Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mermaid Gets a Makeover: Starbucks' Search for Authenticity

Okay, so Starbucks’ logo is actually a siren, not a mermaid, but she might as well be, given the watering down (no pun intended) of the sexy, seductive symbol of a siren to a much less dangerous, more mainstream-pleasing, fantasy water creature. But lest I stray too far from the topic at hand, let’s return to Starbucks’ recent design makeover.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that your local coffee shop was closed for a week or so and when it reopened, had not only a new fa├žade, but an entirely new interior design concept. Starbucks ditched the over-stuffed green velvet chairs in favor of more modern stainless-steel furniture, community tales and an overall rustic, wooded feel. Walking into a newly renovated “Bucks” is like wandering into a log cabin or mountain lodge. The wainscoting on the walls is made to look like rough, unfinished, natural wood planks. So natural in fact, you must take care not to brush up against the wallcovering, lest you end up with splinters in your knees and elbows! Furthermore, the new design incorporates a dark, open grain, rustic-looking veneer on the tabletops and a faux reclaimed wood plank as the bar countertop.

Even the traditional color scheme is gone. The reds, greens, browns and blues (each color symbolizing a different part of the coffee-making process) were replaced with a more neutral palette, which is ironically (and perhaps intentionally) similar to the scheme of the original Pike Place Market shop and a handful of the first few Starbucks outlets. The new color palette is almost completely devoid of any spectral color, with shades of browns and grays filling the space almost entirely and sepia-saturated photographs of coffee beans and coffee growers beckoning caffeinated customers back to the “source” of Starbucks’ success: the impression of an authentic European coffee experience.

So what do all these changes mean? And what do they signal for the current and future state of the coffee corporation? Well, we all know Starbucks saw a decline in stores and sales starting in 2008 as a result of the economic downturn, and in my opinion, all these surface changes are designed to signal a return to “authenticity.” The rough-hewn bark slab on the wall screams: “I’m natural, authentic—splinters and all!” And you can’t get much more basic, authentic and natural than using a chunk of tree as a countertop. Even the open grain (versus the tight grain, highly polished veneers from before) symbolizes a more rustic, natural experience. Gone is the colorful McWorld palette that has now become synonymous with the mass-market, globalized, sub-urbanized, middling, “common” customer. We are even seeing more of the original siren logo above the doorpost, on the outdoor umbrellas and even on store managers’ laptop computers.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time Starbucks modified its look and its logo. The first adjustment came in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, right before the company went public.(1) In a move to make Starbucks more mainstream, Howard Shultz had graphic designers cover up the body of Starbucks’ siren, erasing her breasts and nipples and sharpening the focus on her face, which was now drawn in a less seductive, dangerous way, turning the sexy siren into a pleasant mermaid. So it’s not surprising that in its search for a return to “authenticity,” Starbucks would also return to its original logo. In the updated stores, we now see more of the mermaid’s body, even the round silhouette of her breasts, though I greatly doubt her nipples will ever return to the mainstream. There are far too many children sipping hot chocolate from green and white cups and pre-adolescents slurping down Frappuccinos for Starbucks to risk offending parents and alienate the next generation of sugar-rush caffeine addicts willing to pay 4 bucks a hit—uh, I mean shot.

(1)  See also Bryant Simon's Everything but the Coffee.

**Someone asked about the laptop photo above.  Here is my response to that comment:  That's actually the laptop of a Starbucks manager.  He stepped away for a moment which gave me the opportunity to snap the photo!  I think it's probably some kind of company-issued laptop cover, perhaps given with company computers?  Perhaps any Baristas out there can correct me if I'm wrong...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chakras in Interiors?

Not only is color therapy (rooted in Chinese medicine and ancient Indian Ayurveda) now being used in interiors to promote health and wellbeing, "chroma therapy," associated with the seven chakras of the body, is now being incorporated in the latest steam baths and showers.

Mr. Steam's ChromaSteam combines steam therapy with color and aroma therapy, focusing on each of the body’s chakras along with its associated color and healing properties. The body has seven major chakras, or energy centers, and each is associated with a color from the visual light spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROYGBIV). Each chakra not only corresponds to a specific color and area of the body, but to a healing property as well. In this way, color (“chroma therapy”) is used to address physical ailments. Below are the seven chakras and their associated properties.

RED: Located at the base of the spine, this chakra is associated with vitality, energy, strength, vigor and sexuality. Exposure to this color is thought to improve circulation and stimulate red blood cell production.

ORANGE: Located just below the navel, this chakra is associated with passion, confidence and enthusiasm. Citrus fruits (also orange-y in hue) are known for their antibacterial properties, therefore orange is thought to aid in easing digestive discomfort, as well as congestion problems and dry skin.

YELLOW: This chakra is located behind the stomach as is associated with intellect, communication, wisdom and clarity. This color is also thought to have antibacterial and decongestant properties.

GREEN: Located in the middle of the chest (and the middle of the color spectrum) green is associated with the heart, hope, healing, compassion and growth. Furthermore, because of its place in the center of the color spectrum, green is the easiest on the eyes, therefore it is also associated with harmony and balance. Ayurvedic practitioners use the balance associated with the color green to treat ulcers, which may result from imbalances in the body's acidic or Ph levels. Green is also considered an antiseptic.

BLUE: Because of its location at the base of the throat, this chakra is associated with self-expression, communication and knowledge, as well as creativity. Blue has long been associated with peace, loyalty and truth. Blue is thought to eliminate toxins and is used to treat liver disorders and jaundice.

INDIGO: Located at the center of the forehead, this chakra is associated with intuition. Therefore indigo, or violet, can be used to stimulate creative intuition. Because blue hues are associated with tranquility, blue is considered calming and may be helpful in controlling bleeding.

VIOLET: Located above the head is the highest chakra, associated with spiritual connection, the inner voice, transcendence and bliss. Violet promotes spirituality and is used to soothe organs, relax muscles and calm the nervous system.

To learn more about how Mr. Steam's ChromaSteam System combines color therapy and aromatic oils to respond to and ease your physical and emotional ailments, see: http://mrsteam.com/articles/bath-high-tech.html

For more on Ayurveda and color therapy see:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Interiors Inform Fashion?

[PLEASE NOTE: This blog entry starts where the last entry left off, with the emergence of a new trend in interior paint color.]

So why now, out of the blue (or perhaps I should say “black”), are we advised to start painting everything ebony—and worse, with a matte finish? My question was answered in a recent WGSN trend seminar I attended forecasting upcoming trends for 2011/2012. Though the primary focus of the seminar was, of course, fashion, so inextricably linked are design trends these days that my observation over the past year (working as a rep. in the fashion and textile industry) has been the simultaneous and mutual influence of fashion and interior design on each other. And what is becoming even more common is that interiors are now informing, influencing, and yes, even leading fashion trends at times.

In fact, nearly every “Macro Trend” presented by WGSN began with inspirational images taken from the natural world, the industrial world, and of course, the interior design world. In light of my darkening confusion (pun intended) over matte black making a splash, the macro trend that caught my attention was “faux real” movement. This direction delights in making the real look fake. It challenges our assumptions by bringing unexpected proportion and color to the forefront. It pushes traditional boundaries, and one element of this macro trend is “unnatural or enhanced color.” This encompasses matte finishes, especially for black, and primers and undercoats. The inspirational image for this trend was that of a black primered Rolls Royce. (Enter matte black paint.)

Based on the forecast, matte will become the new finish of choice. And like the futuristic, arid-looking Rolls Royce, luxury will cease to be defined by perfect polish, waxy finishes, and high-gloss sheen, and will be redefined by a more dusty, earthy and urban veneer. High class and style will take on a new meaning—moving from the polished to the unrefined. So, whether it’s the finish on your vehicle, or the paint on your walls, tomorrow’s luxury topcoat is predicted to be the unrefined, or “unfinished,” finish.

That being said, my best advice for black paint comes from my high school art teacher. “Never use all-black paint,” she used to say. “It comes across as ‘dead.’ Always add a little color.” So my suggestion for dabbling in the dark side is to use aubergine, midnight, deep hunter and dark chocolate hues to bring black back to life. And as far as matte finish is concerned, I leave you with the words of a true master. Billy Baldwin once said: “Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style…An honest room is always up to date.”

Black is Back?

I was a little taken back recently when I read an article touting the emergence of black in interiors—not just as an accent, but everywhere—permeating, even saturating both commercial and residential spaces: black furniture, black cabinetry, black walls and ceilings. The photos, the praise, and the publicity for designers implementing these inky and ebony hues made it seem as though the ghoulish, haunted-mansion stereotype were suddenly in vogue. But what shocked me even more was the advice for the application of such paint color: “use a flat finish” and “painting a space black will make it seem larger and more expansive.”

This advice goes against everything I have ever learned about black paint and dark wall color. Haven’t we all been told that darker value colors make things appear smaller? (Isn’t that why the little black dress is so flattering?) And aren’t lighter colors meant to make a ceiling appear higher, while a dark color makes it appear lower? And a flat finish?! Hasn’t the advice always been (at least since Billy Baldwin lacquered brown walls) to use a high or semi-gloss for dark wall color to maximize the reflective light throughout the room?

If Baldwin’s shiny chocolate-brown walls exemplify a well-done dark interior, let’s compare a less appealing, more modern example that follows the new advice. Take for instance, Kelly Wearstler’s coffin-like boutique hotel, Maison 140. This already tiny bed-and-breakfast becomes a claustrophobic cave with matte black walls.

Monday, September 20, 2010

GoodWeave: Carpet with a Conscience

We all love exotic woven carpets made of natural protein-based fibers, like silk and wool, especially when they’re imported from foreign lands. But, did it ever occur to you that child-labor laws do not exist in many of the countries that supply the rug industry in North America?

RugMark USA is a nonprofit organization seeking to end child labor in the carpet industry. RugMark produces a Sourcebook listing more than 70 rug companies in North America carrying products free of child labor.

So the next time you are looking for a carpet or rug, be sure to look for the GoodWeave label, certifying a manufacturer's product is child-labor free.

Check out GoodWeave's website at: http://www.rugmark.org

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Blog?

So you may be asking, if you have an Interior Design business and a blog related to that business, why don’t you choose to simply blog about products, furniture and other interior-related items? Why bother blogging about beauty and inspiration and nature, if what you are focusing on is interiors? I have asked myself the same question, and the answer is, well, there are plenty of great blogs about design and color and fashion. But for me, design starts with inspiration and passion, so that’s what I want my blog to address, the foundation of my creative font--inspiration, which is inextricably linked to passion and sensitivity to the world around you. Sometimes this inspiration is tangible, experienced through the palpable, physical world, and sometimes my inspiration is intangible, experienced through the metaphysical, spiritual, and emotional world of the soul.

Beauty can be found everywhere, particularly in seemingly unlikely places: the deep-set wrinkles in the kind faces of old men and women, a broken fence, a chipped mug, weathered painted surfaces or rusted metal. Sometimes life’s imperfections are not only photogenic icons, but valuable sources of learning, and yes, inspiration. I cannot count the times a “mistake” has turned a project from mundane to masterpiece. And my goal is not only to capture the beauty in these imperfections, but the beauty in the lesson.

I also look to Mother Nature to teach me valuable lessons about beauty, design, and life. When it comes to design, Mother Nature always gets it right. One glance outside your window will reveal cleverly concocted combinations of Tetrad, Triad, Analogous and Complementary color schemes. When I’m in desperate need of inspiration, I take a walk outside. You will be amazed at the things you will notice, if you take the time to look. The world takes on an ethereal and delicate complexity when seen through the lens of color, pattern, light and shadow. And that is the world of design I want to introduce you to. I want you to take a peek through the looking glass and see the world as an artist, designer, writer, and creative being, always seeking inspiration as the primary fuel of life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Oval Office No Longer "Square"

The President's Oval Office recently got a make-over. Check out its fresh, new look:


Though I like the neutral casual comfort, I think the sofas are a poor choice. They appear to be velvet, and both the fabrication and style is far too informal for the Commander-In-Chief. The new rug is gorgeous. However, the decades-old desk looks like an archaic hand-me-down, out of place in its posh new surroundings. With the neutral color palette, the modern makeover is visually light and uplifting, but the traditional antiques weigh it down considerably as they appear heavy (especially in contrast to the new, modern coffee table). On its own, the coffee table is a beautiful, well-proportioned piece, but when taking in the room as a whole, appears a little out of place. I would have stayed in transitional waters when trying to bring a modern edge to a deeply traditional space. This would allot the historic pieces the dignity and respect they deserve, rather than be outshined by the snazzy, modern new digs.