Creative Impact is a new series profiling creative people who are using their vision and skills to improve the world around them. DC-based interior and textile designer Caryn Cramer provides a window into her process and perspectives.

Interview with Caryn Cramer, Textiles and Interiors Designer

November 2014

Verena Radulovic: What does being a designer mean to you?
Caryn Cramer: For me, being a designer is about helping people live better.

VR: Why is design important in our lives?
CC: Design has the power to affect so many aspects of our lives – our productivity, focus, energy levels, moods, happiness, relationships to others. I think a lot of people aren’t really conscious of the extent to which the colors and textures and architecture we interact with in our built environments affect us on a daily basis. It’s amazing how we can take direction and cues from these things. Lots of studies have been done on how an office’s design, from its cubicles to group tables, either promotes or kills teamwork, productivity, communication, etc. But many people don’t think as much about how even in your home life, design affects you profoundly. Maybe some people feel fragmented and isolated in very chopped-up spaces or others too exposed or unable to sleep well in a wide open loft. I wish more people paid attention to that. Being in a space that is transformative for you affects the depth of your being. I’m very intrigued by that. Sometimes the first step to getting into the design process may seem shallow to some people -upholstery fabrics, throw pillows, a bedspread. But to me, all those things affect people deeply.

VR: What other designers inspire you and why?
CC: In textile design, I am very inspired by Maija Isola, who was a painter and a textile designer from Finland, and by Josef Frank, an Austrian-born textile designer who relocated to Sweden. There’s something very powerful – almost political – about their work: coming out of World War II, their patterns and colorways brought joy, exoticism and dreams to people during a rather depressing post-war time. Their work is filled with fantasy and fun – a visual laughter – and they affected people’s mindset by spreading positive energy that needed to be spread in Europe.

VR: How do you translate what inspires you into the design process to create a product?
CC: For interiors and textiles both, the process starts at a conceptual level. With interior design, I absorb cues from both the client’s taste and their space’s architectural style to figure out how the two will interact. Is there a dissonance – a contrast – that energizes them? Or are they in total seamless alignment? For example, someone might live in a Colonial style home but prefer sleek, contemporary furnishings. I try to figure out what people collect, what inspires them in a tactile way, as well as what makes them tick intellectually. It can be really abstract. With one client, the project’s concept related to graphs, data structures, and the use of line, which were visual representations of how he lives, his way of analyzing, the source of his professional success. When he is in his space, the patterns and design-lines — either in a chair’s legs or a rug pattern — all have a deeper meaning that are very personal to how he operates.

For textile design, my concepts for each collection come from within me and my own intellectual curiosities and idiosyncrasies. Right now, I am working on a collection inspired by ancient Egyptian artifacts and patterns. I’ve taken a few sketching trips to Europe: I love the process of understanding first what the literal thing is, sketching it verbatim. It’s amazing how hand-drawing a thing, as opposed to photographing it, somehow internalizes it much more deeply for me. At some point after interacting with the originals, I have an “aha!” moment and can start to pass these forms and patterns through my own lens and produce my own interpretations.

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VR: What are you trying to communicate with your textiles?
CC: I want people to feel that something deeper is going on – that there’s some thought or meaning behind the abstractions. For example, there’s a whole imaginary narrative to my most recent patterns, the Journey Collection, that you would never exactly discern from just seeing the patterns, but that you might feel or wonder about or even create your own. They make you think a bit. I certainly hope my patterns emotionally affect people: I want them to spread a bit of joy, of laughter, a sense of positivity and passion. Spaces should inspire!

See the collection at www.caryncramer.com