I think we all know someone who seems to have a magic touch when it comes to creating a beautiful home, hosting a lovely gathering, or just generating a certain jolliness to any event. In my world, that’s my dear friend, Brad.
Brad is an interior designer extraordinaire. I first met him when he and my husband were at the same architectural firm, and over the years, he and his husband, with Michael and I have formed a close “friends to family” bond.
I have admired his style and design genius for years, and am always in awe every time I step into his home. It’s warm and inviting, but also elegant and filled with art presented in beautiful and tasteful vignettes. Brad is most famous in our little corner of the world for the time he suggested that Michael and I needed to find a “signature” piece for our dining room to coalesce. Much to Michael’s chagrin, I took the charge and for a year searched for just the right lighting fixture. Found it! Love it! And I think of Brad every time I walk by it. Michael thinks of the “signature price.” Whatever.
I thought it would be fun to have Brad share some of his genius with us starting with a little about his background, his approach to interiors, and maybe a few tips that would help the rest of us up our game. As usual, he was more than willing to help.
So, without further adieu, meet Brad.
When Brad Smith decided that his path was Interior Design, he was resisting family expectations. Something inside of him just kept urging him along down a winding and creative path until he was able to find the place where he was meant to be.
From acting and theatre production to PR and graphic design, Brad only knew he’d found his home when he excelled in his interior design studies. Looking back, he realized that he’d been designing his environments for years. As a kid, it was his bedroom where he worked out ideas; then, different rooms in the family home became his canvas.
Going to college and living in Houston when the oil industry crashed, he was lucky enough to land a part-time position with a medical interiors firm. He did so well that he, along with only two senior designers, survived the bankruptcy and layoffs at the firm. So began his career tenure in medical interiors that lasted over 30 years.
Along the way, through artist and collector friends, he learned how to “live with art,” and to incorporate art into a design or space in order to convey meaning, not merely decoration.
Brad, what inspires you?
Generally, the beauty of materials or the beauty of form. For example, for our kitchen renovation, the kitchen cabinets I found became the centerpiece of the entire design. The material as well as the simplicity of their design just knocked me out. Also, travel and art inspire me always!
How do you stay inspired?
Seriously shopping. Not to buy (well, not always), but to see what’s current. Art museums always inspire me, as does walking in nature, spending time with very creative and artistic friends like Linda Taylor, Amy Tanaka, and Pam Rainey. Right now, teaching interior design inspires me in ways I never expected.
One more thing – I know this sounds crazy, but doing something as mundane as cleaning house or reorganizing an area can spark some serious inspiration for me. Sometimes doing the opposite of creative work gives your mind a break and allows inspiration to flow right in.
How do you typically approach a design project – for yourself or for a client?
I start by looking for iconic references – landmarks, cultural icons, colors, materials, etc. I try to find what is most significant to the user and then figure out how I can represent that in a way that isn’t expected or trite.
How would you describe your personal design style/approach?
The hardest part for me is culling. I adore so many things, such different styles, including anything well-designed regardless of whether I could actually live with it or not. I could fill a blimp with things I love! I suppose I would describe our home as “farmhouse contemporary.” I love modern, but I especially love the warmth that a carved piece of wood gives. Wood just simply feels good to the touch. Steel and concrete can be beautiful as well though.
Antiquities – certain ones, really appeal to my sense of finding and expressing “roots.” A table or a chair can tell a story, or at least help imagine a story – Who sat in that chair? Who ate at that table? It creates a sense of roots to me. I also love humor or quirkiness though. It can be unexpected and add a jolt of unabashed joy to a particular environment or vignette.
You are quite a collector of art. I’m always amazed at the pieces you find, and also by how you use or display them in your home. How did you become so entranced with art?
I’ve always loved art, but learned from an early colleague/mentor about using art to give meaning to an environment. And then a dear friend’s mother-in-law, Snoozie, who was a real collector and appreciator, taught me the meaning of “living with art.” In other words, art should not be looked at as merely decoration, but as something that becomes a part of you, a representation of how you live.
For the everyday person trying to bring some design into their home but not knowing where to start, what would you suggest?
Well, I’m the everyday person, too. I’ve made mistakes, and then learned from them. I think the biggest mistake I see people make in their homes is that they bought a sofa or a chair or a dining set because they thought they needed that item immediately. They ended up buying something to fill the space, rather than finding something that made them feel a certain way. For every piece that I’ve purchased “to fill a space,” I’ve ended up replacing it later because I found the “right piece” that speaks to me.
I do understand the need to act quickly at times, so I would suggest finding inexpensive alternatives until the right one comes along. I lived without a sofa for a couple of years and then fell in love with the sofa I have now. It’s over 25 years old! I’ve had it reupholstered – but in basically the original fabric.
Focus on one thing at a time – don’t try to do everything all at once. Imagine the room empty, then focus on the part you like best and start there.
Another quick piece of advice: DO NOT BUY TRENDY for major pieces. You will regret it sooner than later. Stick with good, solid design for the basics that you can then accessorize around and update easily.
Lastly, any Brad-isms you care to pass along?
Most of my favorites have been passed along to me, but I’m happy to share them.
First, “Never done ‘til overdone.” This is something we all do from time to time. For some reason, it’s hard for us to just stop.
Another one I have from Linda Taylor is “parsley on the pig.” Similar vein as above, but this refers to something like the fur toilet seat covers of the 60’s. It is what it is – sometimes you just can’t pretty it up, so leave it be.
I’m currently telling my students to create “ta da” moments in their designs. A “ta da” moment is basically a punctuation mark to a space, room, or area — when you come in to a room or look down a hallway and see what is the big reveal – the Ta Da moment.
And lastly, there is “You need a signature piece!” Clearly, I live for that one! Haha
Thanks, Brad. xxx
I hope you all find some inspiration in his words or from the images of his home.
Till next time,