Designers, what inspires you?

As a designer, your creativity flow is endless, right? Designers are constantly tasked with creating the perfect solution to suit their clients’ needs and desires, but how one gets to that point is a matter of inspiration.

NARI designers discuss their design strategies and unlikely sources of inspiration.

Stefanie Ciak, designer at J.S. Brown & Company Inc., Columbus, Ohio

2012 East Central Regional CotY Award winning project in Residential Kitchen $80,001 to $120,000 category, by J.S. Brown Company, Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio.

2012 East Central Regional CotY Award winning project in Residential Kitchen $80,001 to $120,000 category, by J.S. Brown Company, Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio.

Stefanie Ciak’s days consist of working with a variety of clients—and personalities—spanning from those who know exactly what they want to those who are clueless.

She pays close attention to her clients’ every word, photos and even personal style of dress or age to draw inspiration.

“I try to pick up on keywords like elegant, masculine or retreat,” Ciak says. Most of the time, a client may not even realize that they are giving Ciak clues about their style.

Even if only one item is chosen, Ciak’s creative juices start to flow. “If a client picks one faucet, immediately I will try to distinguish their style based on whether the faucet has smooth lines or a rectangular shape—those elements can be a starting point for the entire room.”

Then there are the inanimate objects that clients sometimes like to use—paintings, photos, antiques or other objects. A recent client of Ciak’s took a vacation in the midst of the remodel, only to return to a completely different style concept.

“When working off of a photo, I try to incorporate a color palette or feeling into the design—it’s not about replications; it’s about transmitting the same vibe into the space using different pieces,” Ciak says.

Angela Bonfante, president of Angela Bonfante Kitchen Designs LLC, Upper Arlington, Ohio

As a kitchen designer, Angela Bonfante incorporates her Italian upbringing centered around food and conversation at the kitchen table.

What’s more, Bonfante draws inspiration for kitchen design from traveling to Italy. Whether it’s the historical ruins in Rome; the rustic, earthiness in Tuscany; or the sleek contemporary style in Milan, Bonfante is mesmerized by the country’s beauty.

“Italians appreciate the history behind what they have in their homes and only keep things in their homes that mean something,” Bonfante says.

On her travels, Bonfante always takes time to venture for a few hours by herself, documenting the architecture and design aesthetics through photos, and by shipping linens, tile and pottery back to the U.S. These photos—700 photos to be exact—are what reminds her of the things she saw and gives her a personal resource of new ideas for her clients.

Italy Green Shutters

Bonfante captured these green shutters on her trip to Italy.

Design elements such as the use of stucco, patina coloring, gold-leafed furniture, distressed woods have come out of her inspirational travels.

More often than not, Bonfante’s clients usually have items in their homes with history behind them, and she is a mastermind when it comes to blending the new with the old.

“I try to mix something contemporary with one to two rustic elements to ground the space and make it warmer,” she says.

The final product incorporated the green shutters into this dining room.

The final product incorporated the green shutters into this dining room.

Of course, Bonfante says that every client has his or her own unique style, and it’s her job to draw it out of them. “People see a photo in a magazine, and it’s an art to be able to identify specifically what it is about the space that they like and spark creativity in people,” she says.

“I try to design homes to fit my client’s lifestyles, and it feels really good to create spaces that allow people to relax and enjoy with their families,” Bonfante says. –Morgan Zenner

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