Ethan Allen inHome: An Interior Design App Like No Other
Say goodbye to scribbled floor plans and “Try to picture this…”—and hello to an interactive Ethan Allen design studio in the palm of your hand.
The weeks leading up to Halloween are full of fun rituals, like bringing up the Halloween decorations from the basement (or getting them down from the attic) and deciding where everything should go. (more…)
Drew McGukin is known for his easygoing manner as much as his love of bold patterns and beautiful textures. As head of his New York-based firm, Drew McGukin Interiors, for nearly ten years, Drew has worked on a wide array of projects on both coasts. We walked the “New York Now” trade show with him recently, and he shared his thoughts on the trends he’s seeing in home design.
If I had to take this show’s trend down to one word, it would be “natural.” I’m seeing a lot of natural elements, in pattern, texture, everywhere. Some references are subtle while some are very literal—like florals and leafy patterns. I feel like there’s a genuine desire to add natural materials and texture to a space. It’s all very organic. There’s an authenticity and artisanal quality to all of it. I’m sure on one level it is an extension of the movement to be greener and take better care of our world.
As part of an overarching trend toward rooms that are light, bright and fresh, there are lots of softer shades and pastels. With so much noise coming at us all the time, people are just looking for calming palettes, and lots of natural light. That said, we’re having a real yellow moment, in fashion as well as interiors. It’s massive right now. I had someone ask if it’s because of the outfit Amal Clooney wore to Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding. While I wish we could give her all the credit, I think she got the dress because it was yellow. Since it usually takes two to three years for a color to make it into the mainstream, I predict we’ll soon be seeing a red that’s not just red, but maybe a little burnt orange; it may sway a little rustic red or a little crimson.
PURE AND SIMPLE
Going back to the noise, I’m finding that people are becoming exhausted with stuff. For too long, clients have come to us with vast places to fill—and yet they want their homes to feel designed, tailored, warm, like everything belongs. Now I’m hearing more of: “Stop overwhelming me with stuff!” We did a beautiful loft space recently, with a library that had to be filled. We were spending thousands a week on books—and trying to make it look like we didn’t just buy them yesterday. I had to buy seventeen picture frames in one afternoon—and they had to feel “collected.” By the time we were done with the library and had moved onto the study, we seriously simplified. We mirrored the backs of some shelves and displayed pieces of pottery that we commissioned from a ceramic artist in Brooklyn. It was beautiful, clean, orchestrated, organic, and textural—with a real backstory.
Because we’ve been leaning toward more clean-lined, modern spaces, some people are wondering, “Where are all the antiques?” The fact is, quality vintage pieces are becoming harder to find in the U.S.; our flea markets have more junktiques than antiques. You can still buy beautiful old things, but you have to get out there to find them. The Paris flea market is still incomparably awesome! But here, I see more designers repurposing antiques. If they’re well made with good bones, we’re refinishing them to make them look unexpectedly modern.
I’ve delivered the trend report for the KBA (Kitchen and Bath Association) for the last two years, and I’m here to say that white and gray still rule. There’s still an overwhelming preference for quality cabinetry and natural stone surfaces. I recommend you choose timelessness over trends: either something highly stylized, like an iconic Poliform kitchen—or classic cabinetry with a simple panel detail that can be transformed by paint and accessories. I’ve been asked if it’s possible for kitchen islands to get any bigger—I doubt it! I recommend scaling down and letting functionality rule. For example, we took a super-duper-long island for one client and broke it in two, creating a T, and a workspace that works without being over the top.
Whether you like to follow trends or just be inspired by them, subscribe to The Art of Making Home and check us out on Instagram @ethanallen.
In June, The History Channel aired “Detroit: Comeback City,” a documentary that chronicled the rise and fall and rise of a city “on the cusp of an exciting rebirth.” Optimism abounds in Detroit today; private sector investments are up, unemployment is down, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs are rebuilding the city from the inside out. Few could have predicted such vibrant revitalization when the city filed for bankruptcy back in 2013. Detroit’s remarkable recovery is far from complete, and most would agree it will take a village—as well as the confidence of outsiders like Hill Harper.
Harper is an actor (CSI: NY, The Good Doctor, Homeland), author, graduate of Brown University, Barack Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School, art lover (and incidentally, one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive”). The Iowa native is a philanthropist, too; he founded the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, dedicated to empowering underserved young people. And he’s a visionary who in 2017 bought the Fisher Mansion, a run-down landmark building in the heart of Detroit, with the goal of restoring it, living in it, and opening it up to the community. He recently partnered with the Junior League of Detroit to host its 22nd biennial Designers’ Show House, an event that helped jumpstart Harper’s personal urban renewal project.
Ethan Allen designers collaborated on a project in the 18,000-square-foot show house (which ran from September 15 to October 7). They designed the expansive living room suite on the second floor—a space that will eventually serve as Harper’s private residence when he’s in town.
While we were in Detroit for the show house opening, Harper graciously offered to give us a tour and discuss his labor of love.
Why this house? Why Detroit?
I was introduced to the city when I worked on some film projects here. I was impressed by the creative, entrepreneurial spirit of the people, and I saw so much potential in this beautiful, historic home. I knew it was a place where I could make a difference.
What’s your vision for the building?
It’s been wonderful for me to see the rooms come together in more of a finished way for the show house. It’s so different when you’re looking at a raw space—but I have always thought of this as a long-term project.
I plan to open the house to members of the community, to students, artists, and educators. It will be a house that’s accessible to everyone. We’re bringing its technology up to speed and modernizing the building in every way. I know it will happen over time, but this is going to be a living, breathing place.
Break it down for us.
I believe people should be inspired by art, so that is what drives me. It bothers me that the über-wealthy buy up so much art and then put it storage or places where people can’t see it. I’m bringing my contemporary art collection here and the first floor will be an art gallery. To me, art should be seen, so we’re going to open the doors and keep them open.
The second level will be my family floor. I see this great open space, with rooms off of it. A room for me, my son, my mother when she comes to visit. It will be a private floor, separate from the public spaces. But you will still be able to circumnavigate the entire house.
The third floor is where we’ll host artists in residence. We’ll provide studio space and living quarters—give them everything they need so they can work on their art. I have a couple of artists lined up already; we’re very excited about it. I’ll ask only two things of them: to give back to the foundation something they make (a painting, sculpture, whatever it may be) and teach local kids about their technique to expose them to art.
In addition, all the public spaces will be open for weddings, charity events. Eventually, we’ll even have a nice pool, so kids can come for the art, and go for a swim and have a great time in their own backyard.
How important is the historic aspect?
I believe the whole idea here is a nod to the past; it’s important to take inspiration from that, to capture the essence of the house. But I’m not a literalist in terms of preservation; I’m not trying to be completely historically accurate. We’ll take the best parts of history and celebrate them, amplify them. For example, there is a small chapel that was used by the original homeowner, Sarah Fisher. She was very devout and would often go to the chapel to light candles and pray. We want to restore the space and open it up to visitors, make it something special. We want to honor what was important to her. Connecting to the heart is just another way of connecting to art.
You keep coming back to art; why is that?
To me, art is a creative endeavor, whether it’s acting, interior design, singing, painting, sculpture. Art is powerful; it affects attitude. I want a more positive, more just world, and believe that art is a conduit to that. That’s the direct pathway to positive social change. If you infuse a mindset with art, with creativity, it opens you up to all kinds of possibilities.
See what inspires other creative people. Subscribe to The Art of Making Home and check us out on Instagram @ethanallen.
Shawn Lang found his calling—bringing well-designed objects to market—years ago. He’s put his stamp on everything from eyewear and jewelry for some of the chicest brands in the fashion industry, to embellished giclées and handcrafted dimensional art for Ethan Allen. Now, completely in his element, he’s silk screening original designs onto canvas bags and kitchen towels and selling them on his website, thefarmhouseproject.com. His audience may have changed over the years, but his passion for beautiful things hasn’t.
Shawn was always interested in art. He grew up on the Jersey shore, the youngest of five kids, and was always drawing, sketching houses, and building things. “I loved playing with Legos so much, my mother thought I was going to be an architect,” he says. “My passion initially was for fine art, but she convinced me that being an artist wouldn’t pay the bills.”
Shawn is soft-spoken and deliberate, relaxed and agreeable (a quality he says helped him navigate some stressful situations, especially in the fashion world). We sat down with him recently and asked him to tell us how he went from high-end product designer to down-home entrepreneur. (Fun fact: Shawn was also a professional figure skater for 20 years!)
You’re a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and you were at the top of your game in New York City when you decided to take a product design and merchandising job at Ethan Allen. Walk us through that decision.
Soon after I earned my degree in product design, I had a series of unique opportunities that allowed me to work with some very talented people in the fashion and home furnishings industries. For ten years, I managed and designed leading fashion and home collections for such brands as Tory Burch, Coach, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors. I loved my work.
In 2012, my husband, Kris, and I decided we wanted to move to the country. We found a historic farmhouse in upstate New York that needed a lot of love—and we embarked on a renovation of literally historic proportions. I started documenting progress on our 218-year-old home, sharing mostly bad iPhone photos and unedited copy with friends and family. I was still working in the city and wasn’t really looking to leave my position when I saw the posting for director of wall décor for Ethan Allen. I knew I wanted to move into the home design field, and with my design, merchandising, art, and printmaking background, it turned out to be a perfect fit. That was spring of 2014.
Enter The Farmhouse Project?
Yes! The time was right for The Farmhouse Project, a lifestyle blog about two gents restoring a farmhouse in upstate New York! So, it quickly grew into something more. We started writing about the local area, the restaurants, the farmer’s market—and realized we had something of interest, that there was an audience that wanted to engage with us. So, we engaged back. We developed projects with some well-known partners, like Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Houzz, Design Sponge and Pendleton. After four years, we decided to focus on branding. A lot of our followers were saying, “We want to buy something from you.” And being a product person, I was like, “We should sell stuff!” I knew if we didn’t do it then we never would. I also knew I couldn’t develop the brand and hold down a full-time job, so I made the decision to leave EA.
And did you?
Not really, no. Just as I was preparing to take a leap of faith to work on our blog, I found out that EA was relaunching its blog, The Art of Making Home. I’d already given notice, but knew I had to consult or freelance anyway, so I put myself out there.
What are you doing for EA now?
I’m a part-time consultant on our social media team; I develop content and edit and publish blog posts. Social media director Miller Opie and I work to make EA social media relaxed and cool. There’s beautiful photography available to us, and we’re able to break our content down in a different direction. We do decorating tips, craft ideas, cocktail recipes. It’s about how people really live, which is what I think social media should be about. It’s nice because I live and breathe social media at home and now I do it at EA, too.
Tell us about your design style.
I’ve always been a big fan of interiors. My style throughout years of living in the city was always more modern, but when we bought our house in the country … well, we knew we couldn’t make a 218-year-old house modern. I’ve definitely changed things up; I’m now very interested in historic style.
What did you learn from working at Ethan Allen?
A knowledge of the home industry, and I have to say it’s been invaluable. I learned a lot about working with vendors and developing products that people want. My experience at EA proved to be a foundation for much of what I do in my business.
What’s next for the Farmhouse Project?
We’ve been focused on partnering with online publications, but we’ve been talking with iconic magazines like Country Living, too. Our small product line is getting some attention, so we’re doing a lot with e-commerce. At some point we’d like to buy a space, create a destination, maybe a bar or a store—and see where it takes us.
About that figure skating?
I usually don’t tell anyone, but I was seriously into it. I started skating when I was four. I went to nationals a few times, traveled around the world, and my goal was to go to the Olympics. But I got burnt out in my early 20s. By the time I decided to quit, I had four coaches, so I disappointed a lot of people. I had just had enough. I wanted to be in Manhattan, I wanted a college life, I wanted to pursue my art. It was a difficult decision, but the best one I ever made. I grew up fast as a figure skater. It taught me to be responsible, mature, and how to make business decisions at a very young age. It’s experience that I use in my career to this day.
Many living spaces, especially bedrooms, are tighter today than they were a generation (or even a few seasons) ago—but they can still look airy and stylish. If your bedroom isn’t quite as spacious as you’d like, we recommend you dream big and furnish small.
Here are a few ways to fool your eye into thinking your room is roomier than it is:
And here are some of our newer, slimmer pieces for bedrooms:
A streamlined steel frame transforms a traditional slatted bed into a modern, minimalist statement piece. Emmett’s clean-cut silhouette suits a retreat of any size.
RIVER SLIPPER CHAIR
Our Danish-inspired slipper chair sits gracefully low to the ground. River features a freshly interpreted design, modern lines, and a relaxed vibe suitable for any space.
MONTCLAIRE NIGHT TABLE
It’s perfect for a lamp, a book, and an alarm clock, but the Montclaire night table (finished on all sides) invites you to think outside the bedroom, too.
ROSEMOOR END TABLE
Well grounded, yet sleek and airy, the Rosemoor glass-top end table is a living room darling that brings casual, contemporary, sculptural appeal to the bedroom, too.
RINNA PEDESTAL TABLE
A petite piece with a big presence, Rinna is a versatile pedestal table inspired by antique candlestands. Its flawless detail adds high style to rooms with low ceilings.
VERENA SAWHORSE DESK
We took a classic sawhorse design for a modern spin and called it Verena. It’s chic and minimalist, a barely-there desk for a tight corner in a snug space.
It’s official: The banquet-sized dining room is a thing of the past. Today’s dining room is smaller, more intimate—and no longer used for only two or three holidays a year. Today’s dining area still invites family gatherings, but it’s often simply an extension of the living room or kitchen. Naturally, smaller furniture had to follow. Scaled down with a modern vibe, our fall dining introductions are just the thing.
Check out some of our lighter menu options:
JEWEL DINING CHAIR
Smart, simple proportions give Jewel high marks in both function and form. An airy, understated feel makes it a new transitional classic. Also available as a counter stool.
HOYT RECTANGULAR TABLE
Hoyt mixes materials in the most stylish way, pairing a walnut veneered top with a free-form metal base that looks substantive without making a small dining space feel crowded.
Table for two? Our Hazelton with its 36-inch top is ready when you are. With a starburst beauty of a base, this sculptural piece fits anywhere and elevates dining at home.
VERA DINING CHAIR
Sweet and understated, Vera’s petite silhouette, rounded back, and generously cushioned seat bring comfort and style to any dining area (super-sized spaces not required).
MONTCLAIRE CONSOLE TABLE
The modern Montclaire has a pleasing minimalist profile. Two spacious drawers (think table linens, flatware) atop a steel base form simple geometry that’s simply exquisite.
SOMERS SIDE CHAIR
Scale it down, clip its silhouette, minimize its twists and turns, and make it out of bronze-finished aluminum. Voilà! You have a modern Windsor chair updated for today.
In the early part of the last century, Detroit was the place to be. Its population was booming, the automobile industry was revving up, and entrepreneurs with great wealth were building grand homes in the city, some of the grandest within a 36-block enclave known as Boston Edison. In 1922, Charles T. Fisher, founder of the Fisher Body Company (the world’s largest manufacturer of automobile bodies) and his wife, Sarah, commissioned an 18,000-square-foot estate in the upscale neighborhood. It was designed in the English Tudor style and featured fourteen bedrooms, a pub, a private chapel, a gym, and a carriage house.
Fisher Mansion stayed in the family for more than 50 years, until Sarah’s death in 1974. By that time, it had fallen into decline, much like the city itself. It was donated to a church, and then changed hands several times—seriously in need of some love—until Michael Fisher, a distant cousin, purchased it in 2008. A series of restoration projects brought the residence up to code, but there was still much work to be done.
Enter actor and philanthropist Hill Harper. After purchasing the residence in 2017, Harper, who is known for his work on such TV shows as CSI: NY and The Good Doctor, promptly set out to restore its architectural splendor while bringing it squarely into the 21st century. He worked with a Detroit-based design-build firm and contractors to bring the building back to life, and he partnered with the Junior League of Detroit to host its 22nd biennial Designers’ Show House in his new home. Thirty-nine talented designers (including three of our own) signed on to transform 44 distinct spaces.
Since its inception in 1976, the JLD’s Designers’ Show House has raised more than $4.5 million for community programs in Detroit, so we were thrilled to take part! Michigan-based EA designers—Tamara Stone of our Birmingham Design Center, Colleen Gahry of Auburn Hills, and Gabriella Andersen of Sterling Heights—collaborated on the living room suite on the second floor. They call it “Uptown,” a modern and sophisticated loft designed for elegant entertaining. The space is richly layered with well-chosen pieces; it’s graceful, glamorous, and gorgeous—with a hint of glitz.
The Junior League of Detroit Designers’ Show House runs through October 7. For hours, information, and tickets, visit the JLD website: jldetroit.org
For more news, tips, and inside scoops on design, subscribe to The Art of Making Home and check us out on Instagram @ethanallen.
*Photo credit of exterior Fisher House by: Jeff Garland
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