In the Trenches with Brian in San Fran

Modern Treasure

Hello my lovelies!  Today is Wednesday and do you know what that means?  A brand new “In the Trenches” Interview!  I know it’s been awhile since I added to the series but that is about to change– I already have three months worth of interviews lined up and I promise you each and every one of the people I’ve chosen are F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!

Starting with Brian in San Fran.  The first glimpse I had of Brian’s style was this picture on Flickr:

Brian's Chairs
Brian's Chairs
Believe it or not, Brian found this pair of great chairs on the SIDEWALK.  And then he used paint and fabric to transform them into this:
Modern Treasure
Modern Treasure

As I explored his Flickr stream, I was impressed by the way he transformed roadside finds and the playful way he mixes color and pattern to create a fun and attractive home.  As far as I’m concerned, Brian is the perfect example of creating a beautiful home that is a reflection of your self on a tight budget, and I knew he was perfect for our “In the Trenches” interviews!

So tell us about yourself!

 

A Corner of Brian's Living Room
A Corner of Brian's Living Room

My name is Brian Vann. I’m 37 and currently live in San Francisco, CA. I grew up in a small town, Conway, in central Arkansas. I had a very creative family. My father was a carpenter by hobby and was always building boxes and chests and toys. My mother did everything: cross stitch, quilting, painting, ceramics, stained glass, sewing, crochet, making dollhouses—the list goes on. Both my grandmothers sewed and crocheted. My grandfather did metalwork and was an award-winning gardener. Everyone cooked like a pro. So as a kid I was always helping my dad in his wood shop or helping roll yarn for my mom while she crocheted, or cooking with my grandmother and helping my grandfather in the garden. I was constantly doing something creative.

On my own I was in my room drawing or painting. By the time I moved out on my own (and by on my own I mean sharing a one bedroom apartment with three other people) I was in full-on hippie mode living with a tight group of friends who spent their days working at the local natural grocery, and all their free time together painting, drawing, and making found-object sculptures. When I was 25 I got the opportunity to go to California for the summer to work as cook at a summer camp. Twelve years later I’m still here. I spend my days working at a natural grocery (Whole Foods) and all my other time sewing, cooking, and being a content homebody

How would you describe your design style/aesthetic? Has this always been your style or has it changed and evolved over time?

The best way I can think of to describe my style is Modern Bohemian. The best way someone else described my style is “Comfy Granny Hipster.” My style used to be way more hippie than it is now. Fringed floor pillows, scarves over the lampshades, and beads in the doorway. I still like to incorporate bits of that, but with a cleaner modern feel. I definitely like to combine retro furniture with handmade and unusual items. 

Brian's handiwork
Handmade pillow created by Brian

 

I really started sewing about seven years ago. I was on a vacation visiting my grandmother in Arkansas and bored into a coma. It was hot out so I went to her sewing room to poke around and ended up making a couple of small pillows. I was hooked. So I’ve spent the past few years learning my craft and teaching myself to do a lot of handy work and crafts.

What inspires you?

Everything. I hate to answer that question that way because it’s so generic, but it’s true. I look for inspiration everywhere. I look at a ton of magazines, TV shows, movies, shop windows, fashion, blogs, the bulletin boards at coffee shops, the paint color chip display at the hardware store, and just walking through my neighborhood. I always keep my eyes open so I don’t miss anything. And I always keep my camera with me so when I see something interesting I can snap a picture.

Color and Pattern - Window Shopping Inspiration
Color and Pattern - Window Shopping Inspiration

A couple of specific inspirations:

The Apartment Book, I’ve had it since I was about twenty.  I got it at a library book sale, and I still flip through it every couple of months.  There are several easy how-to projects, but it’s the pictures that make it so great. The variety of homes and styles is dazzling. And it has a lot of good ideas for storage that I have adapted for myself. And a magazine that I love is ELLE Decoration from the UK. The whole vibe of the magazine is mixing modern with vintage and handmade.  Shabby chic with lots of color.

Trivet inherited from Brian's Grandmother
Trivet inherited from Brian's Grandmother

Most of my fondest memories happened at my grandmother’s house. A lot of the things I use everyday in my kitchen belonged to her. The pillows on my sofa are made of her dishtowels and I keep my clothespins in the same old coffee tin she kept hers in. Her house was home. Having her personal everyday items like that in my home inspires me because she was such an inspiration to me. She taught me to cook.  I learned to sew and embroider at her house.  She taught me about birds and flowers.

Collection of Vintage Tea Towels
Collection of Vintage Tea Towels

Do you think you actively developed your style, and if so, would you describe how you feel this development occurred? What tips would you share with people seeking to develop their own design aesthetic?

I’ve just always surrounded myself with thing that I like, and have always had a mish-mash style. Anything someone else didn’t want would find its way to me and I would turn it into a table or lamp or sit it on a shelf as art. So I guess I tried everything in developing my style. I would have a book shelf and one bookend would be old car engine part (I really liked the shape of it) and the other would be a rock. The rusty car part was the same color as the rock and that was it. Neither of these things really went together, but they did. I still take that direction in my home. It doesn’t matter what the item is or where it came from—if you like it, keep it. Put it on your coffee table.

Brian's Living Room
Brian's Living Room

Tips for others?

Try it all. Don’t be afraid it “won’t go.” Learn to do lots of crafty/handy things, whether you teach yourself or take a class. If you know how to sew you can make your own pillows and curtains exactly how you want them. Once you learn that then it’s not that much harder to recover a chair. I got a silver leaf kit from a craft store and turned an old window pane into an antique looking mirror. And now I know how to use metallic leaf. I taught myself to silkscreen fabric from a book. Basically, the more effort you put into your style the more personal it becomes. And it feels good to say you did it yourself. And it makes you more confident in what you can do.

Violets and Bottle Cap Wire Basket
Violets and Bottle Cap Wire Basket

Another thing I think is useful is to imagine how many different ways an object can be used. For instance, you posted a picture of some valve heads used on water spigots. I thought they would make great finials on a curtain rod or drawer pulls in a bathroom. Or even as feet on a cabinet. I do that with almost everything. It’s like stretching for your brain.

What was your biggest challenge in creating your space? How did you overcome this challenge?

Space and money. I live in a small one bedroom apartment and have no outside space to speak of. So working on messy or large projects is almost impossible. And having a place to put everything is not any easier. And, well, money does make everything easier, doesn’t it? And that’s always in as short a supply as space. But I thing I have turned both of these problems into opportunities. It makes me super-organized and ruthless in getting rid of things I don’t need. I had to institute a one-in, one-out policy with upcycled projects. If I pick up something new I have to let something go. But that keeps things fresh.

Found Stools - Before
Found Stools - Before
Found Stools - After
Found Stools - After

I started scavenging furniture because I didn’t have anything. So I would drive around at night and watch the curb

Brian's Craft & Sewing Room
Brian's Craft & Sewing Room

for a chair or a rug. If I saw a moving truck at a house I would be sure to go back later that night because there would be something left behind. Estate sales and thrift stores were all I could afford. So I would bring whatever I found home and paint it or recover it and would feel so proud that I did it. My first apartment had a huge Persian style rug I found behind my building. A free sofa from my grandmother covered in leopard print fabric with red shag fun fur

pillows. My TV cabinet was an old steamer trunk ($50 but so worth it) and all my book went in piles on the floor around the room. I still do it the same way. If I see a box or bag on the sidewalk I always look in it. You never know what you’ll find. If I see a chair or lamp I always stop and check it out.

I could also say that living in rentals I’ve always had white walls. And I’ve always said, “Ugh, I wish I could paint.” But now I really like it. I like a lot of color; a lot of different colors. So it does provide a neutral background and moves a lot of light around the room so my home feels really bright.

Have you ever experienced having a design project completely bomb? If so, how did you move past that experience? What advice would you give people who are afraid to tackle their own design projects because of their fear of “bombing?”

Oh boy have I had things bomb. I once tried to cover an entire wooden dining table (found on the sidewalk) with contact paper. Contact paper is hard to work with. It looked like the worst wrapped present in the world. But, you pick up and move on and don’t worry about it. That’s why I love free things. If it goes wrong you’re not out anything but a few bucks for contact paper or spray paint. And mistakes and “bombs” can lead you to something else or a new idea. So my best advice is do it and see how it comes out. Also, don’t be in a hurry. I’ve had pieces sitting around my apartment for months just waiting for an idea or looking for the right fabric to cover it with. Live with it for a while and think about it and see how you’ll use it and where you’ll put it. Sometimes things still bomb. But it never hurts to try.

Brian's Sewing Machine Cover
Brian's Sewing Machine Cover

What is the best piece of wisdom you’ve gained in the process of creating your space?

Two things: Have no fear. Try your hand at everything and don’t worry that it won’t come out right. Paint can always be painted over. Fabric can always be removed and done over again. And if you like it then it’s your style and belongs in your home. Oh, don’t forget plants. Plants make every room better. But not fake plants.

*********

Isn’t Brian amazing?  He and his partner Eric will be moving to moving back to Arkansas in just a few months where Brian plans, in his words, “take my handmade life and trash-to-treasure attitude and maybe make a living at it.” Personally, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with! In the meanwhile, you can keep up with Brian’s latest projects by following him on Flickr. Be sure to check out his Etsy shop too, where he sells colorful, handmade totes and purses that feature his Boho-Modern aesthetic.

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