Style Talk With HGTV Star Contestant Brooks Atwood

On HGTV Star architect and interior designer Brooks Atwood was larger than life with big hair and a big personality.  Now back in Brooklyn, as the principal of POD Design, Brooks has so much to teach all of us about design; knowing how and when to break the rules; and how asking the hard questions can spark innovation.

You have a unique vision as both an architect and interior designer.  What helped shape your outlook?

I don’t see architecture and design as two different things.  At the beginning of my life I was always interested in pushing boundaries and the limits.  I didn’t want to be constrained.  I try every day to act more like a kid.  I try to go back to that innocence where everything is palpable.  My parents were always pushing me, and everything was open.  We didn’t have too many rules and regulations growing up, and that allowed my creativity to run free.

How does living in New York fuel your creativity as a designer?

Growing up, I knew that I didn’t belong anywhere and felt like an outsider until I started visiting New York.  I immediately fell in love with the city, and was determined to make it my life’s mission to move there.  I applied to a bunch of grad schools for design and ended up getting into Columbia.  I moved to the city to go to grad school, and from day one I felt like I belonged.  There were other crazy people like me, who are not really crazy but really excited about design!  Then I found Brooklyn and felt like I fit in even more.  I live in Fort Greene, a very creative environment.

You believe in designing outside of the box.  How does this translate to your work as a professor?

I definitely teach my students to push boundaries right from day one.  We have “don’t’ fucking procrastinate” rules.  They print them out, and take a pledge on our site Goodfuckingdesignadvice.com.  I proceed to show them how to break the rules, why and when.  Of course there are rules to design.  I don’t want them to get arrested, but if they do, I ask them to please call me and I will bail them out as long as it’s a design-related crime.  I keep them on their toes.  They are used to pre-conceived notions of what design is, of what life is, of how they should design.  I try to break all of that within the first few weeks of class.  [We tackle questions like] what is a door handle; why that height; how tall is the client; why is it cold when it should be warm; what does it feel like when you touch it?  [For a room], what does the space smell like; what does a space feel like; how do you design sound in a space?  I’m showing them that there’s different ways of thinking.  It’s all about research at the beginning and throwing out as many ideas as possible.  That’s what leads to innovation.

As an international design firm, how does culture influence your work as a designer?

Incredibly.  Every culture has different needs, styles, aesthetics and beliefs.  Right now I’m loving Australia.  They are very interested in boundary-pushing design.  You have to live in a place and experience the culture.  When I was a kid we moved a lot – Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Alaska.  My parents divorced, my dad was living in Virginia, and my mom was in sales so we would go wherever the restaurants she sold to were.  In third grade we moved three different times, and I went to three different schools.  That exposed me to so many different people.  When I travel now, I love being exposed to different cultures.

What inspires you as a designer?

Everything inspires me.  I love ideas!  Just great ideas!  Inspiration comes from other designers, walking around, riding my bike.  I tend to crash into parked cars or fall over the sidewalks and trip because i’m looking at something that inspires me.  I love reading design mags and looking at Instagram for inspiration.  I love to see what people are doing and how that can be applicable to something new in design.

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