In "60 Seconds With," ELLE Decor chats with creatives and industry leaders, getting the scoop on their life and work in one minute or less. In this installment, we chat with Elaine Griffin, the Georgia-based decorator, former ELLE Decor contributing editor, and the first black designer to receive an honorary degree from the New York School of Interior Design. Griffin's one minute starts...now.
It's only right that we begin by acknowledging that you made history this year! You're the first black designer to receive an honorary Ph.D. from the New York Interior School of Design (NYSID).What message does this send to the design community?
When the president of NYSID, David Sprouls, told me that I was one of the recipients of the honorary Ph.D. that they would be awarding this year, I was speechless. I'm the first person of color to receive the award and the first from Georgia. It's just huge. There's no greater distinction for an interior designer than to be acknowledged by their peers with the highest accolades from one of the top three schools in the country. Nate Berkus, who is a friend of mine, was the other honoree, and to be awarded with him was just icing on the cake.
What wisdom did you share with the graduates during the commencement speech you delivered?
I wanted my speech to be impactful and inspirational. My message to the graduates was that they are all superheroes. Designers are able to go into an empty room and see it finished, down to the coffee table book and the accessories on the shelves. That is a gift that nobody else has. Becoming a great designer is all about developing your eye, and I wanted to inspire them to be influenced by design all over the world.
As a former ELLE Decor contributing editor, you've seen what it takes to get your work into the hands of readers every month. What can you say about the brand overall?
ELLE Decor is truly one of the best shelter publications in the world. It has a distinct point of view. It showcases luxury, but it is also about style at every price point. It's like the Chanel of design publications to me, and I love being able to call it home. It is pure, unfiltered chic page after page.
You started your career in 1995 working with Peter Marino, whose staff was pretty diverse. How do you feel about the need for more diversity in the business today?
Our truth is that we really are the first generation of African-Americans with the discretionary income that allows huge numbers of us to hire professional designers. In a service industry, it's all about the economics. The big firms all have black clients now, so they darned sure better have black associates. Plus, there are professional design services at every price point and iteration today—that trend encourages industry diversity, as well. There are more job opportunities than ever before. The takeaway: The doors have been opened and that won’t ever change.
Secondly, interior design firms–like all glamour professions–have notoriously low entry-level salaries. If your parents can’t support you during those first few years, plan on having several jobs and multiple roommates. Luckily, I had a support system that allowed me to do that and still eat three meals a day and live (frugally!) on the Upper East Side. It's an economic reality that, unfortunately, not everyone can swing. The law of supply and demand means that this low-paying paradigm is unlikely to ever change.
Are there any design trends that you love right now?
We are in an amazing place in design. That neat-as-a-pin, everything-in-its-place design does not exist anymore. Now, it is more casual, comfortable, eccentric, and highly personalized. If you know the design rules, you know that style is all about the person who lives there. That said, I am thrilled that the use of rattan and wicker indoors are high-fashion once again. It's not just for resorts. It's a great texture to add to a room.
How would you sum up your idea of a well-designed room?
Rooms should always look like the people who live in them. Great design is a combination of where you have been, where you’re at in your life, and where you are going, as there should always be something aspirational in a room.
What's the top design mistake that you hope comes to an end?
Curtains should always be hung as close to the ceiling line as possible—not halfway, not on the window trim—hang them as close to the ceiling as you can.
Do you have a dream client?
Yes, I'd love to design a beach house for actor Anthony Hopkins. That voice! I'd schedule nothing but phone meetings, so I could just listen to him talk. I'd love to get a British colonial chic, modern mix going for him, with 10,000 reds, blues, and browns.
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