Designing Women: Wise words from a Talented Trio

Barbara Kaplan, CEO of Design Dimensions, acknowledges with a smile that she might well be described as the Valley’s “Grande Dame” of design. Raised in a home where antiques were collected and treasured, Barbara grew up with an appreciation of the impact on people’s lives of their surroundings. She used that knowledge to forge a successful career.

We talked to Barbara, in business here for more than 30 years, and Michele Wiltchik of Michele Wiltchik Interiors and Suzanne Siegel of Pasadena Ave. The latter two, relative newcomers to the field, share Barbara’s dedication to superior interior design and are making their own marks in the local market.

Following is input from Barbara, Michele and Suzanne on the challenges of their profession. While each of the three has unique skills, on one aspect of their field they all firmly agree: a finished product must reflect the individual client’s needs, tastes, wants, desires – and budgets.

Barbara, who maintains that her inspiration comes from her clients, says that every new project is a new challenge. She doesn’t believe in trends. “What’s in today is out tomorrow,” she finds, “so why make yourself into what you aren’t. True interior design is really interior – it is in you.” Knowing that trends typically are temporary, she suggests using a color on one wall perhaps – or an accessory piece – to transform a space for a short period of time. Actually, she notes, one big trend is “not decorating forever – not to be locked in!”

Technology is one new aspect of design, she continues. “It used to be that people built offices to house their technology – now technology goes with us from room to room.” Clients have options, she says. They no longer need to sit in one room on one chair to access their computer. This, she says, might free up a room – or at least an area – to use for other purposes. “This actually can influence changes in lifestyle,” she finds. “Your home needs to change as you change. Make yourself more important than the room,” she advises, adding that “everyone can use help to define themselves within an environment that best reflects them.”

Michele Wiltchik segued to interior décor from another field. As a human resources director for both Hilton Hotels and Prudential Financial, she traveled extensively and says she became inspired by the works of top designers worldwide. “But ultimately I wanted to use the creative side of my brain, and what I am doing now is filling that need.” She started working on projects with friends, “who encouraged me to go for it – to do it professionally.”

For the past seven years that is what Michele has been doing, using her home as her office, with most of her time spent in clients’ homes. She recognizes that many people can’t do the whole house at one time, “so we prioritize and plan, and eventually get the job done.” Michele finds that some people “really want to hold on – forever – to some of what they have.” She welcomes the challenge of unifying the old and the new, the antique and the modern.

Several of Michele’s clients now are opting for a modern, clean, linear look throughout. White leather is popular “especially when children are grown and out of the house,” as is pendant lighting, hand-blown colorful glass and large sculptural pieces.

Michele is enthusiastic about choices available for kitchens and bathrooms, referring to materials such as stone, glass and stainless steel. Having traveled in Japan, she says she has ready access to merchandise produced there including faucets, toilets and sinks. “They are 10 years ahead of us technologically,” she says.

The goal is to leave each project with a unique twist that “won’t be replicated at the neighbor’s,” says Suzanne Siegel. She and her longtime business partner, Becky Worrall, run Pasadena Ave. Design, the 13-year-old venture named for the street on which they both live – but in different Valley neighborhoods.

With a background in graphic design and advertising, Suzanne expresses confidence in her ability to communicate and follow through, “and the design stuff comes naturally – I grew up in a family floor-covering business.”

One of Suzanne most gratifying challenges, she says, is to transform a space with color. “Color is underestimated. It can enhance and energize and has inherent value that doesn’t break the bank. For example, a beautiful new white kitchen lacks warmth. Paint and window treatments are critical to make it a welcoming community space.”

The value of working with a designer, Suzanne suggests, is that “We see the whole picture and can unify the design of the home. We see details that clients aren’t necessarily aware of. And we help stretch the dollars with access to many resources at greatly reduced cost. Often we can cut the middle man out.

“And creativity counts,” she adds, citing examples: “We’ve used matchbox cars as drawer pulls for a boy’s room; transformed old pictures frames into mirrors; turned an old dresser into a charging station for electronics; and designed Lucite wall boxes to show off a teen’s favorite shoes.”

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