Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Inspiring Eric Cohler

Today I was injected with a big shot of worldly inspiration courtesy of famed interior designer, Eric Cohler.


Eric was in Toronto to give a talk to the Toronto design community about infusing passion and a love for collecting into design. It was such a treat to hear from “the mix master” of design himself and discover that despite his high profile and various established product lines, he is as approachable and personable as ever.

The distinguished Mr. Cohler is truly a walking encyclopedia about design. He holds a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation from the Columbia University School of Architecture and a certificate in design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. During his lecture he shared several sources of inspiration that inform his work and provided tips about dealing with tricky clients as well as humorous personal anecdotes about his family.


He discussed the art of curating objects to form vignettes that encapsulate your personality, and one theme he consistently touched on was mixing high and low. As a firm believer in this sentiment, I was excited to see such an established figure preach the same thrifty sensibility.


It’s not often a designer will cop to pairing a crate and barrel table with $12,000 antique chairs.


And you don’t often hear a designer boasting about how he paired an icon of modern design he purchased on sale with a cheap ceramic Chinese stool.

Many high-profile designers are also afraid to get their hands dirty, but Eric was clear that he likes to do things himself, such as picking up bead board from Home Depot, flipping it around and painting it black for something unique that didn’t necessarily break the bank – how refreshing!


I really enjoyed how he related his passion for art, photography, travel, culture and nature to various rooms and products he has designed. For example, the photographs of zebras he took on his trip to Tanzania was the direct source for the pattern of one of my favourite Lee Jofa fabrics from his collection: the beautiful dinisen linen in pewter.


Eric also mentioned how he likes to bring the outdoors in and vice versa. He showed several groundbreaking examples of modern architecture that fused the exterior with the interior, such as the Kaufman house in Palm Springs, and pointed out how he wants to change how separate and delineated the “outside” and “inside” are in the world of design. He showed us spaces where the two spheres are blended together seamlessly, such as this backyard in which he installed an outdoor projector system so a family could watch movies by the pool.

Other sources of inspiration he referenced were legends of design, such as Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, Elsie de Wolfe and David Hicks.


He was clear to point out specific rooms he worked on that referenced these designers and was not afraid to mention borrowing from their genius, which you can clearly see in the above rooms that have that graphic hit of Hicks-esque pattern.

Other fun facts I learned about Eric:


He doesn’t like upper cabinetry – he likes to build pantries instead and in this room he installed art above the counters in their place.


He was inspired by the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome and used the cut-out light source element in a modern bathroom design.

The Obama's are using one of his fabrics on their dining chairs at the White House (I believe it is the Tyler Crewel in mustard seen above)


He is even working on a book that illustrates design lessons to be learned from I Love Lucy!


Finally, I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning one of my favourite things Eric does, and that is the consistent presence of all things greek key!


He designed this mantle with its Louis XVI starburst detail and classic greek key motif


You can find greek key in his own furniture line for Lee Jofa


And in his lighting line for Visual Comfort


The lecture truly was a glimpse into how such an accomplished figure in design works and what gets his creative juices flowing – thanks so much Eric for sharing your passions!

(most  images via


Anonymous said...

oh that Jessica Claire is a hottie rockstar designer! I love her like kitten soup!

ashlina said...

you are a rockstar! i agree.

love everything about this post. and am in love with the zebra chair + stair runner.


Erica Cook said...

Love this post! So delighted that I stumbled across your blog today. xo

Carlene said...

Delighted to follow ERIC COHLER. Sounds like a wonderful presentation. Hello, Eric! Carlene in Mohnton Pa

The Goods Design said...

Great post - LOVE his work!