Christiane Lemieux, who studied art history at Queen’s, began her career as a fabric assistant and clothing designer. She launched Dwell Home Furnishings in 1999, and then Dwell-Studio in 2008. Wayfair acquired DwellStudio in 2013 and Lemieux became executive creative director. Her latest endeavour involves several brands, including Lemieux et Cie, The Inside, Cloth & Company, and Living by Christiane Lemieux.
Ms. Lemieux, who lives in a loft in SoHo, New York, has written two books, Undecorate and Frictionless and served as a TV contest judge on Ellen’s Design Challenge.
How do you think design impacts our daily lives?
Design impacts our lives because if you’re in a space where you feel comfortable – and that can be anything from grandiose architecture to your office – I think you’re more productive and happier.
What is the future of style and design?
Everything is getting more tailored and made just for us because of machine learning and drilling down into design. You can order fashion that’s made just for you and you can customize your sofa.
How has the pandemic changed style trends?
We’re not taking places we live for granted anymore. No matter what happens post-pandemic, we’re not going back to the same work weeks. We’re in a different world. [With clothing,] we went from suits all the way to sweatpants. Now we’re somewhere in between, but we’re never going back to being formal the way we were before. There’s a comfort that came out of this that we’re going to keep.
How would you describe your own style?
I believe all design is on a historical continuum. Everything is an evolution. I take my favourite historical periods, and bring them into the present in terms of form and function. I’m on the more minimalist side.
What is your process when you're designing? Do you paint, sketch, draw?
I’m usually inspired by something historical, so I start there. From that, I’ll start sketching. I’ll think about modern proportion. Oftentimes my iPhone has become my digital scrapbook. It’s an amalgam of research, historical context, important designers and whatever I see walking down the street. I put it into the mental blender and sketch.
What's your next book about?
It is an encyclopedia of important furniture, starting with Michael Thonet and all the way through to the contemporary. Thonet was one of the first designers to use technology. He used steam to bend things.
Who do you work with when you're designing?
I have a team. I have a design director who works with me and I have artisans all over the world. Some do textiles, some help with furniture, but mostly the factories end up producing it.
Does your hand or your eye touch every piece?
How did you decide to study design?
I always wanted to go to design school. My parents [asked me to do a] general undergraduate degree first. So, I went to Queen’s and studied art history. I went to [Manhattan’s] Parsons School of Design after with my folks’ blessing.
Did you know from an early age that design was your destiny?
How did your time and studies while you were at Queen's inform your esthetic today?
Art history is also a continuum, starting with the cave paintings through to the contemporary, and I was seeing the world with that historical context. That has a lot to do with where I landed in terms of design. [My Queen’s experience] was very much the precursor to what I studied in design school and it also taught me to think.
What is Kingston's best design attribute?
I think it’s the old architecture in the city. It’s a real college town. The buildings at Queen’s are amazing.
You grew up in Ottawa's Glebe neighbourhood. What's the capital's best design attribute?
The canal. It makes the city special.
What do you think has been the key to your success?
Hard work trumps almost everything — also a curiosity and a desire to learn all the time.
How do you find work-life balance?
I’ve done a very bad job of it; I’m trying to do better. Before, I could go to the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and everything was structured. Now we’re all working from home.
Who’s your favourite designer, past and/or present?
There’s nobody with more tentacles than Le Corbusier. I’d like to have dinner with him. He was everywhere and his ideas touched everyone.
Who’s your favourite artist?
The artists that touch me are Constantin Brâncuși, Modigliani, and Mark Rothko. I love Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner.
From what city do you draw the most inspiration?
It would have to be Paris. The French have this ability to understand luxury like nobody else. And their attention to detail is extraordinary.
Is there anything you miss about Kingston?
You can’t beat the student experience.