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A New Definition of Luxury
Moving "'off the solution" and seeking to understand the unique needs of clients are fundamental principles of effective consulting and being "of service", and the process of design offers a clear illustration of the principles in action. I recently had a conversation with internationally acclaimed designer Henry Liska, and was particularly impressed with his approach and the themes that have influenced his work over many years, leading projects that include private homes, corporate offices, banks, restaurants and small hotels.
Henry has been at the forefront of the interior design industry for more than thirty years and his career stretches beyond Toronto, Canada to New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
Henry's principles of design have a relevance to business leadership, today more than ever before. In his words he describes his approach and creativity as one of "deep articulate thinking," a beautiful expression that conveys the "mindfulness" and the magic that brings a concept to life. One only needs to think of "Apple" to appreciate how deep articulate thinking can make already innovative products appear magical and transform an entire industry.
There are two design themes that leaders in all organizations can embrace to be more relevant today and create a more profitable and sustainable future:
The additional themes that have consistently been expressed in Henry's unique work also resonate in today's business landscape:
Henry's projects have typically been "high-end" and "luxury" however, as he weaves his values, themes and principles into his work he is redefining the concept of "luxury" in a most innovative and relevant way. (ed.)
In Henry's words:
When people learn that I design interiors, the first question they ask me is almost always some variation of “what look are people using now”. Seldom am I inspired to answer questions like this directly, or at least not in a way that people are expecting. Even before I began designing more than twenty-five years ago, following trends never really interested me. Now, don’t get me wrong, what I do can be as cutting edge and contemporary as that of any designer. But, I prefer leading edge thinking to result in rooms and spaces that are unique in every sense and not just part of some trend.
To achieve original interior design and custom furniture solutions, I follow a process that takes in as many facts, such as site dimensions, building type, location and setting as I can assemble and then combine this information with a substantial dose of inspiration and even intuition. This last element – intuition –is unquestionably the most mysterious but also the most important when it comes to bringing to light the unspoken needs and concerns of my clients. Experience has taught me that there will always be issues that even the most open and forthright among those I am working for will attempt to hide and prevent from being discussed. And I need to be aware of both the spoken and unspoken if I am able to successfully create a luxury home that is really suitable in every way.
When designing, I start by taking my clients’ activities, hobbies and collections into account to establish a theme. What is of interest to my clients may be as particular as an equestrian lifestyle, building a formidable art or wine collection or the need to entertain on a lavish scale. Working meticulously, I create one-of-a-kind design solutions that fit my clients’ lives like a key in a lock. For instance, for a couple that often sets aside time to enjoy deep sea fishing together and maintains properties on Bermuda as well as several other Caribbean islands to allow them to comfortably pursue this hobby in style, I made sure that the interiors of their vacation homes were all focused on the ocean. Not just with nautical themes but directly from the standpoint of the interior architecture. For their home in the Grenadine Islands, I created a sunken bar and seating lounge that opens onto a subterranean grotto through floor to ceiling glass doors. Furnishings are built around sea water aquaria using nautical grade materials such as stainless steel, teak and mahogany. All of the fabrics and carpets were custom woven with an abstract blue on blue pattern that resembles waves cresting and breaking.
Another couple I work with frequently loves to showcase their talent for classic French cooking. For their Muskoka cottage, I made sure that the kitchen was the focal point of the luxury home design I created just for them. “Floating” like an island in the centre of the massive stairway that rises and falls around their “kitchen pulpit”, my clients can be seen cutting, chopping and working the stoves from all around.
For a client who made his reputation in the trucking business, I had an artist paint an almost photo realistic “portrait” of a Mack Truck and hung it in the foyer of his suite. I saw the painting as an insouciant way of relating his business (and love of trucks) to his personal life – a move that differentiated his home from any other I have worked on before or since.
The continuing need to arrive at original solutions is what makes designing so challenging – and also so rewarding. As long as my clients require homes that suit their specific needs and fulfill their lifestyle requirements, it would be impossible to exhaust my creativity and run out of ideas. I have been designing long enough now that my creativity is grounded in both practical understanding as well as a mental catalogue of artistic precedent. With these in hand, I have no need to follow trends slavishly or resort to ready made solutions.
A new definition of luxury - open, transparent, functional, consistent and unique - design themes that all leaders can engage to innovate, unleash creativity, differentiate themselves and better serve their clients and constituents.
Thanks Henry. Looking forward to more on your new definition of luxury. (ed.)
You can see a portfolio of Henry's work at www.meritordesign.com/index.php/portfolio/ (ed.)
Many more articles in Creativity & Innovation in The CEO Refresher Archives