Designer tells how to avoid camping out in a first home
"Supportive" is the word Jack Lowery likes best to describe good interior design. As the new national president of the American Society of Interior Designers, this tall, genial New York designer declares, "Whatever environment you choose to build around yourself should support you and your life style. You should not have the strain of supporting it, nor of trying to live up to it. How disagreeable that sort of stiff, restrictive feeling can be!"
Which only means, he says, that a room must not only look right, but must also "feel" right. It must please and satisfy, and be both comfortable and comforting.
Asked what he finds most personally "supportive" in his own surroundings, he laughs and quickly reels off the following: "I like lots of color, bold colors like reds and oranges and russets, but subdued a bit so they don't shock.
"And I prefer warm, incandescent lights, not flourescent ones. I have collected a whole assortment of individual lamps which light specific areas."
Along with all his contemporary furnishings, he loves a little rococo flourish and says a tall, 17th-century baroque candlestick, carved in Salzburg, is a favorite possession.
He enjoys the bathroom walls he has decorated with hundreds of folk crafts from India and Mexico and other countries of the world, and the Corning cooktop stove and the new microwave oven (which he resisted for a long time) in his kitchen. He likes natural fibers like wool and silk, textured wall coverings like grasscloth, and an entire house wired for sound so he can have music through the hi-fi system played in any room he chooses.
What he also finds supportive is a very large, permanently set up "work table" with a surface big enough to spread out all kinds of papers, photographs, patterns. A whole "work room" that can be closed off from the rest of the house is even better.
What would he purchase first if he were furnishing a small, bare apartment today? "A really beautiful dining table that you would enjoy looking at and sitting at for as long as you owned it. And which could be used against the wall as a reading and writing table, and even perhaps serve as an interesting focal point against an expanse of windows." He cites, as a good example, his own olive ash burl Parsons-type dining table, which is so handsome it is never covered with a table- cloth, and which doubles as a library table when not in use for meals.
During his two-year tenure as president of the society of interior designers, Mr. Lowery hopes his organization can persuade school systems to introduce design education at far earlier ages, beginning in the elementary grades. He thinks very young children could begin to learn the simplest fundamentals of good design through games. It is never too soon, he believes, for children to begin to develop a sense of selection and discernment, and to be exposed to workable arrangements of furniture and color and art.
Mr. Lowery states his own theory about furnishing one's first home. "I believe in making a place habitable to one's liking as quickly as possible and then upgrading later. I do not believe in living with bare, empty spaces for years on end while you save up to buy the fine antique secretary or rare old Persian rug. That seems break and tiresome to me.
"If I were furnishing my first apartment today, I would lay out a room plan, remembering that a room is a three-dimensional or sculptural volume and not a flat dimension. And then I would head for import stores, or Door Stores, or all the other specialty shops that offer relatively inexpensive but well-designed furnishings.
"I would buy butcherblock tables, bentwood chairs, and colorful big Japanese kites to hang on the walls, and I'd get it all together and as complete as I could manage in as short a time as possible. Then, as I saved up money, I would replace the cheap items, one by one, with those of higher quality. But meanwhile, I wouldn't feel as if I were camping out."
He says that in planning his arrangement of furniture, he would walk through the apartment, noting the natural traffic pattern, where he would hang his coat, put down his bundles, and place the groceries, in order to make things as handy and convenient for himself as he could. He says he would then walk through his front door to see what first impression it gave of himself. Did it look warm and welcoming or cluttered and somewhat forbidding?
Then, he says, he would stand in the doorway of his living room and check out his first impression. Did his eye go immediately to something that conveyed some lively interest in his life, some collection or aspect of a hobby, some musical instrument or loved painting? Mr. Lowery thinks that not only should first impressions convey something important about the person who lives in the place, but that interesting homes are simply an interesting series of impressions, gained as one moves through the rooms, allowing the eye to move from one small vignette to another.
On where to put design emphasis, he says, "Always put it in the room that you consider your 'command headquarters,' the room where you spend most of your time and do most of your work. That may well be the bedroom or the kitchen, but whichever room it is, think it through very carefully and give it all the design oomph you can muster. The satisfaction you derive from such planning and investment will repay you many times. And you wil find the room, and your decoration of it, definitely 'supportive.'"