A Conversation With Interior Designer Ghislaine Viñas

A Conversation With Interior Designer Ghislaine Viñas

Both Am/Mor Architects and Ghislaine Viñas are on RenovatingNYC’s short list of recommended architects for residential interiors in New York City. Although I’ve had the pleasure of working with Am/Mor on various projects over the years, I haven’t had the opportunity (yet) to work with Ms. Viñas. I have to admit I was a little jealous when I found out they sat down together to talk shop and get some insight into Ms. Viñas’s start in the interior design profession. I felt like I had no choice but to re-post it here. -RJ Diaz

AM/MOR Presents: A Conversation With Interior Designer Ghislaine Viñas

An excerpt from a post that originally appeared on About.com

AphroChic  AM MOR Presents A Conversation with Interior Designer Ghislaine Viñas 1

Goil Amornvivat, AIA, NCIDQ and Tom Morbitzer, AIA, NCIDQ are founders of the New York based design firm AM/MOR Architecture, LLP. Goil was a fan favorite from Bravo Top Design Season 1, an on screen designer on TLC’s Trading Spaces, and a winner on HGTV’s White Room Challenge. Both have been teaching design for the last decade and specialize in custom design for commercial and residential projects.

How did you get into interior design?

I always thought I would practice interior design, but never really thought that I would have my own company. I always loved houses and furniture as a kid. I loved looking at houses with my mom. We would go to open houses together on Sundays. I just always noticed interiors and furniture.

When I graduated from Philadelphia University I moved to New York and started looking for a job, but it was during a tough recession. I ended up dropping off my resume at a furniture store and landed a job at Techline. It was a design/sales job. I was responsible for designing the environments using their modular system. We had to price it and sell it to the clients. It taught me sales and I got to understand the New York public a bit better.

After eight years, a friend introduced me to Paige West who was looking for a young designer to design her new offices. While I continued to work at Techline, I worked on this job and asked my friend Vincent Palestro to be my partner on the project. I had never gone through a project like this before…10,000 square feet of raw industrial space had to be transformed. I was smart enough to realize I needed help. After I completed the project I resigned from Techline and started my business and my family.

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Your work has a strong relationship with color. What were the influences that helped you develop that sense?

I have a visceral response to color. My color sense is something that comes from my heart. To me, happiness is color and I express myself through color. I was one of those kids who was just always smiling and happy. I spent a lot of time coloring in pictures in my coloring book. I could sit and color for a long time. Today, I base my practice on an approach I call the aesthetics of happiness. I create interiors and spaces that feel good.

I am very particular about the way I use color, though. I wait until I have the architecture of the room together – by this I mean the key furniture pieces that ground the room. After that I decide where the color goes. Every project is different, however, and we are always experimenting with new approaches.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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Where do you draw your design inspiration and influences from?

One of my biggest influences has been my mother. She taught me a lot about taste. She taught me to be an individual. Now, my inspiration comes from everywhere. Living in New York there’s never a shortage of places to find inspiration. I spend too much time behind my computer which makes me use Pinterest for inspiration. It’s so easy and convenient, but after awhile I start to feel a bit lazy about it. I look to fashion for inspiration as well. Marni is a huge inspiration. I love going to fashion designer’s stores and be inspired by them.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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What is a quintessential ‘Ghislaine touch’?

I so appreciate a sense of humor. Laughing and having fun is important to me. I love when we create beautiful rooms, but for me there should be something light-hearted, quirky or ironic to them. That is the final touch that makes a room a success. Sometimes it will be a hidden element that isn’t apparent to everyone, or some kind of hidden meaning behind something. Art can do this for sure and I rely heavily on art in my interiors. I really enjoy finding out about our clients and then taking the information we gather and creating details that are specific to those clients.

We created a dining room where images of the client’s favorite foods are printed onto the seats of the chairs. The plates of food only become apparent when you pull out the chair and go to sit down. We had a food stylist and photographer shoot the food in our studio. It was such a fun process and the client was a part of the brainstorming that led us to this design detail.

I also have an incredible client who I love working with, and we were once designing a huge rolling ottoman. I suggested we put random buttons on it and he stopped me and asked “why random? – lets rather think of something else.” He actually came up with the idea of locating the buttons in the location of the stars in the Southern Cross. So the buttons look kind of random to most but to the clients they remind them of the constellation in the sky of their birth. To me this is just totally and utterly special and fantastic.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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One of the biggest myths for those outside of the industry is that designers become who they are all on their own. But all of us have stories of a time when someone (probably more than one) helped us in a way that set us off in an important new direction. Who are the people in the industry who have had that kind of impact on you? Who inspires you?

It’s so important to have friends in the industry who you can turn to and who are fun to work with. Cindy Allen, Editor in Chief of Interior Design Magazine has always been a great friend and has given me so much advice along the way and been a big motivator. Thanks to her I now have an amazing network of colleagues. I can’t tell you how many times I was facing a new situation and I’ve been able to call up colleagues like Shamir Shah and Benjamin Noriega Ortiz and ask them for advice.

Collaborations are super exciting to me. Right now I am collaborating with Brad Ascalon and we are designing a new line of furniture for Loll. It’s exciting for me to work with new people whom I admire and like. And it’s exciting to be designing a furniture line since it’s something I’ve been working towards for the past few years but never done before.

One of my favorite designers is Francois Chambard and he really inspires me. I’m a huge fan of his work and I’ve worked with him for years. The projects we do together and the pieces he designs for our projects are very special to me. He is a dear friend and I really just adore him.

What is fun about my job is that I can incorporate all kinds of crafts into my work so if I find someone who is doing interesting work I can find ways of working with them. I’ve got to keep things fresh and interesting and these collaborations are a big part of this. I have a short attention span so the thing that makes me jump out of bed (after my sweet husband has brought me my coffee) is the idea of doing something new and different.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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Which of your early works do you feel was the turning point in your career. What was that ‘ah ha’ moment?

Working on Skyhouse was a pretty big turning point for me, which wasn’t that long ago. Up until that point I had spent a lot of time working on my craft. Understanding scale, learning to source, experimenting with finishes and materials and learning how to have fun with design. David Hotson was the architect on the project and we collaborated for a good many years to get the project completed. Throughout the project we identified the importance of designing within the volumes he was creating. I was designing interiors within the rooms he was building, so over time we really started to think very symbiotically. Walls, ceilings and floors all needed to relate and be the same color, and furniture within those spaces did as well.

There was a language that we created for that project – we sort of set up rules that we followed. I had never designed with a set of rules like this, but it really influenced the projects I was working on while working on Skyhouse. The Los Feliz Residence in LA which I completed with architect and owner Chet Callahan clearly shows this influence.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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One of your early commissions was the Mixed Green Gallery in Chelsea. In your work since, there has been a clearly defined relationship to art. It is as though your interiors are livable galleries. Could you talk more about your relationship to art as it relates to your ideas on design?

The first project I ever did was for Paige West, the curator of The West Collection, a world renowned contemporary art collection. Since that first one I have completed about seven others for her including the Mixed Greens Gallery in Chelsea (Leven Betts were the architects on this project.)

All of the spaces I’ve designed for her have come to life because of the art on the walls. Sometimes she would put the most surprising unexpected pieces in the rooms we had designed and I would see the character of the rooms change. I wasn’t always on board with the art at first, but often the pieces that I didn’t ‘get’ would later become my favorites. She just knows how to push the envelope with art. She keeps things interesting and I am nowhere near being able to do what she does, but I can say that what I have learned about art I learned from watching her.

I’ve also been lucky to have some clients who just have incredibly great art collections. The art in Skyhouse was all selected by the clients – they just have great taste in art. I helped them with a couple of pieces, but most of them they bought themselves. It really is the most vital part of beautiful interiors. Rooms without art feel soulless to me. Art is what creates personality and attitude in rooms.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Vinas

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What’s your best advice for young designers?

Don’t work for a designer whose work you don’t love. It’s a waste of time. Of course, I also understand the realities of survival in a city like New York, so sometimes you have no choice.

In my case, never having worked for another designer made it tough for me to start my own business because I had figure out a lot of things by myself (and this was pre-internet!). But it also allowed me to do my own thing and not be influenced by anyone else. I think that’s why my style is so unique.

It took me years to hone my style and to find my own individual way of designing. Young designers need to put in their time and be patient. Having a good eye and creating great Pinterest boards isn’t enough. We’ve got to slow down and study things carefully instead of flipping through them without much thought.

Images supplied by Ghislaine Viñas

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About the Editor:

RJ Diaz is a renovation and remodeling construction management executive in New York City. RJ is passionate about high quality, well-crafted construction and started RenovatingNYC in 2010 to share news and information specific to the industry as well as profile the best resources essential for a project’s success. For advice about your own renovation or remodeling plans, preliminary cost estimates and project opportunities, please contact RJ using the form below.