I first met Cheri when I was in college in Iowa City. We kept in touch as we both eventually made our way to the East Coast. Her eye for design was evident then and now that she's on the on the other side of interior design school, she's an unstopable creative force! For more information on Cheri's biz please stop by her website: cherijohnsondesign.com.
1. Where is your business based out of?
New York City
2. Where are you from originally?
A little town near Davenport, Iowa. I have also called Iowa City, Iowa, and South Hero, Vermont home during times of my life. –But for the last 4 years, the Bronx!
3. How long have you been a designer and/or business owner?
A designer? My whole life. I was sketching new inventions and rearranging rooms at five!
A business owner? Almost 2 years.
4. Where do you get your creative inspiration?
To me design means being irreverent of rules; it is an expression of individuality, imagination, and whim, not a product of trends encumbered by fixed formulas (something contemporary interior design commonly suffers from I often think). I like to use that thought as a guide as I create.
I love to take my inspiration from a diversity of people and places. I try to keep an open mind about all styles, because trends come and go. As an interior designer, unlike those in some other design fields, there is a great need for the designer to appreciate different styles. There may be many styles an int. designer would never put in his/her own home, for example, but a good designer understands the artistic merit behind every style, and why and how a client may feel a connection to a particular style.
As the ultimate inspiration, nature inspires me with its color and texture and balance. Natural elements work in a dynamic, 3-dimensional conversation with each other. We can capture a sense of balance when we take direction from nature, and pay attention to the relationship that occurs between aesthetics and utility in it. I try to take heed of the details found in the created world, because it helps me in my own creation.
5. What does your creative process entail?
The responsibility of the interior/architectural designer is to help his/her clients fulfill their particular design dreams and needs, rather than merely his/her own. (After all, it is the client who has to live with the design!) The designer’s style, therefore, must interact uniquely with each new client, and so that is where I start. By using my clients’ needs and desires as a springboard, I look for ways to synergize what it is they want with my aesthetic. There is a unique conversation that goes on in merging a client’s style with what I consider to be my creative eye and the vision I have for a space. This conversation is crucial and lasts through the whole of the design process.
The creative process of an interior designer is a unique dance- it has to go back and forth from technical precision and calculated utility, to creative whim and individuality. A left brain-right brain thing, if you will. In combination with client conversations, I start a design very practically by assessing the space – getting a sense of how it is used, taking physical measurements, and considering its feel and its light sources at different times of day. When I start with those definites as my solid foundation, then I have the opportunity to run with my creativity from there, challenging myself to find ways that different forms and colors and textures can interact within, or even push, the parameters.
6. Would you say your environment (where you live, work, play) influences your creative process? If so, how?
Yes! Living in the Bronx can seem like a dreary or dirty place. But actually, it just makes you work harder to find the beauty in things. (And they are all around!) New York City has a story, a diversity, an energy, all its own. I suppose that in the same way I recognize that about New York City and its people, I look for those same things in individual pieces, and in the stories my clients want to tell and surround themselves with through their environment. We long for our environment to reflect the beauty we want to see in the world and the stories we want to tell. I like figuring out ways to do that- because it’s unique to every individual!
New York is also a very efficient place to live. Living communally, while it has its challenges and requires its sacrifices, has made my carbon footprint much smaller than when I drove my gas sipping car every day to my individually heated, home of ample square footage. New Yorkers have to be choosy about the products and amounts they bring home from the store, because every item needs to fit into a small, efficient space!
I like to mimic this precision as a consumer and a purchaser of goods for my clients, whether or not they live in the city. Responsible design is sustainable design, and when possible supports a renewable life cycle from material sourcing to production to product use, and eventually, to demolition and recycling. We must be intentional and responsible about the products and trades we support, and I try to do that in the surfaces, textiles, and pieces that I specify for my clients. We must return back to an embracing of the local, artistic, and hand made traditions that have provided responsible products for consumers for centuries.
7. Who are your creative mentors?
This is the hardest question for me to answer on this list!
Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and Lord Norman Robert Foster rank among my favorite architects. Miv Watts, Madeline Stuart, Candice Olson, and Philip Starck rank among my favorite interior and architectural designers. There are just so many inspirations out there! They all are connected in their pursuit of the intersection of art and functionality.
Personally, I was lucky to have two professors during my schooling named Casey Sherman and Renan Pierre who both had a great impact on me. As Harvard trained architects and business partners, their focus was on the process of creation, and the philosophy and purpose behind a design. They believe architecture and space planning should enrich the human experience through built form. Their emphasis on revision, on new perspectives and ways of going about problem solving has greatly influenced how I approach a project. They have been lauded as “architectural activists” by a number of national magazines and newspapers, and they actively pursue opportunities in their work for “architectural intervention and invention.” I respect the projects they choose, their collaboration process, their contributions to public purposes, and the support and guidance they have given to me throughout my time as a designer.
8. Tell us about the one project you would say you are most proud of.
Yikes. This is going to sound sappy. A long while ago I designed sets for “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” and it was a proud moment for me. Not because it was a great film, (Um, errr… I mean, it was. You should all see it. Twice.) but because it was my first job out of design school. It was a proud moment for me. The end product was great, and it was an actual paying job that edified me as a designer. Getting a paycheck from Paramount Pictures was a sort of reality check that said, “Look! You are really here! You’ve made it. You can do it. Look where you started, and where you’re headed now!”
9. What do you enjoy doing when you're not designing?
Cooking, traveling, volunteering, movies, social justice issues and current events, observing the world and enjoying nature, and especially enjoying time with my husband, Kurt, and occasionally, my cat Adi. It’s hard not to design, if just in my head, when I go to new places or see ways that things can be done better. So a little piece of me, I admit, doesn't really stop designing.
10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
It’s such a hard question. I hope to have a successful interior design business in ten years, but most importantly, I just hope to be a better person. It’s hard to guess what’s in the future, but I hope to find myself and my family healthy and becoming better people a little every day.
Eventually, I would love to be able to use the money I make serving many clients to fund projects for lower income clients and non-profit organizations. Some of that I do right now, but my true dream is for that ability to bring good design to anyone to multiply as time goes on... I believe that everyone deserves good design, and that it should be accessible to all. I almost did not become a designer, because for years I believed it was just a career that catered to the rich. But eventually I realized that I have the power to make my career whatever I like, and my intention is to carve a new path...