Tuesday, May 29, 2012


The original Instagram, circa 1977
I am a visual person. I remember as a kid I never had the patience to take a picture, drop the film off at the local D&S Pharmacy, and wait the five-to-seven days while the film was sent out to be developed. So when my stepdad Jim showed up with his Kodak Instamatic camera, I thought it was the greatest thing on earth. I remember he even bought me an instant camera one time when we were going on vacation, a Kodak Handle, the original crank-style “Instagram,” which is actually in a box in my attic. I should find it.
My Grandson, Lennox
The magic of photography is that it holds still, forever, a moment in time. Now, with all the photo apps and services -- like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and my current favorite, Instagram -- those captured moments can be instantly shared with people we love and even strangers ... in some ways shrinking the world but I also think, in the best way, making the world bigger. 
Tennessee storm
There’s a joy when your phone chirps, burps, jingles, vibrates or tingles, and you open it to find that somebody has sent you an image ... a face, a flower, a grandchild, a storm. They could be sitting across the room or a thousand miles away and you instantly know what their world looks like. 
No bueno
I even use my Android phone camera in conducting business every day: is this the granite you like? How about this hardware? Or this tile? Or, this is the broken pipe we found in your bathroom floor under your shower. The fun and the frustrating. 
So, send me a picture. Let me know what your life looks like, what interests you, what your eyes see that mine don’t ... yet. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Out of Awe

Have we lost our sense of awe? The world flashes by us and we barely have time to conquer the mundane, much less the awe-inspiring. To be awe inspired takes time, precious time. Pausing to see the imaginative, the beautiful, those things worthy of our admiration would most likely make us late for a meeting or even worse, cause us to miss our favorite TV show ... God forbid. 

I am just as guilty as the next person. I am busy, I am inundated with information, buried in a pile of data. Don't get me wrong, I see things I "like" everyday. I even see things that "move" me but it is on rare occasion that I am actually in awe. Sitting here thinking about it, the last moment of actual awe was a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. I sat in a room full of Monet and Seurat; I actually sat for over an hour absolutely engulfed in the beauty of the work ... consumed. I only left because I didn't want the security guard to think I was casing the joint. I have to admit, It was emotional. I took the images with me in my mind and played them a million times during the remainder of the day.

I have, of course, had other moments - visiting Edinburgh Castle in Scotland or seeing my grandson for the first time -- but these are all events that have the context of creating awe. I am already predisposed to shut off the "noise" around me and focus. But what about the everyday moments in life, what am I missing? There is a great story from 2007 where the Washington Post did an experiment to see if extraordinary beauty would be recognized in the hurry of the day. Virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world, would play one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars in the lobby of the Metro Station in DC, and see if anyone would stop to listen. They didn't. The analysts ... who, of course, analyzed ... came to the same conclusion they have been concluding for years: for something to be awe-inspiring it must be presented in the proper context. Basically, we need to be told something is inspiring to be inspired by it. How sad!  

I will make a promise to myself: I will take the time to find the awe in the everyday. I will not rely on others to create context, I will create it for myself. I will open my eyes, ears, heart and mind to the possibility that what is happening right before me is awe inspiring.

What will you do? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Give a Little Bit.

I haven't blogged in a while because I have been busy, busy, busy with preparations for the "House in a Week" build at Rancho de Sus Niños, an orphanage just outside of Tijuana. We are calling it "Casa de la esperanza" - "The House of Hope"

The build is less than two weeks away...we still need funds to make sure we have all of the materials to build, not just a house...but a Home.

Please donate to Rancho "House in a Week" at this link: House in a week
Your donation is tax deductible and will show love and care to generation after generation.

Thank you,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Beauty In The Desert - A Note to My Design Community

After reading this tweet from the design community's very own @JamesSwan this week, I decided to tell you about a project that is close to my heart.

At the end of February, this coming year, I will be heading up a monumental task: to build a house in a week … in Mexico. I had the opportunity to help with an Extreme Home Makeover here in Nashville a year or so back and I know pulling that off in a week in America, with corporate sponsors and large contractors, was crazy; to try doing it in Mexico with donated materials and all-volunteer labor is quite, well, mad. Why am I involved, you ask? For many reasons, but I will only give you a couple.

For the past three years I have spent my time volunteering at Rancho De Sus Niños, an orphanage just outside of Tecate, Mexico. I say orphanage because that is how it began 20-plus years ago; these days it is actually an orphanage, a daycare, a K-through-college school system, a hospice, and a ministry providing free, clean drinking water to area families and garbage service so their community doesn't have to live in filth. It has grown because Rancho people see a need, fill it, and worry about the funding later. It is a faith-based organization and they are being the hands and feet of God. You don't even have to be religious to see the good they do and the financial and social change they bring to a very impoverished area. The couple that runs Rancho, Jimmy and Genea Horner, left a very successful land development and homebuilding business in Southern California to bring their time, talent and treasure to those in need.

So, February 29th through March 7th we will build a house -- a 2,272-square foot, seven-bedroom, three-bath house, completely furnished, at a cost of $70,000. That is only about $31 per square foot; for reference, the average cost per square foot to build in Nashville is around $110 per square foot, unfurnished. I have included a snapshot of the floor plan so you can see the layout. 

Plan View
Now that we have all the particulars out of the way, this is what I am asking my fellow designers, architects, decorators, craftsmen, anyone in the design community: help me with this project. You can donate funds via Hopepark Church (select "Other" and please mark your contribution “Rancho House in a Week.”) All donations are tax deductible. You can talk to your vendors about donating goods and services -- we need everything from concrete to pillowcases. Or you can lend us a hand, literally -- I would love to see some of you actually come to Mexico with me. Post a comment below, follow the links provided, or message me on Twitter (@Billy_Williams) to let me know how you would like to contribute ... you might even have a way that I’ve not thought of. Even if you are unable to help right now, there may be someone in your world who can. So re-post, tweet, facebook, spread the word by carrier pigeon if you have to … just spread the word.

As a design community we have the daily privilege of bringing beauty, form and function to our clients’ lives. Join me in bringing beauty to the desert ... to people who would never be able to afford our services or benefit from our talents.

Thank you,

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Perfect Tree

My Christmas tree is a mess, a hodgepodge of items that neither match nor make good sense color-scheme wise. Wood, glass, plastic, paper … unknown substances hang from its branches with no apparent rhyme or reason. It's PERFECT!

I am not so sure that a Christmas tree should be a reflection of the latest and greatest decorating trend. I am of a mind that it should be a story of life, its branches heavy with thoughts and memories, scattered about like jewels. The hand-blown glass ornaments purchased in Colorado for the first Christmas. Four small hand-painted glass balls from the late 1930s, their colors dulled by time. My mother gave them to me a few years back -- they were hers as a child; they hung on our tree when I was a child. Cheap satin red balls purchased at Big Lots, reminders of lean financial times. Three tiny rocking horses which were originally flower arrangement decorations received when our son was born. I made them into ornaments complete with his birth stats handwritten on each one … in Sharpie, of course. I see a green and red construction paper wreath framing the face of my son when he was in kindergarten; he has a son of his own now. Ornaments from friends and family that have come from all over the world and now reside in my world. And it is all topped off with an angel from Sears, her mauve cardboard dress a bit tattered after 27 years. She was a gift from my great-grandmother who passed away in the ‘90s -- in her 90s.

To me, it's not about what my tree contains, but who. I sit looking at each eclectic treasure and see a loved one captured in a moment in time … that is the true gift. So my 2011 Christmas design advice is, if you want a decorator tree with matching black and silver ribbons and bows, go for it. But also take the time to decorate another tree -- fill it with memories. Look at each piece you hang and remember the moment and the person it represents … soak it in. I bet I can guess which of the two trees will bring you the most joy.

What is your favorite Christmas ornament or memory?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The "Nest" Thermostat

This is a hot idea...or maybe it's a cool product, either way, I love it. 

About 14 years ago I installed my first programmable thermostat to help save on my heating and cooling bills. I have since replaced it with newer versions as they have become smarter and smarter. The problem has been that the thermostats are either hard to program or have few day-evening-night-weekend setting options, so they work on a fairly rigid schedule. This means I spend a lot of time overriding the settings that took me forever to program in the first place. To me, this looks to be the answer to all of this: a thermostat that learns how you live and works with you to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, while saving energy. 

Also, from a design point of view, it is a very attractive device -- clean and sleek looking.  

Rather than have me go on about it, take a look at this video.

You can also visit the Nest site here Nest.com

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are We Afraid to Innovate?


These seem to be the five phases of design. We start out to innovate, look for inspiration, which usually leads to imitation, where we see our (perceived) creative limitations, which eventually leads to total exasperation. Do we follow this chain of events because we doubt our own eyes or brains ... maybe because we are afraid to put forward what we think is innovative because someone will shoot it down? Creativity leaves us very vulnerable.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Miller: "Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifle because we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty." The line that strikes me the most is "...we lack the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth" -- that is it in a nutshell. We don't believe what we imagine as innovation is true -- only those like the late Steve Jobs innovate, right? 

Apex Design ©2011 b. williams design
Earlier this year I was granted a great opportunity to design some concept kitchens with the idea that there was "no box." However, without the client's knowledge, their well-meaning ad agency began to send me image after image of what was "cutting edge," "innovative" -- before they had even seen what I could do. I actually never looked at the images they sent, as I felt it would taint my creativity and not allow me to do what I had been asked. I know that sounds egotistical but hear me out. They were sending images from magazines. Now consider the timeline associated with those images. The magazine article was four months old which means the story was most likely written five months ago, which means the project was at least eight to nine months in the build phase; add another six to 12 months from conception to actual building date. This means by the time I see this innovative design it is already two years old or older. To have designed from those images would have been imitated innovation at best. 

I have an Android phone; it seems innovative in a "How can we compete with iPhone" kind of way. Apple did (does) a great job innovating so by the time HTC imitates Apple's newest device, that device is old news and Apple is on to the next innovation. Sometimes we don't innovate because we fear those around us just "won't get it" My designs were published in an article in an industry magazine. A few weeks later a highly successful architect friend of mine, whose views I greatly respect, spent a good amount of time telling why my designs were not right because they did not fit within the confines of historical architectural thinking. He said they were outside the "rules of design." My response would be, "Whose rules?" I didn't sign up to design so I could simply follow a rigid set of rules -- maybe I want to break the rule so it can be re-written. In my mind my designs worked, if for no other reason than they made him think. 

So here is my advice: innovate. Sit and design something out of your own mind, no matter how weird or unconventional it seems. (You might not want to do this on a work-for-hire -- or maybe you do.) Believe that YOU might know what the next innovation is, that YOU know what beauty is, that the crowd should follow YOU, not the other way around. Recently, I sent a kitchen design to a client where I took a chance and put a small door at the bottom of the upper cabinets and the larger door above. His comment  was, "Are you suggesting we put a drawer in the upper cabinet?!" I explained it was a door and that my concept was to set the look of his kitchen apart. I took a chance; it cost me nothing. He chose to go the traditional route but I like the idea and someday a client will like it, too.