30 Sep

Underneath the Stars in Paris | DIFFA Picnic by Design

The Soft Design Lab team loves to give props to our fellow designers…

Check out Robin Colton,  Robin Colton Design Studio in Austin, TX’s  post about her table for  DIFFA Picnic by Design. Back in June, Robin was telling me about the project at the Austin ASID chapter’s Elevate event that I spoke at.  She was inspired by a her trip to Paris and being a fellow Franc-o-phile we reminisced as she laid out the details of the table project. I am so excited to be able to share the process and the project with you .  Props, Robin!


Last Spring, I travelled with my family to France and dined (and danced) under the stars in Paris.  Each evening, sitting at a cafe table in Paris, I saw more than the company I was with and the food I was served.  I could see PARIS.  The feeling of that moment – the time in the evening when friends, family, and lovers fill the outdoor cafe tables to dine together – this was the inspiration for my picnic table presented at DIFFA’s Urban Picnic by Design.

Preparations began immediately following the honor of acceptance as one of the inaugural Designers for the event.  I partnered with David Wilkes Builders to execute my vision of dining under the stars in Paris.

The initial concept was to create a canopy structure that would house hundreds of tiny lights to act as the stars for the evening.  A few iterations on materiality and support for the canopy landed me in the steel fabricators shop sketching out the details of the steel structure that would act as the base for hundreds of ‘stars’, the night sky, and a nod to the architecture of Paris with a custom crown molding.



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Details are king when designing any space, structure, or even picnic table and basket.  Creating a cohesive design from start to finish was paramount.


Sewing the custom pink satin liner for the picnic basket.  The basket was completely transformed from its original state to include metallic paint on the exterior, the custom pink satin liner, removal of the original handles and the addition of a custom fabricated acrylic lid with a lovely acrylic and brushed steel handle.  Fabrics were generously donated by Kravet and the pull was also donated by my friend Jonathan Heibert with Push Pull Open Close.

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As Paris is the birthplace of Haute Couture, and because of my deep love for all things fashion, I created hand illustrated the backs of my custom head chair slipcovers.  Inspired by the fashionable ladies of Paris today and from years past (note the Marie Antionette inspired hair), with their pink ruffles and ostrich feathers these ladies helped set the tone for the evening.

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Final preparations under way the day of the event!

The custom fabricated and painted table top is on and the GORGEOUS antique mirror top is installed.  (See the lovely banquet tables in the background that each designer started with.)


Our steel canopy with crown moulding is ready to place on top of the table.13

The stars are illuminated in preparation for the guests arrival.


The city of Paris integrates the new with the old seamlessly.  The antique mirror table top was a lovely juxtaposition to the modern steel structure.


A suitable ‘french chic’ picnic outfit is selected complete with new pink sparkly Kate Spade shoes (a birthday treat – my daughter and I chose matching shoes – what wardrobe is complete without a little sparkle).


And the final result!  An evening in Paris under the stars – right here in Austin!

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I had such an amazing time dreaming of Paris as I designed the table.  The event was a huge success even exceeding expectations of the organizers in raising money for AIDS Services of Austin (it’s not too late to donate if you like).  I look forward to the event next year and hope that I am able to participate.  I know it will be even bigger and better for those of you who were not able to make it!22


David Wilkes Builders : (including Todd Campbell, Steve Messenger, Alan Heine, Jim Donovan)

Anchor Ventana : donation of glass table top

Kravet Fabrics : donation of fabrics used on basket and napkin rings

Personal Wine : supplied wine and engraved wine box for picnic basket

Coleman Interiors : custom slipcovers

Push Pull Open Close : picnic basket handle

Dog Iron Press : sponsorship of table top decor

BPI Team : sponsorship of florals, ribbons, and vases

Professional photos Jake Holt Photography (photos under final result and first photo of post)


22 Sep


Over the past couple of years as designers have worked hard to redefine our industry and carve out new niches and business models  an alarming trend has emerged.  Individuals of questionable levels of design education, experience, training, and practice are claiming DESIGN EXPERT status in an attempt to differentiate themselves from the pack. 

Claims are wide ranging and are worded to  place the person behind them at the very top of the ever growing pile of competitors.






The problem with these claims the use of one little world – THE .   These individuals are not just claiming that they are experts in a segment of design or design in general, they are claiming that they are THE TOP DESIGN EXPERT, THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN, THE BE ALL AND END ALL OF KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE.

The definition of EXPERT is:  A person who has special skill or advanced knowledge in some particular field.

The definition of THE TOP EXPERT is:  A single person who has more special skills and advanced knowledge than anyone else in a particular field.

While there are many levels of expertise in any given subject there can only be one top spot.  The problem that I have with using this verbiage to describe your individual skill level is that there is no way for anyone to vet your skill level and it is easy for anyone to make a similar claim.

In his book The OutliersMalcom Gladwell illustrates that exceedingly successful people who become top leaders in their fields have spent on average, approximately 10,000 hours of totally immersive study and practice, over at least 10 years honing their skills and perfecting their craft.

At the very least I think we can all agree that it takes many years of  education, study and practice to become proficient enough at anything to become and expert at it.  Attending one lecture or online course, or reading a pamphlet on a subject is simply not enough to certify a person with expert status.

Today it is very easy for anyone to find information on any subject online and reword it as their own hard earned knowledge and many people seem to be taking this shortcut to set themselves up as the go to source for a particular niche.  The problem with this scenario is that without doing the hard work themselves they are merely putting out borrowed information that they don’t truly understand and calling it expert advice at the same time.

I have seen some really unbelievable example’s of this online lately from misleading blog posts to  lectures full of inaccurate information at trade shows and industry events, to “advice from the EXPERTS columns” in leading shelter magazines that are giving out incorrect information.

As an industry of professionals it is vital that we have industry standards and best practices that have a basis founded in legitimate expertise and experience so that the quality of service, workmanship and product has a level of excellence and  consistency that the buying public can rely upon.


In addition to this self appointed, top of the pile “DESIGN EXPERT some individuals are also handing out their own private brand of NICHE CERTIFICATION  to other designers who frequent their websites or blogs, attend classes given by them or buy self published booklets they have produced.  This is unaccredited certification for sale to anyone and it is a potentially dangerous trend that will undermine legitimate accreditation and weaken our industry.

Certification is defined by Wikipedia as:   The confirmation of certain characteristics of a person. This confirmation is often, but not always, provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. Accreditation is a specific organization’s process of certification.

There are very few professions in which members can appoint themselves as certifying bodies and hand out official certifications to their peers.  A lawyer cannot grant another person a certification stating that he is an expert in law.  That person must go to law school, pass his Bar exam and become legally licensed in order to call himself a lawyer.  In the area of design we have many legitimate organizations that provide the education and guidance necessary for an individual to garner certification on a variety of niche topics.


Certification usually consists of the following component’s:

  1. Intensive, scaled, and targeted education provided by instructors sanctioned by the certifying body.
  2. A standardized test of your skill level administered by the certifying body.
  3. Continuing education to keep your skills fresh and current as a condition of continued certification.

My advise is to leave certification to the legitimate licensing bodies.  Don’t fall for false and empty certification scams.

Certification vs A Certificate of Attendance, Participation, or Achievement.

An alternative to an official certification that can be a benefit to the individual designer is a Certificate of Attendance, Participation, or Achievement.  This type of document certifies that a person has participated in or attended an educational event.  This is a legitimate document that anyone providing educational content or events can award to their attendees without crossing the blurred lines of official certification.

Any designer can proudly display such a certificate without any doubt to its validity.



I would advise anyone that if they are seeking out advanced or continuing education in design that they do some homework and at least Google the individual or group offering that education to see if they are truly legitimate.  Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  1. How long have they been practicing in their particular area of expertise?   Is this a new niche for them?  Do they have a history of providing education in this niche or are they just now jumping on the bandwagon?
  2. What type of formal education do they have in this niche?
  3. What type of certification do they have in their particular field?
  4. Are they affiliated with professional organizations or associations in their field?
  5. Are they recognized by their peers as an industry expert or are they just tacking expert onto their name?
  6. Have they published books or professional articles on their subject of expertise? If they are advertising themselves as authors do they have a legitimate publisher or are they selling self published material.  The term author is historically reserved for professionally published writers and as the author of 4 books for the trade it is a distinction that is very hard to earn and one that I cherish as such.  That being said, self published material can be very well put together and full of real expert education and information – just be wary of the “fluff”  that some people are generating right now.
  7. Have any of your peers taken any of their classes or purchased educational products from them?  What was their opinion of the material?

design expert idcec    aia design expert

Experience vs Education

Education and Certification do not always trump life experience. There are many individuals who have honed their skills over years of practice and have become true experts in their fields and excellent teachers in their own right.  Most of the time they will have well documented proof of expertise on their websites and a long history of practicing their craft that you can easily track.


The educational landscape in Design is getting more crowded everyday and there is an increase in competition for every dollar being spent and every open slot at educational events. Unfortunately there is no easy way for you to know who is legit and who is faking it. So it is up to you to do the research and make the judgment call on whether or not the person in question has some real substance and good information.  If you do take some time to vet the people who are offering you their services you should have no trouble finding great educational opportunities.

18 Sep

Upholstery Nail Heads – Ultimate Source Directory

images Upholstery Nailheads  are one of the oldest forms of decoration used in the construction of furniture.  Dating back as far as to the Iron Age, craftsman have created a decorative head to the lowly nail to make it beautiful.   Today we are seeing more and more ingenious and elaborate applications of nail heads in all areas of decoration.   10358575_730332207039045_7763446558672767588_nFrom the traditional application


to the sublime,  the options are endless.

The key is to be able to find the right product for your particular application. So we are helping you out by putting together:

The Soft Design Lab –  Ultimate Source Directory for Upholstery Nail Heads

We have compiled the most complete directory of decorative nail head manufacturers, distributors and sources available to the trade as well as a few retail sources for DYI’ers. 

 First up is the big player in the Decorative Nail Head biz


There are only a few key players in this industry and D.A.D.S. is one of the largest and well recognized manufacturers. They  have a huge range of style, sizes, finishes, and novelties nail heads available at wholesale.  They are sold by the box at full put up.  If you want small quantities from these manufacturers you can purchase them through to the trade reseller and distributors or retail outlets which we have listed below.

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At D.A.D.S. they  have hundreds of styles and most are usually in stock and ready to ship.  There are downloadable catalogs and sample boards available for purchase. logo Next up is Heiko Direct.  They are also manufacturer and they have some unique styles available in many finishes styles and sizes.  Their website is a bit hard to navigate but they have catalogs and sample boards available.  If D.A.D.S.doesn’t have what you are looking for chances are that Heiko will have it

Raised Star UdSF2612 I love this Greek Key design and they have many other unite shapes and finishes.

One of their specialties are two pronged decorative nails.  These are great for corners and They work great anchor points in your designs that you can connect with less expensive standard round nail heads.  They look particularly good on cornice boards.