Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's the End of the World as We Know It. And I Feel Fine.

People ignore design that ignores people. 
— Frank Chimero

I think one of the greatest design challenges is designing for someone else. In my brief time on this fine planet, I’ve had friends ask me to help them shop for furniture, and to help them pick out paint colors, to help them redesign their living rooms while their husbands are out of town. I’m always extremely flattered, if not completely surprised that they want my opinion. After all, what do I know? It’s so much easier to design for your own space. You know what you like. Hell, mix one part blue paint, one part ebony stain, two square arms, a dash of coral, pour over ice, garnish with some Lucite, and I’m a happy boy. When Southern Living and Garden and Gun come in the mail, it’s like porn without the paper wrapper. We are who we are. 

It’s a challenge to not enforce your design-beliefs on others, even if it comes from a place of love. I have to constantly remind myself, we don’t all live on the same side of the color wheel, we don’t all have the same needs, some people actually like red, we don’t all pray at the same house of worship…which, in this case is a Restoration Hardware outlet, I guess? I digress. 

All of that to say, I’ve been busy ignoring my own home, and working on one of my greatest design-challenges-to-date. Last spring, I was asked to serve as Scenic Designer for a local production of “Endgame” a one act piece by Samuel Beckett, being presented at one of our local community theaters, which happens to be the longest-running community theater in Central Virginia. Just sayin’. 

I immediately questioned myself as a viable candidate for “Scenic Designer.” After all, I’ve appeared on stage, I’ve interacted with a set, but I’ve never designed one. Stealing my sister’s Barbie Dream House and Playdough Hair Salon to stage my own production of Steel Magnolias as a young boy apparently doesn’t count. Despite questioning my ability to translate home/personal design to a set, there were many factors that quickly drowned out my doubt. I knew it would be a fun challenge, I love theater, I have tremendous respect for the director on this project, it has a stellar cast, featuring some good friends, and well, I’m sleeping with one of the producers. That’s show business, kids. 

It’s been a challenge, and a project that has pushed me out of my comfort zone. How would I put this? My design aesthetic is a little more “Happy Days” and Endgame is a little more “End of Days.” If you’re not familiar with the show, it takes place in a dark room with two windows, and the rest of the world outside ceases to exist—a post-apocalyptic playground…shabby chic on a whole other level. From turning a black box into something that’s depressing in a good way, to a floor that can withstand a rolling chair and some rough and tumble moments, there was a lot to think about. In addition to fighting the urge to use mustard yellow Kelly green, and a chevron-patterned rug (maybe that’s someone’s idea of hell, so it works, right?), there are all of those unique elements that come with designing for someone else. You’re designing for the director, the actors, the theater, the audience, a reviewer who may say your set is “dismal, in a bad way.” Hell, you’re designing for Samuel Beckett, himself! 

As sketches and computer drawings started to come to life, walls started to stand tall, and paint started to glide on, I found myself feeling oddly practical about the whole thing. I realized it really isn’t so different than real life, than our homes, than practical design.

Whether it’s our own homes, or someone else's home (even if they’re a character in a play), we have to design for real life. Walls shouldn’t be in our ways. We shouldn’t trip over furniture, just because it looks pretty. We need for spaces to meet our needs, not just our wants. With this set, with this show, we’re telling a story. And you know, that’s what we do with our homes. We tell stories. Our homes tell people who we are, what we do, how we live, what makes us happy. Whether they’re actors, a bachelor with a dog, or a young couple with a baby, we all have different needs and expectations for our spaces.  Granted, a critic for the local paper isn’t going to tell you she dislikes your dining room chairs, but still. (If she does, it’s your fault for inviting her to your dinner party.) All of that to say, it’s not that different, after all. 

Despite designing for other people, and for a world much unlike my own, I think you’d still find a lot of me in the design. Luckily, I love the color gray. Not only does gray work well for the end of the world, but it’s a beautiful color. It’s cool. It’s calming. It’s a color of uncertainty. Life’s not black and white. Whether it be the use of texture, materials, or the fact that I faux finished that place within an inch of its life, there’s some Edward in that dark room with 2 windows. 

The show opens this Thursday. If you’re in the Charlottesville/Barboursville area, you should come see it. If not, stay tuned for some photos of the finished product. Whether we’re talking end tables, or the end of the world, keep it simple, keep it practical, and keep it uniquely, you.

Until next time.



For more info on the show:


  1. Now you have got me very curious as to what the stage set looks like! Definately share some photos when you can, please.

  2. You know, there's a Samuel Beckett play called HAPPY DAYS.


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