freedom in creating art and architecture as a result of the young design history.


UNA MALAN

WHICH FEMALE DESIGN ICON INSPIRED YOU THE MOST? I am constantly inspired by all of the amazing women in our industry. I mean, just look at the incredible female entrepreneurs who are gracing the cover of this magazine. What an honor to be included!

WHAT TREND DO YOU SEE EMERGING RIGHT NOW? Well, everybody knows that curved sofas are back in a big way. But in terms of real trends, I don’t think it applies to a particular style as I see some people saying more is back and others saying minimal is still key—it’s all so subjective and it’s great to have that diversity. I think that the biggest movement continues to be to find the special and unique, not the obviously recognizable. To find pieces that are exceptionally made, and one-offs to really give a home a sense of individuality.

HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED YOUR BUSINESS? It has certainly been helpful, but one has to keep up with it to make it worthwhile. Having a strong online presence that designers can easily reference is absolutely paramount for showrooms these days. Of course, social media is one of our most powerful sources for sharing what we do. However, the downsides are my ever-aching neck, back and right-hand thumb!

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A DESIGN SUCCESS TODAY? Being a multitasker is everything! There are so many hats that one has to wear, so being able to stay aware of what’s going on across so many platforms and thinking ahead about how to make your business more streamlined and client-friendly while running the day to day are all equally important.

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