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You know how Letterman, Leno and Ellen sometimes surprise their celebrity guests by rolling in D-List footage from their pasts from local commercials to tiny parts in disastrous TV pilots? Most of the time the big shots laugh it off, jump in their limos, then chuckle all the way home as drivers deliver them to the front doors of their $25 million mansions. Why should they care, right?

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment

How does this blast-from-the-past situation work in regards to professional decorators and designers? Perhaps earlier, unpolished, shot-with-a-point-and-click images evoke a nostalgic, look-how-far-I’ve-come feeling. Or, on the flipside, maybe they cheapen the refined, respected brand that took years of hard work to create and tens of thousands of dollars to have professionally photographed.

I decided to put myself to the test by sorting through dozens of totally out-of-focus, um-that-angle-is-like-totally-wrong photos. From my first 323 sq ft city apartment to the first paid job, all the way to the first published project, here’s a visual evolution from strapped-for-cash assistant to freelance kids’ room decorator to outdoor living space dude. Are these representative of my work today? Not necessarily. Do I look back and thank my lucky stars I’m not still slurping up ramen noodles and sleeping on a scratchy, second-hand polyester sleeper sofa? Hell yes.

Ah, my first project, the $100 bathroom. A roll of painters’ tape and two gallons of Oops! paint turned this previously beige wonder into something a little more bearable. Aside from using paint effectively, what did I learn from this project? Never do a project for $100 again.

Okay, as much as this cell-phone-camera-quality image makes me wanna club myself over the head with a large rock, those stripes are pretty darn good. In my first apartment, a tiny studio, I painstakingly striped the walls with olive green and brown-gray paint. This taught me that a great painter is worth every penny and that it’s super to spend more than $9.99 on window treatments and bedding.

The 6 by 5 bathroom of my first apartment proved that I obviously had an addiction to stripes and that perhaps PAPER lanterns are not the best fit for a WET space.

When an artist friend wanted to barter design services for art, I opted for flooring we could do ourselves while unexpectedly learning a thing our two about the importance of texture. The biggest lesson was that it was time to RETIRE THE STRIPED WALLS ALREADY.

Finally, a room without stripes. When a co-worker gave me $1,250 to make over her step-daughter’s bedroom, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Then I realized how much delivery and assembly fees cost. Although it was way more work than I anticipated, the education I got on shopping vintage and updating flea market finds was priceless. Not to mention both step-mom and step-daughter loved the space which is, obviously, what matters most.

To make this tiny nursery appear a bit larger, I took the bi-fold doors off the closet, turning it into custom, open storage. Sure, the styling is a damn mess but overall, this concept worked quite well. This was also the first time I did a project with any sort of upholstery work, albeit a simple monogram on an IKEA slipcover dyed pink in the washer. On a side note, my not-so-awesome paint on the rocking chair was a major lesson in proper finishes. Latex paint + spaces regularly kicked by baby feet = bad idea.

Ugh, this playroom photographs like a mess; however, in person it was pretty cool. Sure, the geometric wall adds a ton of energy but enough with the painted wall patterns, right? And although decoupage seemed like a good idea at the time, it became clear that D-word and three-year-olds with scissors do not mix.

From the sticks in a vase shoved into a corner to the great fabric on a not-so-great sofa, this space is a disaster on so many levels. What I learned: That this room is horrible. Cool cow-print chair though

And then there was the loft. When decorating my downtown loft, I experimented with both orange and all things rustic — including turning vintage license plates into window treatments. Did these actually function? Not really. Did they look super cool? You bet.

And now we’re starting to get somewhere. Sure, I went back to the old trick of painted wall patterns but this time it was a lot more polished. This bachelor pad was the first time I turned to the ’70s for inspiration. I wish I also would have been inspired to toss that cheap plant and cheap plastic pot out the window.

When creating the décor for a gigantic restaurant on a ridiculously small budget, I turned to the art of photography for affordable, artistic impact with photo murals. The lady in the dress and her lady-dog are headed in the direction of the ladies’ room; the handsome man and his man-dog are walking in the direction of the mens’ room. I’d later adapt this idea for rooms that don’t require toilets and urinals.

And it all led up to this, my first published project, a game-changing outdoor living room. Days after completing it, a national shelter magazine picked it up then shot it professionally. There are no paper lanterns nor are there stripes or decoupaged tables; however, there is orange, gray-brown and rustic texture. Apparently, I got a few things right.

22 Responses

  1. @30DTFML says:

    This was the most fascinating post I've read in a long time! I appreciate your openness in sharing your before-you-were-famous designs, because it gives this crazy perfectionist hope. I'm often bummed that my very small budget doesn't yield magazine worthy results, so it's uber cool to see how you evolved from a strapped-for-cash designer to a huge success.

  2. @ChedvaK says:

    Yay to the bravery, Brian! And yeah, your signature elements are all there, you just had to learn a couple lessons along the way – you are an inspiration!

  3. dayka says:

    and what have i learned?? the importance of photographing your work everytime! i see little bits and pieces of the modern bpf from back in the early days.

  4. Oh my you've got talent even from the start. It's always better to look back at our past so we know just where you're still going.

  5. Martini says:

    David you are the best of the best, just one thing, GET RID OF THE FAKE LAUGH!

  6. Kamila says:

    i love the colors, the furniture, the lighting- i love it all! i design kitchens only , but am always looking for new ideas and am trying to stay up to date with the new trends…!
    Kamila http://www.kamila.co.il

  7. I loved the look into your design past. And I loved even more that someone thought you were some dude named David. haha Great stuff, Brian!

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