Let me start by saying, Nashville-based interior designer John Starbuck may be one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I was lucky to work with him on a recent project and quickly learned that he is a true southern gentleman, both in demeanor and spirit. If there is a nicer man in the world, I haven’t met him yet.
John acted as head cheerleader for everyone involved in the 2013 O’More Designer Show House, a role he filled with honor and distinction. Always quick to share compliments, encouragement and enthusiasm, he is a bright light and a true talent. He went above and beyond to help ensure the Show House was a success, making him someone I want you to meet.
He graciously subjected himself to answering 5 questions about his work and his process. He’s such a gifted orator and writer, I didn’t need to edit a single word!
1: I discovered designing one room for a Show House is a challenge, yet you took on three distinctly different spaces. What was your overall concept and where did you draw your inspiration?
I agreed to do whatever was needed for the O’More Show House because I considered it to be an honor. There were three small spaces assigned to me on the second floor that were all grouped together so that presented a unique challenge.
I think the best design decisions are based on what is appropriate for the function, look, quality, and scope of the space. I wanted to create memorable rooms that would be well received and reflect my classic, functional, and eclectic design paradigm.
I have participated in previous Show House projects over the years. Designers are encouraged to express the idiom they feel they want to share with the public. Some spaces will be popular and some won’t because everyone obviously has different tastes and interests. I personally enjoy classic, timeless, eclectic design so I used that as a starting point. Then I just incorporated my ideas into an overall scheme that would hopefully affect people in a colorful, positive way.
I already had a Bachelor of Arts degree and previous work experience prior to attending O’More. I was very much aware of the unique learning environment offered at the school, and had a special relationship with the founder and director Mrs. O’More. I always admired her because she directed with such a distinct clarity of vision, and a genuine concern for the students and the professionalism of the industry. In this project, I wanted to provide a relevant, current feeling for the spaces while also honoring the cherished connection with O’More, historic Franklin, and the beauty of Abbey Leix. My appreciation for the past, present, and future were all exemplified in my spaces.
2: You are a man of many interests and talents. The hand-painted ceiling in the Study was a big hit with the crowd, as was your custom design in the Powder Room. I really admire the way you tied in the copper sink by adding metallic dragonflies to the walls. Do you often use special touches like these in your designs?
Thanks so much for noticing these things. My spaces were small in terms of square footage. But I wanted to create designs that were appropriate for the size and also something that would provide interesting details that people would appreciate. These accents drew the eye up where there were tall ceilings. I didn’t want to create anything too fussy…instead opting to utilize color and pattern in a new interpretation to add dimension and appeal. In the small powder bath, I wanted more than just texture but not as bold wall covering.
The hand painting and stencil of the off white tonal tailored architectural shadowy leafy shapes provided baseboard/low wall interest and a non-gender specific theme. The two panels of colored foliage, flowers, and hummingbirds was a way to bind the weight of the copper and balance for the adjacent walls of the room. I haven’t ever seen this type of monochromatic and naturalistic color combined, but it seemed to work there. I enjoy creating custom painted designs and details on furnishings and rooms when it is appropriate.
3: You have a great eye for art and antiques. (The secretary in the study is a favorite of mine.) What draws you to a particular piece and what makes you decide to buy?
There are several reasons I’m drawn to specific antiques and art. The basic rules of design including scale and proportion are always criteria. Often workmanship and quality of materials is what draws me to a particular item. I also appreciate the history and stories behind objects. I love well-designed contemporary pieces too, but they are often very expensive. As a teacher at O’More once told us, “One can have anything he wants as long as he is willing to pay for it.” In the past artists produced today’s vintage and antique pieces for pennies on what would be charged today. Many of the beautiful resources for materials and for craftsmanship are almost impossible to find in today’s cookie cutter factory resources.
I appreciate the unusual. I try to think outside the box and come up with new and different ways things from the past can be utilized as beautiful, functional pieces that fit today’s needs and lifestyles. I often wish treasures from the past could talk. We all have stories these items,…but just think of all the stories they could tell! I find that the special mix of old and new makes for a great juxtaposition in interesting interiors that have life and soul.
4: Let’s talk about the Study. My room was a playroom for the lady of the house, while just a few steps away you addressed a getaway for the man. What drove the design of this warm and inviting space?
LOL. Your room was exquisite and most thoughtful. Everyone seemed to appreciate it, including me. I have wrapped my share of gifts so I never saw it as just a feminine space! The same is true for the Study. I wanted it to appeal to both feminine and masculine sensibilities. I wanted the wall, floor, and trim colors to flow well between all three of my spaces and also to the other designers’ rooms. So I chose neutral and mostly matching colors that helped the rooms feel as spacious as possible.
To accent the ceiling, I used a salmon coral color in the Study that I first saw in the O’More Dining/Conference Room. It was the first time I’d been aware of ceiling color as an important and dramatic contribution to a room. It provided warmth in the Study and accentuated the lovely molding. The pendant light fixture added distinction to the space and the hand painted garland of leaves around it served as a tailored sort of medallion.
Functionally, the room would have worked well with a built-in desk and shelves. But for the Show House I wanted it to be more than just a built-in closet sized space. My goal was to present something with a real mix of color, pattern, scale, texture, and all the other design elements. The beautiful Heriz Persian carpet and the large stained glass panels in the windows provided pleasing art and color. The Study ended up being a cozy “perch” across from Kim Zimmer’s lovely family room. There was almost no wall space so I used some contemporary quality accents such as the faceted solid granite cylinder table and cherry stand to keep things fresh and new.
5: In design, I am a fan of having a 5-year plan. As a multi-passionate person, your spaces were filled with great art, luscious fresh flowers from your garden, and books on some of your favorite subjects. You are also such a gregarious people person! What excites and inspires you, and where do you see yourself in 5 years?
That’s a good question and I don’t have an exact answer. I’ve been a late bloomer in some ways. Going back for a formal design education was one of those later decisions. I genuinely enjoy most aspects of my work…designing, creating art and music, nurturing plants, and also appreciating the fruits and flowers resulting from my own work. I’m not gregarious really. But my enthusiasm could possibly make it seem so. There have been times in the past when I thought I’d enjoy writing about design (Editor’s note: He should definitely write!), or being a product representative or have some kind of retail business. But so far that hasn’t been in the cards.
I honestly just enjoy people and love all the elements involved with designing homes for them. I will continue doing what I do as long as there is demand and appreciation for my work.
Thank you, John!
See what I mean? He is a gentle gentleman to his core. I will also say that his amazing attitude, perseverance, and sense of dignity and honor are traits we should all aspire to. I do have to argue one small point with him though. John Starbuck claims he isn’t gregarious, but I disagree. Every synonym I found for the word applies to him: Sociable, convivial, companionable, outgoing, friendly, affable, amiable, genial, warm, comradely. I am proud to call him my comrade!
The magazine had 1st dibs on photos of the Show House, so checkout the rest of John’s three timeless spaces at Traditional Home. (I’ve seen them all over Pinterest!)
Come back and let’s discuss your favorite details in the comments. Gregarious conversation is in order!