Top 50 Innovators Award
The phone rang at 7:15 am on October 4, not an unusual time for a client or contractor to call. My husband answered 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!”
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, working with a difficult contractor. It would soon be over. I’ve been fortunate in my 36-year career to work with great clients and contractors, to win awards, prizes, and accolades. In the few minutes after the phone call, I re-visited my very first project after establishing D. P. Design.
The trouble with most stories is that there are too many details, so I’m going to lay the foundation quickly.
Brief History — Inspiration To Become A Designer
In 1979, my husband and I bought stereo stores in San Francisco and Palo Alto. I really enjoyed working with our customers, helping them rearrange furniture for the “sweet spot” of realistic stereo effect. We’d developed a satellite+subwoofer system that people loved. They could have great sound in their homes without looking like a professional recording studio. That’s when I decided to take classes at the local college offering interior design. I knew that this would be my future, helping homeowners enjoy their living environments. I loved the architectural drafting and kitchen-bath classes the most.
Then a major recession happened in 1982 that forced us to close both stores. I continued with school and was hired by a local custom cabinet manufacturer. This experience verified that my future would be designing kitchens and bathrooms. I graduated with multiple degrees in interior design, kitchen and bath design, and lighting design. During the last semester, I hired an architect to help me hone my drafting skills because the college professor believed that all interior designers weren’t qualified.
Architectural drafting is one example of what I did to learn what I’d be using for years. 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 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 grateful for his impact on my professional life. He was an advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act. He advised 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. Passing tests and earning credentials is a small part of my commitment. Applying what I’ve learned to help Homeowners achieve their goals is 99.9% of my commitment. Learning about and sharing Frank Lloyd Wright’s design philosophy is a major driving force in my career.
It was Hub’s admission about his passion for Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and philosophy that had an impact on me. He found ways to include examples of Mr. Wright’s genius often during class . 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 my husband 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 a 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!
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 and plates. 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 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.”
I was lucky to find a Brunshwig fabric that had a circle of flowers for window treatments in the adjoining eating nook. The same fabric was the 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. He duplicated the flowers and butterflies beautifully! This kitchen was remodeled 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 took 4×5 pictures of the kitchen. 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 the 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 the 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 the 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, receiving third-party acknowledgment for a job well done, I know the gratitude that athletes feel when they win gold medals at the Olympics. Or 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. The inclusion in the Top 50 Innovators doesn’t mean that I’m better than anyone else in my profession. It’s an acknowledgment of 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. And use everything I’ve earned and learned to help my clients achieve their goals. It’s a wonderful upward spiral!
See a pictures of all Awards and Press that D. P. Design has received. If you want to update your home with a home addition, a remodeled kitchen or bathroom, call today! I’d love to chat with you about your goals!
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