Gratitude for Awards and Accolades
The phone rang at 7:15 am on October 4, not an unusual time for a client or contractor to call. My husband, Jay, answered the phone then said, “It’s a lady from Kitchen-Bath Design News.”
I thought, “They probably want to renew my subscription.”
“Hello, this is Diane.”
“Good Morning, Diane, this is Autumn McGarr. I’m an editor with Kitchen-Bath Design News. I’m calling to tell you that you’ve been included in this year’s ‘Top 50 Innovators.’ Congratulations!”
“Wow, that’s fantastic! Thank you so much!”
This couldn’t have come at a better time. I was in the final stages of a kitchen project that had taken a toll on my confidence. But I wasn’t going to think about anything negative right now. In 35 years, I’ve been fortunate to win awards, prizes, and accolades. But in the few minutes after the phone call, I re-visited the very first project after establishing D. P. Design.
1979 – Sound Systems and Interior Design
In 1979, customers at our two stereo stores wanted great but visually-unobtrusive music in their homes. At that time, the satellite+subwoofer and surround sound concepts had just become popular. Our employees in San Francisco and Palo Alto were eager for Sound Systems to become an early advocate for this new technology. We would offer a round flat top for the subwoofer that would make it look like a side table, especially with a floor-length table cloth. Our Palo Alto store manager figured out how to build top-quality speakers into walls, and we’d provide custom grille cloths to blend with the walls. We also figured out how to effectively hide the components so customers’ living rooms didn’t look like a recording studio with a multitude of blinking lights and volume gages.
Furniture placement is very important for serious listeners to be in the “sweet spot” for maximum realistic stereo effect. Jay and our employees would take care of the technical details, and I would help our customers rearrange furniture to achieve the look they wanted. Jay observed how much I enjoyed this creative endeavor. “Why don’t you think about taking interior design classes?” he asked. I thought about it — for about five minutes. It took another five minutes to find a local college that had an interior design department. Two classes a semester would be possible while working with Jay at Sound Systems.
1982 – Sound Systems, the Recession and Repercussions
Three years later, the recession thwarted our attempts to keep Sound Systems viable. Interest rates rose to over 20%. At the same time, video and computer technology affected consumers’ spending habits. We had already closed the San Francisco store. With dwindling sales, we decided to close the Palo Alto store, too. I was in the middle of finals week, working with Jay and our remaining employees to sell everything at a huge discount. After working all day, worry and regrets kept Jay awake while I drank strong coffee, studied and worked on final projects. It was hard to concentrate with all of the negative thoughts invading my head, “You’re a failure!” or “What are you going to do now?” and worst of all, my mothers words, “I told you so.”
We had big “Going Out Of Business” signs on all the windows. One night in particular is an experience Jay and I will never forget. He agreed to drive one of our employees home, so I drove home by myself. When Jay got home around 8:30, he discovered me on the kitchen floor, incoherent and unable to talk, with blood around my mouth and on my chin. He said that my tongue looked like a piece of raw hamburger, and took me to the local emergency room, where they confirmed that I’d had a grand mal seizure. They gave me a whopping dose of medications to prevent another seizure, advising Jay to watch me carefully.
Around 2:00 a.m., the phone rang. It was the Palo Alto Police Department, “Sorry to tell you this, but thieves backed a van through one of the front windows and cleaned out your store. You’ll need to be here to identify the equipment we recovered and supervise while the window is boarded up.” The next day, Jay confided, “That was living Hell for me. I didn’t want to leave you alone, but I had to.” The equipment, worth over $100,000.00, was damaged beyond repair or sale. We closed the doors and walked away, paying our employees’ severance and all of the manufacturers’ invoices instead of filing bankruptcy.
After Sound Systems: Gratitude for New Beginnings
I recovered from the seizure and became a sales-designer with a local custom cabinet maker and remodeler while still attending design classes. Jay became a salesperson for computers and accessories. In June, I graduated with multiple degrees in Interior Design, Lighting Design, Bath Design, and Kitchen Design. Interior Design was interesting, but the kitchen and bath classes had whetted my desire to lean more towards architecture and drafting. I had enlisted an architect friend to help hone my drafting skills, because the architectural drafting teacher believed that none of the interior design students deserved a higher grade than a C. The artificially-low grade was something I couldn’t tolerate. Several of us appealed the low grade to the head of the Interior Design Department. She reviewed homework assignments and tests and raised everyone’s grade to at least a B. I was fortunate to receive an A- for the class.
The architectural drafting class was just one example of what I did to learn what I’d be using for years. But, for every assignment, I was compelled to work harder and longer to get what I believed to be barely-acceptable results, comparing myself to the other students. I was continually shocked by the high grades and accolades I received for the assignments and tests. In my mind, I really didn’t deserve it.
Interior Design Education, Graduation and First Award
I admired and respected all of the teachers, but there was one in particular that I’ll never forget, Hub McDaniel. I’m filled with gratitude for his impact on my professional life. He was an advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act, advising us frequently, “Learn everything you can about accessibility and start using it in all of your projects.” His advice stuck with me, one of the major reasons I became a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. He also said, “Pass the NCIDQ examination. It’s the best way for you to prove a high level of professionalism with education, examination, and experience.” I added the NCIDQ to the Certified Bath Designer and Certified Kitchen Designer examinations, and successfully passed all three.
The biggest impact Hub had on me, though, was his admission about being a raving fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. He found ways to include examples of Mr. Wright’s genius often. The final exam for his class was to design dog houses that showed a knowledge of different types of roof styles. One of my examples had a flat roof with deep eaves. There were banks of side-by-side narrow windows on three sides, and a doorway on the fourth side flanked with two flat bowls on pedestal bases. The “architect” signed the perspective: Frank Lloyd Woof. Hub’s influence on me is the reason that Jay and I are living in our dream home, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Gordon House” in the Oregon Garden.
Every year, teachers and students in the Interior Design Department selected one person to receive the “Henry Adams Award,” for exemplary skills and talents. There were many students who I felt were top contenders. All of them had way more talent and ability than I did. When they chose me for the award, I was sure they had made a mistake, or I was having a dream. When Clarellen Adams announced the award, she said that the person receiving the award had proven a higher commitment to being a professional interior designer than other students. That’s when it sunk in that attitude and effort guarantee better results. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
I was lucky to have a few minutes of private conversation with Mrs. Adams, who had developed the famous Design Center in San Francisco with her late husband, Henry. They were dynamos in the interior design community, and masters of marketing. She gave me advice that I followed immediately, “Send out press releases about your award to all local newspapers and magazines. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.” She was absolutely right!
June, 1984: The Birth of D. P. Design and First Clients
It was hard to believe how many people read the articles and called me to help them redesign a kitchen or bathroom. It was time to quit my job at the cabinet shop and establish D. P. Design. One lady who called reminded me about meeting with her and her husband when I was still employed with the cabinet maker. “I saw the article about you in the Mercury News. We haven’t remodeled our kitchen yet, and we’d like you to help us.”
The original kitchen felt like a dungeon. It had dark stained cabinets, olive-green carpeting and olive-green tile counters. The only light source was a glaring fluorescent fixture that encircled a large skylight. We worked together to achieve a well-lit kitchen where they could display their collection of Red Skelton clown figurines. The couple also collected original Red Skelton clown paintings, which were used as inspiration for colorful accessories.
The remodeled kitchen included a custom induction cooktop, a commercial wok, a gas cooktop, Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Thermador micro-thermal oven. Induction cooktops are popular now, but at the time this kitchen was created, there was only one manufacturer of induction cooktops, “Fasar.” The couple hired a local artist I recommended, to paint the hot water heater door in the walk-in pantry. It was a portrait of the wife, who was pregnant at the time, a golf enthusiast, dressed up like a clown. She’s sitting barefoot on a stool, in front of a window, with a frying pan in one hand and a golf club in the other hand. The bottom of her apron reads, “I’d rather be golfing.”
Good luck led me to a Brunshwig fabric that had a circle of flowers for window treatments in the adjoining eating nook. The same fabric was inspiration for hand-painted 12×12 “Fasar” tiles and a mural behind the gas cooktop and wok. The same fabric provided inspiration for three-dimensional custom stained-glass doors in the wall and pantry cabinets, created by an artist in San Francisco. This was over 25 years before LED strip lights, so I devised a way to light the stained glass with automobile dome lights.
I had an itchy-twitchy feeling about this project, a feeling that I’ve had many times since that often precedes an accolade or award. A well-known architectural photographer captured the kitchen with his 4×5 camera. Again, remembering Clarellen Adams’ advice, I sent press releases to local newspapers and magazines. No one was interested. Then I remembered a discussion with the editor of Kitchen & Bath Business magazine at a seminar I’d attended. She said, “We’re always interested in projects. Send us copies of photos and detailed information.”
First Major Accolade
I sent everything about the project to the magazine in April, 1986. Five months went by and I was ready to give up until one of the editors called in mid-September. “We’re thinking about including your kitchen project in an upcoming issue. Do you have time to answer a few questions?” That phone call lasted for over an hour. I anxiously anticipated arrival of the October issue. Nothing about the project. The November issue didn’t include my project either. “Okay,” I thought, “this project wasn’t good enough for such a well-known publication after all.”
In December, the first west-coast Kitchen-Bath Industry Show was being held in Long Beach. The huge convention hall was packed with hundreds of exhibits featuring latest technology and design elements. Thousands of attendees from all over the country and several foreign countries played “bumper bodies” in the aisles, trying to see the exhibits. Kitchen & Bath Business magazine had a large booth at the center of the exhibits. As we approached, I saw a continuous row of their December issue displayed on every inch of countertop. Then I saw the cover. There was my kitchen project!
The Impact of Awards, Accolades, Medals, and Prizes
Ever since that wonderful day in December, third-party acknowledgement for a job well done, I know the gratitude that athletes feel when they win gold medals at the Olympics; how medical researchers feel when they discover a cure for an insidious disease; the pride and gratitude that Nobel Prize winners feel; how performers feel when they are given a lifetime-achievement award; the over-the-moon joy that new parents feel.
This is how I felt when Autumn McGarr called in October. In no way does the inclusion in the Top 50 Innovators mean that I’m better than anyone else in my profession. It’s an acknowledgment for commitment to excellence in all ways, at all times. An accomplishment, award, prize, or medal for one of us is a major achievement for all of us — inspiration and motivation to be better and do better.
To see a complete list with links to all Awards and Press that D. P. Design has received, click here to visit the page. If you want to update your home with a home addition, with a remodeled kitchen or bathroom, call today! 503-632-8801. I’d love to chat with you about your goals and how D. P. Design can help you achieve them!