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Publication Date: 2014-03-31

Inspiration

Design Duo to Watch: Decorative Traces

With a firm grasp on classical design history and a love of vintage inspired finds, Jessica Stambaugh and Danielle Mastrangelo create cool, sophisticated interiors.

Kicking off a new series, one that looks at design duos that are leading the way today, I share an in-depth look at the creative forces running on-the-cusp and established firms, sharing the realities of starting and running a design firm, covering a range of topics from the rising influence of social media to attracting new clients. Starting with Decorative Traces, whose work is highly influenced by their decorative arts knowledge, lets meet this duo that's doing it right. Meeting as grad students in the decorative arts at Parsons, Jessica and Danielle quickly realized their tastes and interests were intertwined, and launched their design studio and online shop Decorative Traces two years later. Meet The Talent.

Who did you work for and where did you study to learn the trade?

Jessica: I worked for domino magazine as a market assistant under creative director Sara Costello. Shortly after, I started taking classes in interior design at Parsons, and ultimately got my master’s from NYU in American Design History.

Danielle: I worked for New York-based design firm Meyer Davis Studio under Gray Davis and Will Meyer. I received my interior design training at Parsons and my master’s in the History of Decorative Arts & Design from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

When did you know this was your calling in life?

Jessica: Helping my mother renovate a Greek Revival house when I was growing up—she wasn’t a designer—but historical restoration became a family hobby and I got to learn the ins and outs of the process and resources via her projects. Later when I was a bit older, my family again worked on a historical home, this time a Victorian in a coastal town. Sifting through wallpaper samples, and chiming in on color palettes, and fabrics was quite exciting. We worked with historical consultants, and used some period furnishings, but also tried to keep the house modern and comfortable. This not only inspired me to become a designer, but also instilled an early appreciation for historical design.

Danielle: I grew up around furniture. My paternal grandfather was an upholsterer and my maternal grandfather owned a foundry where he produced all types of metalwork, including patio furniture. My parents always seemed to be redecorating, and I was always around to offer my opinion. Decorating has always been intuitive for me, and I have always felt deeply drawn to it for as long as I can remember. As a child I was constantly rearranging the furniture in my room and dreaming up new color palettes. I don’t really know when exactly I realized I had to be a designer, but I can say from a very early age—9 or 10—I felt deeply attracted to and interested in design.

How did you know you were ready to strike out on your own, and when did you?

When we met in graduate school in 2010, we immediately felt a strong connection to collaborate. We quickly learned that we had so much in common including where we went to college, mutual friends, our yoga studio, and a shared passion for design. After a trip to the Brimfield Antiques Show, we began our conversation about how we could potentially work together. It was empowering to meet one another, and during graduate school we began to refine our vision and sensibility. We started taking on clients while still in school, and shortly after graduation in 2013 we launched our e-commerce site.

What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?

Find like-minded, positive, and passionate collaborators. Trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to adapt and revise.

Do you have a design mentor?

Danielle: Gray and Will were wonderful people to work for, and I learned a ton from them about architecture/design, and how to run a business and work with clients. While working at Meyer Davis, I also had an amazing mentor, designer and architect David Ries. He helped me in every bind I ever found myself in and taught me how to handle those difficult situations with grace and confidence. He also instilled that having fun along the way is vital—something they don’t necessarily teach you in school.

You both are well versed in the decorative arts and antiques what is the best part of applying that knowledge to interiors and educating your clients? Does it make mixing styles and periods easier and what advice can you share about that so people are not so intimidated by it?

A cultivated eye for design history adds a layer of intention behind every choice you make for an interior. Our education in design history enhances our interior design process twofold. First, it helps in our own creative process, gathering imagery and sourcing unique furnishings. Second, it provides a context for our clients about the importance of investing in design history and incorporating the old with the new.

It definitely makes mixing styles and periods easier. Having a historical background enables us to recognize styles that complement each other and those that don’t. For example, reupholstering a vintage art deco chaise in a modern geometric pattern feels appropriate, and our clients appreciate our dedication to that process.

The best part is seeing our clients get excited about bringing vintage or antique items into their spaces and giving those furnishings new life.

Do you have a signature look and how would you define it?

Our signature look is a balance between classic and eccentric. We tend to use tonal color palettes and accent them with layered uses of pattern, texture, and sheen.

How do your clients find you?

Clients mostly find us by word-of-mouth. Sometimes we get an email from someone who found us in a publication. (They were recently featured on elledecor.com, for the work they did on friend Indre Rockefeller's city apartment, slide 9.)

What is the biggest challenge of being your own boss? Has that evolved from when you began?

The biggest challenge (and pro) of being your own boss is not having someone to tell you what to do! You are calling all the shots, so in the end you are always responsible for the outcome, which is exciting and empowering, but also a bit scary. Luckily we have each other, so we are able to balance each other and help each other out in myriad ways. Since we started, we have definitely become more deliberate about taking on specific tasks and dividing up our workload. This helps with the day-to-day and managing projects.

Whose work of the past do you hold in high regard?

Albert Hadley. Stanford White. Sister Parish. Eileen Gray. Madeleine Castaing.

What books, old and new, do you constantly refer to?

The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts, House & Garden Complete Guide to Interior Decoration, Decorating is Fun! by Dorothy Draper, Vogue Living: Houses, Gardens & People, The Big Book of Chic by Miles Redd, The Encyclopedia of Furniture by Joseph Aronson, Steven Gambrel: Time & Place

Where are you going for inspiration?

Traveling is always very inspiring. We try to take two big trips together a year—this year is San Francisco and New Orleans—and a bunch of mini trips along the east coast. Our eyes are immediately refreshed when we leave the city. We are also avid pinners on Pinterest . It’s amazing to be able to wake up, sign on, and have a plethora of aspirational images at your fingertips.

What do you think is next big thing as far as trends in color, material, style, influence, historical period and locale?

Right now we are feeling really inspired by matte surfaces and colors with a Neoclassical feel. But we’re also excited by bright colors and textures, like orange and pinks, mohair, and animal prints that feel a bit 1980s and postmodern.

What material do you love?

We love to use brass, marble, Farrow & Ball wallpapers and paints, and encaustic tiles.

Where do you shop to get inspired?

On our recent trip to San Francisco, we fell in love with the home store March and curiosity shop Bell’Occhio.

In Paris we love to visit Collette and in Florence we feel very inspired by the fine paper shops. We have our regular stops for vintage furnishings along the East Coast. In the city we frequent Showplace Antique & Design Center on 25th street.

Where are you eager to do a project?

We would love to get a project on Martha’s Vineyard, one our favorite places to visit in the summer.

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