Are you ready to read a refreshingly honest interview with an interior decorator? I encourage you to read this interview that I had yesterday with interior decorator Jan Eleni Lemonedes from Jan Eleni Inc. in New York City. She speaks boldly and from an authentic place and I really value the time that I shared with her to develop this feature for you. I hope that you like it, too.
First, a bit of history about this talented lady. Jan once had a little shop in the 90’s in New York City’s east village also under her name. About her store she told me, “It was quaint with unique decorative pieces for the home and garden and became a creative outlet for me.” She offered an eclectic mix of early primitive with industrial pieces, along with garden and architectural elements. A lady who loves to “hunt”, she filled her shop with anything and everything that caught her eye and her husband also maintained a loft for her to keep her ever-rotating stock. She calls this period in her life, “A fun time.” But then she was approached by ABC Carpet + Home and went to work there. “It was a different ball game then I was used to. A sort of crazy arena – but where anything was possible – we had to fight for our ideas, it was wonderful to be part of a creative team,” Jan told me. She eventually left the company to spend more time with her little girl, “It was a hard decision – but one that I don’t think twice about.”
So now that you have some history, let’s talk to Jan about her work.
Holly: Why did you decide to decorate for a living?
Jan: I am a self taught designer and at a young age I always loved and appreciated beautiful things. I became obsessed with children’s spaces here in the U.S. because I felt like their were all these cookie cutter rooms that lacked any nourishment for an imagination – and so I started a business based around just that – creating spaces and really listening to what can nurture children in an everyday way.
Holly: I also noticed that in addition to decorating, you are also an artist. Can you tell us more?
Jan: While I was working on children’s spaces – I wanted to time capsule their moment in art – and I started making these beautiful art frames – a way to archive your child’s art in a modern way. It is a labor of love – a time consuming process – the end result is a grid of hand cut miniature images – a gathering of your child’s artwork. It is amazing if you think of how we can influence the next generation of artists and creative types.
Holly: You mentioned earlier that you do not have a formal design education but are self-taught. How do you think self-taught differs from someone with a degree when it comes to decorating and creativity?
Jan: We are born with visual senses – just like someone who excels in math – one can excel in the visual area and I have that gift. My daughter also has this. I also have an eye for products – I adore looking, finding and choosing. Not having a degree allows one to break the rules – and to come up with ideas off the book. One who holds a specialized degree is not necessary more creative – passion and creativity can not be taught. A piece of paper does not state that I have an A+ in creative ideas – although it probably should! Also when I was young, education was different – I am a product of NYC Public School, having grown up in upper Manhattan. Options back then weren’t available – the sky was not the limit – today children have so many choices and so many opportunities. My teachers did not encourage me – if you were not the smartest in the class then sadly you were not important. Our schools were over crowded though I did join a program in high school that instead of going to school – I worked at The Soho News for an entire semester. This was an amazing experience for me, to see the art world up close was a very special unique experience. Soho in the 70’s…
Holly: From a professional standpoint, what do you think needs to change about the interior design profession as a whole?
Jan: At the moment I think we are experiencing design overload – every where you turn – there is an ultra-designed home or a product more outrageous than the last. I think so much of it is silly. Too contrived. You can start to lose perspective on what is good design.
Holly: I’m delighted by how open you are, I feel so energized by your words. I think many feel these ways and appreciate hearing a professional with clearly so much talent, expressing them. Okay, so this leads me to my next question, living in such a highly competitive city such as New York, how do you manage to stay positive and on top in your field?
Jan: In all creative fields, everyone has a ego bigger then the next. I hate to play that game. I am a collaborator. I recently worked on a home – with architect Peter Himmelstein and it was a wonderful experience. The project was a brownstone – the home of a celebrity actor, his wife and their family. We all worked as a united team – there was a mutual respect across the board.
Holly: Can you share some of your thoughts on what works best when dealing with clients, any tips to share?
Jan: I love to work with my clients and get an understanding of what they like. There needs to be a mutual respect between the client and designer. Listening is key, as is confidence. My advice is to remain as honest and sincere if you truly don’t think something will work.
Holly: What is often a challenge in your profession?
Jan: What I realize in my experience is that many people are not educated in understanding the value of what we do. Often others take for granted and don’t understand the simple fact that ideas cost money. Time costs money. The value of a good eye – having a vision – it’s hard to put a price on.
Holly: Who has influenced your work?
Jan: A big influence was my grandmother – from Greece. When she was a young girl she would make raw silk from the cocoon – and make silk lace. Pillowcases, bedspreads, tablecloths – it is an incredible lost art. My love for textiles started early.
Holly: And what about your current inspirations, can you tell us a little about what inspires your creativity?
Jan: Much of my inspiration comes from my travels – I love Asia, I spend most of my summers abroad. In Bali there is a carefree feeling of the homes. They are inside out. I love the wood found in Indonesia. Europe holds me – having a Dutch husband we have spent much time traveling about. Absorbing an environment is the best learning tool. I am also an avid fan of the internet – picking up inspiration from all the excellent blogs out there as well as online magazines. Of course nothing beats picking up your favorite magazines – and letting your mind wander – watching your own ideas gain momentum. Pure inspiration is really all around us.
Jan thank you so much for spending time with us here today on decor8, it’s been a pleasure and honor to have you!
(images: photographer Luc Roymans)