He eats, sleeps, and breathes design. No wonder he finds inspiration everywhere he goes!
It’s safe to say that everything we sell at Ethan Allen has spent at least some time in Jimmy DeBernardo’s head.
That’s every stick of furniture, fabric swatch, rug, quilt, basket, bowl, and box. Every drapery panel, roll of wallpaper, giclée print, and chandelier. As the company’s Vice President of Style, it’s Jimmy’s job to work collaboratively with our in-house merchants to establish a look for every new introduction, to review the designs they bring to the table, and to take their collective vision from mind’s eye to reality.
Jimmy is a 29-year EA veteran who started out as an intern. Today, in addition to his role as the company’s style guru, he’s also responsible for setting up our Design Centers, from the ground up. He’s adept at juggling his many roles, but it’s the design process that drives him 24/7. When we interviewed him on a recent afternoon, he’d been up since 2 a.m., trying to finesse a concept he’d been working on. The lack of sleep didn’t faze him; if anything, he was more animated than usual. Here’s what he had to say about his job:
WHAT DID YOU STUDY IN SCHOOL?
I started out at Miami Florida International University as a psychology major, then switched over to marketing. But I knew I wanted to do something creative, so I added commercial interior design to my major. I later transferred to Youngstown State University in Ohio, where I graduated with bachelor’s degrees in marketing, psychology, and design—with an art minor. I’m one of the few people who is actually doing what they went to school for!
WHY HOME DESIGN?
As a young child, I used to draw houses and “decorate” them; I was always interested in dwellings. I wasn’t sure what I’d be—maybe an architect or a designer—but I always thought it would have something to do with houses. While I was in college, I freelanced as an interior designer, doing friends’ apartments, working with very tight budgets. I enjoyed the challenge, and it was then I decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The first time I walked into Ethan Allen, back when I was hired as an intern, I knew it was where I wanted to be.
DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY.
There really is no typical day . . . it depends on where I am in the process, and where I am in the building. In the morning I might be focusing on the next Design Center, and in the afternoon my focus is will be on product for the upcoming season. I never feel like I’ve done enough in a given day, so I never shut down. I check email all the time, day and night. The process never sleeps!
TELL US HOW THAT PROCESS WORKS.
When you’re involved in the design process you’re constantly finding inspiration in the most unexpected places. You use that inspiration to create a space for a particular person. When you’re doing it in the abstract—that is to say, not for a particular client, but for a type of client—you have to imagine who that person is, where they live, how they live, what they eat and drink, what kind of music they listen to, how they dress. Whether they’re real or imaginary, you’re creating a set for a person’s story.
HOW LONG FROM CONCEPT TO PRODUCT?
We usually work a year ahead, but it can vary depending on the category. After we come up with a concept, we create mood boards, or collages that convey the concept and take us on a journey. They’re an important part of storytelling. Every concept includes a palette to help establish parameters.
Next, we meet with merchants and discuss what we’ll need in terms of case goods, upholstery, decorative accessories, etc. Then they go off to apply the concept to their categories, in keeping with their business plans. When they bring back their ideas, we sift through everything to see what works, what doesn’t, and what we still need. Is there a tall piece, a short piece, an in-between piece, a one-of-a-kind piece, a utilitarian piece? When it’s time to put all the products together, we fast forward to end use and decide if a piece is relatable. If it’s not, then we haven’t succeeded—no matter how great a job we think we’ve done. At the end of the day, it’s about bringing joy to the customer.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH NEW PRODUCTS YEAR AFTER YEAR?
Research, research, and more research. We’re not a trend-oriented company; we’re more about real life. Relevance. So, we take basic facts and data and think about how we can make something ours. How can we give it an EA point of view? I go for longevity. I like to take something that’s classic and make it new.
WHAT DOES YOUR HOME LOOK LIKE?
I’m a traditionalist at heart with a modern perspective. When you’re around color and pattern all day, you tend to go more toward neutral. I do love anything that’s Dynasty. I love ancient forms that can be interpreted as modern. Every time I go to change things up in my townhouse, I decide it looks better as it was.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
It’s always something to do with art. My partner is in the design field also, and we’re both artists, so we paint and draw, we go to galleries. Our idea of recreation is looking at what’s new in the design world, in fashion, and pop culture.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Seeing dreams become reality. It’s very exciting and gratifying to me to see everything come together.
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