Designer Crush: Dawn Carlson and Carol Perry of MAS Design, Inc.Author:Michelle Konstantinovsky
1. You two met while studying Interior Architecture and Design at the Academy of Art University (AAU) in San Francisco. How did you realize you shared the same passion for design and how did that initial connection inspire a partnership?
Yes! We met in grad school at AAU. We initially became friends because we were two of only a handful of old ladies (should we say “mature”? It doesn’t suit us, lol) that were there later in life after changing careers to pursue our passion for design. We are very different but also have a lot in common, including a very inappropriate sense of humor and a relentless quest for perfection. (We never achieve it, but we have A LOT of fun trying). We bring very different things to the table but have massive respect for each other as well as for our team and vendors, and we think that is a big bonus for our clients.
2. Your tagline is “high design. Low blah.” Where did that saying come from and how does it reflect your mission?
It’s our way of saying that you can achieve a chic, tasteful aesthetic without being boring or expected. Some clients take more risks than others, and that’s ok. We’re here to help them achieve their own personal expression, whatever that looks like, which is why you will see a lot of styles represented in our portfolio. A home shouldn’t look textbook or mimic something that’s been done over and over. Each design is curated for each individual client. The goal is a multi-faceted space with art and furniture that inspire, a space that is sophisticated and comfortable but also that evokes joy, calm, or whatever that person wants to feel when they come home. A space should never be stocked with vapid objects, no matter how tasteful.
(Also, regarding the tagline, we thought “High design. Low blah.” was slightly more appropriate than “Go blahless”, which was pitched. And which made us giggle.)
3. What’s the process for getting to know your clients so you can really customize your creations to suit their lifestyles?
This might sound like a copout, but I think we are naturally extremely intuitive. This is an essential part of what we do, because it’s about the client, not about MAS. We tend to “get” our clients very fast. But we also ask a lot of questions and invite them to share their inspiration with us.
Some clients send us photos, art, Pinterest or Houzz boards to peruse. But we always emphasize that this is not homework. If they want to share inspiration, they need not worry about whether the visual will work for their home, whether it is appropriate to the design or not. This can get stressful for a client, and after all, that’s what they’ve hired us for. This is just about bringing very personal moments into the design. We may not put a Venetian fountain in your living room, but knowing it gives you joy helps us to get to know you on a deeper level, and that will always enhance our collaboration.
4. You describe your styles as “complementary but different.” Can you elaborate on that?
Well, there are a few levels to this. In design, we have a lot in common, but there are some places where we help each other expand in an unexpected direction. People always ask us what happens when we disagree. The answer is that it is very rare, but when we do it tends to enhance the design. We might lock horns for a moment, but we have an agreement that if one person really does not like a component, it is scrapped. This is usually for the best and opens us up for a better option.
We both strive for brave, chic, sophisticated spaces. It’s taken a long time to really understand our differences, but we’ve boiled it down to a few clichés, lol. Carol tends to be a little bit uptown, Dawn a little downtown. Carol is fancier, Dawn is edgier. Carol is more feminine, Dawn is more masculine. (We’ll spare you who is a little more country and who is more rock and roll, although you might be able to figure that out by now.) We hope that what that means is that our clients have the benefit of both visions, and we end up with a carefully considered, balanced, but not predictable space.
Procedurally, Carol can be more process-oriented and Dawn can be more instinctual. Combined, these qualities create a holistic operating model for our clients and vendors, though in our hearts we’re both designers before all else.
5. What is your biggest interior design pet peeve that you avoid at all costs?
We touched on this before, but it deserves another moment. The biggest goal of ours is to serve the client, rather than our own egos. We are not here to create the “MAS Design” aesthetic, and we think this kind of design approach is unfair to the client (and frankly would bore us to death). We’re here to create a really important space for our clients, their escape from the cruel world. A place that they can relate to on a profound level and also one that simply allows them to be their highest selves. This is about home, identity, family and sanctuary. And with the inspiration being each individual client, we never have to worry about creating the same thing again and again.
6. How do you describe “California style”? What makes it distinct?
To us, California is easy, effortless, jaw-droppingly beautiful and comfortable. Being outdoors provides us with a lot of natural inspiration. We think that what makes California unique is that you can be whatever you want here. You can be fashionable (or not!), comfortable, and maybe a little odd. You should never limit yourself or adhere to a tired stereotype. And in terms of interiors, we keep it very neutral sometimes. We allow the landscape to guide us and incorporate subtle details such as texture and scale rather than over-designing.
California style is not about a state but rather a state of mind. With modern conveniences we can help clients achieve it anywhere in the world, and MAS has worked with clients outside the Bay Area, the state, as well as internationally.
7. Which musical albums or artists have been influential in your life and why?
Ooh, wow. How long do we have?
Carol’s playlist is all over the place: For relaxation Steely Dan, Hozier, Rhye and Sade. For a touch of world music Idan Raichel. Cure and the Smith when her kids want to know what she used to listen to when she was a teenager. In return her kids introduced her to Kendrick Lamar. When she is homesick and misses Israel – Hadag Nahash and Sivan Shavit. While driving: Seinabo Sey, Wild Belle, Wu tang Clan, Air and Marian Hill.
Carol likes dark and moody art and one day hopes to own a painting by Lucian Freud. Other favorite artists are Michal Rovner, Andrew Wyeth and Egon Schiele
For Dawn, any music that calms the senses is great since she’s always got a lot on her mind, but without being lifeless or expected. She loves a little bit of literally every genre. Her playlist has everything from 2Pac to chill house. Recently she has been a little obsessed with Khalid, Kygo and Calvin Harris for their feel-good vibes, but she’s also no stranger to old-skool, moodier types like Adele, Erykah Badu, Sade. She enjoys world influences like Stan Getz, Ceu, and the Gotan Project. And then of course there are always old favorites from her youth like Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and The Beastie Boys, although now there are typically some beats mixed in.
In terms of art she loves things sculptural, Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy, or quirky and brave like just about anything at Coup d’ Etat. There is no type of music or art that is off limits, it just must have soul and ideally a sense of humor. Kind of like interior design.
8. Describe your perfect Sunday from morning to night.
Snuggles, mimosas, family time, brie, wine, and some old records.
8. Early bird or night owl?
Annoyingly early bird.
9. Salty or sweet?
Both, combined. But salty if we had to choose.
10. Beach or mountains?
Mountains. Whiskey. Fire. Blanket.
11. Real news or Real Housewives?
Admittedly both, depending on the day. Since November, less of the intolerable former, sadly.
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