Skin Deep pix
Laura Guido-Clark's intuitive finishes and color choices scratch the surface of a profound design discipline
Diane Clearview -- Interior Design, 5/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
A test swatch for a print in Flor's "She Loves Me" carpet.
Laura Guido-Clark is all about surfaces. But her work for Samsung, Toyota Motor Corporation, and Mattel is hardly superficial. As a consultant on color, materials, and finishes for these clients, her job is as much about psychology as appearances.
"It's not just using an incredibly loud color to grab attention," she explains. "It's keen observation and experimentation. You have to make a diagnosis."
Ironically, Guido-Clark once tapped those same skills as a pre-med student, until a change of heart led her to study design at Wayne State University. Because she values diverse experiences, she also practiced as a student weaver and full-time textiles representative, before launching her Berkeley, California-based consultancy in 2001. Three passionate interests that shaped her career path still drive her work: the emotive potential of textiles, the importance of craft, and the colors of nature.
We spoke to her as she wrapped up a trip to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan. "I'll probably get to enjoy one more gelato and an excellent meal, then I'm on a flight back home," she told us. These trips always inspire ideas that will likely turn up in her clients' product "skins"—meaning finishes and casings.
Upon hearing that she also helped create the showrooms for furniture manufacturers Metro and Brandrud for the upcoming NeoCon World's Trade Fair next month, we just couldn't wait for a product launch to pick her brain.
So, at the Salone, what struck your fancy?
I loved Tord Boontje's laser-cut fabrics and Marcel Wander's soap-shape bathtub. Scanning shows is like a puzzle. I'm looking to understand the undercurrent, what I believe the next surge of creative energy will be.
Much of your work involves divining future needs. What's the forecast?
That's the thing about working on concepts that figure so heavily in a corporation's future: practically everything is a trade secret.
But broadly speaking, the trend is toward things that show evidence of craft. We're all being forced to move at a pace that just isn't human. Even FedEx isn't fast enough anymore! So we need to know that some things are still handmade and will retain their value.
How would you describe what you do to someone you met at a dinner party?
I specialize in the "skin" of things. But what's interesting is that I have to understand the inside before I can think about the outside.
If I'm working on a car, for example, I can't approach it thinking, "Let's do a leather that's durable, and make it this color." I have to understand whom the car is for, how it will perform, and the feeling you get when driving it.
How do you keep your approach to projects fresh?
I try being as open as possible—to treat everything as if I've never done it before.
How do you choose which clients to take on?
I look at things less by the project and more by the creative energy behind the project's team.
I love collaboration. It's about bringing your best to the table, sharing, and growing.
What modern-day artifact would you most like to makeover?
Trade shows. They're all wrong. Your heart should feel lifted, not worn down.
What can you tell us about your work at NeoCon next month?
I'm trying to get a deeper experience into the booths and showrooms. I don't gravitate to the use of incredibly loud colors without relevance, or props and things that take it outside of its true purpose. I think showrooms can be experiential in an interesting way, and less about the hype.
For Metro, which is introducing a secret product, we're giving the space a fresh springlike look. We used pink on some of the seating—which was such a fun thing to bring pink into the product line—also some pale blues and yellow-greens.
Brandrud's product is for the education and health-care industries, so the materials, finishes, and palette are more comforting. Colors are very creamy, with blue-green and a hint of red-orange—almost like this amazing poppy. There's a wonderful burst of energy, but also a balance of the warm, which is the heart, and the cool, which is the mind.
Is pink a scary color for clients?
Personally, I believe pink is the new neutral. Also, hearing the word "pink" and seeing it in context are two very different things.
How did you decide to leave medicine behind?
It was a revelation—that's the only way I can describe it. I got up in the middle of some organic chemistry experiment and turned in all of my equipment. I left my lab partners standing there saying, "You're going to regret this for the rest of your life." But I never have. There's a clear career path in medicine, and I haven't had that with design.
My first job out of school was working as a textile rep. After that, I did a one-year course with a woman who taught me how to weave. I don't want to present myself as an expert weaver, but I loved understanding how things come into being—the quality of something feeling good to the hand, and what makes you want to touch it.
What does your future hold?
Most of my work is confidential, so it's easier to talk about completed projects. I just finished the color palette and trending on a style guide for Mattel's Barbie-inspired line of clothing for girls. And I oversee the selections in the Flor catalogue four times a year. Then, there's work for Design Within Reach in the fall, and Godiva Chocolatier in August.
How does Berkeley affect your work?
I have a home perched up on a hill, with nature all around me. And I love the city's diversity, the open-mindedness, the creativity. The question there is always "Why not?" And I always wonder the very same thing.