Free at Last | Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets | New England Home | Jan/Feb 2015  | Read the Original

Louis Postel

Louis Postel has a Trade Secret
Louis Postel has a Trade Secret

They’ve finally laid down the law in Massachusetts. Interior designers are now free.

Free to bid on State jobs directly and legally without the sting (and additional markups to taxpayers) of having to subcontract to their sister and brother architects. Though the Feds have long recognized designers, MA had been holding out. Until now.

Expect to see cutting edge police stations, casually elegant neighborhood clinics, transitional style libraries and everything else looking and feeling a whole lot better.

Equally significant about the new law is that design students will have that much more credibility, visibility, and respectability once in the shark tank of our competitive world.

So it’s all good — so far.

In September, at this year’s ASID/New England’s Annual Chapter Meeting Lisa Bonneville, Elizabeth Swartz, Wayne Southworth, Jeanne Finnerty, Bill Ellinoff, President-Elect  Cheryl Morrison and Foundation Chair Suzan Globus joined a large turnout filling the BDC’s sixth floor seminar room. Newton-based designer Christina Oliver, President of the Massachusetts Interior Design Coalition that labored for years to get House 4303 passed, brought rounds of applause from the audience with the news of its signing by Gov. Patrick. What better way to celebrate the induction of  Jane Lucas as an ASID Fellow. In a reciprocating and gentle gesture, Lucas brought the evening to a close by giving out heart-shaped stones she’d found on her beach in Maine.

Jane Garland Lucas
Jane Garland Lucas

But let’s not get too excited.

More than a few celebrants woke in the night with Kafka-esque  nightmares, a world in which Capital L Laws in general and the bureaucracies that enforce them feel increasingly bizarre —like driving through the Big Dig Tunnel with tiles swirling down on the roofs of cars like confetti in slow Mo. What’s the chance of this well-intentioned, long-overdue law emancipating interior designers become subject to a still higher law, The Law of Unintended Consequences? Just in the past year, revelations have come out that The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had fallen asleep at the wheel regarding badly-designed ignition switches and airbags affecting millions. The Secret Service let a knife-toting, ammo-packing intruder inside the White House before an off-duty agent happened to tackle him in the East Wing. The Center for Disease Control passed the Ebola hot potato to a hapless nurse at the first sign of an outbreak. We could go on.

But there’s no point in ranting here — laws and bureaucracies are highly allergic to ranting, in any case.


Instead, we’d like to propose a new law. Call it H. 4303B that puts interior designers and architects in charge of absolutely everything: health, education, the economy, the environment, the military. Because who else is more concerned for the welfare of others? Who else offers creative solutions tailored to individuals, as opposed to demographic blocs?  Let designers make the rules. And as Confucius said, let them make a lot of rules, but not enforce them, which would be unnecessary. Designers and architects as our new heads of state would naturally lead by example. Citizenship would be a matter of good design. Picture heart-shaped boulders cropping up on the Washington Mall to mark the new era.

In Italy, especially in Florence and Chianti Hills, the bureaucracy of Design rules alongside its consort, Sustainability. This according to  architect Elpida Peristeropoulou who should know. Now with Hresko Associates in Boston, Peristeropoulou interned with Italy’s Commission on Architectural and Landscape Heritage for the Provinces of Florence. “The bureaucracy is very strict, much more than Beacon Hill,” says Peristeropoulou (say Elpeeda Paireesteropooloo). “But at the same time there’s a huge emphasis on using renewable energy systems, bringing these 15th century structures up to code — but without interrupting their history — doing it, in other words, invisibly.” A case in point is the restoration of the Castello di Aquabella, where  the  Fornace Fonti firm created some ingenious terra cotta tiles designed to hold (and conceal) photovoltaic cells.

Staying true to history isn’t necessarily a law in Florida, as it is in Tuscany. “I can talk to my clients all day long about coral colors, and the turquoises of the Caribbean sea, but what they really want is to bring New England along with them” says designer Pat Fortunato of Orchard Beach, ME, most of whose clients own second homes in the Sunshine State.

And it’s their taste that matters, Fortunato reminds her design students at the workshop she runs for the Maine College of Art. They have to love their final choice. My job as a designer is to edit — to really to check to see that things are truly invoking an emotional response. Call this Fortunato’s law, or H. 4303B.1.

A man well past eighty master called woodcarver Paul White to produce an emotional artifact of his own. “I’d like a coat of arms,”  said the caller. “Well, I’m not sure,” recalls White, “I’ve never done a coat of arms.” The octogenarian appeared later with a sketch of a coat with six arms sticking out. “So we ended up making it,” said White, “and the man put it on the outside of his house a few years ago. He’s since passed away and the coat of arms is no longer there.”  White, who works out of his studio in East Sandwich on Cape Cod, may be relatively new to coats of arms, but for everything else he’s recognized as one of the best. In fact, next time you are in D.C, you can visit an eagle he carved to be cast in bronze for the entry to the National Archives.

There are coats of arms and there are the arms attached to sconces holding candles. The latter sheds light on another design law: Don’t Be Afraid to Riff on the Classics. Architects William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich had put some beautiful ones in the living room of the HighLawn Estate  circa 1903 in Lenox, MA,  recalls architect Don Giambastiani of Charlestown whose former firm Solomon + Bauer + Giambastiani Architects headed up Highlawn’s recently completed, three-year restoration.  “There were four sconces on each side, but it seemed to me that there were sconces missing on the far ends where there’s a fireplace opposite a carved niche. I had been working with Loukas Deimezis at Appleton Lighting in Chestnut Hill, MA for at least twenty-five years and I asked him to make the additional sconces. They ended up were kind of a hybrid. He pirated arms from the five arm sconces and redid them all as three arm sconces — making twelve altogether — while Loukas went ahead and cast two more back plates, based on the original.” One can just imagine the effect of the burning sconces in the reflecting pool at Highlawn’s foot, with the Berkshire Hills in the fading light.

If high design were the new law of the land, how would designers manage the lawless on the outer margins of civilization, say six of the loveliest kids in the world whose ages range between one and eight?  “We gave them a side door directly off the garage to a mudroom we designed,” says architect Chris Chu of Newton. “This includes a separate water closet with a urinal in a closed off room for the four boys who are none too accurate, a big sink for washing kids’ clothes and sports equipment, a pantry for  bulk items, and a pint-size potty so no one falls in.” But what this mudroom is not is dark and paneled. “I am a stickler for putting windows in mudrooms, even it means sacrificing wall space. I say, ‘let a house’ breathe.”

Chris Chu
Chris Chu

“Light and flow, letting a house breathe — that’s what it’s all about,” says Chu. A solid wall between living room and kitchen makes for dead space without even the possibility of borrowed light. You feel trapped in a dead space in a dead end. She often asks her clients to imagine a small house. “Then I ask them to imagine taking a stick and putting it through the window. It should come out the other side somewhere so the house always feels open.”

Let this be known henceforth as Chu’s Law. Let houses and the people in them breathe free. Open up dead space to light, air, and the possibilities that lay before us. Create so many fine examples of this that the law remains on the books without ever having to be enforced.