Thursday, July 9, 2009

DESIGNERS I ADMIRE: J. Randall Powers

Style and Grace

Houston designer J. Randall Powers. Photograph by Jenny Antill.

Houston designer Randy Powers has transformed Texas interiors and given them a cosmopolitan beat. He is also one of the most charming men on the planet. Whether cutting a swathe through a fusty junk/antique shop in a dodgy part of Houston, wading through a dusty rare books emporium, or leaping in to his design-mobile (stacks of Persol sunglassses in impeccable cases in the ‘sunglass compartment’), he is witty, dashing, charming, and superbly well-informed.


Come with me for a visit.



Sixteen creative and soul-satisfying years later, with dozens of clients under his "care", two retail stores, now shuttered, hundreds of hysterical stories (some not fit to print), and seven upholsterers ago, Powers sits back and thinks how swell it has been. Rarely does a busy designer get the time to sit and reflect. There are curtains to be hung!

“I started my design firm in 1993 with office space that had once belonged to the great decorator, (I HATE the term designer), Billy Francis. I was just two floors down from my best friend Holly Moore, the founder and editor-in-chief of PaperCity Magazine, the most brilliant woman in the world, and another reason for my success. Holly published my work. It that was my first time to be published. The phone rang off the wall from there.

“I had no formal training in this business. I had worked for a few other designers assisting with projects and "learning the ropes" as most young hopeful's do. Now I have one of the city's largest firms. J Randall Powers Interior Decoration has projects all over the country, I am a contributing editor at PaperCity and have a license with Visual Comfort for my lighting line. I have product designed by or named after me in several well respected manufacturers furniture lines.”



“Houston is not at all what most would have in their minds as a "chic place in which to do good design work". People here are fabulous. There is a wonderful modern attitude that permeates everything, a real can-do spirit. Nothing is ever "Oh, no we can’t do that" nor "it's not proper" so the creative process is rich and people are wonderfully open and adventurous. I have had great luck in having well-traveled, elegant, fun clients with a great appreciation for terrific art, good furniture and most importantly, great taste.

“As a person Randy Powers is beyond brilliant ... he has a mind like a deployment clasp...he never writes a thing down and he is early for every appointment, has historical knowledge centuries beyond his years, remembers every great meal he’s ever had, and can catalog antiques and art in his mind ... dates, provenance, where he saw it and when. As a decorator, he (along with The Menil, perhaps) put Houston on the design map. Never have national magazines looked as closely at Houston: House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Southern Accents ... they’re all circling around waiting for his next completed project. Randy is enormously tasteful, in every aspect of his life, which is what makes him such a divinely talented decorator." — Holly Moore, founder and editor-in-chief, PaperCity, Houston and Dallas

This can-do attitude and the larger than life personae Houstonians have has made for some terrific projects. If you politely suggest that "we need to tear out all this molding and replace it with something a bit smaller" or line the curtains in fabric that is better than the face fabric—as it will be seen from the terrace" most clients say—"go for it".”

“Currently I am working on a 1/4 of a floor of a new sleek high rise for a terrific established doctor and his design loving wife. They had actually looked at my own apartment when it was for sale but deemed it too "tight".

It has been a total redesign from the slab up and they have given me total control and creative freedom, so I am really excited to see it installed and completed.

Another project of note is an interior for a young bi-coastal couple with a stellar art collection and a coveted John Staub designed home just down the street from my own house. Total opposite end of the spectrum from the previously mentioned project. High English with lots of wonderful clear color and layers and wonderful furniture passed down from their families.”
"If you’re not having fun doing what you love, than you chose the wrong profession." That's how it all started. A simple quote from a good friend when I was moving her sofa into the dining room as the light was better and I liked the block paneled walls in there. She said "why don't you try your hand at decorating?" I replied, "I guess I have.” She was my first client—non paying—but it was a start.” — J. Randall Powers

“In Florida, I am working on an Addison Mizner-esque home for a big retail CEO. Truly as Palm Beach as we can get it. It's going to be a very happy cheery house and I adore the clients. They really have made the process fun and we have daily conference calls about "what's next" and "what do you think".

“In Texas, I am doing an interior for a long standing clients daughter (her first house), a pool house for great friends and a wing of children's rooms for my ever-decorating clients who have one of the most significantly important homes in the city. I am also completing a flat for an always-Hermes decked-out race car driver (who's only request was to have her laundry room cabinetry color match her beloved Ferrari)!”




Diane Dorrans Saeks chats with
Houston designer Randy Powers:



DDS: What do you like most about the design process?
JRP: Being creative all day, every day. I go to bed thinking about design and wake up thinking about how to improve what we were planning the day before.


DDS: You always have superb antiques and antiquities in your rooms.
JRP: I have to become emotional here. The closing of Ed Hardy’s antiques gallery in San Francisco has been a big blow. The show room was just magical and they were beyond lovely to deal with. So I miss him a great deal. In Houston I love William Gardner Antiques—he is on 1stDibs. Bill just really gets it in all senses of the word. His eye is irreverent and his quest for quality is unyielding.

I also love Brian Stringer in Houston, as a person and as an antique dealer. His sense of scale and the uniqueness of the objects he looks for always get me in the door.

In LA my first stop off the plane is to Joel Chen. He's just all over the map and will always have something for the laundry list of things I cant seem to find.


DDS: You are a longtime fan of Cy Twombly. How many times have you visited the Twombly collection at the Menil Museum in Houston—and what do you love most about the art and galleries?
JRP: The Renzo Piano-designed building that houses the collection may be the most perfect space on earth. I often think that if I could just have it as a house it would never exit the door—ever.

When I need a "breather" I go there. Its like going to a therapist. I walk out of the museum "in check". The collection never fails to take my breath away. The poetry of the work holds such a magical spell over me that I never tire of going to see it.

At home I have a newly acquired suite of works by Twombly that I wake up to each morning. Entitled "Some Trees from Italy" they are my most treasured possessions.


DDS: In all your own interiors—apartment, gulf retreat, pieds-a-terre, your favored color palette is neutral with little patten, and a color range that edges up from white to ivory to perhaps pale taupe or pale tan, at most. It's controlled, chic, cohesive, elegant, classic and timeless. How do you discipline your design?
JRP: At the moment I am doing more color than I have in the past. But I think that's about the mood right now. Deep rooted in my work is my love of the object. The uniqueness of each piece. I feel that a humble back-drop without distraction allows that. This range of simple "non color", if you will, lets each piece in a room shine and take on a life of its own. My idol Kalef Alaton, the late Los Angeles designer, "taught" me that approach, in the rooms he designed that I have studied. While I never met him he has had a profound impact on my work.


DDS: What are you working on right now?
JRP: At this very moment I am preparing "mentally" to do a house in Vermont. It is a terrific Greek revival with lots of charm for my dear friends and clients Andy and Gayle Singer and their teenage son Daren. I finished a large project for them last year that was featured in House Beautiful and we both summer in New England. I am looking for new inspiration everywhere. They adore their house in Houston but I want a different feel for them in the country, something that they are not expecting. So I will start my jaunt today looking for the once piece to get the ball rolling. It could be as simple as a myrtle topiary.


DDS: Most recent passions in fashion, decor, art, and antiques?
JRP: The recession has had a profound impact on my personal style and sense of design. I no longer need 78 sport coats and 13 pairs of alligator loafers. I want one thing that I love and I want to have it always. Filler no longer seems prudent. Quality and detail seem very important to me right now. I have always looked for the best, and now I want my clients to have things that they cherish and will love forever.

I am in love with a painting by David Row at McClain Gallery. The colors are so spectacular and the movement so fluid that I think of it all the time.

And like the old saying goes "Classic is always in style" and "trends are a novelty." I am obsessed with good 17th and 18th century heavily-patinated English and Scottish furniture. I am drawn to the rich color and the simple lines. It just feels right to me now. I have quietly been collecting it and having it taken to my warehouse for the next incarnation of my own house. Stay tuned!


"Randy has the unique ability to adapt to the taste of his clients, no matter how contrary their taste is to his own. If they think purple is a neutral, then he somehow manages to incorporate a color he would never use and make it make more tasteful than taupe. He's nothing short of a genius." — Becca Cason Thrash, international philanthropist and design connoisseur


All interiors shown here are by
J. Randall Powers Interior Decoration,
Houston, TX, 713-524-5100.

25 comments:

GRAYSONFAVOUR said...

OMG I love all the white w/a touch of wood.
Thanks so much for introducing us to J Randall Powers!
Sally

KK said...

When I die - if I get to heaven and it Randy has not designed it I dont want to be there! Randy is brillant!

Cote de Texas said...

What Holly said is so right! Randy truly has put Houston on the map for great design. His interiors highlight each painting, each chair, each vase - yet, each piece comes together in a unique and aesthically thrilling way. I can look at a room he has done for hours, just admiring this or that, and then step back and look at the entirity in a different way. His eye is unerring, there is never a misstep.

His mention of Billy Francis is interesting. IMO - the two of them have been the best that Houston has produced.

Clarity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

YES, I do adore Randy.

Holly Moore knows him so very well. Her comments are so precise, detailed, and insightful--and she is right, Randy is always totally present.
And did we say handsome! And funny.

JONI-thank you so much for honoring me and my new blog with a visit. I love Cote de Texas and your vivid enthusiasm, generosity and spirit. I aspire to your greatness. You were one of the very first on my 'favorite blogs' roll.
Sally, Clarity and KK: Yes, the best heaven would be designed by Randy...with Randy for company, sitting, laughing, and saying "you must buy the set of Cy Twombly books, or 'did you see the new show at the Met', or 'let's go and look at antiques' or 'let's have dinner with Holly'. But...remember, heaven is on earth, so we can have dinner with Randy and Holly, and we can go junking with Randy.
Randy: I think I'll have to do another blog!

The Peak of Chic said...

Diane- Wonderful interview! I've always admired Randy and his elegant style, but what is also refreshing is his warm personality- something that is evident in this interview. And I'm with Randy- I prefer the term decorator.

Clarity said...

Lovely post and thank you for your sweet compliment, I would be touched to be added to your bog roll and am glad you enjoyed my post.

I am charmed by the beautiful and open rooms, decorated without the separation of classic or contemporary. This is truly someone who fits their work and that is a rare thing, unless that person is an artist, (I dislike typos, Diane, especially my owne, but it was late and after a long shoot).

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

HELLO, JENNIFER-

So pleased to hear we are all members of the RANDY POWERS FAN CLUB...a large and happy gang.

Have had so many personal and emailed comments on Randy--many people appreciate his beautiful polished work.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

CLARITY-


Typos (or should I say tpyoos?)...welcome to the club.

I am often writing late into the night--and it is a rare post that does not have a type.

My dear dear friend Terry, who edited many of my early books and was a brilliant editor and a knowing soul--always assured me that typos were good luck. OK...I'll go with that. Typing as fast as I can.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

CLARITY--

Oh, well, Ha! I did not mean quite so many typos...
As I said, it is a rare post....typing faster than speed of brain...that does not contain a TYPO....

Clarity said...

Thank you for the sweet and wise comment.

You are right and I think you typed that typo just to make me feel better!

Off I go, a girl's got to eat, especially when it's a late Thai meal with some favourite people, bon soir Diane.

Dumbwit Tellher ♥ said...

A terrific look into Mr. Powers' personality & who has moved him to be the visionary that he is in decorating. My first impression of his designs have been a pure calmness. Makes great sense that one of his style guru's has been Mr. Alaton. So many designers over-design rooms. His approach to letting the well chosen pieces do the speaking, is a refreshing "modus operandi". One can immediately appreciate his designs but after your interview. the same applies to the man. I admire his "filler is prudent" philosophy. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he does with more color. What impresses me above all is the fact he is not a schooled designer. These individuals amaze me & continue to inspire me. Another testament that great design is a talent. That has been a life long dream. No pity party required, I am just not one of those fortuitous humans; well not yet anyway.
Thank you Diane for visiting my blog this weekend & for the tremendous comments. I am incredibly impressed of your many talents. What really put me over the edge is you are the author of one of my cherished books "Palm Springs Living". I am thrilled you have an appreciation of the Tour de France as I do. It is incredibly easy to become hooked on all levels. Yes indeed - go Lance. I believe he is conserving his strength knowing there is 2 wks left & he will then ride to win! Today is another day of climbing & is guaranteed to be riveting. Looking forward to following your blog.
All the best,
Deborah

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Deborah-

Foggy Sunday in San Francisco. Welcome to my blog! I have so many great stories in the works, introducing new talents and casting a new light on classic designers as well.

Yes, you are right that self-educated designers--and that means most of them, from my dear friend Michael Smith to Randy and so many other brilliant stars--are all the more impressive. Some, like Michael, schooled themselves from an early age and with great confidence founded their own companies and never looked back.

Tour de France: yes, go Lance! He has a strategy, he could win, it would be fantastic. Now we are on to Limoges and everyone is talking of the upcoming Alps and Mr Ventoux.

So happy you are part of my 'salon'.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...
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Brillante Home Decor said...

Brilliant interview with a great "decorator". Exquisite selection of antique, modern, contemporary pieces bringing harmony to the space. Style and grace indeed as you said.
As for "Twombly's trees" they are superb interpretations of what C.T. probably has seen for decades outside his Italian house windows (or around his son Cyrus'house up the Roman hills).

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM HARRISON HOWARD, A SUPERB ARTIST:
Recently Jennifer Boles at Peak of Chic did a great post on a brilliant artist called Harrison Howard. His Chinoiserie is vivid and witty.
He just send me the following message: and please check out his work on a recent PEAK OF CHIC:
DEAR DIANE:
I want to thank you belatedly for your remarks on Peak of Chic about my paintings. I am familiar with many of your books over the years, and I found your blog a little over a month ago through the label on Peak of Chic. I was a fan of John Dickinson's plaster furniture from the late '70's onward, when I first saw some b & w catalogue sheets from a Los Angeles showroom, and it always seemed odd that I never saw practically anything about his work until the last couple of years. It is interesting that you knew him so well, and maybe you will get around to doing a book on him after all.
I was very pleased by your remarks because chinoiserie is a genre that has remained largely rooted in the 17th & 18th centuries, but offers the opportunity to expand in many new directions that I would like to explore. It was very gratifying that you perceived an effort on my part to break away from the traditional mold, and I think it would be interesting to see what a significant contemporary artist or illustrator like Ruben Toledo or Christian Berard, (if he were still alive), would do with chinoiserie subject matter. Thanks again for your comments. I am glad to see that you are now making regular posts on your blog, and I hope you will continue to do so.

Best Regards,

Harrison Howard

Cote de Texas said...

Diane - one other thing about Randy - I do love that he said he is self taught. As someone who has tried to help turn around legislation pushed on decorators by ASID, it is so wonderful for the self taught to say it loudly and proudly. Designing is artistry and my greatest fear is that if allowed to continue on their current path, ASID will end up outlawing those very artists who notoriously avoid the constraints of school and structure.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Pincus said...

"When I need a "breather" I go there. Its like going to a therapist. I walk out of the museum "in check". The collection never fails to take my breath away. The poetry of the work holds such a magical spell over me that I never tire of going to see it."

i LOVED that!

i'm SO inspired by this post and the work of mr. powers!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

FROM COTE DE TEXAS

Regarding your post on COTE DE TEXAS regarding Michael Smith gossip:

But I went to the dictionary to look up Schadenfreude to be sure I understood it! Glee in someone's distress or bad luck. You know - I want to tell you personally that Michael Smith is one of my favorite designers. And the blogosphere went NUTS with excitement when he got the job. Everyone was just a littlel over the moon about it. With this rumor, I think we all just like a little shock. Like turning to look at a wreck on the freeway. I was knocked over when I heard it - not sure if it's true because why am I the only in the U.S. who knows it? But I keep being retold it with certainty. That's why I posed the question - is it true? Hard to imagine someone other than M.Smith would be more qualified, imo. I know you are friends and to tell you the truth, I'm sorry to have been told this in the first place. No one was looking more foward to seeing what he was going to do there. So, let's hope we still do get to see it.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Paul-

LOVE your comment and love your blog. It will go on my favorites.

PENNY BIANCHI SENT THE FOLLOWING COMMENT ON RANDY:

Hi Diane! This post is over the moon! I love the guy! And I also love that he is self-taught. ASID is really a scary thing. I was an English major in college; and the two "decorating" classes I tried were just abysmal.
I have been fortunate enough to have had an extremely successful (an enormous surprise to me!) business for 40 years; with never even a listed business phone number!
My daughter told me that all of my hair would fall out if I heard what a teacher was teaching in a class she took! "

Never put two mirrors in a room" was one edict!
I am sure there are great teachers; but much of it is just inborn passion and exposure to taste, and an innate eye!
My experience has been so much like Randy's; other kids were out playing and I was rearranging furniture,

And I detest the term "designer" for myself. If "decorator " is good enough for "Sister", Keith Irvine, and Mario and so many others,; it makes me happy to call myself one!

Love your blog. Love you! You are wonderful!

home before dark said...

I think you are, indeed, providing a salon of both ideas and dreams. Mixing together a rare cocktail of history and the future, blended on the web of infinite possibility. You go, girl!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

HI HOME BEFORE DARK!

Welcome to my salon--which is open to everyone with wit, charm, humor, curiosity, and ideas!

Yes, I am creating a salon. It is also an online magazine. I am a long-form writer (not a jotter)...so I want texture and meaning and complexity in my writing and these features.
Look for some fresh ideas, new people, and great places to learn about in the future. And be sure to send comments--I so appreciate your generous and kind and wonderful thoughts. Brilliant.

karencarroll said...

Diane, just discovered your blog and I really love it. Great interview with Randy. He's a true design talent and a gentleman to boot.

todd haley said...

his work is uber-sophisticated - i see some billy francis (esp with the use of biedermeier pieces) and some kalef alaton - mr. powers has a fantastic eye and sense of restraint