As I sit down to compile my interview with Vancouver designer, Kelly Deck of Kelly Deck Design, I look outside and see a rainbow. And I think it’s such a perfect symbol. Kelly’s designs are definitely the pot of gold, but it’s her warm personality, open approach, outlook and philosophy that radiate. It’s the unique layering of colours that I’m talking about here that make Kelly Deck Design the successful firm that it is, Kelly the amazing leader behind the team of ten: the colours of the rainbow within the framework of the firm.
I have been a fan of Kelly Deck for years, and had the great opportunity to interview her while attending IDSwest in Vancouver. It is my privilege to share this interview with you, so curl up and settle in, because trust me, you won’t want to miss a word of what Kelly has to share…
Without further ado please allow me to introduce the lovely Kelly Deck!
Can you tell me a little about the beginning? I know you studied at Emily Carr and then spent some time in Cardiff, but how did you end up there, and what brought you back here?
I graduated from the Emily Carr Institute in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, sculpture, and ceramics. During my studies I was at the University of Wales studying ceramics for a year, and it was there that I really fell in love with the interface: the space between design and craft. I have always been into decorating, homes, and architecture, but where I found my love of textiles and ceramics, and how that translated to modern interiors was in Wales.
After I graduated I opened a little store on Vancouver’s Main Street named Simple Design Boutique. It was my hope that people would buy my homewares, but customers started asking me to design their spaces because I designed the store and would change the look of it all the time. What’s so interesting is that I worked with different artisans to create everything for the look: ceramics exclusive to the store, textiles exclusive to the store… and today I still have a relationship with most of these people, and all of our businesses have grown into something much bigger than what we had dreamed of.
Simple closed in 2005, and at that point I just had a little design firm. In the same year I got the show Take It Outside, and that was when I hired staff, and we got our first big renovation. Nobody knows this, but I literally slept in my living room because my office was in the bedroom! But because I was shooting and I had a design company, everyone thought I was a well established professional, but really I was so broke and just holding on hoping it all worked out. Which it has, and I’m really glad for that. We have a big firm now with 10 employees, we’re highly technical, highly professional – the opposite from where we started.
You’re known for your creative approach to West Coast Style. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration right from the landscape. It’s fairly straight forward; I don’t think it’s anything particularly unique, but I just spend a lot of time looking at the views around a property… the textures, the lichen, the rocks, and I take a lot of photographs of that. I draw upon that to grow a look for the interior.
In one word, what would you say best defines a Kelly Deck design? What is your Kelly ‘stamp’ on a design?
One of my friends was making fun of me recently because in all our company’s portfolio photographs there’s always a pair of shoes! That seems to happen naturally, so it does have that ‘stamp’. But in terms of what our stamp is, any space we do is quiet.
Do you have a favourite design icon? If so, what is it about that person’s work that resonates with you?
No, I don’t have a favourite design icon. I can’t follow a religion, so I don’t think I can follow anyone else’s style! I need to drink in the best of things and reinterpret. At the moment, in terms of who I’m inspired by, it is Piet Boon.
What would you say is the most overrated trend right now? And the biggest design faux pas?
I think the idea of trend is highly overrated. It just perpetuates buying cheap garbage and putting it out to the curb 12 months later. And so the biggest design faux pas is being trendy! I am more interested in people reconnecting with their homes, than being trendy in their homes. I just feel like we can be more intelligent than that.
Is there anything you would like to see in design that isn’t currently happening? Do you have a pet peeve in the industry?
I would like to see more art and artisans within residential construction. I would like to see more investment in our homes. My pet peeve is elitism. It erodes on every level. In terms of the camaraderie of professionals, elitism limits possibilities, it limits creative potential, it limits our thinking, and it limits what we’re capable of – the problems that we are capable of solving.
Inside an interior is very much the same thing. If we’re being elitists with our interiors, then we’re limiting the particular potential of what we can create and accomplish. The heart and the mind is missing. It doesn’t take a whole lot of intelligence to be an elitist.
What are your thoughts on the current economy and its impact on design? Do you see clients making different choices? Has this had any impact on your practice?
I think about the current economy every day, especially with 10 staff who are all having families, and I’m thinking about where are we going and what are we doing, what’s going to happen tomorrow. I think about the economy a lot.
What I wish would happen is that this current economic condition would force us to think about longevity and investing in quality, investing in things once or twice in a lifetime. But unfortunately in terms of the way the globe is attacking the problem, for example the bailout solution and the idea that we need consumer spending to increase to solve the problem, I think we’re just chasing our tail. Ultimately, it is my optimistic hope that the current situation drives people to invest in things that will last, and to want for less, and to opt for quality in what we do have.
What is the biggest challenge for Kelly Deck Design right now? How are you dealing with it?
Our biggest challenge is keeping up with the market as it constantly changes. And growing in a way that supports and enables us creatively and financially, and the dance between those two things. More than ever I am thinking about this. We are making very conscious decisions about where we’re focussing our energy, and we’re talking openly and plainly about what the future would look like with the best and worst of what the future could hold. And we’re adapting.
If you talk to any very successful CEO, and you ask them the key to their success, many will just tell you that it’s adaptability.
What is the biggest success for your business right now? And how did that come about?
My Team is the biggest success, and that’s because of our willingness to have open and tough discussions, and the willingness to grow together.
The difficult discussions are key. You have to be willing to talk about the harder, tougher stuff, and I’m really grateful to have a team that can do that. As a result our firm is doing great.
We’re not lacking for work at all, but we are looking at where we are going. When you have a lot of senior people you have to grow the company, or you lose them. So we’re talking about what that growth looks like, for example, how fast do we grow, what markets are we going into… It’s a constant development, and the problem is, the bigger you get the harder it gets. There is a point when growth can be organic and linear, hiring people one-by-one as you need to, but I remember someone telling me 2 or 3 years ago that once you get to 10 people it mushrooms. And it’s true, because that’s where we are now. I can see the next growth is not small. It’s not as easy as adding one more person to the team. We need to restructure our whole management group, so that’s what it is for us… our greatest challenge is growing in a way that is happy and successful. And to do this successfully we talk… we seek mentors, and talk to people who know more than we do. I’m very transparent, and I’m very honest, and that’s all I can do… It’s important to talk about the challenges, but it’s just as important to talk about the possibilities.
Where do you see the future of design on the West Coast? In Canada? What is the biggest influence on that direction?
I think we have an amazingly talented design community on the West Coast, and I think the future is in a couple of places. I think it’s in intelligent, timeless design, I think it’s in a holistic approach to design, and I think it’s in being leaders in small space design.
What about the eco side of that?
I think eco is a really complicated topic. I absolutely believe that we should be doing as much as we possibly can to build green and sustainable homes. We also have some massive challenges with that, because at a certain point in the market it’s very difficult for the average consumer to have a green home. It’s things like geothermal heat, you have to hit a certain price point for the value of the house to be able to justify the investment at a time when our market is turning over faster than we can recoup the cost. So we have some real challenges with that. I think developers need to be leaders.
I feel like we have a culture of entitlement. And what I mean by that is if I buy a $500,000 condo – and we expect that, because we feel we’re entitled to own a home – we think that we’re entitled to have that whole house furnished within 3 weeks. So because we think we’re entitled to that, it justifies us going out and buying cheap garbage that we’re going to bring home, and then throw away, kitchens that we’re going to rip out in 18 months… all because we have our wants right now, our insatiable desire for it, instead of having a smaller space, a higher cost per square foot, and demanding a quality that will last for a long time.
Just as an example, with my Globe and Mail column I wrote a piece about small space. There are 1100 square feet in this particular space, but this couple had downsized from their larger family home, so in their mind it is small space. I also mentioned that the home owners had bought Philippe Starck chairs and I gave the price, which is about $1000 each. They invested in furniture that they will have from now until when they die. It’s the last furniture they’re going to buy. That’s it. But it was amazing, there were like 53 comments on this one! And they were basically saying that I don’t know what small space is, that I could buy a dining room chair for $150, $1000 is crazy…
For sure, you can go to SuperStore and you can buy a dining chair for $150 because you think that’s OK. And of course, I have stuff that I’ve had to buy cheap too, but at the same time my grandmother saved for her dining set for 4 years and she still has it to this day. That’s what I mean by investing in things that will last, opting for quality like these home owners did with their chairs.
And I know it’s hard for people to juggle that balance, I know it really is, but as much as you can it’s important. So look at key pieces, for example, Mid-Century Modern furnishings. If you buy a Wegner chair, it’s so exquisite. It was exquisite 60 years ago, it’s exquisite now – that’s what I mean. It’s about our values around our home, and about what we purchase.
How do you feel about the influence of Social Media on the design world?
I think what social media has allowed is dialogue about design to really open up, and it’s allowed for a lot of inclusion rather than elitism, so I’m an advocate for it, I think it’s fantastic. And it has spread knowledge of design all over the world. But you know, on the flip side there is a lot that’s being talked about that’s not really design, so you have to take the good with the bad.
What would an example of that be?
I just think that there’s lots of content online where there’s the cheap schlock that people call design, but it’s all knock-offs and cheap garbage. Or there’s Debbie Decorator. So, if Debbie Decorator is good, then she’s good. But there are a lot of Debbie Decorators that are not. That’s the beauty of their passion, that’s what they’re doing. I just believe that inevitably what is good will always rise to the top, and it’s important for everyone to get out there and chase their heart’s desire. If it’s something that’s good, it will connect onto the momentum of other things that it’s like, so it has a natural filtering system, and so I don’t really worry about it.
Which Social Media channel do you prefer?
To be honest we tweet occasionally, and we know that our firm is so poor with social media. I have a Facebook page, but it’s just for my friends. I love reading blogs. I think blogs are the most inspiring, and I spend lots of evenings reading them. I love the sheer volume of amazing images, and I love the craft movement. I’m very passionate about it, so for me that whole thing is so inspiring for design and art. I can’t speak enough about it, and I write about Etsy all the time.
But our firm does not use social media as much as it could. Because we have the Globe and Mail column, and I’m so in the public all the time we don’t really focus on it, but if someone on my team had the time we would. That may change in our long-term vision. The truth is, we’ve developed a system that is so detailed that it really consumes me. Social Media is consuming, and I already do so many things that are consuming.
If you were to recommend one investment piece, what would that be?
Anything Mid-Century Modern. But if I had to choose one… oh, that’s so hard… I love the big Wegner chair… but you know what I think is the perfect piece that you can put in any house, no matter how big or how small it is? The Eames walnut stool. I just feel like you can cart that thing to every single house you have, 500 square feet or 5000, and you will always find a place for it.
Can you provide us with one great décor tip for home owners?
Buy good art. Decorate with it opposed to around it, so that it’s just part of the conversation. I think art is what charges up a home.
What are your future aspirations/goals? Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
I would love to do my own brand of homes. We are, right now, in the process of going into development. And, seeing my team continue to creatively flourish. One of my newest dreams: I have a team of colleagues I love to work with, an architect, a millwright… and I would love for all of us to truly collaborate in the genesis of a house and make it a work of art: a West Coast in a way that hasn’t really been expressed before.
Thank you so much Kelly for this interview. I can’t wait to see what you do next!
I hope you have enjoyed this interview as much I enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with Kelly Deck and learn more about her insights and views. As you can see, the colourful rainbow of Kelly Deck Design is only getting brighter.
Can you identify the chair Kelly is sitting in? Oh, and will you be saving for an Eames walnut stool? I know it’s tempting me!
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