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Publication Date: 2011-10-20

Behind the Design

Q&A with Joe Lucas and Parrish Chilcoat of Harbinger

“A well-designed room is like a great first date—just flirtatious enough to make you want to come back for more,” says interior designer Joe Lucas. If that’s true, the spaces Lucas designs with his partner Parrish Chilcoat are not only good first dates, but ideal long-term partners as well: traditional and timeless while still feeling fresh and modern. Lucas and Chilcoat founded their West Hollywood design firm Lucas Studio in 2005 and their store Harbinger in 2008, recently expanding it. We asked Lucas about the pair’s approach to design, their eclectic influences, and how to create trend-resistant furniture.

Q: Your interior design work strikes me as hitting a rare balance between masculine and feminine aesthetics. How do you master this, and any tips for people looking to achieve that look in their own home?

A: That’s actually wonderful to hear because it’s definitely a goal of ours. It’s like fashion—a collection has to balance different elements. Something feminine, something masculine. Something formal, something casual. And if you can mix pieces together well and add accessories that change from time to time, then you have done your job. It’s the same formula for a beautiful room or a collection of furniture. Our Rope Nesting Tables are very masculine and could be seen as informal, but when you put them next to our classic Antwerp Tufted Sofa it pulls the two together and I think becomes a wonderful story.

Q: In your mind, is there a Lucas Studio look?

A:We have the hardest time describing exactly what our “look” is. But every time we’re done installing a project we say “wow, this is very Lucas Studio.” So yes, I guess there is! Parrish and I really try to aim for a clean and classic aesthetic in both our design projects and our showroom. We usually just call it comfortable, livable design. Traditional where it needs to be, but with a younger, playful edge. We try not to be too serious because that can take all the fun out of it.

Q: You’ve said your goal through Harbinger is to offer trend-resistant finds—what do you consider trend-resistant?

A:Classic shapes that will never bore you. I just bought a beautiful little settee from the 1960s at a flea market; it was in a hideous gold silk damask with terrible tufting detail that looked like it was found in the back alley of the White House 30 years ago. But with a little reshaping and a funkier, more current fabric, she is all new—and coming soon to Harbinger’s Dering Hall storefront. Our Sellig Walnut Bed is another great example. It’s a classic beautiful piece made of solid walnut. This is a bed I could use time and time again in our design projects and never get sick of it.

Q: What are the hallmarks of a well-designed room?

A: Good scale. It has to be comfortable. It needs to be inviting but also intriguing enough to make you step back and take it in. And it should always have a bit of a sense of humor.

Q: Take us through the first steps of doing a room, or a house.

A: It really depends on the house and the client. It’s all very personal so we can’t just barge right in and do whatever we feel like. We take in the house, the style, the layout, the lights and then we make sure that we understand the client and how they are going to live in the house. That gives us our starting point. Hopefully by the time they hire us they have seen our other work and will trust us. It’s impossible to create a balanced home if the trust is not there and the clients fight you the whole time.

Q: What are some of your biggest influences and how are they reflected in your Dering Hall products?

A: Beautiful, classic shapes, as we have said before. How can you not love the lines of our Oslo Painted Armchairs? They are fun but formal at the same time. Another big influence is the water. We both grew up back east in coastal communities and Harbinger is named after one of my family’s antique sailboats, so water is always on our mind. The ease of some of our pieces and their finishes come from that inspiration. We definitely love our blues and greens. And our Oyster Bay Coffee Table and Console feel like the hull of a stripped-down boat.

Q: Though your work appears largely traditional, it often has a touch of the exotic—an Uzbeki suzani draped over a table, an ikat-covered armchair. What’s the best way to introduce a global influence into a traditional interior?

A: It’s all part of creating a well-rounded room. Every space needs something a little playful, and exotic or global pieces help. A lot of the time those are the elements that lend the texture to a room as well. Some of my favorite new products that we are selling at our shop in West Hollywood right now are these amazing hand-woven baskets from Namibia and beautiful Ethiopian hand and bath towels. They come in some crazy and beautiful colorways that you rarely see but they mix so beautifully with more traditional pieces.

Q: Is travel a big influence on your design?

A: Yes, travel is so important—although it’s hard to get away! I was in Paris earlier this year on a sourcing trip and found some of my favorite pieces. My newest obsession is this plaster chandelier that we carry in our West Hollywood shop. It’s a very traditional shape but made out of this amazing chalky plaster, including the plaster “crystals” dangling down. While traveling I often get inspired by finishes. I can’t tell you how many pictures of doors and walls I must have from my recent trips to France and Brazil. I see some old piece of wood or brightly painted door with years and years of weather underneath and say: “Oh my God we have to make a table with that finish!”

Q: You describe your firm as “dedicated to providing stylish, comfortable, and sustainable interiors.” What does “sustainable” mean in this context?

A: When we say sustainable we are not talking “green” necessarily. Yes, that’s important to think about, and we do use a lot of green materials. But our main priority is creating houses that will last. We want the homeowners to love what we put into their spaces that day, and for years to come. It goes back to the trend-resistant issue. We definitely think about this when dealing with children’s rooms. Kids change their minds about what they like more often than they text, so we really push our clients to do a more sophisticated look in their spaces—but something that is still fun and young. The key is to create a room that can grow with them and not feel like it was just recreated out of a catalogue.

Q: Is there design or decorating advice that has consistently served you well over the years?

A: A great designer we worked with in the past always used to say “it’s too much of a good thing.” No offense to Martha Stewart, but he was right. It comes down to the editing. Is that extra pillow or that “matchy-matchy” fabric really necessary or does it take away from what you already have? You have to know when to pull back.

-Jaime Gross

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