Andrea Beecher is an extraordinary designer working in Salt Lake City - having designed homes, restaurants, offices and more. She has now additionally created an online presence with her company M3LD, which develops one-of-a-kind design pieces.
I met Andrea recently in connection with NOW-ID's House of Apocalypse fundraiser, where Andrea was generous to donate her design services to our auction. She has such a unique design sensibility, effervescent personality and a brilliant mind and as I wanted to know more about her, it felt natural to include her in our NE PLUS ULTRA interview series.
Tell us a little bit about your background; where are you from and how did you become a designer?
I grew up here in Salt Lake City on the west side, the oldest of 4 girls in a Mormon family. I have always had the design bug. As a child I was constantly re-arranging my room, curating collections of bottles, rocks, vintage items, and “art” (mostly postcards from art galleries or magazine clippings that I would frame). My gallery wall, even as young child, was a reflection and expression of me and what I was interested in. I also loved legos and was constantly building and designing different versions of my dream home. There is a home video of me at about age 9 on Christmas morning, absolutely thrilled because of the bedspread and matching curtains that Santa had left me. What kid at that age cares about decor so much so that they would rather receive that than toys? Clearly that kid was me. My bedroom was my haven and creative space. My parents are music lovers and instilled that in me. I had a record player in my room and would spend hours listening to their old vinyls from the 60’s and 70’s and creating mixed tapes for my friends. My room was mine and I loved all the things that it could do for me. I realized how important space was at a very young age.
My mom says that it was clear at a very young age what each of her four girls would do when they grew up. Of course, penchant for interior design was obvious, but I also spent many hours playing "store" with my younger sisters. I would spend an entire afternoon merchandising and setting up a store in our bedrooms. Using the Sit-and-Spin as a shoe display, clearing shelves and other surfaces to curate collections and outfit moments, accessories and all. Fast forward to a part of my life when I would spend many years in the retail fashion world designing floor sets, styling and merchandising for large fashion retailers. I had the opportunity to study interior design in high school at what was called the Academy of Interior Design at Kearns High. It was a program that would allow me to learn design fundamentals, design the living room of a model home, go on a couple design trips to San Francisco and Denver, were we shopped the design centers and showrooms, and finish school with some college credit. What an exciting experience for a teenager. When it came time to start applying for college, there was just no doubt what I would study. Although my Dad tried to talk me into a more “practical” career as I approached college, my parents, especially my Mom, always encouraged my creativity.
What does it mean to be an interior designer and how do you see your role with a client?
An interior designer is one that brings meaning and function to a space. Meaning by creating an experience, evoking emotion, expressing, and telling a story. Function by creating a purpose or creating a space that will allow for tasks or a lifestyle one wants to live in that particular space. Layout, proportion, use of color and light. As technical as that can be, it is a very emotional experience and process for me. I find it a great honor and a very personal thing to be asked to design someone’s home or place of business. My role is to help my client channel what they didn’t know they wanted or what was possible for their space. My job is to ask all the right questions and then listen. I then extrapolate the information, however insignificant it might seem, and use that to build my design. Gaining trust from my clients is key. We are going on a journey together and if I can gain their trust, they will be willing to risk more and push comfort zones and ultimately get to a place they couldn’t dream they could have. I also feel that part of my role as a designer is to advocate for my client. With contractors, vendors, anyone that we are working with, my job is to be the voice of the client and do what is in their best interest. Help them meet their goals.
Are you chosen for a project mainly because of your aesthetic sensibility?
I definitely think I get chosen by clients for my aesthetic sensibility. I have an eclectic range and have helped a lot of people with many different looks, designing a space that is uniquely theirs, but has my stamp. But I feel that the other big reason that my clients want to work with me is that I am intuitive and try to be fun to work with. I love people! I have the skill to merge the styles of couples who feel that up until now they’ve had different desires or felt that they had nothing in common when it came to their spaces in terms of what they wanted to use it for or how they wanted it to look. I feel I have the ability to make each feel like they got what they wanted and needed out of the design.
Why is there such an obsession with midcentury design and tell us a little bit about what midcentury design is and who you consider to be the most relevant designers of that period?
I feel that the mid-century movement finally started addressing, in a real way, how people lived and how they wanted to live. Allowing the furniture and architecture to speak to function and aesthetic at the same time. Bringing nature in, and living out. The concept of indoor-outdoor living became a thing. Green housing concepts emerged. The kitchen at the center of the home and the center of entertaining became standard. Before that the kitchen was very separate from the rest of the entertainment space. The goings on in the kitchen were very much a behind the scenes element. The era began to focus much more on lifestyle and would go on to shape the way the modern family lives. It was an aesthetic that offered a unique and very different point of view, and offered that to anyone, even the average person with an average income. Especially as the tract housing and pre-fab homes became more of the norm. I think that made it very accessible. We learned that design can say more about who we are and that space can shape our lives. That resonated!
And although the concepts are simple and minimal, the pieces and spaces can be rich with color and texture. Mid-century modern also continued the notion of how the furniture could relate to the home itself, how it could be an extension of the home. The pieces are very architectural. Designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll and others have become so well known that there is a cache to owning an original piece from their wheelhouse. Furniture and architecture by certain designers from that era have come to be seen as works of art. If you have an original Eames Lounge, an Eero Saarinen tulip table set or own an original Richard Neutra home, it’s as cool as having a Pollock or Mondrian. And just as easily as you can collect a modern piece of art and mix it into a traditional space, you can do the same with those iconic mid-mod classics. Because the lines are cleaner the pieces can play or mix well with other styles. It makes it easy and less intimating than other aesthetics. Other favorite architects and designers from that era are Mies van der Rohe, Joseph Eichler, Le Corbusier, Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Marcel Breuer.
What design movement is your favorite and why?
For me it is undeniably modernism and the Bauhaus movement. The beginnings of modernism can be traced back to 1880. It was the idea that the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, the activities of daily life and even the sciences, were becoming irrelevant and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging industrialized world. "Make it new” said the poet Ezra Pound in 1934. How defining! My favorite modernist philosophy or way of thinking is that human beings have the power to create, improve and reshape their fate and their environment. There was little to none of that before the late 19th century. How that would inspire a whole new generation of artists and creators.
The Bauhaus emerged out of modernism. It was an art school that started in Germany in 1919. It combined architecture, fine art, crafts, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography and brought them together. It has been the most influential in modern design. Everything was done conservatory style and all of the artists worked together sharing their talents and philosophies, artistic and political. The goal of founder Walter Gropius was “to create a new guild of craftsman, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” He felt that art should meet the needs of society and there should be no distinction between form and function. I agree! If you are going to make something for a specific function there is no reason it shouldn’t be beautiful no matter how simple. Because modernism has radically simplified forms, Gropius and the movement felt mass-production could be harnessed by the individual artistic spirit. Making good design available to the masses for the first time. Their days were filled with radical experimentation of process and engineering in all the arts. That paved the way for designers like me who could come up with an idea and make it so.
What is the most important component to you in looking at design - function or aesthetics - should design ever be seen as being art?
As mentioned above, I think you can have both. I don’t think there is any need to separate them. There is always an ugly choice and a beautiful choice, both can be functional and both can be non-functional. It’s as simple as that. I do think that design should be seen as art. Art is a self expression of ones creativity or skill. That is interior design for me. Design is subjective just like art is. Design has significance, just like art does. It has influence on society, just like art does.
Is having a sense of humor important in design?
Most definitely! Design should inspire, titillate and excite. Design should be unexpected. It should make you think and make you smile. If space is meant to be an extension of ourselves and part of our self expression then it should highlight all of our quirks and oddities. It’s a reflection of ourselves. Design or the people creating design should not be too self important.
Who is your favorite furniture designer? Fashion designer? Interior designer? Architect? Human being?
Respectively, Thayer Coggin, Balmain, Kelly Wearstler, Richard Neutra, and my husband Dan Beecher. He is one of the most intelligent, creative, funny people I know!
Philippe Starck had a design competition on BBC called “Design for Life” a couple of years ago, trying to find the next young British designer – do you think these types of shows can help educate people on how communities improve with inspiring and environmentally conscious architecture and design?
I think the invention of the design show has educated the public about design, for better or worse. I feel that it has inspired the general public and taught them that good design is accessible. I think it has taken interior design beyond what just people with money can pay for. The desire for good design is greater than ever. Our generation realizes that it can be personal expression, an extension of ourselves, just like our personal fashion is. It has inspired people to improve their living quarters and given them a new sense of pride in their homes.
Where design shows hurt or do a disservice to society, is that it creates a misconception about the design process. They see the design process from start to finish in one hour and half hour increments and it gives them a false sense of everything we designers do behind the scenes, how long things actually take, and doesn’t show that working with a client through the design process is much more complicated than the show portrays. I think this can undervalue us as designers. It also doesn’t show in any great detail that being a designer is way beyond having a great aesthetic or being able to make a room pretty. If you can’t collaborate with clients and all other people in the industry well, if you can’t communicate with those people effectively, if you don’t know the industry or have an understanding of the terminology and how things work, if you have no concept of how to budget and creatively make the most of the budget, then you won’t be a good interior designer.
Denmark created their first National Design Policy in 1997, as one of the only countries in the world – Do you think that makes a difference in the evolution/development of new design and the role it plays in society and would you like to see something similar to that happen here in the States?
I think the arts in general are under-appreciated in this country. So many other nations such as Denmark see the importance of the arts and subsidize it and foster it accordingly. Our country has a hard time getting on board with even just education and funding. As if it is less important than reading and writing. I feel it is so important for our young ones and society as a whole to be influenced by fine art, interior design, music, theater, etc. It will be what takes our culture forward successfully. It’s what makes us human. So much emphasis in this country is put on the wrong ideals instead of seeing art and design as an innovative industry that can help shape our future. I love that Denmark created an agenda or platform for creative ideas and collaborations and are proud to be known as a design country. That’s beautiful!
Tell us a little bit about your process?
The first time I step into a space I immediately start imaging what might be possible or fun or interesting. I let the space speak to me and try to read between the lines with my clients by listening a lot. My design process is about being open to anything and everything. Some think that because your budget is limited that your creativity has to be and that is not true. I think that if anything, challenges allow for me to be more creative. I consider myself a problem solver. I always tell my clients that I don’t want them to feel boxed in by their budget or any other limitations, it stifles the design process. I want to dream big with them and get them excited and invigorated, help them see what I see. We can back those big ideas into the budget and in most cases find ways to make them work, but we never would have gotten there if we hadn’t allowed ourselves to dream big the in the first place.
Quite often I tell people that being an interior designer means I am part designer, part mentor, part teacher, part therapist and part mediator. To take people through the design process you have to be all of those things. I help the client find their inspiration while sharing my inspirations for the space. It’s about trust and openness of communication. It should also be fun! My favorite part about being a designer is hearing from a client at the end of a project that I gave them everything they didn’t know they wanted and they love it!
When I design furniture, lighting and accessories with my M3LD business partners the process is a bit different than that of my interior design process. It is fun to have different outlets for my creativity. And the act of creating and designing with two other designers is fun. We start by sketching our designs on paper. Sometimes it starts with a shape or material. Then we make a prototype of the item out of cardboard, foam core and or poster board so that we can make sure the scale is right. It also gives us insight into how it might be assembled or manufactured. Then we do a technical sketch of the item. Piecing our design together with swatches for finishes, and all technical specs. Then we send to our manufacturers so they can produce samples for us to approve. For the arrival of the samples for our first collection, me Jason and Brian and our partners got together to open all the boxes. It was like Christmas. We cracked a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Seeing the actual pieces that we had designed in the real was one of the most exciting things in my life up to this point. So amazing!
Who do you consider to be the most significant designer of all time and why?
I’ll be honest, my head is swimming and arguing with itself about which philosophical route I should take or where to start. I probably don’t even know enough to even know the answer, even for myself and what’s influenced me over the years. Maybe I’ll stay bigger picture here and say that those responsible for film and other visual media and the means of distributing that media, i.e. the internet, are the most influential because they allowed the sharing of culture and knowledge on a global scale. We have the entire world at our fingertips and we don’t even have to leave our home. No longer are we in our bubble unless we choose to be. I think that is a huge gift. That kind of accessibility will continue to make more and more artists as a result.
Where do you find most of your inspiration?
Travel, without a doubt. It allows me to leave my day to day routine, which even for me as a designer can become mechanical. My days are busy and long and and are filled with back to back tasks or appointments. Its hard to make time or to justify taking time to just think. Travel for me is therapy, I owe it to myself and my clients. Travel creates open space, that would have otherwise been filled with those daily tasks, for new ideas and dreams. It allows me to entrench myself in a new culture and lifestyle. Meet the people, eat their food, enjoy their art and architecture. Observe the colors of a new place, the smells of a new place, the fashion of a new place. I want to go to all the places. They all have something different to teach me. The world is abundant you just have to be ready and open to it.
What city do you see as having the most experimental and exciting design focus at the moment?
Tokyo! It is a city who hasn’t forgotten who it is. Widely embraces its history and pays honor to it’s past, while at the same time creating an amazing and quirky modern culture. That makes for a exciting juxtaposition that produces some weird and really cool stuff. Their fashion boarders on costume. In most cases the men’s fashion and style is so much more crazy than the women’s. Blurring the lines between what is masculine and feminine. Their modern architecture, some clean and sleek, some eccentric and bizarre. All mixed in with ancient temples and cemeteries. My feeling is that they are much more willing to think outside the box and redefine things. Not feeling limited to what the status quo is. They take pride in their city. As ancient and old as some parts of the city are, it’s the cleanest city I have ever been to. When you take pride in who you are you are less self conscience and willing to take more risk
Your favorite quote?
“Nothing is fucked dude, nothing is fucked!” —Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
“People who succeed aren’t super heroes. They are just a people that put their mind to something and did that thing.” —Paige Palmer
Tell us about your new company M3LD – how did that come about? And what void do you think Meld is filling online and here in SLC?
M3LD is a company that I started with two of my best friends Brian Garrett and Jason Frederick. Brian and I met working in the design industry 13 years ago. We always geeked out over the same design stuff and always had ideas of designing our own product line. When we met Jason, who had similar goals and inspirations and who has 20 years of product management experience we decided to collaborate and make our dream into a reality. Something that would have been very hard on our own would now be possible with the three of us working together. It has been a ton of hard work and an exercise in patience, but with the skills and creativity that each of us brings to the table helps compliment the dynamic. We work so well together. It is even more fulfilling to do something you find rewarding with the people you love and respect.
We love the modern movement and are inspired by a lot of different eras and schools of thought within that movement and philosophy. That said, our vision is to continually strive to be fresh and to challenge ourselves with every collection. We will always be inspired by what has come before in modernism, but it all needs to be relevant to now, to be reimagined and reinvented for today’s context. We chose Brutalism as the inspiration for our first collection. Our next collection draws inspiration from a different modern aesthetic that we feel flows from our brutalism seamlessly. It’s important to us to be true to our own design point of view, but we’re also keenly aware of what trends are happening, and we work hard to stay out in front of those trends.
Our goal is to lead the charge for good design and design products that we would like to see on the market, but don’t. We also feel that design should be accessible to the those who seek it. Culturally, society has become much more aware of good design in recent years. Discerning tastes in fashion and food are building, and design is no different. We feel that our demographic, 32-55 is hungry for rich and unique home goods but can’t necessarily afford a $10,000 table. We want to give them access to beautifully designed products that don’t require them maxing out their credit card. With our knowledge of materials and techniques that’s possible. We may do a higher end collection later on, allowing us to play with more expensive materials and manufacturing methods as a means of broadening our creativity, but I see us always having a range of products that the average person can afford. We don’t feel that you have to dumb it down for the masses.
Tell us a little bit about how you see the design consciousness in SLC changing?
I think that design consciousness here really started when people started changing their attitude about Salt Lake and started taking pride and ownership in where they lived. For so many years people were leaving our city in droves. It wasn’t cool enough, the dominant religion was oppressive. People were leaving for larger cities where “culture” had been established already, cities that already had a reputation for cool. It’s exciting that enough people started rethinking their plan. We realizing that if we stayed we could help create what other cities had done, and become something amazing. We could be a part of it from the ground up and do it our way. Be something unique and quirky and original. The people helping to make this city what it is are educated, creative and travel the world. We see what inspires us and then bring that back home, shaping and influencing the results. We want more and know that we can make it happen here instead of going somewhere else for it. And although the work is not done, (we are merely getting started) I think that we have an amazing burgeoning art culture, food culture, theatre culture, design culture. The Salt Lakers that I know are proud to say they are from Salt Lake. It will only keep snowballing. I think this city is the nations best kept secret.
Looking towards the future – where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in 25 years?
In 25 years I want to have designed some high profile residences and commercial spaces. I want to have designed a boutique hotel and done some incredible collaborations in interior design and product design with other designers I respect. M3LD will be a world brand in the design industry. I will still be designing product, but hopefully from various locations around the globe as I travel with Dan and friends. I can’t wait for the next 25 years.