Bucking the Trends

The Puget Sound Business Journal

June, 2007

Seattle interior designer Garret Cord Werner’s motto is no trends. Instead he strives for timelessness and urban elegance in his designs.

Garret Cord Werner has earned a reputation as one of Seattle’s award- wining designers. Recently the 39 year old was dubbed one of the “Seattle Seven,” an elite group of interior designers tapped to work with architects to plan the showcase penthouses at 1 Hotel and Residences in Seattle. He cleaned up at the 2006 Northwest Design Awards, winning Best Bathroom Design, Best Home Design under $200,000 and Best Home Design over $200,000. Last year, he also was lauded on the global stage, winning the International Interior Design Association’s Best in Show Residential award. His work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Beautiful Homes, Northwest Home + Garden and Seattle Home & Lifestyles magazines, among others. The Puget Sound Business Journal chatted with Werner, whose firm Garret Cord Werner LLC operates from 2212 Westlake Ave. in Seattle, to better understand how he got to this point in his career and to get his point of view on interior design.

PSBJ: How did you decide you wanted to be a designer?
Werner: Historically my family’s background is founded in real estate development. I was influenced from a very early age by my grandfather and father in the building and design industry. This is what initially inspired me to find my own voice and perspective as a designer. It also gave me unique real world experience before entering formal training as a designer.

PSBJ: What kind of formal training do you have?
Werner: I have a bachelor (degree) of interior design.

PSBJ: For those who haven’t seen your work, how would you describe your style?
Werner: I feel that respecting each building and its architecture is a fundamental factor in all designs we create.

This outside-in philosophy, harmonizing the exterior and interior of a building, is what allows an interior to becoming an integral part of the architecture rather than a superfluous unconnected component within the overall design. Functionality and understand urban elegance are a primary approach in our interiors. We look at each project through a sophisticated lens of fine architectural detail and dynamic spatial awareness. This break from a mainline “decorative” approach to interior design expands the firm’s artistic scope beyond furniture and ornamentation to provide a strong sense of harmony in every space. While utilizing environmentally friendly and natural materials, my work fuses metropolitan necessities, such as storage, convenience, and multi-use spaces, with elements of technology, color discreet and enduring interiors. Custom furniture, lighting, art and unique accessories are paired with the architectural space to complete the interior.

PSBJ: You’ve gained quite a name for yourself as one of the “Seattle Seven,” designing the showcase penthouses at 1 Hotel and Residences. How did you get discovered?
Werner: My clients are my best promoters. I have been very privileged that clients and peers have recommended me over the years. This is (the) best compliment, and it has been prominent in my success.

PSBJ: Who is your mentor?
Werner: My mentor is Robert M. Ledingham- a very talented designer in Vancouver, Canada, where I received my post academic training. I believe he was instrumental in honing my abilities and forming the foundation of my work today.

PSBJ: How would you describe the style of your own West Seattle home?
Werner: Very simple and minimal. I get bored easily and like to keep my own home peaceful and uncluttered.

PSBJ: What are the favorite things in your own home?
Werner: A special place in my home is the kitchen- I love to cook and entertain and it is the social center of every home. I enjoy the process of being creative in planning multiple courses.

PSBJ: What music would you put on for a dinner party?
Werner: My music tastes are eclectic. It really depends on the mood and season.

PSBJ: Let’s talk about trends. First, color. What’s out and what’s in for the coming year?
Werner: I have never subscribed to trends. In fact it is one thing I detest. I have strong belief in color as it exists in nature- it never grows tired or outdated if used in a tasteful manner.

PSBJ: Same question for furnishing?
Werner: I have the same response to furniture. Good design is always in fashion. It is easy to find examples of furniture that are icons or antiques that are as beautiful today as the day they were introduced.

PSBJ: What about home electronics?
Werner: I believe electronics and home automation are wonderful if used appropriately in the design of a home. I find it is when the electronics become overly complicated or not user friendly when they fail. I always try to be involved in this aspect of the design as so often I have seen clients be railroaded into some overloaded system that in the end is not enjoyable or simple to use.

PSBJ: If money were no object, what’s the coolest new idea you would want to incorporate into your next design?
Werner: Although this is not a new idea, I believe one of the most important aspects of home design today that is missing sis the incorporation of inside- outside spatial relationships.

I feel that too often home do not embrace their exterior. One primary example is a side yard of a typical home. These are often just left as occasional access points. Imagine a closed bathroom, for example, that faces a side yard in your home. A simple renovation of a floor to ceiling window, a planting of contained bamboo, an up light and a private fence could create a wonderful private indoor garden experience. There are so many ways to experience more space with minimal changes to a home’s layout- both inside and out.

PSBJ: What are the other major trends and items that your clients want to see in their homes.
Werner: Again- my motto of no trends is what most clients come to me for. This is not to say that innovation can be left aside but there is a big difference. Trends are like fashion- here today, gone tomorrow. My clients come to me for enduring design. A home is not the place for trifling decoration, in my opinion. This is a waste of time and money. A home should be a reflection of one’s personal taste, smart design and wise investment.

PSBJ: I know you’ve been able to work with a number of clients who commission custom projects and designs. What’s the most outrageous request you’ve undertaken?
Werner: Probably the most challenging requests was to complete the design with almost no input form the client and to have them simply move in once it was finished while they traveled the globe. The project was a big success but I prefer to have the client’s personality in the home, not my own. I like to be inspired by each client and their personality. This is in part what keeps my profession always fresh and exciting.

PSBJ: What’s your take on all of the TV home makeover shows? It seems every channel has at least one and a celebrity designer fad or fashion? About time or past its prime?
Werner: I find the majority of them defeat the interior design profession as a whole. Most of the so-called designers one sees on the TV are not formally trained and show very little professional skill, in my opinion. Most of these shows feature quick decorative makeovers and rarely tackle fundamental architectural issues with a space. I suppose it is fun for the average consumer that wants a simple embellishment on a budget. But for me, as a trained professional, it makes me cringe.

PSBJ: Would you ever want to do your own show or write your own book? Anything like that in the works?
Werner: I would like to eventually contribute in the form of teaching or creating a book that would help educate the public about design from my own perspective. We will see. Finding the time now is the only barrier.

PSBJ: What is your next big thing?
Werner: We are working on the planning if several condo projects in the city. This is important work. These buildings are going to be around for a long time, and I feel a responsibility to the future owners to make the space as livable as possible. We are one the few firms in the city to be involved in this level of design that is beyond the decoration. Traditionally, tower projects are planned by the architect and them the interiors are decorated by the interior designer. What sets out firm apart is our ability to focus on the maximum use of a floor plan within a building. I believe that without “good bones” in the interior, the space aren’t fully utilized. Werner is known for taking natural materials and pulling them together in a refined way that- even when combine with cool colors- creates warmth.

dual3Werner was a principal designer with The Vine condominium project in Seattle.