DESIGN SHOWCASE 2010
This month's meetup started with a presentation by three of the winners of Apartment Therapy's Design Showcase.
Jeremy Pickett presented his BRANN Pendant Lights, which combine his love of the Japanese aesthetic with his desire to make a sustainable light fixture — from the bamboo wood veneer shade to the use of LED bulbs.
Ben Light presented his Lake Log Lamps, one-of-a-kind lamps made of wood salvaged from the bottom of the man-made lake next to his parent's house. Each lamp (presumably oak "with a hint of lake dirt") is turned and finished with tung oil and wax.
Charles Constantine shared his "Life Goes On, Until It Doesn't" coffin coffee table. With references to both North American and other cultural funeral rituals, the table is designed to be a functional everyday piece as well as provide a symbolic gesture to the cycle of life.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: After graduating with an architecture degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, Kevin began his career at the venerable interior design firm of Parish Hadley. He joined Martha Stewart in 1995, where he is now Senior Vice President and Executive Editorial Director, Decorating, and Executive Creative Director, Merchandising for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. (MSLO). He also has the unique distinction of being the only other person (besides Martha) to grace the cover of Martha's Living Magazine. I often start out by asking designers how they got started, as the path isn't always clear. You went to Parish-Hadley right from RISD, how did that come about?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I graduated from RISD with a degree in Interior Architecture. I had planned on going to Europe after graduation but freaked out about not having a job, so I stayed stateside that summer and sent my portfolio around. I reached out to Parish-Hadley, thinking I may as well try to start out my career with the best. Parish-Hadley was considered a "finishing school" for designers. Many of my favorites had worked there, but I never imagined I'd actually get a job there. I was pretty persistent that summer (following-up with them) and it paid off.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What did you do when you first started working at the firm?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I spent lots of time drawing up rooms that others had designed. Mr. Hadley also took a liking to me and took me everywhere.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Did you have a particular style coming out of school?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I liked Classical architecture and English antiques. I was not a Modernist. And overall, Parish-Hadley was traditional, but Mr. Hadley wasn't as much, and I started to feel that influence.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: At what point did you start designing?
KEVIN SHARKEY: Mr. Hadley was very generous with giving people a chance. After inviting me on several shopping trips, he watched what I picked, felt I had a "good eye," and knew I was ready to do my thing. This was my first test. It was a small firm so there was an opportunity to be involved in various projects. And, I learned a lot about the job of designing.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What does having a "good eye" mean, and how do you think one develops it?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I'm not sure RISD taught me that. I learned more about problem-solving at school. Mr. Hadley wanted to see my approach to each project, and felt that my approach, along with my aesthetic, was clear enough that I could start designing on my own.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So how did you make the transition from Parish-Hadley to Martha Stewart?
KEVIN SHARKEY: After a while I got a little bored, and thought that I may enjoy magazines, particularly within the fashion realm. I got a job at Harper's Bazaar, and when I told Mr. Hadley, he said that if I was going to go to a magazine, I should go to Martha Stewart. The magazine was just starting at the time, but I went over for an interview and saw a lot of my old RISD classmates there. At the time, it was a small office on 42nd street, and it was a total cast of characters (which I guess it still is). It was so new at the time, and there were so many things going on there, it felt like a good move. Also, Mr. Hadley told me that if it didn't work out, I could return to his firm.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So what did you do when you first arrived at the magazine?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I packed and unpacked boxes. I was very fastidious. In fact, to this day I still remember the FedEx number (although I wouldn't know how to send a package anymore). I was an Editorial Assistant, which is kind of like a Production Assistant (PA). This position was my first test at the magazine.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: How did your role change over the years?
KEVIN SHARKEY: At the time I joined the magazine it was in its early stages, and we were still trying to figure out the core content. I was a natural fit for the design core since I came from Parish-Hadley. Also, early on I connected with Martha as we had similar tastes.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: The interiors portion of the magazine has grown over the years. Which part of it is you and your vision?
KEVIN SHARKEY: At the beginning I was allowed to be an unabashed decorator. We tried things out to see what resonated with our audience.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What was the initial goal? Who were you designing for?
KEVIN SHARKEY: We wanted to empower people to see things they haven't seen and feel comfortable trying them out. We wanted to share ideas and concepts in an accessible way.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Were other magazines not doing this?
KEVIN SHARKEY: They weren't teaching like we were. We wanted to celebrate a lifestyle, not a space. We saw it as a lovely invitation to try something new.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Everything at the magazine is focused on color and content. Each core has color and content as its driving force, whether it's Entertaining, Decorating, or Crafts, to name a few.
KEVIN SHARKEY: I am an extremely organized person. I categorize everything by color. I have a very difficult path to my office every day, walking amongst craft projects and glitter throughout the office. My space provides me with some organized serenity.
KEVIN SHARKEY: After we did this story Martha told me I had decimated the snapdragon market.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This is an example of evergreen content. It's one of Fritz's (Karch) stories. In my new job as Creative Director, I'm looking to bridge publishing and merchandising and this is a good example of that.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This is an arrangement created from flowers growing at Martha's home at Turkey Hill (CT). From here, we created a product line with 1-800-FLOWERS. Again, a result of bridging publishing and merchandising.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday. You can be as tacky as you want. This photo has it all — bows, glitter, fake jewels. It's fabulous.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This is an iconic interior created for the magazine by Hannah Milman. We ended up selling the quilt made for this story, and it did quite well.
KEVIN SHARKEY: There is always food everywhere at the office. Every department inspires another. We'll see cupcakes for a photo shoot and those will inspire colors in one of our design stories.
KEVIN SHARKEY: I did this story a long time ago. We're now bringing these items to Macy's and Kmart. Again, publishing to merchandising, making the items in our featured stories accessible to our readers.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This was a story that Fritz Karch (Editorial Director, Collecting) did. It's a great example of taking simple objects and viewing them in an inspirational way.
KEVIN SHARKEY: We're big on glossaries at Martha Stewart. We take these and develop full product lines from them. And from a reader's standpoint, it's a great resource.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: The way you describe all the cross-department influences, it sounds like a think tank.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Yes, it is very much like that. But it took us a while to evolve to that point.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This story was pretty daring at the time. It was a lot of fun to work on – we used black grosgrain ribbon as a border for the orange walls. This is an entryway – a space you don't spend a lot of time in – so I figure, why not make it memorable.
KEVIN SHARKEY: In another room in this story we painted some of the furnishings orange, showing a more modest way to incorporate this color in an interior.
KEVIN SHARKEY: I don't get to do too many editorial stories anymore, but I love the color in these flowers. Color and candy are two of my biggest sources of inspiration.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Many people forget that Martha has a strong modern bent (clean, open, airy spaces). This story was shot at Martha's home on Georgica Pond (Easthampton).
KEVIN SHARKEY: This array of pumpkins has inspired many products, and is meant to be a teaching glossary for our readers. We want our ideas and inspirations to feel attainable. I just love this picture, I could look at it all day.
KEVIN SHARKEY: I love this image as inspiration for office organizing and living.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Martha has a huge love of taxidermy, which fits well with her sense of humor. She's quite funny, which many people don't realize!
KEVIN SHARKEY: I just love some of the projects we come up with for our kids stories.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This shows a new (color) twist on an old product.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This is the room we saw on earlier (3rd slide), now done in green. It's a room in Martha's house. It's a very complex room - there are so many things to look at in this design.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: Is Martha's house constantly being painted?
KEVIN SHARKEY: No, but we do exercise our "color voice" there quite a bit.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Rebecca Robertson (Living's Deputy Decorating Editor) did a beautiful story on pressed plants and how to use them in one's home.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Skylands is like the Harvard of Inspiration. It's amazing.
KEVIN SHARKEY: One of Martha's favorite inspirations. This photo is one that we hope helps our readers see things in a new way.
KEVIN SHARKEY: I had to create a fake wall behind this one to support all of these plates.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This Bundt Cake Story is one of our highest-rated stories-to-date at Living.
KEVIN SHARKEY: This was a bold color example, and one that we hopes makes people confident in exploring new color options.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Another paint-inspiring palette.
KEVIN SHARKEY: We did this story primarily to show our readers that decorating in black (and keeping it elegant) is possible.
KEVIN SHARKEY: The painting over the bed is not something I would normally choose, but it is very much in keeping with the building and space that I live in.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Martha's homes are our laboratories – lots of experimenting takes place.
KEVIN SHARKEY: All of us at Martha love the kids stories we get to work on.
KEVIN SHARKEY:Boundless Beauty – Martha's new digital magazine of original content. Also, we're celebrating 20 years of Martha Stewart Living this December.
Kevin & Rebecca: Two Takes on One Space
Q & AQ:Where can we find Martha's television show these days? KEVIN SHARKEY: You'll find her on the Hallmark Channel.
Q:Can you tell us the lead time from a Glossary to a finished product (say, a new paint line?)
KEVIN SHARKEY: It really depends on the product category. Rugs take a very long time (12-18 months). Paint lines move a bit faster. We never know where a glossary will come from (Martha's Irises may bloom and give us an unexpected inspiration palette) and what product(s) will be developed from that glossary.
Q: Does Martha actually update her own Twitter account?
KEVIN SHARKEY: Yes, Martha tweets. Martha blogs. Martha writes. We were on a photo shoot and she was simultaneously being photographed, tweeting, and taking phone calls. All this while I'm still trying to get my camera out of my bag. It's quite amazing to see in action.
Q:Does Martha approve every product?
KEVIN SHARKEY: No – we have so many products this would be impossible. But she does have people in place whom she trusts to approve and move product along (myself, Fritz, to name a few).
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: I'm curious – do you consider yourself a decorator or a designer?
KEVIN SHARKEY: Before working with Martha Stewart I would have called myself a decorator. Designer is a much more expansive description. Working with Martha brought me back to my RISD roots. We approach everything as a design opportunity.
Q: Does Martha's audience inform her work now that there is an opportunity for immediate feedback, and vice versa?
KEVIN SHARKEY: She's always been very involved, and it has been and continues to be a very reciprocal relationship. We used to do what we liked and it would become a trend. We don't forecast trends, we just do what we like and what feels / looks right to us.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: When you have a soapbox like this, it often sets trends without trying.
KEVIN SHARKEY: Very true. In story meetings everyone throws out ideas. Some stick, some don't. But every idea is considered. Martha provides a good platform for that.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: So we're going through a recession. There's a great arc in design at the moment. How is this economy affecting things on your end?
KEVIN SHARKEY: We're trying to take things a bit slower. We used to have certain stories that were very clearly front-of-book (FOB) stories, with the smaller ones at the back of the magazine. Now that's shifting a bit. We don't want people to feel like failures if they can't accomplish what they see in the Wow (FOB) stories. We want them to feel inspired, and confident. A "Did You Know?" approach is one that we like to weave in to many of our stories.
MAXWELL GILLINGHAM-RYAN: What would you say is the "Now" color?
KEVIN SHARKEY: I'm almost afraid to give my thoughts on this. Honestly, the best thing about color these days is that people are willing to use it. They feel more confident with bolder choices. All options, all price points are considered. Let's face it – color makes people happy!
Thank you Kevin & Martha Stewart Living — a copy of the December Issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine for everyone in the audience!!
• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteers Maggie Hope Ritchie & Gabriel Sperber!
• Special thanks to Knoll for welcoming our Meetup to their showroom!
• Special thanks to our wine sponsor, September Wine & Spirits!
Images: Martha Stewart Living, Herma Ryan