Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Cool Creative Breeze: My Interview with Corcoran College of Art & Design Student Breeze Giannasio

Photo by Jodi King Photography

Last week I had the opportunity to preview the Corcoran College of Art & Design's masters students as they teamed up with the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, DC to present Cool Creative Christmas, an environmentally-focused holiday art installation staged at the Danish Ambassador Mr. Friis Arne Petersen’s Residence.

I interviewed one of those fab students, my friend Breeze Giannasio, this past weekend and catch up on her design work and plans for the future. She, along with Brittany Watson, Louise Havndrump, Caryn Cramer and Tirsdag Kjoller (pictured below), were the brains behind the a Cool Creative Christmas which included
750 glass jars with Solar LED lights, 900 floating flowers and thousands of paper flowers and snowflakes adorning the Ambassador's residence.

From a sun-kissed, bare-footed Hawaiian upbringing, Breeze has traversed the globe from a wintry white New England to the plains of Argentina, from the the Isles of the Mediterranean to the mountains of Ethiopia. In her "moment of weakness" she studied at Harvard Law and after her completion of her J.D. she practice as a corporate lawyer for six years.

Talk about a career change. She then redirected her trajectory towards interior design, a life long passion. Breeze is currently pursuing an MFA in interior design at the Corcoran College of Art & Design' here in Washington.

After spending last summer in Copenhagen, she returned to the states and embarked on a Cool Creative Christmas journey with her colleagues at the Corcoran. I caught up with Breeze this weekend and had the chance to capture some of her thoughts on interior design and her advice for homeowners looking to identify or revamp their styles at home.

The outside entry of the Ambassador's residence on a Cool Creative Christmas opening night

JF: What are some of the common decorating mistakes made by homeowners? What's your advice on how to avoid or correct those mistakes?

BG: I think many people make the mistake of thinking they have to do everything at once. If you go out and buy everything in one fell swoop you're doomed to have a house with no soul. A home will reveal itself to you over time, it's an ongoing narrative. People should not be afraid of having their decoration move in stages -- in this case delayed gratification is well worth the wait. Other big mistakes include forgetting the power of color theory, not paying attention to scale, mixing crazy finishes and period pieces in a haphazard way, the list goes on! But maybe I should stop with that lest I get apoplectic.

JF: What would be your recommendation for "what to do first" in a decorating project?

BG: I suppose this is highly contingent on whether this is a starter home or not. If not, usually the toughest aspect for people is the editing process -- letting go of those extraneous hand-me-downs and college acquisitions (IKEA shelfing? yikes!). Letting go is liberating though and will help you create greater impact and a much more cohesive design in the end. If you don't have much to start with, such that editing is out of the question, well, let the games begin: it's time to pick a signature piece or two that you simply can't live with out. Honestly, one impact piece is more than enough to shape the course of a series of rooms.

What advice do you have for someone with a new house to decorate and perhaps a limited budget?

BG: Paint! This is by far the cheapest way to reinvent a space. But be sure you consult a color wheel before choosing your paint color. Color theory is key! If you need pointers, give me a call. And *please* take into account the color of the pre-existing conditions, say, your bamboo floor, which has a yellow/orange base to it. Decide whether you want to go for a monochromatic look or maybe a very active complementary scheme or perhaps a more subtle split-complementary or tetrad scheme. The sky's the limit! And as a general rule, remember if in doubt about the intensity of the color swatch, add white or grey to make it more livable.

The cascading paper and light display along the banister at the Ambassador's residence.

What color trends are hot right now or will be for decades?

BG: I don't like to follow color trends. That said, happily, I've noticed a renewed focus on the power and depth of warm greys. I've seen people playing cobalt with the muted greys and black accents. Sort of love that. Mustard and shocking yellows seemed to be extremely trendy for a hot second as well. Regardless of the trends though, I'm partial to a rich layered range of highly desaturated colors with pops of intense unadulterated hue as accent. And I don't think I've ever lived in a home that didn't have robin's egg blue at least somewhere (on the ceiling is one of my favorite spots).
I grew up in Hawaii and gravitate towards the cool blues and greens found in the Pacific Ocean, and yet my early training in Italy as an (amateur!) oil painter reigns me in from tropical excess and has caused me to favor a much more sophisticated, muted palette. At least that's my theory!

I believe the real trend, if there is one to be spotted, is personalization. People are tired of others telling them what is good for their home. When choosing colors think about what color looks good on you. What do you like to wear? What do you want to feel when you walk through the door? Color definitely evokes a feeling and there is no space more sacred than your home. The typical consumer spends so much time focusing on the right color lip gloss, or scarf to wear to compliment ourselves --
why not the color of our walls?

What types of homes do you usually work on?

My favorite projects involve taking historic residences and having the opportunity to infuse them with modernism. I love playing with juxtapositions to re-activate and enliven tired spaces. I have an artistic spirit and a strong graphic sense so I especially love when I can work with someone on the same page who wants a bit of wit and eccentric playfulness in their space. And being an art collector myself, I love working with clients who either have a lot of art to showcase or are interested in building their arsenal of artistic finery, shall we say? That said, at this point in my very nascent career, I don't have a "typical" type of project -- as you know, my last project was decorating the Danish Embassy for Christmas! This was really more set design / window display than an interior design contract. But still, it was such fun and an amazing opportunity to flex my creative capacity in a new way.

JF: Are you finding that people are watching their budget more in this economy?

Absolutely! Even the most indulgent profligates out there are occasionally opting for prosecco over champagne, I notice. Seriously though, there is so much opportunity in the field of design to save a pretty penny. Usually this is contingent on one of two things: patience or elbow grease. Sales are abundant and rip-offs of top design ubiquitous. And there are often crafty ways to customize catalog acquisitions. Check out one of the many great design blogs out there for tips. Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy are two of my many favorites.

The Danish Ambassador's library with a Cool Creative Creation flanking the space.

JF: Tell me more about this project with the Danish Embassy. How long did it take you and the rest of the students to complete?

BG: Well, we (two students from the Danish Design School in Copenhagen and three from the Corcoran College of Art + Design) here in DC, began working on the concept back in September via Skype conference calls and then began our production effort in earnest about two months ago, each focusing on a discrete aspect of the project. Caryn became our lighting expert, Louise handled the beautiful reindeer papercut (pictured above), Louise did graphics and the tabletops, and Brittany and I focused on the interior "snowstorms" of roses (pictured two photos above) and gorgeous wreath.

We unveiled our design for the the Royal Danish Embassy's annual Cool Creative Christmas celebration on December 1st and 2nd. The party took a new green twist this year to highlight COP15 - the United Nations Climate Change Conference, hosted in Denmark December 7-18, 2009. In keeping with the mission of the conference, this year's Christmas installation was decidedly green. Solar LED lights, soy candles, recycled and seed-infused paper, Cradle to Cradle approved fabrics, non-VOC paint and many more green efforts make up the installation. The best part is that all recyclable items will be recycled and/or reused once we de-install.

This transnational design effort wove together aspects of Danish national heritage, sustainability issues and a very special Danish story, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen." The installation uses the "Snow Queen" as a parable, in a sense, for efforts to counteract climate change. The work references climate change, nature's abundance, and the inexorable power of people working in unison with each other and nature. A really lovely project with beautiful results. And to think, most of it is trash! After working one late night on the installation someone ordered Balducci's and we even used our extra napkins in the exhibit!

Many of the design elements woven throughout the house reflected imagery from the story, like the swooping snowstorms intertwining the banisters in the foyer made of everything from disposed napkins and paper towels to a life size paper mache Japanese Red Crane representing one of the birds from the endangered list. The project was extremely hands on -- every flower had to be hand crafted and we had litterally thousands! We even chopped down our own trees with old-fashioned little saws. It turned out the Danes were pros while all the Americans could do was break nails.

JF: What are your plans after you complete the program?

BG: The current plan is to move back out to the west coast and eventually open my own residential design firm. Much as I love the east coast, and DC in particular, my family is in Hawaii and Cali would seem to be the best geographic compromise for me. I'm craving more easy breezy indoor-outdoor living after all these years, to tell you the truth. There's a casual, carefree, fresh feel to the best west coast design that feels welcome after DC's more traditional predilections. I'd love to have excuses to come back here though, so I'm happy to take on bicoastal projects! I'm not sure if you know this, but I'm also a Harvard Law grad and specialized in private equity fund formation for six years. Once the real estate market starts to feel a bit more robust, I may try to find ways to combine my two specialties, design and investment vehicles, and get into the business of real estate pooled investment funds. Haha, time will tell. But in the mean time, I'm most focused on this new trajectory into the wonderful world of design!

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