Finding Inspiration – How Designers Refresh Old Looks


by Marni Jameson

Money makes the world go around, so they say. But really, if you think about it, creativity is what makes money go around. World commerce would stagnate if we all didn’t keep chasing new stuff.

Which is a little embarrassing, if we’re honest.

Still, we crave fresh looks. New clothes, new homes, new cars, new iPhones, new home furnishings are what make us whip out plastic cards faster than you can say update.

Does the world need more songs, more art, more fashion and furniture styles, more car designs? No. But wouldn’t life be dull if styles never changed, if cars and hairstyles looked the same year over year, and home design stayed stuck in the era of Betty Crocker?

Design defines decades.

Thus, I’m intrigued by trends, and, even more, by where the inspiration for new looks comes from. How and why.

These thoughts stormed my easily overwhelmed mind last week when two home design experts told me the story behind a new line of chairs featured in the spring Home Decorators Collection catalog.

“We were in India in May,” Jen Derry, general manager for HDC, told me when I met her last week at a design show. “And we found these chairs in a supplier’s shop, in Jodhpur.”

She whipped out her phone and showed me a picture of some tired looking chairs lining a cracked wall.

Now, any normal person coming across these chairs in a shop in India would have said, “Nothing new here. Let’s scram and get a chai tea.”

But not Derry, who was with her colleague Jen Sypeck, senior buyer for HDC. The two shoppers had their trend antennas up.

Let me just stop right here to note that these women get paid to travel to foreign countries and shop, which shouldn’t classify as work, but apparently it does.

Derry and Sypeck pulled one of the dull chairs out of the lineup because they liked its lines, clean but traditional. Unlike most of us, they could see past the dated upholstery, and they thought, “Hmmm, potential.”

Then they spotted a few blue and white kilim patterned rugs. Knowing that both blue and kilim patterns are trending (insert spark of inspiration here), they threw the rug over the chair, stepped back and imagined.

Again, Derry showed me the picture of the rug draped over the chair, which would make most of us say, “What’s that rug doing on that chair?”

Fast forward nine months, and the revamped chair has landed in the HDC spring catalog, flying off the pages and into homes.

And that is how it happens. Creative people – and we can all do this – look at existing products and situations in new ways. They turn the ordinary on its ear and make it better.

This kind of creativity isn’t limited to interior design, of course. Ludwig van Beethoven created entire movements out of mundane three-to-four note motives, which he played in different pitches, or backwards. Think of his fifth symphony da-da-da-dum, da-da-da dum.

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse can take a boring piece of sole, which in my hands, takes on the taste and texture of straight up cream of wheat, and turns it into a mouth-watering delicacy that stimulates every sense.

That’s creativity. And I want some more.

So I thought about — and researched — how the rest of us can find inspiration to both try new looks in our own spaces, and get the creative sparks flying:

  • Get out. Even if you don’t get paid to travel and shop, seeing new places triggers new ways of looking at the world. Besides traveling, go to the theater, visit museums and hear live concerts.
  • Do the same thing differently. Creativity and change go together. Moving seven times in five years forced me to see my furniture and artwork in new ways. A kitchen hutch for dishes in one place became a library bookcase in another. Keep your mind open to other possibilities.
  • Break items into their parts. Designers learn to deconstruct; that is, they see items in terms of their parts. They see the lines of an object apart from its color or material. This helps them think fluidly, and to imagine objects used in new ways, or made out of something else.
  • Find new uses for everyday objects. Good designers look at items not in terms of what they are, but in terms of what they could be. A pile of old license plates could make shingles for the roof of a dog house.
  • Tune in. Notice what is happening in fashion, film, and music. Pick up the vibe if it resonates, and interpret it in your surroundings. Color forecasters anticipate, for instance, that in election years, colors of Americana will trend up.
  • Look for more than one answer. Most problems have multiple solutions. Rather than go with the first idea you have, look for other ways to approach the situation before deciding.
  • Creative types admit that their best ideas come when they are having fun. Goof around; you might surprise yourself.
  • Think critically. Once you’ve come up with that bright idea, get practical. Is it different and better, or just different? Successful ideas make something better than it was.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).