Make it comfortable. Who wants a space that looks great but does not feel inviting or functional? Comfortable furniture is a great investment that will bring you a lot of joy and can really change how you use a space. A living room can be formal, but still used and enjoyed regularly with some great pieces.
As part of my series on the “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Fisher.
JULIE FISHER, AIA, is co-founder of fc STUDIO inc and its Principal Architect since the company’s founding in 1999. With 30 years of architectural design experience, Julie coordinates projects with innovative and cost-effective solutions, while bringing the highest level of knowledge in architectural design and construction to each project. Julie earned her Master of Architecture at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she has been an adjunct professor, and resides in Evanston, Illinois with her husband and two children.
Thank you so much for joining us in this series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started working at restaurants when I was 13 (clearly before labor laws) and loved seeing how everything came together from behind the scenes, and all of the different people it took to get these beautiful places to run smoothly. I dreamt of running my own hotel or restaurant, and actually went to college for a Hospitality Management Business program.
I quickly realized that I was mostly drawn to the design and the well-appointed details that created these places. Architecture was the perfect way to be responsible for how everything comes together behind the scenes, just in a different way. It’s all come full circle, with our practice specializing in not only high-end residential projects, but restaurant and hospitality projects all over the country.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I think it’s an interesting story that I have thrived with my business partner, Rachel Crowl, for over 21 years. We are different in so many ways but have managed to maintain a mutual respect since meeting while working at a hospitality design firm in 1998. We share the same fundamental beliefs. We will forever agree that not taking ourselves too seriously and laughing a lot are the keys to our success. If we can’t have fun doing it, (especially while drinking wine), what’s the point?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It may be funny to me now, but at the time no one was laughing. At the start of our firm, about 19 years ago, I made the total rookie mistake. I ordered a custom leather sofa — which took forever to get and cost a small fortune — and we could not get it into our client’s living room! I thought I had covered my bases by checking the elevator size, but never took into account a dropped ceiling and very narrow hallway that led to the living room. The client was not happy nor sympathetic to the situation. We wound up with a sofa that cost one-third of my annual salary at the time. We miraculously and thankfully sold it (for a loss of course), but never made that mistake again!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The Steppenwolf Theatre. I am a native of Chicago, and grew up going to this legendary theater, so being selected to work on this milestone renovation has been amazing. We also designed the lobby bar in the new building created by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. It was like winning the lotto. We are not only partnering with some of the most creative and talented theater groups in the country but have an opportunity to put our mark on the beautiful new building. It is so rare to have the ability to surround yourself with such talented and collaborative teams. I think that everyone has choices and making an effort to surround yourself with like-minded people becomes infectious. When the best interest of the client is the goal, everyone checks their egos at the door, and creates a collaborative and enjoyable project. Remaining open and willing to listen and collaborate is something we try to practice outside of the office and in life as well.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Are we going to hate ourselves in 10 years?” This has been our guiding light to ensure that we keep relevant and not rely on trendy fads. It’s important to look ahead to ensure that what we are producing will stand the test of time, and that we will not regret what we are putting out into the world. This does not mean that you cannot make bold moves or take risks, just do it well, and be thoughtful about how you do it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My earliest influence was Carlos Martinez AIA, FIIDA, LEEDAP (now a Principal at Gensler), who was a professor at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. I feel like he saw something in me and demanded excellence and rigor in everything I did. His work ethic was relentless, and he really taught me to keep pushing and to look outside the box for solutions and thought-provoking ideas. He later handed me a life-changing project when I started my business which I will forever be grateful. We’ve maintained a friendship for over 30 years, and I think about those early days often, and have carried that drive to be better and demand excellence with me throughout my career.
Thank you for that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Can Do To Help Your Living Space Spark More Joy” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Reduce the amount of “stuff.” I don’t think that you have to put everything behind closed doors, just be thoughtful about what you are looking at every day. I recently remodeled my kitchen and got rid of my upper cabinets. It may sound counterintuitive but exposing the items that are functional and beautiful out on display brings me so much joy. It also makes you only put out what you actually use and need!
- Add a pop of color or something unexpected in a space — It does not have to be an “accent wall,” but could be a great piece of art, a pillow, or even a chair with interesting upholstery. I found two incredible danish wood chairs at a Salvation Army store for $20 each. I had big white faux fur seat cushions made for them. They make me smile every time I look at them.
- Add some green! Plants can help any space feel loved, warm and just better overall. I can’t believe I am saying this, but there are such great fake plants out there now, I am not opposed to throwing some fakes in areas that suffer from natural light. Like everything else, you have to limit these and create the right balance.
- Make it comfortable. Who wants a space that looks great but does not feel inviting or functional? Comfortable furniture is a great investment that will bring you a lot of joy and can really change how you use a space. A living room can be formal, but still used and enjoyed regularly with some great pieces.
- Create a story or a memory out of some things you love. Frame a beautiful post card from a trip that you loved. Seek things to fill your space that have meaning, not just because you think it matches or you saw it in a magazine. Everything you see should have meaning and be purposeful.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It would be interesting to start a movement to showcase simplicity, and not a manufactured best life. I would find a way to counter Instagram and HGTV perception of design and remodeling. Similar to the anti-makeup / natural trend that is happening. Simplicity has a big impact on our built environment. Showcasing that these highly curated environments are not a reality for a majority of Americans, and there are so many more interesting stories for how people live outside of glossy magazines. Our country was built on people with stories from all over the globe with so much history, and so many cultures. So many outlets are trying to scrub the beauty and originality out of people’s stories, and creating manufactured spaces that are void of originality, and lose the authenticity of the people that need to inhabit them.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Iris Apfel. She is an obvious icon but has a lot to say that I think is very important. I love her quote,
“rules are a waste of time. I would just break them, so why bother.” She also tells the story about being told, “you are not pretty, and you’ll never be pretty. It doesn’t matter because you’ve got something much better, you have style.” She is a true original, and not driven by what others think. She creates from the soul and you can’t teach that. You can’t replicate authenticity. She epitomizes what we hope we stand for in our practice and everyday life. Everyone should be as fearless as she is and embrace being true to yourself.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!