Inspired by Life: An Interview with Bonvivant Design’s Mirjam Spronk

Living Room designed by Mirjam Spronk

I have a treat for you today– a new interview!

Mirjam and Nico
Mirjam and Nico of Bonvivant Design

I actually virtually met interior stylist and designer Mirjam Spronk of Bonvivant Design almost exactly a year ago via Twitter. Immediately I was drawn to Mirjam’s unique style and, most specifically, to the way she draws inspiration from her New Zealand surroundings and incorporates it into her design products.

Originally I intended to publish this interview earlier in this year but ya’ll know how life has a way of derailing your best intentions, right?  I’m glad that I am finally able to publish Mirjam’s interview now and I know that you guys will find it just as interesting as I did!

Although I’m familiar with your background from reading your blog, Mindpopsicles, would you share a little bit about yourself with my readers?  Are you originally from New Zealand?  How did you go from earning a degree in Mixed Media to becoming an interior stylist and product designer?

I was born in the Netherlands and lived there most of my life. My husband and I emigrated to New Zealand in 2002. We fell completely in love with the vast spaces, abundant nature and the great variety in scenery. The people are friendly and helpful, still having that trusting trait that the Dutch society seems to have lost due to its ‘hardening up’ as people live so close together.

After 5 years of study with a BA of mixed media, I had set up my own design studio; work consisted mostly of graphic design work with incorporated illustration: I designed logos, brochures, stationary, leaflets and book covers. I also had a stint at a publisher firm and a Real Estate agency before heading out to Down Under.

My first job in New Zealand was apple picking. This is a great idea for meeting the most interesting (local) people, building stamina and losing weight. I have fond memories of that time, even though it was very hard work! But being outdoors, in the most beautiful scenery that the Otago region has to offer, all that sweating and cursing made it absolute gold.  It was a very de-urbanizing experience and an eye opener too.

Beautiful New Zealand
Beautiful New Zealand

After that we traveled New Zealand extensively and decided to head up to the biggest city on the north island, Auckland. I found work as a sales person working for a furniture and interior accessory store and after 3 weeks I was asked to become the branch manager. I worked my hardest and learned a lot. Not only was the styling in the store and advising customers on their interior a learning curve, so was dealing with 3 staff. Acquiring managing skills through experience taught me many things about New Zealand culture and people in general. It also gave me experience by trial and error on what works in interiors, and what doesn’t.

When we moved South, I found work as a branch manager for a furniture and interior design store.  Styling interiors comes naturally to me and I really enjoy it.  My boss used to say that good interior design comes from breeding it in to you, not from going to school.  I certainly think an education helps, but you do learn most from experience, training your eyes on shape, form and designing in 3d.

Hemptech "Cows and Couches" Fabric
Hemptech “Cows and Couches” Fabric

When I visited your website, Bonvivant Design, I was immediately drawn to the fun “cows and couches” pillows and was excited to discover that the fabric was your original design.  I’m always talking to my readers about learning to draw inspiration from any and everywhere.  You definitely epitomize that idea in the way you use your natural environment to inspire designs for both your interior products and your jewelry line… Can you share with us your process of moving from inspiration to an actual design?  Does this process change for you depending on the project (i.e. is it different for creating jewelry versus styling rooms versus fabric)? If so, how do you approach these different types of projects?

The reason I started (graphic/product) designing again was because it is my passion and I was missing it in my daily work. I am a creator, so whether this is 3d (interiors) or 2d (graphic/product design), they both have their place in my world.  My predicament is that I have too many ideas!

From inspiration to actual design– there are two ways of going about this.  If I receive a brief then I stick to that. If it’s free range , I can bounce ideas around and try different things.

Designing for www.hemptech.co.nz has been fun as Lynne lets me run riot with New Zealand based themes. We simply started talking about it one day and the fact they are an eco/sustainable New Zealand fabric manufacturer gave me the angle for ‘celebrating kiwi identity’. It’s a niche and it’s brilliant.

I have an affinity with New Zealand nature so that’s what I started off with.  I basically sketch on the computer using Adobe Illustrator. I also utilize what I may have brainstormed around with before.  For the Hemptech project, I started by drawing a conventional sofa. I was thinking of an ad I’d seen that had a sofa sitting in a field of grass.  New Zealanders have a great passion for living on their deck in summer.  Looking at the sofa on the screen it reminded me of a cow illustration I had done some months before. I opened the file, copied the cow into the sofa file and worked from there.

Drawing Inspiration from Nature
Drawing Inspiration from Nature

The zebra was a trial and error as I wanted to introduce an exotic element.  Most Kiwis in their early 20s depart for what they call their big O.E. (Overseas Experience) or they will go in their 50s.  Many of my customers tell stories about Italy and France, but also about Africa.  Hence the zebra pattern implemented in the ‘Cows and Couches’ design.

My design work has foundation and it has reason, but a lot of it is playing around. One idea leads to something else, and I like a dose of humour in my work. Life doesn’t have to be so serious. Why do we let it become like that? So my design process is a big jump and skip in my brain. First I have the parameters, then the fluffing and playing, and then the reality check to see if what I set out to do has been achieved.

Bird of Paradise Pendant - Bonvivant Designs
Bird of Paradise Pendant – Bonvivant Designs

My jewellery work is again celebrating that New Zealand flavour. I also design fun things that I like for myself, for example an eccentric peacock based on a real live one that friends in the Netherlands still have. The design process usually has me looking up wildlife pictures and information online, checking the anatomy, what characteristics it has. I aim to hone in on the specific elements that underline New Zealand based design. As my life is here, I don’t see the point of incorporating Dutch elements, although I’m a huge fan of Droog design and Marcel Wanders.  They too possess whimsical and surprising elements. I love that. Bold and strong: great impact and massive wow factor. I guess I never was one for subtleties.

People are often hesitant to start creating living environments that they really love because they’re afraid they will make a mistake.  Have you ever started a project and felt it was headed in the wrong way?  How did you handle that challenge?  What advice would you give people to overcome this fear?

Yes I have started out on projects in my early days where due to lack of experience I had to muddle my way through. Of course I wasn’t very proud of that, but one has to work with what one can. Usually I would see later where I could have done better, but we always work with what we have available to us. So don’t beat yourself up! I think the interesting thing is that whatever you feel comfortable with, or what you like is a great starting point. Hold on to what you love. Don’t throw out important story pieces just because they clash with the latest trendy sofa. Something may not appeal to for example a friend of yours, but it’s confidence that makes it all work.

Seating Area designed by Mirjam Spronk
Seating Area designed by Mirjam Spronk

I suggest what really helps is taking magazines and simply cut out what you like: work per room, so have a binder that contains tabs and sleeves in which you can insert pictures of what you like. From say 6-10 pages you can then deduce what jumps out and what describes your taste. You can make a list of what needs to be done in the room: do you really need to paint? Is it worth wallpapering? If you got very snazzy furniture or Art it may pay to forgo elaborate wallpaper altogether! Generally I would say: the walls are the least of your worries unless the existing walls can’t be cleaned or have ugly wallpaper: the key is to be aware of what draws the eye and work on that. Do you have a very busy carpet? Take it out, there might be a great floor underneath. Otherwise cover it with a plain coloured carpet, which is easier on the eyes.

 

Here in the States, we’ve really been suffering from the recession.  I imagine that this has probably touched you and your clients down in New Zealand as well… Would you share with us your top three tips for cutting costs while meeting your design goals?

1) Re-upholster. One of the biggest things I have discovered this year has been that re-upholstery jobs have shot through the roof!  If you are considering doing a recover, check whether your chair or sofa is worth salvaging.  It may be worth buying a quality piece that is newly made if it costs only a fraction more than a re-upholstery job.

2) Auctions!  I’m not sure if you have quirky auction places in the US but you sure have a few here in Dunedin.  At these auctions you can get lucky and pick up a few pieces (that you decided on beforehand so you don’t get carried away!) If no auction rooms are available, try E-Bay. I would use auctions or E-Bay to find second hand drapes for bedrooms or studies for example. That will save you quite a bit. Also lamps are great to find on these sites, or even wallpaper for a great hallway.

3) Save before you buy! It makes sense to get a few quality pieces and work with what you have already. Quality lasts and you will see the difference!  Make a plan to get a piece in say 6-12 months and put away a certain amount a week in a separate bank account that will go towards your interior. You’ll be surprised how small amounts per week add up over 6 months!

 

Living Room designed by Mirjam Spronk
Living Room designed by Mirjam Spronk

Final question… and it really relates back to the idea of people being afraid of making mistakes in their homes.  I think a lot of people settle for “safe” looks in their homes because they don’t have confidence or trust in their own design eye.  People will buy matched sets from some retail store and live in homes that don’t exactly reflect their spirits because they don’t believe they can buy individual pieces that speak to them and actually pull a cohesive look together.  What advice would you give a person in regards to learning how to develop and trust their own sense of style and design?

I still remember seeing this old lady getting on the bus on my way to high school. She was wearing this shiny leather coat that was very trendy, a bright pink scarf and a cooky hat. Now, everyone in the bus was staring at her and there were some snorts from the young crowd, but everyone followed her later getting off the bus. Why? Because she had the guts to go bold.  It’s all about attitude. If you genuinely want to create a wonderful unique interior that is yours, then go with your instinct.

I will tell you an interior design secret that I discovered many years ago through hard work:

  • if in doubt, whatever you do in a room, if you stick to a 3 colour rule you will have to try very hard to go wrong.

For some reason the magical 3 brings harmony and it’s a great rule of thumb. If the sofa is brown leather, the drapes are blue and the rug is plum, you can bring in orange vases for example. But not green as well.  That makes seating one colour (1), drape or rug as another since blue and plum are in the same family (2), and accessories another colour (3). I’m counting table lamps etc as being part of the accessories. Now, if you have paintings or art work it would help that the 3 colours are in there or the largest part in there. Naturally this is an over simplified solution, but it is definitely harder to pull of a dazzling interior with more colours then 4. It takes quite a bit of experience to get it right.

Bedroom styled by Mirjam Spronk
Bedroom styled by Mirjam Spronk

My other rule of thumb is group the ornaments and declutter.

I have seen numerous fireplaces with dotted bits n bobs on the mantel piece. There is a place for knick knacks, but I would not suggest having them scattered through out the house. Try to group them, either on one shelf or on a hall table in, for example, one dominant colour way. This creates peace and stability. Too many distractions on the eye creates un-ease. For the same reason de-cluttering is vital. A more zen like approach creates peace. Clarity in the home brings clearness in the mind they say and I have to agree. You can still have fun in a room and add zing, panache and vavoom, just try and keep it organised in some fashion so you can take in the room in one swoop and not hurt your eyeballs with too many distractions.
Dutch Design Inspired Animal Lamps
Dutch Design Inspired Animal Lamps

Finally, have fun! Decorating or styling your home can provide tons of energy and satisfaction! Try not to do it all in one week or a month–good things take time and it’s quite alright spreading your renovation out over a period of time.

*********

You can learn more about Mirjam by visiting her design site, Bonvivant Designs or by reading her blog Mindpopsicles (which is a great place to find inspiration and positive mojo when you’re having a bad day!).  You can also follow Mirjam on Twitter.  I hope you’ll leave a comment here to help me show our appreciation for Mirjam taking the time to share with us– and there’s an extra big THANK YOU to her from me for being so kind and understanding when this interview wasn’t published any where near the time I told her it would be!

’til next time, happy budget decorating!

xoxoShauntelle

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4 thoughts on “Inspired by Life: An Interview with Bonvivant Design’s Mirjam Spronk

  1. Mirjam says:

    Shauntelle, thanks so much for the interview! It’s lovely to get to know you and your readers. If anyone is stuck on interiors or has a question: they are welcome to email me and I will try to be helpful 🙂 Have a wonderful time having fun in your home!

  2. Andrea says:

    “People will buy matched sets from some retail store and live in homes that don’t exactly reflect their spirits because they don’t believe they can buy individual pieces that speak to them and actually pull a cohesive look together.”

    Love the quote above because… that’s me! I buy matchy stuff because I am afraid of doing something wrong. I have always lived in a home as though I were about to move. Never really settling in and taking chances because I had plans to go to another place. Well I’ve been living that way in our current home for 11 years now and no more! I’m on a mission to bring the beach to our home, so I’ll be reading through your thought provoking blog to get ideas and inspiration.

    Thank you so much for sharing Mirjam with us Shauntelle! I especially love her 3 color rule and the idea about keeping a personal “idea” book for your home. I started an idea book over 15 years ago. I lost it at one point, but it resurfaced years later. It was cool to discover, that although I didn’t have the book to refer to those years it was lost, I had *unconsciously* implemented some of the ideas I placed inside the book. I will create a new book today for decorating my ideal home.

    1. snhamlett says:

      Glad you enjoyed the interview Andrea! I have three new interviews lined up for the next couple of weeks– one of which is with Kristan Cunningham, one of the original hosts from Design on a Dime. Hopefully you guys will find those interviews pretty inspiring as well!

      I’m going to start on a new inspiration book myself– one of the things I try to do is make it small enough to tuck in my medium size purse. That way I can carry it with me when I go out. Also, another thing I do is tuck in samples of fabric I like and if I’m out and see something I’m not quite sure about, I’ll take a picture of it with my digital camera or cell phone camera and then print a small copy of the picture to add to my book as well.

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