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A letter from America.

Byline: Su Satchwell

Howdy. No expense is spared in researching this column for you each month and to prove it this missive is winging its way to you from sunny California. Beverley Hills to be exact - that enclave of manicured perfection with the teeth to match.

The effort that goes into appearance here stretches way beyond the personal, or even the home interior, and spills out onto every front garden, lawn and drive.

The sheer variety of plantings, lightings, pavings and lawns so perfect they look like steamed green velvet, has been a source of inspiration for me and my camera. And although some of it is a bit tacky and contrived, most of it is magnificent perfection.

My job as a designer means so much more than, 'Does this sofa complement this carpet and these curtains?', and meeting fellow designers here in Los Angeles has given me an insight into what Southern Californians expect when they bring in a designer or 'home re-modeller' as they like to call themselves.

Budget permitting, what clients want in LA is a complete make-over which includes the exterior and especially the frontage to the house which sets the scene even before you reach the front door.

This involves working with a reliable and creative team with services provided from many skill sets. The designer, as well as providing the vision from the client's brief, has to be project manager as all the components come together. This is of paramount importance to me too, and it was good to see my approach endorsed by some of California's top design groups. Down on Melrose Avenue there is a wacky collection of shops selling everything from the latest Italian B&B Italia sofas and vintage clothes to deco lamps and store selling clothes exclusively for dogs.

That's what I find amazing about Americans, they veer from opulent contemporary perfection to tacky kitsch, sometimes even in the same room. But in LA I suppose it's harder to be different when you're in such a creative environment, and this leads to excesses of its own.

In so many of the new Birmingham developments there are also lots of opportunities for personal expression and creativity, and the biggest opportunity is probably staring you in the face right now - walls.

You can paint them, paper them and curtain them, but as a real expression of personal taste the best way to decorate them is with paintings.

I was lucky enough to time my visit with the opening of the largest US exhibition of Andy Warhol at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The visual effect of his most well-known off-kilter silk-screen process is simultaneously aggressive and seductive, splashy yet indifferent. Their mechanical quality makes them cool and aloof despite the sensually indulgent colours and a great backdrop for a design setting.

Birmingham also has some great art and sculpture galleries both as exhibitions and for sale. In our own Birmingham Art Gallery, there's some great inspiration from the past collection of pre-Raphaelite art to post-modern and a quick spin down to London, the Tate Modern can inspire you with the Mattisse Picasso show.

And, you don't always need to be influenced by a designer - have the courage to go ahead and make your own personal statement. Like myself, many designers do offer an art-sourcing or commission service, which, if you do need some help, can provide the finishing touch to turn a tasteful interior into a dazzling one.

Have a nice day and y'all come

back next month!

Su Satchwell runs XU Birmingham in Cornwall Street.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 5, 2002
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