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Finding Design Inspiration in the Things We Love

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AW Creative Director Niki Jones heads to Round Top, Texas.

Story and photos by Niki Jones

Design: It’s everywhere and in virtually everything we touch. From the moment we wake in the morning, we are faced with someone’s design choices: the sheets on which we sleep, the showerheads we stand beneath and, of course, the vehicles in which we travel to work daily.

When it comes to our own design choices, for example, our homes’ interiors, some people love to make design choices, others hate it and many likely feel overwhelmed with how and where to find inspiration.

There’s one particular designer who utilizes her favorite hobby, antiquing, as the inspiration for design. As global senior design manager for Chevrolet, Kathy Sirvio has the very cool job of deciding how Chevy interiors look and feel.

Using one’s favorite hobby as inspiration for design sounds feasible and promising, so during Sirvio’s recent antiquing trip to Round Top, Texas, Austin Woman sat down with her to find out exactly how it all works.

Kathy Sirvio shows off some of the treasures she picked up at the Round Top Antiques Fair.

Austin Woman: How can someone who isn’t a professional designer draw inspiration from his or her hobbies?

Kathy Sirvio: First, I think you need to understand what the hobby is and what you love about it. Travel would require different thinking than, say, photography. For me, antiquing is a strong personal passion and hobby where I draw inspiration from, whether it’s refurbishing unique pieces myself or collecting treasures from antique fairs.

No matter what you draw the inspiration from, anyone can dissect the things they love to find inspiration. The best way to do this is to focus on a few key areas:

  1. color
  2. material
  3. texture
  4. feeling

If you break something down into these four categories and decide what makes it special to you, it will lead to inspiration. For example, when our team designed the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, denim was an inspiration icon. Everyone has his or her favorite pair of go-to jeans. We love our jeans. They are comfortable, durable and can be dressed up or down. Denim is a common language in fashion that everyone understands. I think you see that translated in the Chevy Equinox with our black, denim-like interior option. Denim gave us a feeling of freedom, possibilities and comfort. The black color is timeless. The texture of the embossed pattern dressed the seat up. The denim-like material is familiar and yet new and stylish with these treatments. Like your favorite pair of jeans, the seat is durable and practical too.

AW: You talked about surrounding yourself and filling your living spaces with things you love and/or using those items to inspire design. What are some things you love that have translated to design elements in the interiors of Chevy vehicles or in your work and living spaces?

Kathy Sirvio combined three distinctive textures and designed some interesting curved lines for the Chevrolet Equinox interior.

KS: I like to collect things during my travels. They remind me of my experiences on the road. For me, traveling is a way to push me completely out of my comfort zone. I don’t stay on the beaten path. I can’t say there is a literal translation from my travel to a particular product, but it helps me revitalize my creativity and ensures my designs and ideas will be globally relevant. I am a firm believer that your surroundings are what [make]you who you are. … Water seeks its own level. If you surround yourself with diverse people and ways of thinking, your design solutions will show it.

 AW: How can a mood board help in designing a space? What is your advice to a beginner making his or her first mood board?

KS: Creating mood boards is one of my absolute favorite activities when beginning a new design for Chevrolet. Here are a few tips:

  1. Look for images that you love and create a collage. Don’t think too much about it; just go with your gut.
  2. Look for common threads between the images, maybe certain colors or patterns.
  3. Group images based on their common threads.
  4. Break them down as instructed in question No. 1.

AW: How do you find inspiration after so many years in your position at Chevrolet? How do you stay inspired and continue to have fresh ideas?

KS: It’s best to find inspiration from things you love. Personally, I love traveling, photography and textures. I love jewelry and design my own pieces. It’s important to keep my mind and my hands busy. Needless to say, I have some options. It’s a job just to feed the habit and keep myself sharp. You always need to be connecting with people and places on their terms, not yours, to really open yourself up. When I feel stale, I force myself to get out of my comfort zone and shake things up. I might take a unique vacation or challenge myself with a new art project. It can be intimidating, but new experiences seek their way into your creative process and eventually elevate your standards.

AW: Please talk about what texture (mixing textures, choosing textures, etc.) can do, both to the aesthetics of a space and to the feel of a space.

 KS: Textures are my love affair, if you can’t already tell. From tree bark to rock formations on mountains and from motorcycle grips to yoga mats, textures fortify the appearance. Texture can change a mood, the ambiance, tonality of a space. They can define casual, luxury, active, expressive—anything you want. It’s important to identify what energy you want in your space and then find an appropriate texture complemented by the right color and material to express that feeling.

It’s also important to keep in mind that with texture comes haptics, the physical touch we feel that texture creates. From your pets’ soft fur to a prickly cactus, texture plays an important role to appearance and our emotional takeaway. Magnifying and viewing from a distance are tricks to change the way a texture touches us emotionally. Have you ever gazed off into a pasture or meadow and watched the wind blow across the wheat grass and it looks like velvet? But when we approach the grass, it is not velvety at all; it has barbs and is sharp. That is the power of texture.

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