Episode 343: Evolution of a Design(er) with Thom Filicia, Part II

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I am joined again by a very special and meaningful guest, Thom Filicia. Not only is he the top designer and founder of Thom Filicia Incorporated, but he is the entire reason I am a designer today. So let’s dive into part two of my conversation with him on the evolution of design.

If you have missed last week’s episode on Thom’s background, how his love of interior design began, and the most difficult part about being a new designer for him, then you will want to go back to part one of this conversation.

This episode, we discuss…

[1:41] What it means to be an innovator in the design space right now

For Thom, innovators are always thought to be a little crazy in the beginning stage of something new. What happens is that these innovators are breaking the rules and modernizing the things from the past that haven’t worked before. So he loves having conversations with people willing to take risks and change things that don’t work as they should. 

Being a designer shouldn’t be about walking around with a massive bag of fabrics, getting on your client’s private plane, and being at their beck and call 24/7 anymore. Since it is a professional industry now with getting a degree like other industry professionals, Thom believes there has to be a process and a way for clients to interact with their designers and vice versa.

Another idea in the design world is that you are to be your client’s best friends and tell them what they want to hear and although Thom thinks there should still be some of that, but it shouldn’t be like it once was. Today, he believes that interior designers are professionals with contracts where clients are held accountable for their contracts. Clients are spending lots of money even in the more affordable design space, but to that person, they are still spending their hard-earned money.

Thom loves the mix of high, medium, and low design, like in the fashion, food, and wine industries. He loves finding inexpensive bottles of wine that are delicious and mixing that with Chateau de Rothschild. That mix makes the world of style today much more captivating. In the design world, combining old, vintage, antique, contemporary, and mid-century all together allows others to create their own combinations. It’s not so much about what you should do or what you have to do. It’s about creating interiors in a way that fits your point of view and your lifestyle. This is where we are right now in design, taking things to the next level.

At one point, what is now seen as the traditional interior design was very modern. Billy Baldwin painting French furniture white was definitely not something you were supposed to do. Now you see it as traditional. So many amazing things we eat, see, and wear are coming from pretty entry-level things. Seeing people think, communicate, collaborate, and share with others is cool, especially in design.

[9:04] Evolution of design to include more everyday types of people

People often miss the days when interior designers had access to certain products. You couldn’t just buy things online. It wasn’t a great time for designers because they were treated like their clients’ best friends until something went wrong. They would find a new interior designer to work with. Professionalism wasn’t where it is today.

Now is a great time to be interested in coming up with ideas rather than your value being in the secrets you had for the design. Your value should be what you bring to the table professionally, and people should pay for it. This is what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, how long it’s going to take, and how much it’s going to cost. If people don’t want to do it themselves, it shouldn’t be a rare thing to get.

[12:26] What Thom is most excited about in design right now

For Thom, it’s such an amazing design moment, where it is about your personal aesthetic. He has talked to many clients about things they gravitate towards, looking inward for solutions, not looking for what your friends have done, what’s in magazines, or what’s trending. Instead, it’s about figuring out what you like, what you gravitate towards instinctually, and letting those leads be your springboard. 

You can use that and combine it with things that are happening right now in fashion with color and design to bring those things together. What you create is so much more unique and personalized. The world is your oyster because design from all over the world is at our fingertips. So the real question is, what’s your aesthetic? Who are you in design?

[14:13] Stepping into the client role as a designer when designing for yourself

You have to step out of your role as the designer and leader and step into your role as the client. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is what your day-to-day life looks like, what you are doing on the weekends, and what your lifestyle is like when it comes to living in your home.

If you are living at a lake house in Michigan, like me, Thom mentions that you know how you truly live in that space, or like me moving to Connecticut, you have to forecast your lifestyle in the exact same way. 

Once you have your layout planned, you will start to have so many solutions for your design dilemmas in a new home as a designer that feels like a chameleon for every client. When you figure things out this way, you don’t have to worry about what material to use and where. You will also focus on where the furniture will go along with the layout you’ve created. The function is more important than the looks of something right now. When that happens, all of a sudden, you are a designer. It may be that you start to see where the pieces fit together. 

Sometimes when Thom is looking at very traditional homes, he leans a little bit more modern on the interior because he wants more balance. However, there are other times he mentions when he deals with something opposite in the modern structure. In that case, he wants those interior elements to be warmer and less sleek to give you something for the eye and your soul to grab on to.

We look for so many answers as interior designers that clients don’t understand where that information comes from. It comes from the location, lifestyle, and architecture surrounding the client. So you have to figure out how you want to live in the house in Connecticut differently than your house at the lake. That will give you a great direction.

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