I know I’m getting older because…not only am I compelled to watch CBS Sunday Morning every week, it’s set to record on the DVR so I can view it at a reasonable hour. Two stories covered on the Ides of March of 2015 served as springtime reminders that it’s never too late to follow the lead of the daffodil bulb and reinvent yourself.
The first story focused on late bloomer Carol Gardner. Following a divorce that left her emotionally and financially devastated, a friend told her she should either get a therapist or a dog. Carol opted for the dog, an English Bulldog named Zelda. Little did Zelda know her new pet parent could barely afford to add dog food to her monthly budget.
Desperate to better her and Zelda’s lives, Carol entered a pet photo contest where the winner would be awarded 40lbs. of dog food each month for a year. She placed a Santa cap on Zelda and plopped her into a bubble bath, forming the foam into a white beard around the dog’s chin. As she snapped her image with a disposable camera, she admonished her reluctant pup to hold still, that this was all about the food.
The click of the shutter on a disposable camera by a 52-year-old divorcee was the first step down a path that led to her multi-million dollar greeting card business.
Carol wasn’t a “real” photographer or greeting card copywriter by any stretch of the imagination. What she had was the desire to reinvent herself and the need to put food on the table for herself and her pet.
Thinking back to my starter marriage, I have to admit that I do relate to her sense of humor. Which leads us to the second story that captured my attention, the death this past week of celebrated American architect and product designer Michael Graves at the age of 80.
While he had a major impact on architecture, designing over 350 buildings worldwide, he also created adaptations of his designs, as well as new ones, for both Target and J.C. Penney, helping a new generation of consumers learn to appreciate good design.
Many feel that his decline in the eyes of architectural critics came from doing the very thing I try to inspire my interior design students to do over the course of their careers: creating high quality design that can be appreciated by everyone, not just the large commercial clients or residential luxe-loving clients whose jobs will may be the primary source of putting food on the table and dog food in the puppy’s bowl.
In 2003, long after Post-modernism had fallen out of popularity, Graves became paralyzed from the waist down within a few days of seeking medical attention for back pain. A simple sinus infection he’d been fighting had spread into his spinal cord.
Who would ever expect something like that to smack them down? At the age of 68, he had to adapt to life in a chair. At least he could still draw. He battled back while proving at once that his purview in the design world was not limited to Post-modernist architecture and product design for the masses, as some architectural critics with outdated ideas of what architecture should be—and who it should serve—might have us believe.
He turned his focus to the world of healthcare, reimagining facilities designed to remind patients that life was worth living; better wheelchairs, better walking sticks (we will NOT call them canes, for heaven’s sake)—even a golf cart with an added seat that partially stands mobility-challenged golfers upright so they can still swing and not have to give up the game they love.
He once told the Washington Post that most of what existed in healthcare and rehabilitation facilities was “just too depressing to even die in.” Graves’ designs for healthcare and rehabilitation are anything but that.
St. Coletta of Greater Washington is a school for students with intellectual and multiple disabilities, as well as autism. The 99,000 sq. ft. school serves 285 students ages 3-22. Designed with relatable shapes and upbeat colors, you could hardly describe it as institutional in flavor.
One of Graves’ later designs exudes simple elegance throughout a residence that seems to release boundless hope upward: the Wounded Warrior Project Home at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. Designed in collaboration with the U.S. Army and Wounded Warriors Project, among others, it features technology to support the needs of wounded veterans and their families, such as window and door status sensors, a video monitoring system and entry door intercom.
Its style is welcoming, with upbeat colors and a large front porch that shelters you from the elements as you approach the front door while letting in light and a view of the sky to each side.
Whether we’re new to the field, late bloomers, or perennials, may we all be able to show our colors with this much effectiveness and compassion for mankind.
A professional member of IIDA, Diana earned her specialty LEED credential for Interior Design + Construction in 2013, having earned her LEED AP in Building Design and Construction in 2006. She worked for Del Webb Corporation designing semi-custom interiors, and spent thirteen years with a local builder supplier before returning to work as an independent designer. She also operates an antiques dealership and teaches sustainable design, space planning, materials and estimates, and color theory at the college level. In creating livable interiors, she is particularly sensitive to not allowing our high-tech lifestyles and the interior walls of our homes to divide us from one another, and has been focusing on Mid-century Modern design in recent years. Diana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org