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. I knew that this experience had multiple learning opportunities. I know that a positive “attitude of gratitude” can help, especially when I’m going through challenges. In the few minutes after the phone call, I re-visited the highlights of the past 35 years, feeling deep gratitude for everything. I’m sharing this personal history with you, hoping that it provides inspiration to keep going, even in tough times.
1979 – Sound Systems and Interior Design
In 1979, customers at our stereo stores in San Francisco and Palo Alto 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 were eager for Sound Systems to become an early advocate for this new technology. We offered a round flat top with a floor-length skirt for the subwoofer that would make it look like a side table. I learned that the heaviest fabric won’t affect the deep bass notes at all.
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 sit 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 doing this. “Why don’t you think about taking interior design classes?” he asked. I thought about it — for about five minutes. It took another ten minutes to find a local college that had an interior design department. I could work with Jay at Sound Systems while taking two classes a semester. Was I filled with gratitude? You bet!
1982 – Sound Systems, the Recession and Repercussions
Three years later, the recession killed Sound Systems. 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. We had big “Going Out Of Business” signs on all the windows.
After working all day, I drank strong coffee to stay awake, studying and working on final projects. Negative thoughts tried to invade my brain, “You’re a failure!” or “What are you going to do now?” and worst of all, my mother’s harsh words, “I told you so.” But I powered through. Concentrating on the creative projects helped tremendously.
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. He took me to the local emergency room, where they confirmed that I’d had a grand mal seizure. Too much stress and not enough sleep caused an electrical storm in my brain. They gave me a whopping dose of medications to prevent another seizure, and told 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 gave away the equipment, closed the doors and walked away. We paid our employees’ salaries and severance, and we paid all of the manufacturers’ invoices instead of filing for bankruptcy. It was a real test of a positive attitude of gratitude. We learned lessons, and we could start over.
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 finishing the 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 specialize.
All of the classes and mentoring provided the foundation for the rest of my career. I also learned a lot about myself. For every assignment, I was compelled to work harder and longer to get what I believed would be barely-acceptable grades. I was shocked by the high grades and accolades I received for the assignments and tests. “Not good enough” feelings plagued me constantly.
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.
Hub’s biggest impact on me, though, was being a raving fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. He included examples of Mr. Wright’s genius in his lectures. The final exam for his class was to design dog houses, showing knowledge of different types of roof styles. One of my examples had a flat roof with deep eaves. There were banks of 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 the dream home that I designed, inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Gordon House” in the Oregon Garden.
Every year, teachers and students in the Interior Design Department selected one graduating student to receive the “Henry Adams Award.” There were many students who were top contenders. All of them had 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. Clarellen Adams announced the award, and said that the person receiving the award had proven a high commitment to becoming a professional interior designers. 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 I’d had 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.” Gratitude filled me like a glass with bubbling champagne.
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.” I recommended 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.”
A Brunshwig fabric that had a circle of flowers was perfect 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. Three-dimensional custom stained-glass doors had the same motif of colorful flowers and butterflies. With Jay’s help, I created a way to light the stained glass with low-voltage automobile dome lights. It would be more than 30 years before LED strip lights became popular. One aspect of an “attitude of gratitude” is openness to possibilities and creative problem solving.
I had an “itchy-twitchy” feeling about this project, about all of the unique features in the kitchen. A well-known architectural photographer captured the kitchen with his 4×5 camera. Remembering Clarellen Adams’ advice, I sent press releases to local newspapers and magazines, but 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, getting 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, filled with gratitude about inclusion with 49 innovators in my industry. 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. Above all, to have gratitude for everything in life.
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, 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!