Monday, January 3, 2011

INTERVIEW: Karen Cahoon - Interior Designer

I am very happy today to post a recent interview I had with Karen Cahoon, an interior designer here in SLC.  I met Karen when I moved to SLC for the first time back in 1993 for my job.  As I worked in the field of architecture, my path often crossed with the paths of those in interior design, and related areas such as furniture reps, interior materials reps, art consultants and such.  I must say,  that I believe interior designers seem to enjoy a more colorful, friendly and provocative social scene than that of the typical architect!  The picnics up in the canyon, gallery stroll outings together, July 4th and July 24th (Pioneer Day here in Utah) BB Q's, birthday celebrations and the inventive reasons for getting together... I feel fortunate to have made friends in this circle of talented, dynamic and fun people.  I want to thank Karen for being open to an interview kind of conversation today and I appreciate her sharing photos of her home with us on WALLMARKS.

WALLMARKS:  How long have you been practicing interior design?

KAREN:  Officially, for 30 years. Unofficial activities would include remodeling my own home in So. California.

WALLMARKS:  How did you get started in the field?

KAREN:  I was always interested in interior design. My mother was a pathological furniture shopper and I was a willing accomplice. Somewhat related was the work I did as a stylist for professional photography. I did holiday displays for example and styling work for catalogs.
Karen with our friend, Hal checking on the progress of the Thanksgiving turkey on the Barbecue.

WALLMARKS:   What did you do in preparation for your interior design career?

KAREN:  I pursued the Interior Design program in the Family and Consumer Studies Department at the University of Utah. This included two years of basic design, graphics, fourth year design in architecture and I received a B.S. in Interior Design from U. of U.

WALLMARKS:  What did you do before?

KAREN:  Besides the work as a stylist, I earned a B.A. in Art, as well as a Masters degree in Library Science. I worked in libraries in Salt Lake CitySunnyvale, California, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. I also want to mention that during this time in California in the early 1970’s, the Pacific Design Center was built and it was design Mecca. This was the period in which Herman Miller came out with the first office panels, the
fabric accent panels for those was designed by Alexander Girard. Charles Eames spoke at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles and Bruce Burdick was a professor there. I really enjoyed the lively environment, but as I was ending my marriage and had a small son, I decided to move back to Salt Lake City to be closer to my son’s grandparents. And, as mentioned, I began the interior design program at the University of Utah.
Alter-like window garden in Karen's kitchen

WALLMARKS:  What types of work do you do? Commercial, retail, residential?

KAREN:  Currently I am freelancing with a designer who has a specialty niche in residential design. I am working on a special project with him which is a cookbook that is filled with his projects, the clients and their sharing of favorite recipes. I have done space planning for commercial real estate companies, and healthcare, library and office design. Currently I am also working on residential projects.

WALLMARKS:  What are some of your favorite parts of working on a project?

KAREN:  Well, the field is always changing---never static. I like big projects because of the teamwork, meeting the needs of the client, not just fluff, but using state of the art materials and utilizing technology.  I enjoy space planning and the “making-the-puzzle-work” part of it. I like to bring out the client’s aesthetic and to facilitate their desired functions for the space. I don’t like to impose a particular “style” on the client.

I’ve enjoyed some “unusual” (as far as typical interior design) projects such as being a Fire Inspector Technician. This involved wearing a badge, carrying a flashlight, camera and ladder. We looked above
ceilings (pop-out suspended panels) that are required to be fire-rated and photograph the areas that have non-compliant penetrations of such things as mechanical system ductwork. It was a new and different experience.

WALLMARKS:  What about the least favorite?

KAREN:  The down turns in the economy---as interior design and all construction related fields are so directly related to the health of the economy.

WALLMARKS:  How do you like to approach each project in the beginning stages of design?

KAREN:  I begin each project spatially---meaning that I start with plans, elevations and spatial organization---not from a preconceived notion of aesthetics.

WALLMARKS:  Where do you get your inspiration for colors for a project?

KAREN:  Inspiration comes from the environment of the building materials, as in brick and window types and what is available in terms of trends in the marketplace. Also, inspiration comes from the surrounding environment of the building site. If there is a fabulous view from the building, I would allow the view to be the main feature and subdue the interiors as not to compete with the view. I am working on an existing Tuscan-style home at the moment. The client is an avid knitter and I am suggesting the use of textures and handcrafted elements, and color that play off the old-world architecture of the home.

WALLMARKS:  When working with architects, at what point do you become
involved? Schematic, Design Development, or just prior/after construction?

KAREN:  It doesn’t always happen this way, but I prefer beginning a project in the schematic design phase. This allows the valuable opportunity to build a rapport and essential bond and confidence with the client. When the interior designer comes on board at a later point, this is not possible. It also makes it difficult to contribute to the interior architectural design if not included on the team in the beginning.

WALLMARKS:   How would you describe elements of your own home that you enjoy most?

KAREN:  The art---I enjoy collecting art the most. I have furniture that is a mix of my grandmothers’ things that I can’t part with, plus classic modern pieces. I aspire to be a minimalist and I’d rather have experiences than possessions at this point.
WALLMARKS:  Do you approach the interior design of your own home the same way that you do any of your other projects?

KAREN:  I would say, “no”, because it’s hard to make decisions for yourself. This is due to the fact that you know how much is available and so much is available. Whereas with a client, they are not overwhelmed with this awareness and you are able to focus a bit easier on what is needed to meet their stated demands and needs.

WALLMARKS:  When shopping for items for your own home, what questions do you ask yourself?

KAREN:  I have to know that I will like it, so that I can be sure it will stay around.  I don’t like discarding or storing things. I attempt to select items for their quality, longevity, and simplicity---not due to a particular, maybe fleeting trend.  I recently did a small-scale remodel of my kitchen in which I selected elements for longevity: New stone countertops to replace laminate, large single sink to accommodate platters, etc., new dishwasher and a new gas range, that I prefer.  I also made a refresh in another area of the house that was no cost---beyond moving furniture. I exchanged my living room and dining room furniture locations with one another. So now I have a great sitting room off the kitchen and a larger dining area near the fireplace. It’s really refreshing and I love it!
Above:  Karen's newly refreshed kitchen
Above:  New sitting area next to the kitchen
WALLMARKS:  Here we are at the beginning of 2011---What are some of the trends you see in design (could be a special designer item) in terms of furnishings, lighting, wallcovering, flooring/floor coverings, collectables and accessories, materials, finishes? And point out something in this list that you are excited to use in a current/future project.

•Re-use, green design.
•Functional building systems such as air-cleaning in the furnace system.
•Things that improve the interior environment with less impact on the total environment.
•Fewer possessions.
I would like to include the use of custom patterned art glass for partitions, for example. Joel Berman is one of my favorite custom glass makers.  He frequently uses recycled glass in his designs.

Above Images:  Joel Berman Glass Company
I saw a great house designed by one of our local SLC architects, a former colleague, recently. Besides being a beautiful modern home with high-quality materials and elegant simple details---on the coldest day of
winter, the home was 70 degrees F inside without the heat being turned on!

Thank you again, Karen!

Dear Readers, 
Please either "Contact Me" or leave a comment letting me know if you would enjoy more interview posts with creative people similar to this post.  ~Toni, WALLMARKS


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