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Branding the Staircase

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Part of creativity is taking an idea that means one thing and making it mean something else. This process can be as complex as Picasso adapting African art to an allegory of syphilis in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” or as simple as calling Skittles® a rainbow.

Certain creative or intuitive souls can do the same with entire processes. For example, the proto-engineer who wondered if cooking would work on rocks as well as food and invented refining.

That ur-refiner’s successor, 100,000 generations, later may be interior designer Nancy Cameron who has co-opted the marketing discipline of branding to her own trade. The Herald Tribune reported on January 13:

“Branding” is not a term usually associated with residential interior design, but it’s the word and concept that Sarasota-based designer Nancy Cameron applied to Dr. Clarence and Michelle Reilly’s new house in Cherokee Park.

They couple wanted their home to blend in with the established neighborhood but also to express an individual architectural character while being a comfortable, spacious dwelling where their two elementary school-aged daughters could grow and thrive.

“Branding is just a way of adding something special that makes a client’s home unique and personal,” says Cameron. “I usually take one element and make it a statement piece in the house and then use parts of that statement in other areas of the home so that the brand weaves through different rooms in subtle ways,” she says. “The most important thing when doing a branding project is restraint. The trick is knowing when to say enough is enough, which is why you ideally want a professional to do the branding for you.”

The primary branding element in the Reilly home is a design original — a curvilinear staircase railing made of wrought iron with a bronze patina. Fabricated in Colombia, South America, the staircase was shipped to Sarasota in three pieces, where it was assembled on site.

This element is pulled through the house to make a cohesive statement. Parts of the ribbon-like wrought-iron railing design are repeated in the kitchen on the range hood, as a Juliet balcony in the second floor loft, on the wine room doors in the dining room and across the front of the bar, which is situated between the living room and kitchen.

Is home decor just another kind of branding?

A designer (or Roomatologist) creates in paint and upholstery a representation of her clients. Read any article in Architectural Digest, House & Garden or In Style and the professional will say “the design is an extension of the personality of my clients, who are now very good friends.”  Nancy Cameron thinks she’s doing this with a difference by calling it “branding.”

It is not.

Using a design element to tie things together is just one part of branding called identity. Markets create unity within a brand by:

  • Putting the logo on their products, their building, their stationary and their people (sometimes with hot iron but more often with embroidered attire)
  • Consistent use of color
  • Giving products similar names

Brand identity is not simply an aesthetic choice. It means something. The swoosh illustrates speed, movement and excitement. The ‘i’ on Apple products stands for Internet, Intuitive, Intelligent and it’s mine! So what does the chaotic wrought iron ribbon say about the Reillys? Cameron is not forth coming (one can guess, but the answers aren’t nice).

i love Apple for everything it means.

A corporate brand is the sum of the consumer experience. Branding, in the marketing sense, is an avatar. It reminds the consumer of the specific kind of satisfaction gained from buying the product. Families don’t have brands because families—aside from the Jenner-Kardashians—aren’t commercial enterprises. They are interacted with directly. The native enironment of the family, its house, is of course an extension of the clan, but it defies being professionally branded for a few basic reasons:

  • Normal families are not “for sale.”
  • A closely related and interdependent group does not need mnemonics to tell it what it is.
  • Actual interaction with the group is a truer expression of its personality and values than the signals given off by the décor. For example, austere Japanese décor vs. loud, bad-mannered children: which says more about the family’s sense of discipline?

Branding is commercial.

Branding is an alchemy applied to things for sale—recording artists and politicians included. Today it is an essential part of successful selling and company growth. Branding is public, deliberate and carefully managed. A family home is private, organic and lived in. Those within it do not need customers, investors or franchisers.

Interior Designers, on the other hand, are for sale.

Brand me creative! I got the look!

Which means the Reilly’s home is branded. As a product of Nancy Cameron.

Look at the picture at the top of this post and ask yourself, who belongs in it? The house resembles Cameron more than the Reilly’s. For years to come she will show pictures of this house to prospective clients and say, “this is what you can expect when I design your home.” At the same time guests will say to Mrs. Reilly, “you have a beautiful home. Who did it?”

The Reillys, and all Cameron’s customers, chose her because they share or admire her taste. They buy into her brand and adopt it as their own.

It’s sort of like The Wizard of Oz. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain—just look at the curtain.”

Written by VerboCityMayor

January 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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