Monday, May 31, 2010

Design Mom Interview

You obviously come from a talented family with a good eye for design and the like- is it just in the genes or did your parents purposefully create an environment where you were exposed to art, etc.?

I can’t wait to tell my Mom you think we’re all talented. She’ll be so proud! To answer your question, yes, I think it’s in our genes, and yes our parents created an artistic-friendly environment. I feel strongly that art and design and style can definitely be learned. And my parents taught us — I remember my parents letting me pick out wallpaper and light fixtures for my bedroom at age five.

She’ll deny it, but my mom has great style. I grew up eating dinner on a parsons table. She’d make bedding from Marimekko fabric. Our Christmas Tree was always stylish and interesting and never trendy. She kept great prints on the walls; I remember work from Jesse Wilcox Smith and sketches from Da Vinci. As you entered the house, a beautiful “tablescape” would greet you — some elegant composition of flowers and sculpture and candles and photography.

Dad also had a great eye for style and was always up for an entrepreneurial venture — he would have been all over blogging and social media. When we were teens, he understood the social currency of having a hip ride and kept us in cool vintage VWs. And he knew how to create cool adventures and experiences. Like, he’d take us into Tijuana and he’d help us find authentic hurache sandles or guayaberas.

A key thing I learned from my parents is that good style was not related to money. My dad was a public school teacher — not a major wage earner. But it didn’t matter. Our house was well-appointed and our wardrobes were doable, often the result of our elbow grease and ingenuity. We learned how to remake and revive vintage pieces.

What has been your favorite job / project you’ve been a part of as a designer or art director?

That’s a good question! One of my very favorites projects was called SmartNoise. SmartNoise was a language class company my husband started with some friends. I loved getting to work so closely with Ben on all design aspects of the company. I designed the office and classroom. The website and brochures. The logo and signage. Everything. And it was very good-looking. If I do say so myself (wink).

I hope this doesn’t come across wrong, but I’m curious: You showcase so many lovely things on Design Mom, and I wonder how you separate the aesthetic aspect from the material aspect so prevalent in our culture- do you ever get caught up in all that “stuff” and need to step back from it? Do you feel like you need to maintain a boundary somehow? Or does it not bother you?

Let's start with this: I don't own every product I feature. Not even close! And I would never want to — can you just imagine the clutter?

I can honestly say the "stuff" issue doesn't bother me. In reality I'm not a big shopper (although I realize that with 5 kids, a certain amount of shopping is just necessary to keep everyone clothed and fed). Instead, I'm typically quite content knowing something beautiful exists, without having to possess it. It's not uncommon for me to take a mom-only outing to Target where I walk around and put everything that inspires me into my cart. After I've had my fill, I leave the cart. And I head out the door without purchasing anything (sorry Target Team Member who has to put everything away!). I get more joy in knowing the thing exists than I do in owning the thing. Filling the cart isn’t like compiling a “wish-list” but more an act of being inspired and maybe expressing gratitude that people make beautiful things.

But I do get emails reprimanding me about tempting people to spend and I feel bad — I'm certainly not trying to get anyone to exceed their budget. I guess I think of my posts as celebrating something pretty with others, not telling people to “buy this”. Alternatively, I get emails looking for specific advice on a gift someone needs to purchase or a baby product and I feel lucky to have a good forum to share my suggestions.

What do you do to maintain a balanced life? What keeps you grounded? What are some of your other interests?

Family is my main interest. Design is my second interest. Other interests? From time to time I get really into eating right and trying to get fit. I love reading — I devour books, especially books that are being talked about. Design is kind of a big umbrella, which means it includes a lot of my interests — things like architecture, fresh flowers, interiors, fashion, product design, pretty stationery, pedicures, etc. In the summer I love a few days of really hard work in our yard and garden so that I can spend more time enjoying it. I think people are fascinating and I love good conversations.

As far as staying grounded goes, I hope the fact that I take my religion and spirituality seriously plays the biggest role. Prayer is a regular part of my day. Family prayer. Individual prayer. It's the main way I center myself if I'm getting stressed out. I try to have regular religious study and meditation/pondering, but I’m not as “religious” about this as I wish I was. Also, my brothers and sisters make fun of me, and each other, and that keeps us all pretty grounded.

Regarding a balanced life — Is there such a thing? Somedays I feel balanced. Others I'm completely out of whack. I'll let you know if I ever figure it out.

Obviously being a mom is a high priority for you (I’m sure that’s putting it mildly). I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons you decided to blog about design and motherhood. Your kids are really sweet, and it’s obvious that you and Ben are great parents. I love it when you post about some of the things you do with your kids and as a family.

It IS obvious that Ben and I are great parents, and THAT'S putting it mildly. Ha. Ha. You know I hope that Design Mom really does celebrate parenthood. I'm sure there's a narcissistic element to it, but I know both Ben and I check on the posts over and over again that involve our kids — especially pictures of them doing things. I hope that posts about what we do with our kids feel every bit at home on my blog as the other more design-centered posts. My sense is that I'm not schizophrenic, but motherhood and design are hopefully, ideally, integrated in how I organize my world.

What kind of environment do you try to create for your home?

That pointed question always makes Ben and me feel like failures. I think we have a pretty high standard in our heads, but it takes a while to make it to our home. We have tried to create a warm, nurturing, orderly, hard-working, creative, loving environment, but we have a ways to go. Ben is really conscientious about the environment of our home. He asks what the art around us is suggesting. What the books on our shelves convey. On our last over-nighter (it was a while ago) we spent probably 3 hours talking about what books and what types of books we want on our shelves. We are at least aware that our books aren't the ideal library we want our kids to remember — and admitting it is the first step to recovery.

These kinds of questions really get Ben going. When we were thinking about a family motto, we came up with something like, “We take care of each other. We take care of our bodies. We take care of our things.” So maybe caring is a cardinal virtue for our home environment that I somehow missed earlier.

What are some things you try to do on a regular basis with your family?

Play. Read every night. Ski (a few times during the winter). Walk (when the weather is good, we have a great walking neighborhood). Jump on the trampoline. Jump rope. Bike. Dance. Sing (Oscar likes to hold the swiffer like a microphone and sing "Burning down the House!"). It's pretty awesome. Swimming (my kids would go everyday, I still don't get what it is about swimming). A few times a year we like to go to the track and we LOVE it. Seriously, show up at the track and the world is yours. I'm surprised we don't do it more often. Chores — we have a chore chart and the 3 oldest are pretty good at doing them. Dinner. Watch TV. Field trips to Target or museums to see the pretty things. We do school-related creative projects regularly, and other creative projects once a month or so — often holiday related.


  1. I really like this statement “We take care of each other. We take care of our bodies. We take care of our things.” Good motto.

  2. I am so inspired by this interview, as a long time reader, I feel like Gabrielle has even *taught* me to be happy about the existence of beautiful things without temptation or lust for them... also, I hope for our home to be like the one you grew up in.


  3. Really interesting questions. They (and the answers) really made me think. Especially about the "stuff" one relating to design, as I blog about a lot of pretty things too, though I usually don't own them either x

  4. I've always loved - I've always felt like Gabby and I would be best buddies if we ever met. After reading your interview with her I had to chuckle because I too torment the Target Team Members. It's not about possessing all things beautiful - it's putting beautiful things together in my head/on paper etc to create a new beautiful thing. Your interview questions were great and she just continues to warm my spirit.

  5. I just love Gabrielle. She's really got it together, doesn't she?

  6. I love Design Mom! She's the best blogger by far.

  7. I love Gabby! Thanks for the great interview. As part of the other half of SmartNoise, I can truthfully say that working with Ben and Gabby was delightful. They are fun, personable, smart, creative, clever, and best of all -- just plain down to earth. I miss them...

  8. Gabby, you're my hero. At least one of them. Ever since the first time we met when I sat in your small rented living room loving your short bob and that you named your son Ralph. Style oozes from you. I'd love it if our paths ever crossed again.


  9. Hooray for beauty and for not giving it up in the midst of the mothering hoo-ha! I am so happy to have discovered design mom and I will be returning!

  10. this is one of our favorite interviews with gabrielle. so inspiring in how we parent. we thought you'd enjoy this piece on gabrielle as she talks about getting her kids ready for back to school. we hope enjoy it as much as we enjoyed this.