John Kelsey: The Unknown Source

Several weeks ago, Sally (my wife and partner in design) and I did a small vignette for the Wenham Museum’s annual North Shore Design Show. In it was a spectacular painting provided by fine arts consultant Jacqueline Becker. During the show, we were asked several times if the painting was the inspiration for the vignette; our response was that it was actually the very last piece put in place.

Photo by Michael J. Lee

That got me thinking. What does inspire our designs? Where do our ideas come from—because the finished product, room or home, is the result of a much deeper and more complex process.

Certainly we are influenced by other designers. For example, I am a great admirer of Axel Vervoordt, John Saladino and Greet Lefèvre. (Lefèvre is a master of Belgian style. She also has a fantastic blog, Belgian Pearls.) The common thread I find in their work is the manipulation of that blurry line between new and old, modern and traditional, where an old space can be made to feel very modern by how it is designed and appointed, and vice versa. Sally and I explored that line when we took down and re-styled our Wenham vignette in front of a live audience…

Photo by Michael J. Lee

But there is more to inspiration than studying other designers’ work. I always carry my camera with me, to take pictures of things, places, colors, patterns and textures for future reference. I’m especially interested in and affected by how light plays itself out in a scene or over an object.

Photo by John Kelsey

Photo by John Kelsey

Photo by John Kelsey

Photo by Brian O’Conner

These impressions and memories might result in fabric selections such as the ones below. How these leaps are made I can’t clearly articulate, yet it happens.

Photos by John Kelsey

(The fabrics shown come from various showrooms in the Boston Design Center: Stark Fabrics, Donghia, Henry Calvin Fabrics, Osborne and Little, and The Martin Group.)

My mom, Mary Kelsey, summarizes it best in her 2010 book, The Unknown, using a quote from photographer Carl Chiarenza: “We all experience from time to time forces that refuse logical explanation. Reason fails at these times. That is what drives creativity—the unknown.†She goes on to say, “The unknown hides and plays within my mind.â€

Mary Kelsey, The Unknown (2010)

My mom and I both are still exploring the unknown. Life is full of wonder, isn’t it?

—John Kelsey

Sally Wilson, ASID, and John Kelsey, CAPS, are principals of Wilson Kelsey Design, a residential interiors firm serving upscale clients in Greater Boston and beyond. You can read more on the topic of inspiration in a companion piece posted on their blog.

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