Making Meaning

AIA DESIGN THEORY – February 2014
Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Nicole Wolf

Design is a plan, says interior designer Judy Schneider, and more than just visual satisfaction 

In the final stages of getting her master’s degree in painting while continuing to run her interior design business, Judy Schneider is coming to a more universal understanding of design. “Design is inherent in the full range of art disciplines,” she says. “The opposite of chance, design is a plan. It is seeking answers to problems.” In all art, whether painting or architecture or interior design, it is a visual solution to the design process. “Every piece or project utilizes principles of unity, variety, scale, proportion, balance, and rhythm, as well as elements of line, shape, texture, space, motion, value, and color.” MH+D asked Schneider to tell us more. 

Q. Do you find intersection between your painting and interior design?

A. As I finish the written portion of my thesis, I am more and more aware of the connection between my practices. I’m reminded of the early intentions of the Bauhaus—to be a combined architecture school, crafts school, and academy of the arts. The original faculty in 1919 included founder Walter Gropius, Swiss painter Johannes Itten, German-American painter Lyonel Feininger, and German sculptor Gerhard Marcks. By 1922 German painter, sculptor, and designer Oskar Schlemmer, Swiss painter Paul Klee, and Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky had joined. It is interesting that a school known for architecture would be so strongly influenced by painters. I believe the disciplines truly feed each other, then and now. In both my design and painting practices the solution is more than just visual satisfaction. My interiors—like my paintings—are not decorative, they are structural. 

Q. Interior design can mean different things depending on whom you ask. What does it mean in your practice?

A. I am not talking about decoration as adornment. In adornment, subject matter is absent and the problem is purely creating perceivable enjoyment. It is when decoration is arbitrary that it doesn’t have value, not even the value of visual pleasure. Design or art should never be arbitrary—all elements must contribute to making meaning. It is essential for there to be content and form or what I refer to as structure. Content is the subject matter, story, or information and form is how it manifests itself visually. Content is what you want to say and form is how you say it. In painting, the process is introspective; in design it’s outward facing. Both offer the viewer or client a place to enter, but in interior design it is clearly about the needs and desires of the client. In this case the goal is to discover design solutions that are functional and pleasing and personal. To achieve this, the owner, the architect, the interior designer, the landscape architect, and the contractor must work together from the inception of the project. Collaboration is integral to a successful design. 

Q. What projects have you recently worked on where collaboration was especially rewarding?

A. Through collaboration we can see the world more thoughtfully, thoroughly, and from different perspectives. Working with architectural firm Kaplan Thompson, contractor Dan Kolbert, and landscape architect Ann Kearsley, “Near Merezero” is an excellent example of an effective collaborative team effort. Lindsey Tweed and Claudia King were interested most importantly in energy efficiency, with net zero as their goal. The redesigned space eliminated the need for additional square footage and provided greater visual access to their beautiful property. My goal as a designer and artist was not to offer a “look,” but to listen carefully and pose solutions based on my expertise and centered on the ideas of Lindsey and Claudia. The infusion of their personalities and energy added an aesthetic that made this house truly a home. Each member of our team was invested in the quality of art and craft exemplified in the finished renovation, and the care put in by all of us is apparent in the finished product. Near Merezero is a successful project with my favorite unintended consequence: clients and associates as friends. 

As I search for structure and meaning in my practice I am reminded of this quote by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius: “The ultimate aim of all artistic activity is building!…Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all get back to craft!…The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman…Let us form…a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists!…Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting.”  

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