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The Psychology of the Perfect Mix

Interior Designers Gerald Sowell and Emory Story Prove Harmony is the New Eclectic

Published on Thursday, June 9, 2011 | 11:08 am

Interior Designer Gerald Sowell

Interior Designer Gerald Sowell

What happens when you mix two seemingly diametrically opposed interior design styles – east and west, traditional and minimalist? The answer, commonly, is labelled “eclectic,” a convenient reference to elements that don’t quite match, and weren’t designed to harmonize each other, but define the owner’s personality or reflect the designer’s read on the client’s expression of self.

Project Manager Emory Story

Project Manager Emory Story

But personalities can be, well, confusing, and designers can be just as confused. Eclectic design often doesn’t really quite mesh. But when it does, when it clicks, the result is magic.

Designer Gerald Sowell does magical eclectic, and he does it seemingly organically and effortlessly.

Gerald Sowell Interior Design, founded and managed by Sowell himself, has been in business since 1975. Gerry (as he prefers to be called) achieved his degree in interior design from the Woodbury Design School in Burbank, following which he earned his MA in Art History from UCLA.

A declared lover of the Regency Style, a masculine perspective which developed in response to the characteristically curvaceous Art Nouveau design culture, Gerry believes a home should be liveable, cozy and safe for its inhabitants.

His Project Manager, Emory Story, can be viewed as his antithesis. A devoted minimalist, she brings an appreciation for Asian influences to the table. Though seemingly incongruent by definition, the two colleagues have assembled a portfolio of work that is familiar yet unusual, conventional but undeniably fresh and new, all while satisfying a vast array of client tastes and preferences.

It is not unusual, for instance, to find a home in their portfolio featuring wainscoting and an antique Chinese chest, or a mandolin finding a comfortable spot against a Victorian chaise. A dummy, of all things, can find a relevant role seated at a showcase grand piano. More importantly, it is not unusual to find these odd mixes of embellishments and structural influences working with elements from different points in time, even as recently as yesterday and as far back as early civilization, making beautiful music for the eyes to hear.

Colors and textures, as well, are as adventurous in the hands of Sowell and Story as their brave mix of furniture and furnishings. Salmon with sky blue, goodness. Even lavender, avocado or pink, well after they went out of style. They’ll do faux textures shamelessly and have a trompe l’oeil adorn an otherwise uninterestingly serious space, and it works.

As it turns out, colors and textures drive much of their creative development.

“We start with fabric. We always start with fabric,” says Emory Story, “We look at the home and we take measurements and get all that nitty-gritty stuff with me going back and forth from my left to my right brain, sadly, trying not to appear crazy. And making copious notes.”

“Then we look for fabrics.”

As designers with a long history in the business, they have the requisite list of resources and suppliers, many of which have been operating for much less time than Gerald Sowell Interior Design. Their regulars will tell you they find the colleagues ‘very professional’ and ‘have a keen eye for detail.’ Sowell and Story have at their disposal a battery of these vendors much unlike other practitioners of the craft because their relationships are built on a foundation of time and trust. To the benefit of their clients, they are more likely to find unusual textiles and unique handmade ornaments because of the support of their sources. Especially when the design calls for custom handcrafting, they know where to go. Very important in the interior design field.

But the real secret, say Sowell and Story, is in the psychology of the process. Though both designers carry their respective badges of technical competence, it is in the method of development where they both shine, where their ability to listen to the client and read between the lines culminates in interior design that snugly fits its owner, and expresses with refreshing clarity.

“Looking for designers is like finding your own doctor.” Gerry is a true believer in collaboration with the clients, saying they “like to ask questions about how they entertain. ‘Are you more formal, do you sit down together for dinners, how many children you have and what are their ages?’ As they need to be protected.” Clearly, he also shares the clients’ values.

Story echoes Sowell’s statements. “That’s the benefit of experience. You get better and better at reading people as you get more experience. It’s less about ‘Ooo I can’t wait to use this fabric in somebody’s home’ and you know, guess what, that person is not going to like that fabric. You know, you get out of school, you get past all that and then it’s really about interpreting the needs of the client that you have.”

The results crystallize their sense of empathy. A quick glance at their large portfolio will show a vast array of styles and executions, perhaps as large as the list of clients they serve. Where designers can be lumped in categories based on specialization, Sowell’s and Story’s expression of design reflect personalities rather than tastes, life stories rather than trends, values rather than nifty ideas. Their deliverables can be whimsical or serious, regal or subdued, loud or controlled. They choose instead to do Mary Customer, mother of 3, entertains a lot, loves being a soccer mom.

“Companionably, so we are working as a team,” Sowell best articulates their way of doing business.

It is also the formula for success. Countless homes, press releases, accolades and shining reviews over a long history of business have earned Sowell and Story the right to be lauded. They have earned the enviable position of being successful in a trade replete with talented and gifted competition, but never at the expense of the paying client. Their customers, as well, earn their right to be heard.

Gerald Sowell Interior Design can be reached at (323) 461-2271. See for more information, and for their online portfolio.

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