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Redefining Luxury in Design
Henry Liska Cites a Bermuda Interior Design Project to Illustrate His New Definition of Luxury…
Steve Jobs resignation from Apple has deepened my appreciation of how a great visionary can create almost magical experiences for those who employ his designs. Great design is truly powerful. Innovative design has transformed Apple Computer from a once moribund company to the most successful corporation on the planet. And, the change has been exhilarating for all concerned, transforming not only Apple but our entire way of living with products such as the Mac-Book, I-Pod and I-Pad.
How is this possible?
Great design is a paradox. The better a design is, the simpler it appears. And the easier it is to understand. Two words immediately come to my mind: elegance and ease. When a design works, we “just see that it is”. It's intuitive. Obvious. In exactly the same way that not having to spend hours reading a tedious and complicated manual to figure out how to make something work – but just recognizing what needs to be done - is intuitive.
Good design is never complicated – and, yet, just like an iceberg, what one sees of any good design idea is only a fraction of the total structure that exists. The rest lies beneath the surface. While an iceberg’s mass sits largely beneath the water, the “numinous thought” behind a great design is suspended in our subconscious. To find to it, we need to delve deeply. This is never easy. It takes nerve. And sweat. But at the very moment when a solution appears, it arrives instantly, in a flash, out of “nowhere” as it were. And we immediately can feel that it has. After that, it is never difficult to pass it on to others.
Preparing for this article, I did a little research. After reading much of the commonly published material on design, articles concerning balance, proportion, focal point etc., I came across an interesting blog post: Joshua Porter's Five Principles To Design By, and, although these principles relate to Joshua’s work as an interface designer, they resonate completely with my own New Definition Of Luxury.
The following are Joshua's five principles:
Technology Serves Humans - The big difference between good and bad designers is how they handle people struggling with design. Technology serves humans. Humans do not serve technology.
Design is Not Art - Art is about personal expression. It is about the life, emotions, the thoughts and ideas of the artist. It matters very little what observers do, their activity is not required, only their appreciation. Design, on the other hand, is about use. The designer needs someone to use (not only appreciate) what they create. When people enjoy Art, they say “I like that”. When people enjoy Design, they say “That works well”. This is not by accident. Good Design is always something that works well.
The Experience Belongs to the User - Designers do not create experiences, they create artefacts to experience. This subtle distinction makes all the difference, as it places the designer at the service of the user, and not the other way around. The ultimate experience is something that happens in or to the user, and it is theirs. They own it.
Great Design is Invisible - An interesting property of great design is that it is taken for granted. It works so well that we forget that creative effort was involved to bring it about. Every great design has a rich history. And every design has behind it a designer or designers who tried to make the world a better place by solving some problem or another. Bad design is obvious because it hurts to use. It is awkward, difficult, and complex. In a great irony of the world, bad design is much easier to see than good design. It raps us on the head like a bully. Because of its success, great design is often invisible.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication - As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” Simplicity is treading a line: knowing what to keep and what to throw away…it comes across as magic when it works, because none of the complexity is transferred to users…only simplicity. That is the highest achievement for a designer.
Joshua Porter is the founder of Bokardo Design, a design consultancy focusing exclusively on social web applications. He does interface design, evaluation, and consulting for a wide range of clients and is the author of Designing for the Social Web. Visit http://bokardo.com for additional information. (ed.)
Long before I discovered Joshua Porter’ principals, my own work as an interior designer has embodied very similar maxims. With the recent addition of “deep articulate thinking” to my New Definition of Luxury, I have made the equation more encompassing. And achieved quite spectacular results on a wide variety of seemingly unrelated assignments.
The following describes the mindfulness that entwines a client’s wants, needs and desires into a magical and emotionally centering space that takes care of both his physical needs and emotional wants in a most appropriate way.
Ordinarily, my client lives in Europe. When his schedule permits, he enjoys coming to Bermuda for one or two weeks at a time to pursue his love of deep sea fishing.
Anyone familiar with ocean fishing will know that it is not a sport for the faint hearted. In the height of “battle” with a world class catch, it never takes long before an angler will be spattered with bait and sea spray. Clearly, once back on land, a fisherman requires his own space where he can wash-up without infringing on others. It was my client’s love of the sea that caused him to need a bathroom apart from the elegant white and cream marble sanctum that he ordinarily shares with his wife.
So that he would not disturb his wife early in the morning, I situated my client’s private spa close to the home’s side entrance. The space I had to work with was a classic 6’ by 10’ by 10’ double cube.
Anticipating what this space would look like finished, I was concerned that the ceiling was too high, and so, my first order of business was to lower it. But in a way that still provided the impression of majestic volume: with a full length, shallow vault. At the point where the vault springs from the walls, I installed an eight inch, multi-faceted cornice. Below the cornice, I had Peter Areujo, one of Bermuda’s most accomplished master builders; clad the walls with deep brown Emperador marble.
The shower itself is situated at the opposite end of the room from the entrance. Enclosed with a pair of carved Starfire doors, the space definitely radiates cut crystal brilliance. The shower valves and luxurious rain head sprayer were engineered by the New York City office of Waterworks.
For the vanity and recessed medicine cabinet, I turned to two of my best custom makers: Ian Alexander of Copacetic Woodwork and Dino Figlomeni of Crystal Tile and Marble. Taking my cue from French Second Empire styling, I had the medicine cabinet built-into the wall and trimmed with a Neo-Classical Emperador marble frame. On each side of the medicine cabinet are made-to-order sconces from Louis Baldinger’s New York workshop. Especially attractive, and increasingly hard to find, are the natural alabaster shades I chose to cover these lights. I find that Egyptian alabaster coordinates well with dark brown marble and, and with its “dry” honed finish, perfectly counterpoints the mirror like polish of the Emperador wall tiles.
Though grounded in classical form, I believe this beautiful, “hyper masculine” private room expresses completely my new definition of luxury. The spa is luxurious not because it is made from costly marble and crystal but because it is perfectly functional. There is an ease and elegance in the way the simple, straight forward plan works and can be seen to do so. The uniform palette of complimentary materials and narrow, overlapping colour scheme add to the room’s luxurious appeal. To my way of thinking, my client’s bathroom is not extravagant: the design expresses itself “in a soft voice with very few words”; nothing is extraneous, nothing is unnecessary; although just about everything is the very best quality that money can buy. And the workmanship is outstanding. To insure that everything would be built to the absolute highest standard far from Toronto, I had some of my finest workmen fly to Bermuda so they could personally be responsible for their installations.
Two of the very best who worked on this project were Rick Murfin, of Vast Interiors and Douglas Mitchell, the master painter who finished the shallow vault that runs from the entry door to the back of the shower with antique bronze pigments and dyes. Taking more than two weeks, Doug patiently applied tiny brush stroke after brush stroke of Sheffield bronzing compound to the ceiling before treating it with three or four coats of bitumen. The final result is an artistic tour de force.
I am extremely proud to have been able to assist my client and be of service to his needs: beyond solving aesthetic and design questions, I managed all of the international logistics and shipping and looked after more than eighteen months of construction not only on this bathroom but all of the many other rooms of my client’s beautiful Tucker’s Town home.
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