Designer Lisa Kahn on Her Inspiration
August 27, 2013 - 2:00pm
Designer and Chelsea House consultant Lisa Kahn reveals how clients, classes and even clouds inspire her work.

Kahn: I begin my design work with the first inspiration that pops into my mind — it’s always the best idea I have. I realized years ago that my instinct and intuition for design projects and clients is something to trust and build on fearlessly. Because I trust my instinct, I find inspirations almost instantaneously when I am looking for them. They never lead me wrong. Then I sketch or look for images to support my vision, as it’s always easiest to talk in pictures and drawings.

For me, inspiration is found everywhere and in everything I see and experience. I travel and take classes every year, which is a solid source of visual stimulation and new ideas. Attending markets like High Point, Atlanta, Dallas and New York feeds my need, as does flipping through shelter publications. The funniest things can get me sketching — patterns of clouds in the sky, looking up through the canopy of a tree, watching the ripples in the water of the lake behind my house. I fully admit to dreaming design solutions and inspirations and jumping out of bed to capture them before the rush of the day sweeps them away. I am also greatly inspired by my clients. Their dreams, hopes and values — and how those things have manifested in their lives always inspires me. As a designer, I get to see inside their lives in a way that not many outsiders do. It’s a very personal process.

While some get caught up in traditional design, contemporary design, and the merits and contrasts of each, I like to think that each is best informed by the other. It’s the contrast — a bit of the tastefully unexpected — that makes a space vibrant and commands the attention. It makes for more contemporary spaces that are truly livable and classic, and traditional spaces that are fresh, clean and free from cliché. The most important aspect, however, is that the style reflects the person for whom the space was created. People are complex, layered, interesting and surprising. The designed environment around them should be no less.

Translating ancient motifs into contemporary materials, redefining scale and proportion, and expressing historical reverence with a modern twist exemplify the new ways the classics are resurfacing in our industry today. The Club floor lamp was inspired by the quatrefoil architectural motifs I found in Gothic and Renaissance architecture in my travels through Europe. While the motif is one of the oldest in European culture, I put it into a cleaner, more modern context. The sparse lines and clear structure of this lamp are no more than what is required, while the finish is richly antiqued with a quatrefoil designed into the base. The look is both classic and updated.

  • The Club floor lamp incorporates a clever quatrefoil on the base.It’s part of the Lisa Kahn Collection for Chelsea House.

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