Designer Crush: John McClain


1. Who is your biggest role model?

My biggest role model is my grandfather. He passed away 17 years ago, but he taught me so much. He really sparked my interest in design because he was a master builder and could make anything with his hands. He was such a hard worker, and he and I worked on many houses together; I truly learned most of what I know about quality construction from him. He grew up very poor but later raised a big family, and worked hard for everything he had in life. He couldn’t read or write but he was the smartest person I have ever known.

2. Which movie or play do you wish you could have designed the set for?

The Great Gatsby. The book allows you to create a mental picture of the lavishness of how he lived, but the movie really brought all of those delicious design ingredients to life. I adore art deco and feel that components of that design are timeless and work so well in today’s interiors. I sometimes find myself having to exert some restraint when designing for residential clients, and the beauty of designing a set for a movie like The Great Gatsby is that word “restraint” never enters into the vocabulary!

3. What is the best way to gauge a client’s personality before starting a project?

What a great question! I think I have subconsciously used my interpersonal skills over the years to get to know a client without really documenting the process. However, I do have a list of questions that I ask on every design consultation. I don’t pull out a clipboard and ask them one by one, but rather in a more conversational manner. Some include: “have you worked with a designer before and if so, how was the experience?,” “what are some of your favorite magazines/books?,” “what do you do for a living?,” “how long have you been in your career and what do you like about your job?,” and simply, “tell me about yourself/your family.”

Also, I try to strike up a conversation with them about some of their past homes, existing furniture pieces, hobbies, etc. and inevitably little hints of their personality come through. Sometimes it’s a tiff between the homeowners about design concepts, and sometimes it’s subtle actions that reveal personality traits. A good designer is a great conversationalist and listener and the best way to scope out someone’s personality is to chat with them in a nonchalant manner. All of that being said: I love a repeat client because we truly know each other at that point—warts and all.

4. What new design elements are you excited to integrate into your work?

I’m currently very excited about the new indoor/outdoor fabric options available. Gone are the days when you could easily distinguish between an indoor and an outdoor fabric, and they are only getting better-looking. Many clients are looking for durability and resiliency, but also, beauty and comfort.  I just added new fabrics from Sunbrella to my upholstery line and I dare you to spot the outdoor fabrics from my options. I also love the fact that homeowners are returning to a dedicated dining room. There’s something about the formality of this space that makes a dinner party feel truly special. I have lots of fun creating elegant and functional dining spaces. Lastly, of course with a home furnishings company called Gilded Home, I am ecstatic that gold and brass finishes are back, and I think, here to stay!

5. How do you completely unwind?

My husband I love to go on a cruise with no cell phones, email etc. If a cruise isn’t in the cards, a simple but relaxing pastime is to turn off our phones, cook a nice dinner, and watch a movie curled up on the sofa with our dog and cat. We are, thankfully, extremely busy, so sometimes you just have to grab a moment of peace when you can.

6. If you hadn’t become a designer, which career would you have pursued?

In a former life, I was a struggling actor and actually enjoyed the ups and downs of the field. Now as a designer, I treat every day as if I’m on a stage giving my heart and soul to an authentic performance.  Life is meant to be fun, and the moment when you stop enjoying yourself, others will pick up on it and you’ll be wasting your energy trying to fake it.  I try to bring a little “razzmatazz” to my clients while brightening their day through humor and great design…and maybe jazz-hands……and a cocktail or two.

7. What’s the worst pre-designer job you’ve ever had and why?

Well, I’ve worked since I was 13 so I’ve done a lot of things from mowing yards to advertising. But once, early on, I decided that I wanted to be a business owner so I bought a shaved ice cart and a donut machine! I know, so random! I would travel around to shows and carnivals and sell my goodies. It was super hard work, and not at all glamorous, and I think I gained 10 lbs. by eating all of the food that didn’t sell at the end of the day. Needless to say, I learned a lot from it; mostly I learned what I didn’t want to do in life! However, everything is a lesson, and I did become a stronger and more diligent person because of those hardworking days.

8. What’s your favorite recipe?

Well I’m from the deep South, near Atlanta, so you asked for this: it’s a tater tot casserole! Tater tots, onions, sour cream, butter, garlic, shredded cheese, cream of chicken soup and topped with even more cheese and ritz crackers soaked in even more butter! Trust me; it’s to die for…which is why I only have it once a year during the holidays!

9. Create your perfect playlist for us.

10. Who is your designer crush?

Without a doubt, it’s David Hicks. David had an effortless way of designing a space that was glamorous, intriguing and comfortable. His use of geometrics was also profound and revolutionary. I find myself incorporating many of his techniques into not only my interior design but also in my furniture design for my home furnishings line, Gilded Home.

Lightning round!

11. Would you rather shop new or vintage?


12. First celebrity crush?

Scott Baio.

13. What’s your hidden talent?

I play piano.

14. Best restaurant in your area? Where is it?

I love the small chain Roy’s which I search out in as many cities as possible.

15. SF or LA?

Always LA!

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