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Jamie Herzlinger on Past Lives, Online Mags, Design à la Carte

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Welcome back to Curbed Interviews, wherein Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.

When a premature mid-life crisis hit interior designer Jamie Herzlinger in her 20s, she turned a road trip into a career opportunity. This fourth-generation New Yorker gave up running a thriving fashion house for decorating fashionable houses. When we spoke with the recent Kips Bay Decorator Show House participant, she talked about this career change, her new online lifestyle magazine, and her plans to revolutionize the luxury-design industry, which she unabashedly laid out.

Your creative career began as a clothing designer in the 1980s, and then founded your interior design firm in 1991. What drew you to decorating?
I grew up four generations of the garment center in Manhattan and I always worked for my family business. Then I went to work for bigger companies and opened up my open clothing company. One day, [the owners of a clothing boutique] dropped off the keys to their apartment and said, "We love your taste and we love how you design. We need you to just do it a room at a time." So I started with their apartment. It was a funny thing because I really didn’t know anything about interior design [and] and the differences between the fabrics for clothing [and those for interiors]. Little by little I started doing people’s bathrooms or living rooms or bedrooms.

When my [clothing] company hit its pinnacle, I had the windows of Bergdorf’s, Barney’s, and what was then Bonwit Teller. It was almost like someone waved a banner in front of my face that said "Life change!" I thought, "My resort collection is all the windows and my name is in all the windows—how do I top this?"

So, I said, "Okay, I need a change." Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. All of my contemporaries—whether it was Marc Jacobs, Badgley Mischka, Zang Toi, Randolph Duke—all went to LMVH and Escada and I got in a car and drove west. I wound up in Arizona. I had nothing to do. My grandmother, who was very philanthropic, said to me, "Go join the symphony league or the opera league."

So I went to a luncheon and a woman came up to me and said, "Oh my God, I love what you’re wearing! Who is that?" I thought "Okay, Jamie, think 10 steps ahead as to where this conversation is going." So I said, "Mine." "Who are you?" "Jamie Herzlinger." "Oh my God, I have your clothes!" The next question out of her mouth was, "What are you doing here?" Which I was totally prepared for. I said, "Interior design." "Oh my God, I’d love you to do my house!" So I said, "Bingo! That’s what I’m supposed to be doing."

Aside from the obvious, what's the difference between fashion and interiors that you noticed right off the bat?
What interior design allows is having all of these different clients with different personalities—there's never the same M.O. They’re attracted to my work because of my style, but it’s not the same client. They’re all different. The thread between them is that they like the luxury aspect of what I do, and they like the approachability. So, to me, how I design in fashion is how I approach interiors. I come at it from a luxury standpoint, because luxury to me is delicious. It makes you feel good, it makes you feel beautiful.

You are also a licensed general contractor and offer custom home building. How did this part of your business come about?
That came about with that first project. It involved renovating the kitchen, and I had never done any of this. I could do it for myself, but I was never hired to do it. So I hired a general contractor who wound up being absolutely like my father was to me. I learned everything about this business from this gentleman. He was a master framer, so I learned all about framing and I learned enough about electrical to hire someone. I learned all the different aspects. I studied under him, and then I went and applied for my own contracting license. And since then I’ve been building custom homes.

What are your goals with JAMIE LOVES, your new mini online lifestyle magazine?
It's basically a culmination off all the things that I love. I’m an avid reader; I’ve been very fortunate to live in Manhattan and travel and experience great things. I always [wondered] why it was that I read so many different sources to get just a bit of information. I love reading, for instance, so I would love for somebody to give me a great book or tell me what the hottest CD is or to tell me what’s the coolest thing in fashion or any of the places to go. Wouldn’t it be great if I just put together a little magazine that was just a compilation of what I find to be the most interesting in the market at that time? And then eventually, month by month, you’re going to see it get bigger.

Talk to us about JAMIE, the new design service you’re launching?
The past 10 years I have been focusing on developing a product that could reach the aspirational luxury client. It’s the client that can afford to buy beautiful things. She loves Christian Liagre furniture or John Saladino or Donghia or Holly Hunt—she’s very savvy. In the past few years, I’ve gone on interviews and the client has all of her magazine pictures organized [...] but she doesn’t have the person to give her the foundation. She can do the shopping, but she can’t do the styling. What are the paint colors, how to do a scaled floor plan, how many pieces of furniture, what size should they be, how tall should the headboard be, how big should the sofa be, what’s the proper depth on a club chair? Who pulls this together? [These women] said to me, “I need you to pull it together and then I can go shopping.”

I’m trying to revolutionize the approach to luxury interiors—there’s no contract with me. To do one room is $3,500, and you get two paint palettes, wall-to-wall carpeting—if that’s what you’re interested in—wallpaper, fabrics, a scaled floor plan, and 24/7 access to my design department for the length of the project. [...] It totally gives the client the power to control the budget, control the speed at which she goes, and it gives her the power to know that what she’s choosing is all right.

Do you think this is the future of luxury design? Are your projects tipping more that way?
No, I don’t, interestingly enough. The client that’s going to be a Herzlinger client is always going to be a Herzlinger client. There are people who don’t want to go shop the market; they want somebody to develop the whole design for them. They don’t want to spend their time looking through shelter magazines. It’s not fun for them—they’re not interested.

JAMIE is not me developing the concept. It would be you developing the concept. What JAMIE does is empower this client to go at her own speed, at her own budget, with no fees and with no hourly [billing] and with no contract.

And, lastly, what three elements do you feel define a well-designed space?
I think scale is number one. I would say color palette is number two, because you could have the most beautiful furniture and the color palette is totally confused and it would ruin the project. And I would say number three would be use of textiles. I’m sure you’ve seen a case where somebody has put the wrong fabric on a sofa and you’re thinking, “Okay, that was a bad idea. That would have been better hanging than upholstered.”

· Jamie Herzlinger Interior Design [official site]
· Kips Bay Decorator Show House Designers Officially Announced [Curbed National]
· JAMIE LOVES [official site]
· JAMIE [official site]
· If the Lamp Shade Fits [official site]