Designing Women

The Designers Studio in Middleton brings together five interior designers in a co-op setting for their own little melting pot of styles and personalities

Photograph by Angela Richardson

The Designers Studio is an inconspicuous little building on University Avenue. Yet inside customers find five very different and innovative interior designers who share the space and form the co-op that’s the Studio. Designers’ styles range from retro inspirations and “fresh” to Arts and Crafts-influenced.

The designers span a range of ages, from twenty-six to fifty-four: Noelle Mattei (Casa Nuova Interior Design), Jahna Haug (An Eye for Design), Lynn Behrend (Applied Designs), Ann Neale (Ann Neale Interiors) and Wendy Moore Skinner (Moore Designs).

We sat down with all five to talk shop on how the ten-year-old studio operates and what it’s like for amateur and experienced designers to work side-by-side.

What is the idea behind the Designers Studio?

Wendy Moore Skinner: The idea is to share resources, to save money, and to have people to interact with and bounce ideas off of. So much in design involves running around, so there are five partners and there are five days in the week; one day you’re stationed in the studio, “minding the fort.” And then you’re free to go elsewhere. We’re sharing the burden, expenses and resources.

Jahna Haug: We each have our separate businesses but are partners in the Designers Studio.

Lynn Behrend: Because we’re together we’re able to offer lines that other people who are just single designers wouldn’t be able to offer necessarily.

Noelle Mattei: We have accumulated buying power. There are five people ordering.

WS: As a result of that buying power we often get better prices. We have a larger [design] library than if you were just by yourself.

How many years of experience does each of you have?

WS: Since 1981. I actually got my design degree in NYC. I did contract work and office spaces. Actually, my office was in the World Trade Center for most of my years.

Ann Neale: I was in retail for a long time. I’ve been doing interiors for five years. [Ed’s note: Ann Neale formerly owned Two Anns, a home accessories store, for two years.]

LB: A year and a half for me, with the [design] internship.

JH: [I joined the studio] six years ago. My mom is an interior designer and my dad is a landscape designer so I grew up with inside knowledge.

NM: With my internship, it’s been a little over a year.

WS: We could tell she had great talent and good taste.

AN: It’s so fun to celebrate everyone’s first client. It’s like, “You did your first carpet buy, yeah!” We really enjoy everyone else’s success without qualms of jealousy.

JH: That’s what’s so wonderful about the studio. It’s just a nice group of women. It’s such a nice atmosphere but you’re able to have coworkers to support you and uplift your day.

Is there competition with five people in a co-op?

NM: A lot of people ask that question; it’s never really seemed like a problem at all.

JH: Everyone has their separate areas that they work on, and we all know whose neighborhoods are whose, and we don’t step on toes in that respect. Madison is such a large area and there are so many clients, too. We all want to see the studio succeed. Individually, we all want to see each other succeed.

WS: We live in different parts of the city and have different kinds of clientele, and different sets of friends and associates.

AN: Our business is based upon referrals as well. So we’re constantly getting referrals from past clients.

What kind of background do you need to have to be a part of the Designers Studio?

AN: It started out that way [needing a degree], but now we’re reconsidering if we bring in new designers. It’s really about experience. As important as an education is, it’s something you have or don’t have. I know there are very good designers in this town who don’t necessarily have a degree.

WS: In our bylaws it’s written that you need to have a design degree. When we set up our business we spent a lot of money paying an attorney to come up with strict bylaws. One of the reasons we like having an odd number is because the majority can rule in the voting; we’re very democratic.

Can each of you describe what your design styles are?

WS: I’m into the eco friendly deal. I’m just really oriented toward reuse, renew and recycle. It’s almost become an addiction (laughs). But I also really love Midwestern and Arts and Crafts and Prairie School style. Depending on the job and the client you get to express yourself in a lot of different ways.

NM: I think style is something that develops over time and changes. My personal style is Arts and Crafts with a modern, contemporary twist.

AN: It might be easier to say what everybody else’s is [than our own].

JH: I would say Ann is very modern and black and white. Fresh.

What are people asking for right now? What’s hot in the industry?

JH: People are looking for clean, fresh design. Clean lines.

WS: A lot of retro and 1950s.

JH: Larger scale furniture.

All: Wallpaper.

WS: People are really getting much more color-brave. In the old days people just did white or off-white.

AN: Global. You hear people talking about the color of the water in Bali or the light in Italy. People travel more; they’re much more sophisticated.

Shayna Miller is associate/style editor of Madison Magazine.

Madison Magazine - September 2008
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