Aug 29, 2010

The Creative Class: Ashley Cole

Interior Designer, Ashley Cole of Ashley Cole Design

I really don't recall the first time I met Ashley Cole. It was probably during one of the JW parties. She is not exactly easy to miss. Tall. Blonde. Beautiful. She is an instant attraction in a crowd. But beneath the facade is a charismatic personality to match her talents as a designer. After a stint in Chicago, Ashley decided to move back home to make her
mark in the design world.

A special thanks to Marian Silverman of The Home Studio for allowing us to shoot at her beautiful studio.

MHL: If you have to choose three items you use for work that you can’t live without, what would they be?

AC: A quality measuring tape, paper and a #2 pencil.

MHL: You have extensively travelled around the world. What’s the correlation between travel and design?

AC:  Travel and design, to me, are interconnected on many levels.  On a tangible level, one is exposed to architecture, art and design from other cultures and times that we can’t even imagine when spending time in one place.  On a less tangible level, for me, travelling is a way to leave everyday life behind and live extremely in the moment.  Although I try to do this in my daily life, being exposed to another place opens the senses to a new level.  Awareness is heightened.  Every smell, sight, sound and texture becomes inspiration.  Creativity is stocked away from each new food tasted, sunset experienced, textile felt.  I return from a trip feeling expanded and recharged with fresh ideas that become woven into my designs. 

MHL: Give would-be-designers three places/buildings they must visit in their lifetime.

AC: Wow.  This is hard to narrow down.  Here’s what comes to mind first:
      The Louve (Paris, France) - I visited the Louve for the first time right after graduating from design school in Chicago.  I had an expectation of the great art and sculpture I’d see, which is breathtaking all on its own.  It was moving, to say the least, for me to stand in front of pieces I spent so much time studying in a book.  What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming beauty of the architecture of the building itself.  I felt like I needed to walk through the Louve twice; once for the art and a second time to focus solely on the architecture.  I need a few more trips to accomplish that. 
           Chicago (period).  Making the decision to attend college (Harrington Institute of Interior Design), live, work and play there for eight years, was one of the best decisions I ever made.  It is an incredibly vibrant city filled with an abundance of architecture, history and culture.  A walk down any city street in Chicago and you are surrounded by a stunning range of buildings.  Some of the most influential architects and designers of our time have come out of Chicago.  The work they leave behind is monumental.  
      Tikal (Mayan ruins in Guatemala).  Standing amongst one of the largest architectural sites of the Mayan civilization is powerful.  Although it is not glitzy like the Imperial Palace in Bangkok (another favorite), what moved me is how incredibly well thought out and designed these structures are.  They have stood the test of time.  The sheer expanse and size leave the mind completely boggled as to how they were executed in such primitive ways.  It is a reminder of how important design is to culture and how sometimes when all other remnants of a society are lost or destroyed, buildings stand to tell the story.

MHL: What is your opinion on all these design reality shows on TV? Is it real?

AC: They are great in the sense of exposing design to an audience who may not otherwise have access to the design world.  The shows give inspiration and helpful ideas to do-it-yourself-ers.  However, the timeline expectations created by these shows are hilarious.  What viewers don’t realize is how much time, work and crew members it takes behind the scenes to pull each project together.  I’m sad to report that those things don’t really happen over a weekend with one host/designer and one really good-looking carpenter…that’d be nice, though.

MHL: Please share with our readers your favorite magazine and websites (besides MHL, of course).

AC: I’m the first to admit I have a certifiable addiction to magazines and design sites.  My current favorites are Vicente Wolf Blog, Lonny MagFresh HomeNational Geographic Traveler and Vogue (fashion is a huge inspiration to me).

MHL: One of your specialties are bathroom and kitchen design. What adds value? What doesn’t? Do you think a residential home should always have at least one bathtub? What is the key in selecting bathroom fixtures?

AC:  Making improvements in kitchens and bathrooms is great for resale value - specifically, upgrading to quality materials like stone countertops, solid wood cabinetry, energy-efficient appliances and modern fixtures.  

Building an oversized kitchen or bathroom does not necessarily add value.  It’s better to have smartly designed smaller spaces with great storage options, functionality and quality materials.  This goes for overall home design.  I am big fan of Sarah Susanka - 

It is a popular trend to take the tub out of the bathroom and make room for a spacious walk-in shower.   Love!  However, a number of factors need to be considered when deciding to keep at least one tub:
1)     Do you have children or plan to have children in the near future?  Tubs are a handy thing to have with the little ones.
2)      How long do you plan on living in the home?  There is a good chance a new buyer will want the option of a tub in at least one bathroom.
3)      What size tub is necessary?  Although the decadent large tubs with jets and lights are tantalizing, more often than not, they simply don’t get used.  A standard tub is quickly filled, the water stays warmer longer and is more likely to be used on a regular basis.

The key to picking bathroom fixtures is about personal preference.  Think about:

·         Functionality - Do you like a separate spray in the shower for cleaning besides the pretty wall mount fixture?

·         Finish - Love the look of chrome, but can’t handle fingerprints?  Consider a brushed finish.

·         Longevity - You might spend a little more up front, but save money long term by not having to replace it.

·         High Efficiency - There are now a multitude of options to help reduce water waste and be kind to our earth.

MHL: Can you suggest some new kitchen appliances/gadgets that are a must in the modern kitchen?

AC:  Technology is no longer just for our desktops and media centers.  It is now a luxury in kitchens as well.  Built-in flat screen televisions in refrigerator doors, ranges that can be controlled by logging in online or a call from your cell phone and dual purpose ovens (dual fuel as well as induction and convection ovens) are all hot items right now.  “Green” design is less of a trend than something that will strengthen over time,  so items like pull-out recycling centers and composting devices are also a great addition.

MHL: Why should one hire a designer when someone from Lowe’s or Home Depot could help with the design of my kitchen and bathroom?

AC:  Corporate home centers have their place, but you need to know what you’re getting into.  These places do not (to my knowledge) hire interior designers for these positions.  It is an employee who is taught to use software provided by the cabinetry companies to sell cabinetry.  These are cookie-cutter programs that take your dimensions and plug in boxes.  This is not someone who is going to come into your home and consider architecture, space planning, lighting and how you and your family function in the kitchen or bathroom. 

Hiring a professional designer is incredibly valuable.  We will look at your home as a whole, not just within the four walls of your kitchen or bathroom.  Before designing these spaces, an enormous amount of time is spent on getting to know the client and their home.  The flow, function and aesthetic decisions are based on a cohesive picture of the entire space and how you live in it.  Creative solutions that involve more than cabinetry and appliances show up – a new entryway into the bathroom creating better use of space, a built-in storage closet as a pantry near the kitchen, an heirloom dresser becomes a bathroom vanity, an antique chopping block is turned into an island piece.  It is a personal experience.  When the sale of cabinetry is not what drives the design, wonderful solutions come into play that are timeless, useful and beautiful.  When investing your time, emotion and money into the two rooms you spend the most time in, don’t you deserve the best?

MHL: You are also a restaurant/bar design specialist – What projects are you working on right now? If you could redesign one restaurant/bar in West Michigan, which restaurant/bar would it be and what changes would you make?

AC:  I wish I could say!  I have two very exciting projects in the works that are still under wraps at this time.  One that I can talk about is helping Dave & Paul Reinert with the ever-changing evolution of Republic.  It has been a lot of fun for me to be part of creating a new vision for such a great space. 

Ah, the opportunity to redesign one restaurant/bar in West Michigan.  Can I only pick one?  It’s a hazard in this industry to be so aware of interior spaces.  What I don’t think this area realizes is how easy and inexpensive it is to create a warm, welcoming environment that people want to stay and enjoy food and cocktails.  Some of my most favorite places in the world are small, local joints with dim lighting, natural materials, candles on the tables and an acoustic guitar in the corner (Brazil comes to mind).  So many places are overdone with bright lighting, no consideration given to sound and cold, low quality materials.  Keep it simple. 

On this subject, one of the most neglected details in West Michigan restaurants is music selection.  No. More.  Elevator.  Music.  Please.  The entire dining experience is changed with a nice playlist.  JW is a good example of ambient music selection.  Thank you for that. 

MHL:  Speaking of music, give an example of one of your favorite playlists.

AC:       I Love to Move in Here – Moby
            High Noon – Kruder & Dorfmeister
            Santa Maria – Gotan Project
            Crabbuckit – K-OS
            Pick Myself Up – Peter Tosh
            Hey Now Now – Michael Franti
            Clandestino – Manu Chao
            Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now – Joss Stone
            Vans – The Pack
Jailer- Asa
            Vivrant Thing – Tribe Called Quest
            She Wolf – Shakira
            The Seed - Roots

MHL: In Europe and Asia, diners eat very closely with each other. Is this cultural or a design intent? Do you think West Michigan will ever accept this comfort distance with strangers?

AC:  I believe it’s a cultural thing, sometimes driven by sheer lack of space.  Consider cities in Asia, where they need to pack in many people into small pieces of real estate.  However, there is something about this I enjoy.  Particularly in Europe, it seems to be a way to share in the experience and have a chance to meet people you may not otherwise meet.  There is an intimacy created with strangers by enjoying a meal next to one another, even if you don’t strike up conversation. 

In America, we are conditioned to live in our own bubbles.  We are spoiled with vast amounts of space (comparatively) and go from car, to cubicle, to private booth, to car again.  We’ve lost that sense of community and connection.  I’d like to see that return to our culture.  In fact, I am designing this type of seating into one of the projects I’m working on right now.  I’ll let you know how it flies with the West Michigan crowd.

MHL: What would be your dream design project?

AC:  Actually, it would be designing a boutique hotel.  What do you think, George?  Up for it?

MHL: I can see that you are also a model. What is the best way for an average guy to score a date with a fashion model? You’re pretty tall, is it okay for a guy to be shorter than his date?

AC: Ha, you crack me up, George.  Besides being taller than average, models really are just like any other girls.  We want a guy who is respectful, confident and funny.  So just be yourself.  It’s always a personal preference, but it’s ok to be shorter than your date.  Look at Iman & David Bowie and John Mellencamp & Elaine Irwin!  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be a rock star. 

MHL:  Last question, tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.

AC:  Growing up I studied dance for almost 15 years.  If you asked me as a teenager what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have told you a Fly Girl (dancer) on “In Living Color”.  I was obsessed!  (Hey, look where it got J Lo)  It’s ok that didn’t work out – I love what I do!

1 comment:

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