We feel pretty confident in our ability to spruce up spaces around here, but as soon as we meet people who design interiors for a living we realize the importance of embracing the wisdom of those who’ve studied the craft, have loads of experience and know how to see things we might be missing. Meeting Amy Aswell of Amy Aswell Interior Design was no different.
She’s been working in design for years and has some incredible projects under her belt. We caught up with her this month to see how she’s handling some fairly new transitions in her business, the ways in which she’s harnessing the powers of the internet to do amazing things in real life and her quick and dirty tips for assessing our own style preferences.
Last time we spoke, you were starting to really dive in to some design projects in the Sacramento region, but your portfolio keeps growing (and making us wish we could have you design our homes!) and you’ve also recently dipped your toes into the design-for-television pool with the DIY network. What’s that transition been like for you?
At this stage, I would say I’m a master of transition because I’ve had to do it so many times! You need a full toolbox of skills to stay in ‘the game’ of design, and resiliency is key. Overall I would call this period of transition very positive. At times I was afraid to work alone or I would second-guess my decisions and career goals but when I really slow down to listen to my inner self, I feel that what I’m doing and where I’ve landed is pretty good, getting better!
Dipping into doing TV shows is a complete departure. I’m actually more of a hands-on designer so if I get stuck behind a computer for too many consecutive days, I’m not very happy. It’s funny, looking back at my training and realizing that two of my favorite classes were furniture design and a landscape studio—because we were on our feet and using our hands to make things. I really enjoy the tangible side of design and the TV experience combines that with adrenalin, because the shows are filmed in three days. And there are a lot of unknowns—no matter how much I do to prepare, there are always going to be things that go wrong. Luckily I also enjoy problem solving under pressure.
You also offer e-design services, which makes us pretty darn grateful for the internet. How does that type of work differ from the work you do with clients face-to-face?
I’ve only very recently begun offering e-design services. Interior design is very multi-faceted, so e-design presents unique challenges. For instance, you have to rely on clients to take accurate measurements and stepping foot into a space can give the designer a different perspective than just photos. Like, how does the space relate to other parts of a home or building? How is the room oriented? Where is the best light and views? What is the approach? I think e-design is going to make working with a designer more readily available to the masses and it’s great to connect with clients who live all over the country and the world! Customers are no longer limited to the 5-10 designers in their hometown so they’re more likely to find someone they love working with and who more closely aligns with their sensibilities.
Have you had any pivotal moments in your career that you can look back on and point to as career-changing events?
This should inspire some folks: I almost didn’t attend an event that completely changed the trajectory of my career in Sacramento. It was after a long, exhausting day of teaching and a friend who was supposed to attend the event with me (the only person I knew who was going to be there) had to cancel. I was on the phone with my mother, explaining how I had just parked but wasn’t feeling very ‘social’ plus it was raining and maybe I should just go home. She convinced me to ‘just go’ and that’s the event where I met our first big client! I know we would have continued to pursue design projects, but our first big break gave us a lot of credibility. And it felt like the ‘right’ kind of project for our set of skills. So yeah—go to things! Even if you’re alone and don’t really feel up to it.
What has being a designer taught you about life?
1. Be tenacious and resilient.
2. Quality of life is determined by how well we treat our everyday rituals.
3. There is something to be learned from everyone and everything.
4. Stay curious and do your research.
5. Nothing is ever really ‘done,’ so just enjoy the process.
If you had to give someone three quick tips on figuring out their interior design preferences, what would they be?
1. Write down your rituals for an entire day. For example: what do you do when you walk in the front door after work? Where do you put your keys and bags? What happens to your shoes? This will tell you a lot about how your home is working for and against you in its current state. Is there a place for everything? What’s missing? For instance, I’m in the process of shopping for a new entryway console table and not having one is driving me nuts!
2. Think about upkeep (aka: cleaning!). Sure, having 20 pillows on your bed may sound like a fun idea, but how about making that bed every day? And laundering the pile of linens week after week? After considering your habits, you may find you’re really a minimalist, or somewhere in-between. Make sure anything that’s ‘decorative’ also serves a purpose (or two, or three)! Remember: anything that is on display will also be a dust catcher. In a kitchen, it’s lovely to have open shelving but only if you are thoughtful about what is exposed. And don’t forget to edit, edit, edit!
3. Visit an art museum and take note of the pieces you are most drawn to. I love the idea of purchasing a piece of art and allowing that element to guide the design of an entire space. This works with any budget, so long as the artwork is really resonating with you. You don’t have to justify or explain it to anyone either. Also, surround yourself with only things you love. This can take a lifetime to actually achieve, but I believe should be the end goal. Over time I’ve been able to slowly collect family heirlooms and small mementos that have so much meaning to me. Individual items that you’re drawn to can also tell you a lot about what you value as well as your design tastes.
Our mission here at Clementine Daily is to appreciate the many layers of our everyday lives—the good, the bad and everything in between. How do you relate to that mission?
For me, this directly relates back to everyday rituals and not being discouraged by setbacks, but rather seeing them as little reminders to be more persistent. I recently read an article about how American kids are more easily discouraged if they do not immediately succeed at something, whether it’s art or science or sports. But in other countries like Japan, perseverance is a highly valued trait because it’s believed to ultimately lead to success. I also think Americans are experts at making comparisons, which studies have shown directly correlates with feelings of unhappiness. Everyday I make it a goal to get as ‘lost’ in my work or leisure activities as I can because I know this is my happy place. This is where I’m engaged, not making comparisons and I feel the most creative and fulfilled. Oh, and spend at least two hours outdoors everyday!
Lastly, do you keep any mantras handy to get you through your days? If so, do you mind sharing them with us?
I’m obsessed with mantras! They really do work for me. I also call them reminders. Some favorites are:
“Remember to compartmentalize.” I’m often pulled in so many directions and can easily feel overwhelmed by tasks. This one tells me it’s ok to put all of the other tasks aside so I can focus on the one at hand.
I’m unofficially in P.A. or Perfectionists Anonymous and one mantra I recently stumbled upon that is helpful is, “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” I used to think being a perfectionist helped me work hard and do my best work, but I’ve come to realize it’s the opposite.
I’m also motivated by “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
I also love, love, love the Charles Eames quote, “Take your pleasure seriously.” Make having fun and enjoying life a priority, and your work will improve by default. So many designers, by choice and/or necessity, become workaholics. We really have to be vigilant and push ourselves to break away and live life sometimes. It’s a constant struggle, but I’m happy to say I’m improving just through awareness!
We’re with you on that one, Amy!
p.s. Want to hear more of Amy’s story? Check out her interview on the Creating Your Own Path podcast!