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Designer Spotlight: Rachel Winokur

27 Oct

Rachel Winokur is the Principal and Lead Designer of eTTa Designs, an eco-friendly boutique interior design firm.  She received an International Design Award and was heralded as “one(s) to watch” by ASID Icon.  Rachel is an Allied member of ASID and a Certified Green Building Professional with 15 years of combined experience in a variety of creative disciplines, including attending the Boston Architectural Center and UCLA Arc_ID.  Rachel’s interior design career began at award-winning Boston architecture firm Ann Beha Architects and then Los Angeles with various firms including the prestigious Michael S. Smith, Inc.  In 2007, she founded eTTa with projects like an eco-luxe spa and presidential suite at Hotel Casa del Mar, an eco-friendly nail salon, and a green residential renovation.  Some of Rachel’s community contributions include designing a room at a family shelter, panels and presentations like Dwell on Design, and serving as a Guest Critic at a UCLA Extension Architecture and Interior Design Program Design Studio.

I’m very pleased to share this conversation with Rachel Winokur, an extremely talented eco-friendly designer who has led quite a fascinating life so far. She’s gone from growing up on a 52 ft Sailboat and raising chickens to working with renowned White House designer Michael Smith to dedicating her talent to designing a greener planet–there’s a lot to learn from this lady!

Los Feliz Project: View from Dining Room into Living Room

TSL:  Hi Rachel, so glad you can join me for this interview.  You’ve work with so many interesting people including Michael S. Smith, Interior Designer to the White House and President and Michelle Obama.  Very impressive!  How did you land such a great position starting out?  Many new designers would love to know how to secure a position with such a well known designer, any tips?  

RW:  Prior to working at Michael S. Smith, Inc., I worked for several architecture firms, but never any interior design ones.  At the time I interviewed with Michael, about 5 years ago (just 3 years after moving to LA from Boston), I didn’t realize how significant of a designer he was and ultimately the impact my employment there would have on my career.  I don’t recall how I found out about the job opening but I submitted my resumé and was lucky enough to have a casual meeting with the Design Director at a large wood dining table in the kitchen of the office and then Michael met with me briefly.  I think that he relied on the Design Director to determine if I had the necessary skills while Michael met me to see if there was a personality fit.  I was hired as a Sr. Designer and worked my way up to Director of the Commercial Department.  Some of the strengths that helped me flourish at Michael’s were organizational skills, a proactive approach, anticipating Michael’s needs, ability to respond quickly, management skills, resourcefulness, and customer service.

TSL:  Obviously hard work and perseverance do pay off. What did you learn from him?

RW:  I am extremely grateful for my time with Michael as he was my first design mentor.  As a result of working closely with him, I gained valuable design skills including developing concept ideas, presentation techniques, FF&E selections (especially fabric combinations), furniture layouts, client collaboration and client service.


Before: Los Feliz Project-Living Room


TSL:  Had you considered other types of work before pursuing design?  If so, what kind? What led you to design?

RW:  It took me almost 10 years after graduating college to discover that I wanted to be an Interior Designer.  I tried fashion merchandising at J.Crew, fashion design at FIT, writing a business plan to open a café in Portsmouth, NH and textile design at Massachusetts College of Art.  Then, I took an interior design class at the Boston Architectural Center and loved it!  I immediately started their Master’s of Interior Design program in 2000 and felt a tremendous sense of relief, and excitement.

Before:  Los Feliz Project Breakfast Lounge


TSL:  Isn’t it interesting how so many people stumble upon what they really love in life, especially with the creative arts?  It really is a trial and error search for many of us but it all seems to make us better at what we do-just like studying fashion and textile design previously gives your interiors a different and more personal perspective. And now, you have become known for being an “eco-friendly designer”, what led you in this direction?

RW:  I wasn’t very focused on eco design until I started my own business where I was able to take stock of what was truly important to me and chose what I really wanted to do rather than carry out someone else’s vision.  I employed a few eco design elements in my first residential project with my new business 3 years ago, and shortly thereafter completed my first eco project for a nail salon.  The eco nail salon was (and still is) such a great example of sustainable design, that I used it as the basis for several conference panels and presentations.  That project really proved to me that it’s possible to be green while looking cool and keeping to a tight budget.  I was hooked on sustainable design!  However, it was the Sea Wellness Spa at Hotel Casa del Mar in 2008 which was my first large-scale eco project and garnered me a lot of eco design attention.  My luxury hotel client’s priority was an elegant and luxurious spa which I gave them.  But, I also gave them a green spa within budget, so it’s like they got a bonus, and they were thrilled.  Eco design doesn’t define a style, it is merely a tool to achieve a final result that can be healthy, eco-friendly and even socially and economically conscious.

Eco Nail Salon

Over the last few years, my passion for sustainable design has grown stronger.  Also, I remembered that I was named after Rachel Carson (my middle name is Carson), the naturalist who wrote several books including Silent Spring, which exposed the dangers of pesticides.  Plus, I had always enjoyed the natural world as a child, whether it was visiting the Natural Science Center, going to the beach (between the South Shore of Massachusetts and Cape Cod), sailing, even living on a sailboat for 2 ½ years, and skiing (I was a competitive Freestyle Skier and skied almost every weekend and vacation week in the winter).

Rachel and her sister,growing up carefree amongst nature. Isn’t this just the most beautiful photo?

TSL:  Do you especially like working in the spa genre?  

RW:  I loved working on the nail salon and the eco luxe spa because I was able to create something that would positively impact so many more people than if they were residential projects.  In addition, since our lives today can be so busy and hectic, it’s extremely important to decompress and I really liked creating a relaxing space that serves as a respite and helps guests find balance in their lives.  Also, unlike most residential projects, I love being involved in a multi-dimensional design and incorporate all 5 senses like peaceful music, relaxing scents, comfy seating, soothing palette and calming tea.  I even enjoy the challenge of designing for a public space where durability is crucial and where strict health and safety codes govern.

Sea Wellness Spa Entry

TSL:  Your transformation of the Sea Wellness Spa at Hotel Casa del Mar is breathtaking.  What were your influences?  Any difficulties in keeping it an eco-friendly re-do?

RW:  Thank you!  I still get excited every time I cross through the threshold into the spa and experience the space.  And I love watching everyone’s reaction when they enter and are instantly transported by the sights, sounds and scents. 

There are many influences that contributed to the creation of the spa, though there is no clear theme (which was intentional as I’m not a fan of places that look theme-like).  First and most influential, I was inspired by the beach location of the hotel.  Especially since there are no windows in the spa, I felt it was extremely important to make a clear connection.  That notion brought along with it a palette of browns and dark greens to represent the sand, sea, seaweed and even beach grasses (more so an influence of the Cape Cod beaches where I grew up).  Also, natural materials like Matrix-Z’s natural shell fit right in as a wall inlay and face of the reception desk.  The beach also influenced my design of the quiet lounge which is based on a cabana with curtain walls and comfy low Cisco Brothers chairs, a height reminiscent of typical low beach chairs.  Even the abaca wrapped Kenneth Cobonpue coffee table in the lounge reminds me of a lobster trap.  The beach location made me think of slatted teak which was also a strong design influence and led to horizontal elements.  I accomplished this with The Reclaimer’s reclaimed wood wall paneling in the entry hallway installed horizontally.  Also, I respected the 1926 Renaissance Revival architecture of the building with symmetry in the layout.  This is evident immediately when you enter through the original entrance where I created a hallway with a hidden door on the right and then a pair of matching doors on the left and right just before the locally made sustainably custom-built reception area by Cliff Spencer which is also symmetrical.   

There really weren’t many difficulties in obtaining and installing the eco elements.  Perhaps the biggest challenge was finding the right eco lighting that could be used with a dimmer and create the proper ambience.

The Quiet Room at the Sea Wellness Spa

TSL:  I think I’m seeing a pattern here…spas, water, Cape Cod, it all makes sense. I was so fascinated to learn you grew up on a boat.  How did that come about and what was that like?  What did it teach you about how much “stuff” you do or don’t need in life?

RW:  We had already done a lot of boating and sailing as a family and then one day, I remember my parents telling me and my younger sister (we are just 13 months apart) that we were going to live on a boat.  I was about 8 years old and I don’t remember thinking it was anything odd and in fact I loved it and only remember fun, freedom, adventure and happiness.  My sister and I even each brought our Persian cats on board and they seemed to love it too! 

I had my own room, the V-Berth, which was at the front or bow of the boat and on the left or port side was my bunk bed and some built-in storage on the right or starboard side.  All I needed at the time was a comfy bed, some clothes and my cat.  Though it was nice to also have my bike on board where it was stored in my parents’ tub with everyone else’s.  The boat was a 52’ Irwin Catch and felt roomy to me and had conveniences like a small limestone fireplace and a washer and dryer.  I also recall there was even enough room to invite friends over for a birthday party!  Plus, even though we were Jewish, there were several years where we fit a Christmas tree on the boat.  My favorite spot on the boat was sitting at the bowsprit on a rope seat my dad made with my cat with the wind in my face and the unknown in front of me.  I truly feel I had the best childhood ever!

The experience of living on a boat and in a small space with just essentials was valuable.  It has helped me as an adult adapt well to and live happily in many small apartments.  Since it proved to me that living in excess, is not necessary, it is one more way I can help my design clients create a space that satisfies their needs while also being environmentally and economically conscious. 

TSL:  That sounds like an incredible childhood!  How much fun. It seems there have been many influences in your life, one being your namesake, Rachel Carson who you mentioned earlier. Would you share more about her?

RW:  Rachel Carson, a writer, naturalist and ecologist, was named “one of the most influential people of the 20th century”, according to TIME magazine.  She grew up in Pennsylvania, had a life-long love of the ocean and received degrees in biology and marine biology.  She became a published author at age 10 and her fourth and perhaps most famous work was Silent Spring – a warning about the hazards associated with the random use of chemical pesticides and their potentially adverse effect on the environment and human health. Carson encouraged the need for more extensive research before discharging chemicals into our environment.

Carson’s environmental ethic below is still so meaningful for me today on how I chose to live my life, especially the last line which I feel relates to social and economic sustainability.

  • Live in harmony with nature
  • Preserve and learn from natural places
  • Minimize the impact of man-made chemicals on natural systems of the world
  • Consider the implications of human activities on the global web of life.

TSL:  Your two grandmothers also had a great influence on you, in fact so much so they are the reason for the name of your design firm.  What were they like?  What inspired you?

RW:  I feel so fortunate to have had such amazing and influential grandmothers.  They each possessed incredible strengths from which I draw constantly.  One of them was Etta and it was her fashionable, well-traveled, and cultured ways that made a significant impact on me, especially in my design career.  The other grandmother we called TT (hence the capital T’s in the business name eTTa), and it was her optimism and outgoing nature that still inspires me and informs my professional demeanor.

Rachel’s room at The Upward Bound House

TSL:  You were one of the small group of designers that generously donated your time and talent to the Upward Bound Homeless Shelter by designing one of the rooms—how did this affect you?  What did you learn?

RW:  It was fairly easy for me to say YES to adopting a room at the Upward Bound House Family Shelter in Culver City earlier this year.  Though I didn’t know what would actually be involved or how I would accomplish designing a room in such a short span of time with donations that hadn’t yet been acquired.  However, once I started, I was so committed to making it happen that I didn’t waste any time or energy on thinking that it may not work out.  I believe it was my dedication that was key to a successful room with mostly donations, in such a small amount of time. 

I felt empowered as I invited others, like the vendors and friends who donated products and services, to contribute to this project.  In the end, there were an astonishing 50+ organizations and individuals who contributed to the tiny 130 square foot room.  And the finished product was so stunning it was one of just a few (of the 18 rooms in total) recently featured in a terrific spread in Nesting Newbies!  Even though I get such a charge out of designing spaces, this project was unique because of the collaboration involved plus knowing that a family with children, who had been homeless, would be living there temporarily and re-building their lives.  Such a powerful experience!  

TSL:  What materials do you especially enjoy working with?

RW:  I love using sustainable fabrics (like batiks from Katherine Rally Textiles or embroidered fabric from Deseo Textiles), reclaimed wood (from The Reclaimer and American Reclaimed), eco wallpaper (like Madison & Grow), sustainable tile (like Erin Adams Design) and recycled marble (like Eurostone Inc.). 

Sneak peek at the Presidential Suite at Casa Del Mar

TSL:  Are there any tips you can pass on to us to help us all be a little more eco-friendly?



•buy vintage and antique furnishings and hardware
•buy salvaged materials and hardware
•reupholster and refinish
•use non-toxic finishes
•use recycled fabrics or those made from renewable sources
•buy furnishings made from renewable sources
•use reclaimed wood
•buy durable furnishings
•buy multi-functional pieces

 Since sustainable design isn’t just about décor, but also what goes on behind the scenes, there are several non-decorative low- and no-cost solutions.


•open curtains on south-facing windows during the day, close at night
•lower water heater temp to 120°
•set thermostat as low as comfortable
•turn thermostat back 10-15° while sleeping or away and save 10%
•wash clothes in cold water
•air dry clothes during summer
•turn off unneeded lights
•close fireplace damper when not using fireplace
•when using fireplace, open dampers in the bottom or open a nearby window 1” and close nearby doors
•remove shoes inside


•setback thermostat
•energy-saving appliance features like power-down or sleep mode on PC
•electronic power-controlling devices for older appliances
•stop air leaks
•insulate water heater
•add attic insulation
•install efficient showerheads
•weatherize windows
•faucet aerators
•seal and insulate ducts
•add fans
•proper window treatments to block heat from sunlight
•passive cooling and heating techniques
•replace 6 interior incandescents.

TSL:  Wow!  Thank you-many Excellent tips here.  What do you consider to be one of the most important investment pieces for the home?

RW:  The most important investment piece for the home is a non-toxic comfortable bed (including mattress, linens, bed frame and any upholstery) since we spend most of our time in bed and a good night sleep is crucial to good health.  The second most important piece is an ergonomic task chair so that we can comfortably work on our laptops catching up on emails and Facebook.

Rachel’s Marina Studio

TSL:  If you only had $100 to spend on something for your home—besides paint—what would you buy?

RW:  Since the way a home functions is just as important to me as how it looks, and I’m extremely focused on creating a proper bedroom, I would use the $100 for an eye mask and sound machine.

The Marina Studio. Stunning pillows…

TSL:  If you only had $20?

RW:  A gorgeous and sturdy glass goblet to help encourage me to drink lots of water throughout the day!

TSL:  What is the one design/interior you would most like to go back and change, and how?

RW:  Honestly, nothing comes to mind. 

TSL:  Name 3 living people you’d like to have dinner with?

RW:  (I’m stuck on this one….I bet people pick famous people, but my focus is my family so can I pick just one?) My 4 year old nephew Chase (he lives in VT so I don’t see him enough).

TSL:  Very sweet and says so much about you…Favorite thing you can’t live without?

RW:  If it doesn’t have to be design-related, then my must have is my lip moisturizer!

TSL: I’m an addict too, Burt’s Bees for me… 🙂  What design trend just irks you?

 RW:  There really aren’t any current design trends that irk me, but I’ve never been a fan of most animal prints.  To me, they often seem tacky and too fake.  I prefer the idea of a pattern being a loose interpretation of an animal print, rather than a close resemblance.   

TSL:  Rachel, thank you so much for sharing your time and knowledge with us. This has not only been an insightful interview but fun too! I think we have all learned so much and look forward to seeing much more of your work in the future.


ZP featured on UK blog, Scarlet Opus

17 Sep

We are quite honored to be featured today on the UK design blog for Scarlet Opus! Scarlet Opus is a trend forecasting company specializing in the Interiors sector and led by the beautiful and talented Victoria Redshaw.  Their mission is to give practical and accurate insight into tomorrow’s design trends to a host of clients that include Product Designers, Interior Designers, Manufacturers, Retailers, and Buyers.  The information is quite refreshing and extensive, showcasing design from all over the world.

What I particularly enjoyed was the demonstration, through photos, of the impact a Zia-Priven fixture has once it’s been added to a setting.

Ingrid Pendant detail

Our Ingrid Pendant and Waterfall featured in Anastasia of Beverly Hills

Another shot in Anastasia of Beverly Hills

You can see the whole post complete with tons of photos at the Scarlet Opus site.  Thank you Victoria and Phil for including us!

Eco-Designer Kelly LaPlante Launches Standard Magazine

8 Sep

Leading interior designer Kelly LaPlante, who taught the design community that “green is a standard, not a style” is raising the bar once again. Sustainability now represents only a single component in LaPlante’s ever-evolving criteria– a criteria which will illuminate this fall with the launch of LaPlante’s first periodical publication,  Standard.

The February 2010 issue of Traditional Home Magazine names LaPlante among theTwenty Young Designers to Watch.” Her work has also been published in magazines such as Elle, Vanity Fair Online, California Home and Design, Blackbook, Interior Design, Hospitality Design, Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine . She regularly appears as an expert on programs including Sundance Channel’s The Lazy Environmentalist and Big Ideas for a Small Planet, Discovery Home Channel’s Greenovate, Good Day New York, KTLA News, Good Day Dallas, Good Day Atlanta, and Martha Stewart Radio. LaPlante was also the executive producer of “Brilliant Green,” a special for Ovation TV which aired in January of 2009.       

LaPlante’s first book, écologique (benefitting The Blank Theatre Company and Global Green USA) was released in 2008. She is co-founder of jak, a luxury eco-furniture collection designed in collaboration with designer James Saavedra.        

I am thrilled to share this conversation with Designer Kelly LaPlante, known for her “Green” design long before it was cool to be eco-friendly.  Today her new online magazine, Standard debuts and I’m sure it’ll make a definitive mark in the publishing world.  Kelly’s work ethic is astounding;  juggling family, interiors,  furniture design, a book and now an online magazine and amazingly, she happens to be one of the nicest people around.  Hope you enjoy her interview as well as the fabulous
Standard magazine!       

TSL:  Kelly, congratulations on the launch of  Standard Magazine! You must be very excited—what exactly inspired you to start the magazine and what kind of content can we look forward to?        

KLP:  I just felt it was time for a magazine where sustainability is not touted as a special feature.  For a long time I have been saying “green is a standard, not a style” and I got to the point where I felt like green should just not be special anymore… it should be bottom-baseline criteria.  And journalism runs deep in my blood so I guess it was only a matter of time before a publication came into my circle of projects.       


Kelly’s original Venice Beach loft       

TSL: I’ve had a sneak peek at the magazine already and it’s quite exiting! I love your manifesto–design should be captivating, timeless, built to last and, of course, produced in a way that honors people and the planet. What originally captured your interest in green design— did a shift occur or was it something you’ve been conscious about from the beginning?       

KLP: When I started my design company I was just out of college.  I’d been working at some very high-end firms through school and I was so young and broke that it always made me want to cry to see the beautiful things that our clients would be throwing out in order to facilitate a new design.  So when I started with clients of my own, I always worked in what was existing.  I didn’t know that I was being “green,” at the time, but I started thinking then about how else things could be re-used and then, a few years later, the design industry started evolving and before I knew it I had sustainable NEW materials to work with (that was amazing to me!)  12 years later, I feel like it is SO easy to design sustainably.       


Lexus Hybrid Suite Washington DC

TSL:  What would you say is the biggest misconception of eco-friendly living out there and can you offer any tips to being more eco-friendly?        

KLP:  I think people still think that eco is a style, which cracks me up.  I’ve designed sustainably for clients with incredibly diverse tastes.  My best tip is to really evaluate what you already own and how you can use it.  Nothing is more green than not buying anything new.  In the premiere issue we have a feature about two friends who moved in together and did not buy one new thing, even though they are both total design-aficionados.  They just used what they had and it was incredible. 

  Private Residence Hancock Park      

TSL:  Nothing could be easier or more cost-effective than not buying something new, but it seems impossible to be completely “green” in this modern world. What’s the least “green” item in your home that you can’t seem to let go of?   

  My 16 month old.  He wears disposable diapers but I cannot let him go.       

TSL:  Ha!  I’m sure he’s worth hanging onto, even with the disposable diapers! You know, you’re always referred to and revered as an eco-friendly designer, but apart from that, you’re really an incredible designer, eco or not.  What would you say most influences your aesthetic?       

KLP:  I suppose it is the same things that affect us all… politics, music, art, fashion, world events, nature.  I let these influences run around in my head until they collide into one another and create unexpected combinations.  I love a good juxtaposition and to infuse a little bit of humor in my work.       

Lexus Hybrid Suite, San Francisco     

TSL:  The thoughtfulness in your work shows. I find so many of the rooms quite beautiful, yet very livable and I love that so many outside influences inspire you. Who in the design world inspires you? 

   I am more interested in what my contemporaries are doing than in what my predecessors did…. I’m not sure why that is.  James Saavedra is one of the most brilliant and detail oriented designers working today.  Erica Islas is amazing at space planning and customizing to make the most of every square inch.  Vanessa DeVargas and David Jimenez both do beautiful rooms that are always brimming with vintage pieces.  I love to collaborate and pick the brains of other designers.  We are all sort of out in this brave new world together and I’m glad to have them to bounce things off of.
TSL:  That’s wonderful that you can be so collaborative, I think we can all learn so much from each other.  I learned something about you I didn’t know while  researching this interview! I was fascinated to find out you did the home office of Heather “Dooce” Armstrong in 2007—that must have been a blast—how was that experience? 

   That was incredibly fun.  I met Heather and Jon through my brother who is a journalist in Salt Lake City where they live.  It was a quick turn around—we were doing the design for inclusion in my book and we were on a deadline—and so we all got to know each other really quickly (and over many drinks!)

Private Residence Hancock Park       

TSL:  You graciously contributed your time to The Upward Bound House Family Shelter in Culver City by designing one of the rooms.  What were some of the trials and tribulations?
Upward Bound House is a Santa Monica-based agency, which provides transitional housing for homeless families with children. The project united some of L.A.’s most well known designers to makeover an 18 unit converted motel in Culver City. All designers gave freely of their own time and worked with a minimal budget and donated items. Zia-Priven is proud to have been one of the contributors providing lighting for many of the rooms.)       

KLP:  Lack of budget, lack of running water, lack of electricity and a two-week long rainstorm.  It was such an incredible experience, though.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.       

Upward Bound House        

TSL:  Alright, time for the fun questions…Can you name 3 living people you’d love to have dinner with?       

KLP:  Richard Branson, Barack and Michelle Obama (I’m counting them as one but I really want them both to be there) and an incredibly powerful and unapologetically self-actualized woman like Madonna or Angelina Jolie (whomever will be the most forth-coming.)       

TSL:  Nice choices. I have to respect a woman secure enough to sit down with Madonna or Angelina!  What is the worst thing a client has ever requested?         

KLP:  That I listen to all of the ideas her friends and (non-immediate) family had for the house.          

  Private Residence Silverlake       

TSL:  Oh my. I can’t imagine how you got past that. Touchy situation.  The next question is a bit easier… or is it? If you had only $100 to spend on something for your home—besides paint—what would you buy?       

KLP:   I’d pay the piano tuner to come out for an hour to work on our 1928 baby grand.        

Great piece to have… And if you only had $20?     

KLP:  A big white phalaenopsis.  They last so much longer than cut flowers and need almost no maintenance.

TSL:  Can you envision where you see yourself in 5 years?  

   I suppose I’ll be due for another re-invention/ evolution of myself and my career.  I think that is important to do every 5 years or so.  I’m in the middle of that now with launching the magazine, a show in development and re-locating the companies and my family to Austin.  Five years from now this will all have evolved into something that is greater than I could ever imagine.  Maybe I’ll be ready to tackle another country…
TSL:  Or run one!  Well Kelly, I wish you and Standard magazine the best of luck, not that you need it. Thank you so much for the interview.Don’t miss 5 Twestions with Kelly!
It’s my homage to Craig Kilborn and the old Daily Show (though I’ve learned he’s back on the air with a new show)  “5 Twestions” are intended to be fun, fast and furious and yes, tongue in cheek!  They’re ONLY for the Twitter crowd–they will NOT appear on the blog–and are a part of every interview.  They will be tweeted at 10am and 6pm Eastern ONLY on the day the interview is first posted.  We tailor them to each person for the most interesting results and each “Twestion” and answer must fit within the 140 characters. Follow us on Twitter and see what happens!

{You can also read Kelly’s blog at or follow her on Twitter at @standard_mag.}

Designer Spotlight: Karen Young of Hammocks and High Tea

12 Aug

I was so pleased to sit down and have a great conversation with Karen Young, Owner and Designer of Hammocks and High Tea, who is about to launch her first pillow line. And let me tell you, they’re not your run-of-the-mill pillows, the designs are sophisticated, luxurious and well thought out. Karen has also become a dear friend through Twitter– the girl is not only talented but witty and incredibly kind, not to mention a very exciting up and coming designer. Plus, we got a bit of a scoop, Interior Designers, you’re going to love this…

Karen Young is the founder and designer of Hammocks & High Tea, an organic home decor brand that fuses traditional Caribbean style with a modern aesthetic.

The eco-friendly line is comprised of drawer liners, tea towels, pillows and other tabletop items. The products are made from 100% certified organic cotton or organic cotton/hemp blends, and printed with water-based inks. The overall result is a line of contemporary goods infused with vibrant colors that appeal to many homes and aesthetics.

Karen holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Fordham University. Prior to founding Hammocks & High Tea, she worked as a sales account executive in the fashion industry with brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Cavalli, and Ferre.

TSL  Hi Karen! After being such a fan of your textiles for so long,  I’m excited to announce your modern new line of pillows launches August 16, 2010.  They’re incredibly chic—what inspired these new designs and where will they be available?

Karen  The designs are usually inspired by my memories paired with things I am fascinated with now. I am that girl that stares at an iron gate and breaks down a pattern (linden print), or traces the root of a shape and remakes it in a modern version (maya print). The new collection will be available at my shop and can be found at my retailers as well.

 TSL  It really is a wonderful collection and I’m happy to know that staring at iron gates has finally paid off!  But there is even more exciting news; you’re also introducing a to-the-trade line this Fall, which we’re sure designers will be thrilled about.  What will that consist of?

Yes, I am so excited to offer my fabric by the yard to the trade. It will be a small collection of some of my most popular prints in spectacular color ways, some which are almost like fine art. I wanted to really explore and push my boundaries, as well as show that just because it’s eco doesn’t mean it’s the color of dust.

 TSL  I’ve seen a little preview of these prints and I think people are going to be blown away- the colors are so unexpected and vibrant- anything but dust inspired! And the fact that designers can now tap into these fantastic patterns and be creative with them in their own way is incredible. Drapery, duvets, custom pillows-the possibilities are endless.   So, I’m curious, I’d really like to know more about your background in design and how you came up with the idea of Hammocks and High Tea? And tell me, what inspired the name?

Karen  I actually have a degree in Psychology. About a year before I graduated, I decided to give myself the chance to explore the fashion industry, which I was so fascinated by. I got an internship with a major Italian design house, which led to a recommendation and a job offer from another house, and the day after I graduated I found myself accepting a job as account executive for D&G Dolce & Gabbana. Excuse the name dropping J That showroom carried a lot of amazing brands and I was soon buried in clothing with impeccable tailoring and details. I had aspirations of being a fashion designer but soon found that I would prefer to dress the home. Hammocks & High Tea was born 7 years after that first job as my way of telling the story of multi cultural design, the same design that I had grown up with in Guyana, South America. It was a mesh of many different influences, including the predominant British paired with a mix of Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, etc. It was something I couldn’t find it at the time in product design. The name symbolizes this (in a lighthearted way), Hammocks (Relaxed/Caribbean) & High Tea (British/Victorian).

TSL  I had no idea about your fashion background, very interesting, I can see the influence. And I love hearing the inspiration behind the company.  How have you managed to take your ideas and translate them into a successful business?

Karen  The most honest statement I can make is that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to fit my work in. I looked at a lot of trends and tried to see how I could fit it into my style, because I thought that’s what people wanted to see. When you see it twenty times a day you figure everyone must like it. Hello? Mushrooms? Mustaches? I soon realized that the things that I liked best from my own work had a certain thread, and felt most authentic to me. Once I took a breath, stopped, and did what I loved, everything flowed from there and the response was, and has been, incredible. It is one thing I will never let go of again.

 TSL  I’m so glad you followed those instincts, the beauty of the designs speak volumes. I think it’s a lesson every good designer needs to learn in  order to do great work;  it’s got to come from the heart.  Now, I know a lot of your design is influenced by your Caribbean upbringing.  What are some of your most vivid memories of growing up in the tropics and how did it shape your design aesthetic?

Karen  My most vivid memories were the architecture, the colors, nature, and of course the food. I don’t know why as a child I would have been interested in the filigree that decorated the roof overhang of the houses, but I was. I remember vividly my aunt’s Japanese rock garden that was surrounded by palm trees, the Holi festivals where we would douse each other in the streets with colorful powder, and some of the ceremonies where I was honestly most excited to see what food and fruits would be a part of the celebrations. I’d sleep during the Hindu ceremonies and be bright eyed for the food. I am still a major foodie like that. I’m a big believer that in order to experience a culture, you must experience their food. These are the things I look to when I’m ready to design and my mission is to show that like the rock garden & palm trees living together, good design has no boundaries.

TSL  Your grandmother was a great force in your life, especially during those early years. What made her so special to you and what do you carry on from her?

Karen  Granny rocked! She let me know that I could do anything I wanted, and to never let myself get in the way of my dreams. Maybe it was from her own experience (she had 9 children, was widowed fairly early, and was a caretaker all of her life), but she seemed determined that I should do whatever made me happy. She was also the first person to sit still while I painstakingly drew her for an hour or so, and smiled at the stiff, double jointed results, bless her heart. My homage to her is doing exactly what I love, and I know she’s somewhere showing off her granddaughter’s work.

 TSL  What a great lady and a great influence. What would you find to be the latest influences on your design?

 Karen  Currently I am obsessed with shapes found in architectural details and in vintage textiles (kilims, blankets, etc) throughout the world. I try to modernize them by paring them down very simply and adding bold or unexpected elements of color.

  And, who are your design inspirations?

Karen  Sheila Bridges is my favorite interior designer. My sister, who is an architect, and can solve a Rubix cube in minutes.

 TSL  Shelia’s great and your sister is obviously a genius, especially if she can still find a Rubix cube these days!  So, let’s have a little fun and talk about some not-so-serious design topics…

 What’s the one thing you have in your home even though you know it’s just not cool?

 Karen  Sometimes comfort trumps design, or the two haven’t caught up yet. I don’t have a cool office chair; mine allows me to sit for more than an hour. Also, I have one old school fan and a tower fan. Good design gets me hot & bothered, but when the weather does the same, an old school fan wins.

TSL  Name 3 living people you’d like to have dinner with?

Karen  Michelle Obama, Cornel West, and the Dalai Lama.

 TSL  What is “SO 5 years ago?”

Karen  It may be more like “SO 15 years ago” but I would appreciate it if people took those wavy mirrors off their walls. They look like fun house mirrors. And it’s so Caribbean to have plastic on the furniture. I’m talking velvet covered, gilded sofas, which are then covered in plastic…in 100 degree weather! I cannot tell you how many years I spend shifting from side to side in a hot house, unsticking one leg at a time from plastic covered chairs. Baaaad memories.

 TSL  What IS the “new” black?

 Karen  Being at ease with yourself and your life.

TSL  Do you have any great Caribbean recipes you can share?

Karen  Here is a very easy, delicious one for Baked Plantains:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Total time: 15 minutes

2-3 whole ripe plantains
Butter or 1 tbsp olive oil
Cayenne Pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
-peel plantains and slice in half lengthwise
-place in 9 x 13 baking dish with flat side up
-coat lightly with a pat of butter or olive oil
-sprinkle the tops generously with nutmeg, cinnamon
-sprinkle cayenne pepper to your taste
-top with brown sugar

Bake for 10 minutes covered, remove cover and bake another 5 minutes until golden brown.

TSL  That sounds so good! Not only can you cook but you have a great sense of humor and have so many people smiling on Twitter-  where does that  come from?

 Karen  I grew up with my three uncles who naturally had lots of foolish banter between themselves. Maybe it was the environment too, but there was a lot of silliness and jokes going around. It’s now my way of putting people at ease, or just cracking myself up. I’m quick to “LOL” at my own corny jokes. The most surprising thing people find about me is that I’m quick to laugh (loudly), and at myself, because I appear very serious most of the time.

 TSL   Where is Karen in 5 years?

Karen  Karen has a small studio that churns out a range of eco friendly home goods from bedding to tablecloths, made with the same attention to detail and consistency as they are now. One aspect of the studio focuses on working with her interior design clients, and she is expanding into hospitality and furniture design. She’s riding high off the success of being featured on Oprah, but she’s not one to show off you know.

TSL  You always make me smile and I’m so glad you joined me for this interview-Thank you! I wish you all the best with this new line and I cannot wait to see the trade only line, I know it’s going to be simply beautiful.

With Karen’s interview we are introducing a new segment-  5 Twestions!
It’s my homage to Craig Kilborn and the old Daily Show (though I hear he’s back on the air with a new show)  “5 Twestions” are intended to be fun, fast and furious and yes, tongue in cheek!  They’re ONLY for the Twitter crowd–they will NOT appear on the blog–and are a part of every interview.  They will be tweeted at 10am and 6pm Eastern ONLY on the day the interview is first posted.  We tailor them to each person for the most interesting results and each “Twestion” and answer must fit within the 140 characters. Follow us on Twitter and see what happens!

All photos courtesy of Hammocks & High Tea

Zia-Priven Interview with One Sydney Road!

15 Jun

I was fortunate to be invited by the lovely Piper at One Sydney Road to participate in her “Taking The Leap” series and today the post is up!  The series has been so inspirational and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.  And boy, have I taken some leaps.  Some good, some great and some just downright terrible. Hope you enjoy them all…

Oh, and Piper managed to squeeze some photos out of me of my home office, the very place I am typing from right now. But much, much neater…Voyerism is fun, isn’t it?  Here’s a sneak peek…

Piper has the whole story and all the photos, so if you have a few minutes I would love you to drop by One Sydney Road. She’s a real sweetheart! Thank you Piper and hope I can inspire in some way!