This month’s Hue of the Month is Jessica Caldwell. When I first discovered Jessica’s blog, Design Wonderland, on the Internet a few months ago I immediately knew I wanted us to become e-buddies. She really inspired me. She’s an art junkie (has a degree in Art history) who is also extremely knowledgeable in interior design products. If you show her a picture of a piece of furniture she can tell you the name of the designer/vendor in a matter of seconds. Jessica is definitely one interior designer who is on top of her game.
Name: Jessica Caldwell
Current City: the Washington, DC area
School Name and Degree: BA in Art History from Howard University and MA in Interior Design from The Corcoran College of Art and Design
Current Employer or Business Name: I work at High-end Residential Studio in the Washington DC area; Design Editor/Blogger at Design Wonderland
Design Specialty: High-end Residential
Professional Associations and/or Certifications: Allied Member, ASID
Tell us about yourself: I grew up in Maryland outside of Washington. I have always been interested in art and design. Growing up I spent a lot of time in museums, antiquing with my parents, as well as drawing and writing. Not much has changed. I still do those things and I’m still exploring the world through art as a way to inform my creative process. Right now it is through photography, but I also love old movies, fashion and research. It all inspires me.
Tell me a little bit about your design background. How did you get started in the industry?
After undergrad, I knew I would be a designer. In fact, I started looking at design schools before graduation from Howard. I realized when I started to trade my Fashion Magazines for Interiors mags and I started buying interior design books. For me, it just took me a bit of exploration and a couple of interesting jobs to build my confidence to pursue my dreams. My first step was to go back to school. While working a full-time job, I went back to grad school part-time for interior design. Then decided to pursue school full-time and I got a part-time job working in commercial Architecture and Design firms, as a Resource Librarian. It was the perfect supplement to my education, because I learned so much so fast from the designers and vendor reps. I still do that job part-time.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in interior design?
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I love the interaction between space, architecture, objects and people. When I studied Art History, my favorite artists worked in installation art. That’s when I first realized space can be used to convey a story and how space can have meaning.
Describe your first interior design project.
My first project was an Exhibition Design project that I worked on as part of a Graduate Assistantship in school. It was a real world project and it was run like a studio. For a year, I worked with contractors, interacted with international museums, designed cases and plinths, headed up my own projects, assisted others on theirs and put together schedules, working drawings and presentation drawings for client meetings. I’m pretty sure I put in 30 hours a week while I was working part-time and going to school. But it was so worth it because there’s nothing like seeing a project installed and completed. It was rewarding to be a part of and work with a wonderful team of designers.
How do you define your personal style?
My personal style is varied and eclectic. Today it is global glamour with a dash of disco but tomorrow it may be French Country. I love modern design as well.
What inspires you?
Travel, art, fashion and books inspire me the most. There is nothing like looking at a beautiful dress, stopping in my tracks to look at a painting or reading an author’s words that inspire me to dream or live my life fearlessly. And I simply must see and experience more of the world!
What is your dream interior design project? If you had the money, resources and a ready and willing client what would you create and why?
My dream projects would be a boutique hotel, a beach-side bed and breakfast or a restaurant. I know you only asked for one, but I keep a list of them (it also includes a yoga studio). My only request would be that they allow me to create a space that is equally sustainable and beautiful.
Who is your favorite interior designer? What are some of your favorite design vendors, stores, books/magazines, and websites?
I don’t have a favorite designer anymore. There are so many designers that inspire me but the first designer who I really paid attention to was Kelly Wearstler. She has inspired so many designers. Her book Modern Glamour was the first interior design book I ever bought. I also love the work that comes out of studios like Commune and Work Architecture Company.
As far as books go, I’m currently reading Albert Hadley: Drawings and the Design Process, which I picked up in New York. It’s really inspiring and reminds me that I need to sketch and draw more. I also like Construction Drawings and Detail Drawings for Interiors and Visual Notes for Architects and Designers. I read a ton of magazines, including House Beautiful, Elle Décor, Living Etc and Elle Decoration (UK) and Marie Claire Maison. I also have all the issues of Domino and a few old issues of House and Garden and US Vogue’s edition of Vogue Living. I miss those mags terribly.
As far as vendors go, I love textiles, especially Maharam, Kravet and Donghia. I also love antiques so I spend an ungodly amount of time on 1stdibs.com. Bernhardt Design makes beautiful contract furniture and as a company, is very supportive of the next generation of product designers, so I love that. I’m also inspired by Lori Weitzner. I had the opportunity to tour her textile design studio for work and I was awestruck by the beauty of the work that comes out of there.
What do you find most rewarding about your job as an interior designer? What do you find least rewarding?
I work with amazing people everyday from clients to co-workers. I love design but it’s important to know that it’s collaborative in many ways, so you have to be surrounded by people who understand that, that includes me. The least rewarding part is that I often run into people who act like my job is very easy or like they see on TV. It’s rewarding, but easy and nothing like on TV.
As an African-American interior designer, do you feel that African-Americans are under-represented in the design industry? What do you think should be done to encourage more African-Americans to become interior designers?
African-Americans are grossly under-represented in this field. I’m not sure why. For me no one ever told me I couldn’t be a designer even though I never saw any designers who looked like me until I was older. I think it’s bigger than just encouraging people to be interior designers, but rather to encourage African-Americans to follow their hearts and figure out how to make their dreams happen. It sounds cliché, but if you don’t believe in yourself no one else will.
If a person is interested in interior design then that person should find a mentor. Whether they are someone you work for or not or someone who looks like you or not is not as important as finding someone who is willing to share their experience and take you under their wing. Don’t be afraid to seek someone out and ask questions. I emailed my current employer 2 years before she hired me. It started with a phone conversation and I told her I was looking for a mentor and the opportunity to learn and grow.
What advice do you have for other African-American interior designers reading this interview?
I think it’s important that African-American interior designers in the industry become visible in the creative multimedia economy. Recently, I attended a meeting on social media and interior design, and most of the room was afraid of it. I was so shocked. African-Americans designers should be at the forefront of it in this industry while everyone is still figuring it out. They should have blogs and/ or tweet and give a voice to your design style and process.
What is something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas?
I spent a summer studying Decorative Arts in London and it was like heaven. I was either in a museum or in a book everyday. I learned so much in such a short time about furniture, interiors, textiles and fashion from a different perspective than I would have gotten in the U.S. That experience sparked so many creative ideas.
Also, I love research and I will research something forever just to find out more information especially when it comes to design. In design, research is so important. You have to know your stuff in this field. Sometimes, I get lost in the social and cultural context and the story behind the design of space and objects because it is not enough to like something because it’s beautiful. The why and where is important too.
Where do you see yourself as a designer 10 years from now?
In ten years, I hope that I am the Principal/Creative Director of my own multidisciplinary design studio.
You can learn more about Jessica by following her blog http://www.designwonderland.net/blog/
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