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A Fine Line: Inspiration or Imitation?

Today Erin from Design For Mankind is here to talk to us on a topic that I asked her to write about because I thought she’d have a lot to say on the matter and she does! I think her words just may encourage a good discussion here today so I invite you to grab a cup of tea, sit back, and tune in to Erin’s message below — and be sure to add your comment to the mix, too! Take it away, Miss E!

We’ve heard from the fashion folk. It’s been noted by renowned photographers. Interior designers are speaking up. Web programmers are furrowing their brows.

Call it what you will: visual plagiarism, hacks, or sheer knock-offs. However you slice it, an increasingly saturated art/design community is becoming a feeding ground for inspiration? or is it imitation?

I recently read an article in Harper’s Bazaar about the inspiration behind today?s fashion designers. Many designers mentioned historical figures such as Napoleon, Carmen Miranda and [no joke] Minnie Mouse.

And I can?t help but wonder what exactly dear Minnie Mouse would think if she knew her look was being imitated. I can only imagine she?d hijack Goofy?s wagon and skitter on over to Zac Posen?s studio to give him a prompt speaking to.

Yet can we really control when inspiration sets in? Not at all. What we can control is what we do with that inspiration. Do we carbon copy the design? Or do we tastefully implement elements from the designs that we, ourselves, cherish? [And for the record, Zac Posen?s inspiration was quite tasteful in fact!]

Of course, this is how a trend is born. We certainly didn?t don gladiator sandals this summer for comfort; the Greek and Roman influences were found to be inspirational by a few key designers. And that?s perfectly fine. What?s not perfectly fine is an intentional lifting of originality. I mean truly, how odd would we look like running around in togas AND gladiator sandals?

I’m saddened at how often this happens in our creative community. Rather than lifting each other up and encouraging originality, I fear that we’ve become envious of the instant gratification that the Internet often provides. It seems that one good design and a few press mentions can skyrocket an artist into serious success. Just how far will we go to present that “one good design?”

It breaks my heart to see an unoriginal piece. To me, a unique design has life. It has passion. And it becomes beautiful only when you can truly see the artist’s spirit behind his/her work. Thus, when we attempt to borrow elements of someone else’s work, the result is often never quite right. Much like a person without a genuine spirit can be spotted like a sore thumb, so, too, can an artist without an individualistic nature.

And you know what? Bloggers, we’re to blame as well. How often have we posted material that originated from somewhere else, only to (a) forget, (b) refuse or (c) fail to credit our source?

Indeed, there is a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and although I hate to create additional boundaries in art, I’d like to see us all work harder to find our true passions. I quite understand that many of our inspirations derive from the same source, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. The problem lies in our intentions. Are we creating something that we truly believe in? Or are we creating a spin-off of something that already exists simply because it sells?

From now on, let’s embrace the community that we’ve helped to build. Let’s encourage, congratulate and experience alongside of each other, not across from. I hope that someday we can each feel proud of the talents we’ve been given and showcase these unique gifts in beautiful, original ways.

Until then, know that imitation? It’s not such a form of flattery after all.

What are your thoughts on this topic? When does inspiration become imitation? What is the difference between inspired by and ripped off? Your thoughts?

- All text by Erin from Design For Mankind.

(images from evaxebra)


Magic Markers on Muslin: Your Thoughts?

I had huge reservations on posting this, I feared the home owner would contact me and tell me to either bite it or she’d do a drive by and take out all of my windows. But then I thought that if you have a living room that looks like this and you allowed the The New York Times to feature it then you must not really care about the opinions of others. And that’s pretty cool.


I’d love to get your thoughts on this NYC apartment that AT calls the Kidcentric Townhouse in the East Village. Homeowner Pamela Bell is one of the four original partners in the Kate Spade brand. In celebration of 15 years of hard work, this 42-year-old single mum has decided to take time off and dedicated her home to her three children. You can read the article When Perfect Is Not The Goal and view the slideshow here.

My opinion: It’s hard to judge how another person wants to live. Period. It’s Ms. Bell’s decision ultimately. Truth be told, I’m jealous that she has a $4.3 million townhouse. I could easily split time between there and Germany, I’d gladly trade that life in exchange for my New Hampshire home at any time. And another thing that I respect is that her home is painted in colors chosen by the children. Brilliant! The fact that the whole family was involved in the color selection is quite thoughtful.

I look at that sofa, marked up by her daughter and her classmates, and think it looks pretty cool. But then the practical side of me kicks in and that side isn’t too keen on marker art scribbled all over a very expensive sofa. And chair. But it isn’t mine, so who really cares. She likes it and good for her. My only wish is that she had offered the sofa pre-markers to me first and I could have given her my Room & Board one. (Sorry R&B, but John Derian wins in this case).


I’m not sure if their are other pieces in the home where she has allowed marker art… Perhaps the sofa and chairs are it and if that’s the case perhaps she views them as works of art and if so, fine. Go for it. But if the children have free reign over the walls and floors and anything else, I wouldn’t allow it personally because some of the designer pieces in my own home are like books, I cherish them and would never do anything to harm them. I wouldn’t draw in my favorite books nor will I allow my future children to mark them up. But who cares what I would do. This is Ms. Bell’s home. But back to the book thing, if I do have a book that isn’t quite a treasured piece (a 1969 cookbook that is already in poor condition) then I may decide to alter it in some way. Same goes for a dresser or chair that I no longer like. I give myself permission to alter it anytime I please – new fabric, new paint, etc. I think this may be the approach that she has taken here and so part of me totally gets it.

Now to make a sweeping could-be-controversial statement having to do with money. Another paragraph I dread writing but here I go…

I think it may also be a money thing. Clearly if you have millions to spend on a home then money is viewed differently than say, how I look at it. I will never own a home worth 4.3 million dollars. I have accepted this truth as most of us have. Big deal, I live large in other ways. I have lived on all income levels actually, from poor single girl to married woman with a crash pad in Germany. So I have saved a little cash and my bank account is okay. Just not million dollar okay. But I’m happy with what I have, but my mother was raised on a huge farm in Rhode Island and my dad was born in Kentucky to a working class family. Though I was raised slightly different, their roots influenced me. They were always quick to remind me of the sacrifices that they made as kids whenever I would play the “only child” card to get my way. They didn’t buy it, I wasn’t allowed to be the cherished only kid, I was to respect them, others, and our family property. I had my creative play space yes, but it wasn’t on the family sofa with my trusty set of smelly markers (cherry was my favorite). I recall when I was 4-years-old my mother gave me an original Shirley Temple doll, one that she was given for Christmas as a little girl. I took permanent markers to the porcelain face and to this day I still remember watching her cry. She wasn’t angry, she was deeply hurt. Years later she told me it was her fault to give it to a child in the first place, she should have waited until I was older and understood the value of things. It meant something to her and seeing her sadness impacted me so greatly that I looked at material possessions differently after that.

A cherished doll and a John Derian sofa are very different things so it could be that Ms. Bell does not attach herself to items in her home enough to really care what the kids do to them. If that is the case, I applaud her. Sometimes I wish I could detach from worry and not care about staining the rug.

What is YOUR opinion? How much decorating direction from the children do you allow in your own home (or would you allow)?

(images from the new york times)

Posted in real talk on July 23, 2008

e-Decorating – Your Thoughts?

There’s a new crop of decorators out there offering what is called e-decorating that may well be the next big thing in design. I took on some e-clients a few years ago, I met them through decor8 and offered them consulting (for a fee) via email and telephone. It was so much fun but quite time consuming so I decided to step back for a bit. I’m still trying to figure out if it is something that I would like to do again, I see so much value in it as I love the idea of being available to all — not just greater Boston. I also completely ‘get’ that people have busy schedules and a limited budget and need to connect to someone for decorating help via the web – fast and easy. I think many would love to tap into the brains of some of our favorite decorators (or bloggers!) for their personal opinions about our space or for much more… help in pulling together a complete room simply through email. Someone to look at our photos, review our floor plan, make suggestions, send us a few mood boards to select from, and email lots of product links our way. Doesn’t that sound heavenly?

Well this service exists and it’s called e-decorating. Did you know that the Betsy Burnham offers a similar service called Instant Space (I’ve heard that it is amazing)? It is still out of reach for most when it comes to pricing, it’s not something all can fit into their budget since prices range from $895-1,495 per room. Of course, hiring Burnham’s firm to design in real time would cost way more than her through-the-mail decorating service, so it is a great way to save money if you look at it from that perspective. And c’mon. It’s Betsy Burnham. I would hire her in a second just for the tips as I’m sure she could teach me a thing or two, or ten thousand.

Then there are other amazing designers out there who are a lot more affordable like Vanessa De Vargas who runs the LA-based design firm Turquoise. You know Vanessa because she writes here on decor8 from time to time. She just launched an e-decorating service that is doing quite well. Everyone loves Vanessa. The girl is just contagious, from her personality to her style and ability to connect to ‘real’ people on budgets. I love that about her. She doesn’t refer her clients to $700 lamps, if they want something from IKEA she’ll find them a $30 pendant and because she knows how to pull a room together, that $30 light will rock like it’s $700. Her rates range from $450-500 per room. Considering the time and energy it takes to do this work, she is keeping it real without losing money herself. I think her prices are quite good.

I simply cannot mention e-decorating and not highlight the lovely Elfya Van Muylem, lead designer and founder of NYC-based Home Refiner. This lady is amazing on so many levels. I blogged about her diy videos back in February if the name sounds familiar. Above is a photo of a package she sent over that usually goes to her prospective virtual clients. I had a phone conversation with Elfya a few months ago and she was enthusiastic, professional, and extremely knowledgeable. I thought her presentation via mail was just great, and the package contained client worksheets and questions so she could better understand personal tastes and needs. I’m not exactly sure of her rates, but I heard she is within reach. And you know something that is totally unrelated but shows how classy Elfya is? Her website. You have to click here, turn up the sound, and listen to the gorgeous music. I’ve been listening the entire time of writing this post, I think you’ll really like it. It shows me that she has layers to her personality, she’s emotional, warm, connected, I like that. And her taste in music is great.

So ladies and gents, what do you think about e-decorating? Is it something you’d consider? What would you call an ‘affordable’ per room fee? What do you expect as a client?

(photography by holly becker)

Posted in real talk on June 10, 2008

Get Real: Design Motifs

Welcome to a brand new weekly feature called Get Real. This will be a post for readers to jump in and voice opinions on topics relating to decorating, blogging, small business, and the design world in general. I’ll post a new topic and a few questions to get you started weekly on Thursdays. Then everyone is free to jump in and participate. If you have any questions that you would like addressed, please email your suggested topic to me and I’ll consider it for Get Real. This week we’re talking about trends…

Zig zags are hot, silhouettes remain strong, birds are big, what would you like to see become a more common design motif? An octopus? Seahorse? Fox? How about a shape? Maybe some polka dots? Nesting dolls? Deer? Please don’t say Spread legs!

Go ahead, throw some ideas out, maybe it will inspire the many lovely artists and designers who stop by and read this post. You never know who is reading, your idea may kick off the next big thing. This is also your space to vent about the motifs you can’t stand and why. It’s important to be honest about design because let’s face, everyone isn’t loving the exact same things and it’s okay to admit it!

I hope you enjoy Get Real!

Posted in inspiration, real talk, small business, trends on May 29, 2008

Books:

Some of my books...

Further editions available: Decorate published by Murdoch Books for AU/NZ, Decorar BR, Alt om indretning DK, Inspirace pro váš byt CZ, Dekorácie SK, La décoration FR, Lust auf Wohnen DE, Sisusta tyylillä FI and Sztuka aranżacji wnętrz PL.

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