I was spending this past Friday night squeezing in a bit of self-care after getting the kids in bed, reading Eloisa James’ latest novel, and these two sentences gave me pause: “You are a brilliant woman, who sees the world as an artist does: in color, light, and shape. And like any other artist, you want to spend your days creating beauty.” It’s been an interesting year so far in the life of Cat. One of growth, risks, juggling of all the balls in the air. But the recent passing of one my first clients has me pausing for a moment to reflect on the meaning of being an artist, this insatiable desire to create, and the meaning of one’s legacy.
I first met Bruno through his wife, Corey, as we were mid-way through the Kenan Institute for the Arts project. Corey and Bruno had just purchased a new home in Winston-Salem, and Corey asked me if I would be willing to help them with their new home. Her husband, she said, was a composer, and she wanted to make sure that he had a space for him to work. Would I be willing to come meet him and see if I could help?
So here I am, little baby designer Cat, in the home of two very established and brilliant artists, asking questions like, “how do you work? what do you like to look at? what is your favorite thing in this room? any colors you love or hate? do you need storage? does your storage need to be open or closed?” and Bruno starts talking about his current desk set up (to stay as is) and points to this piece of art his mother painted that he absolutely loves, and then the magic happens; he starts to show me all of his instruments.
Here’s the thing about Bruno – he was all about connection and collaboration. There’s a tendency in the world of fine arts to bring a bit of elitism and snobbery to the conversation as a way to establish yourself as the authority, the artiste. But this man took a moment to pause in his editing work, picked up the first instrument at hand (a banjo), and started to play a bit as we talked about blue grass and Merlefest, and acoustical needs and instrument storage, and then, in the midst of the fifth instrument demonstration, the real design intention for his new workspace became apparent. Bruno really needed a space for informal jam sessions. And thus my marching orders were born.
The Artist Retreat project really became about a collection of connected spaces (aesthetically through color and texture), that provided different spaces for collaboration and connection through music and conversation in different rooms throughout their home. One of my favorite expressions of this was the use of Christopher Alexander’s “different chairs” in which all of the spaces had different seating types so that each person could choose their own place. Shortly after the project completed, Corey sent me a video of their housewarming party in which an impromptu jam session had broken out.
A few weeks ago, Corey broke the news to her community on Facebook that Bruno was in his final days. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed that week, Bruno posted a collection of memories in pictures to his page. A photo of his workspace that we designed together made it in the collection, and y’all, it was this moment in which it solidified to me this is what I’m on Earth here to do. This is my why.
Interior design to me is so much about the intersection of form and function. I often joke to clients that I can make it pretty, but I want to know how you function, and how do you want to use this space, and more importantly, how do you want it to feel? That a space that we’ve created together, when finished, feels like a space that is a reflection of you, is the most rewarding part of my job. That a cell phone picture of Bruno’s studio in it’s raw, everyday form, made it in his final collection is altogether humbling, joyful, and poignant.
To Bruno and Corey, thank you both so much for taking a chance on me as a baby designer. Your desire to spend your days creating beauty was really affirming for me as a new artist in the field. I loved the expectation for collaboration and communication (the foundations of my business today), and that all participants are equals in the process. I’ve tried to bring these lessons to every new client and project since. Please rest in peace and music, dear Bruno. And until we meet again, I’ll be holding y’all in the light.