DISD Students Teaming Up Outside of the Classroom
It's hard not to brag about Design Institute of San Diego students, especially when they are as talented and vibrant as Michael Chambers. Like many students, Michael, who is in his 50's, came to DISD when he was ready for a career change. Unlike many students, he came in with an impressive résumé of design experience. Having started out in the showbiz world, Michael spent 30 years as a dancer, producer, choreographer and director. He was on an Emmy Award-winning team for choreography and was even one of Janet Jackson's "Nasty Boys." As he put it, "I was in, like, every dance video in the 80's." After a myriad of injuries, Michael moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and started a production company. Then 9/11 happened and things started to dry up, so he switched gears and got his real estate license. "I started buying up small parcels of land then building houses, living in them and selling them!" He was able to do that six times and sold his last house to Carlos Santana right as the real estate market crashed.
Needing a change, Michael moved to San Diego to be near his partner. He had spent the last decade in design and had a flare for it but wanted to learn the history, how to draw, computer skills and types of materials so he enrolled at DISD. What can someone with ten years of experience possibly learn at school, you might ask? Turns out a lot: "Every day I learn something I didn't know yesterday. You take it for granted in your 20's but when you're 50, you value and appreciate it a little bit more. I am engaged in this program and the classes. I value the instruction and experience. I love that it's small and intimate. We're all sort of a family and everyone knows each other. It's a wonderful environment."
Michael is not held down by limitations and is always enthusiastically pursuing his next adventure, which is how Studio4Front Interior Design, a design collective made up of DISD students, was created. Michael, along with Heather Menagat and Jai Varadarai created Studio4Front to build their repertoire and portfolios. "The idea is that we can come together as individuals and bring projects in on an individual basis, then use the resources within the design collective, and do them as a team."
Their latest project was for Michael's friend Roger who has a 1925 two-story mission style house in Mission Hills. He does most of his living in the upstairs master suite, which was dated with 70's carpeting and not much else. This is also the space that Roger uses for work so the team put attention into making sure the redesign would accommodate all of his needs while still fitting the style of the house. "I went with a vision of creating a focal point with putting a fireplace on the main wall, building a bar in the little alcove space, putting in original wood floors to match the downstairs, redoing the lighting grid, putting stone on the wall, refinishing the walls, all new furniture, stuff like that." One extra challenge was the deadline, which gave them only 60 days before Roger's house would be filled with 250 of his closest friends for a party he already had planned.
The Studio4Front team went right to work measuring, interviewing the client, researching, and investigating the rest of the house to get a feel for Roger's taste, blending that with the style of the house. In the process, they recruited two more DISD students, Chris Li and Jessica Peterson, to assist with the project. Chris rendered their plan while Heather created the preliminary CAD drawings and gathered materials to present to Roger. After getting his likes and dislikes, the team forged ahead. Throughout the process, they were constantly learning. "We learned that it is very difficult to nail down a quality craftsman for cabinetry." The cabinetry came in with a convex curve, ogee edge which didn't match the downstairs kitchen cabinetry as they had specified. "Although no one would notice, we knew and the client knew." Because of the deadline, there was no time for a replacement so they got a bill reduction instead. Another issue that had to be resolved on the spot was that the countertops that were ordered at 2cm, came in at 3cm, which meant that the refrigerator wouldn't fit under the counter because the wood floors were being built up. Solution? "Sand down the wood floors about a 16th of an inch. Thank goodness the contractor was there."
They finished on time for the party and were thrilled to take in the great response from the guests. Roger could not have been more pleased and neither could Michael. "I was proud of not only the outcome, but the process. I am so blessed. It was a wonderful team effort."
There is, however, one big downside in trying to do such a project while in school: time. Michael admits that he had a meltdown halfway through and sleep became a luxury. Being a part of a team really helped. "You have challenges but you have support. It feels like you're going forward as a united front; it's not all the weight on your shoulders." That being said, he probably won't take on any more big projects while in school.
Reflecting on this experience relative to his previous design projects, Michael said "School has helped me so much in knowing what I'm talking about. Knowing what to ask the floor guy – why aren't you sanding it out? Were you going to use filler? What's your subfloor? Is that enough clearance space? All of those things I can check rather than just trusting. Before I was just dodging and weaving to keep up, and now I feel like I'm on a level playing field with the other professionals."
With a plan to graduate in August 2013, Michael's sights are set on starting his own high-end residential business, but he's open to the many opportunities a career in design can provide. "This field allows an independent spirit like me to work, create, play and have fun with the process without being whipped to submission or chained to a desk."
Studio4Front Interior Design is currently finishing up another project: a yoga studio and retail space in Encinitas. Michael decided to sit this one out; there are already other projects waiting in line for him to jump back in on once he's ready. He knows when it's important to go full force but he also knows when to step back. His advice to anyone would be, "Do what feels good and go forward with that. A long time ago I had a mentor who said, 'Fear of failure and fear of success is exactly the same thing.' A lot of time fear of failure is manifest in fear of success. Letting go of fear can be difficult but there is nothing like just diving in. You just have to do it."
- DI Details July/August 2014
- DI Details March/April 2014
- DI Details Nov/Dec 2013
- DI Details Fall 2013
- DI Details July/August 2013
- DI Details May/June 2013
- DI Details March/April 2013
- DI Details Jan/Feb 2013
- DI Details Nov/Dec 2012
- DI Details Sept/Oct 2012
- ID V Real Life Project that Bridges the Generation Gap
- Who Said the Sky Has to be the Limit?
- DISD Students Teaming Up Outside of the Classroom
- Becky Zoni: 17 Years and Counting
- DI Details July/August 2012
- DI Details May/June 2012
- DI Details March/April 2012
- DI Details Jan/Feb 2012
- DI Details Nov/Dec 2011
- DI Details Sept/Oct 2011
- DI Details July/August 2011
- DI Details May/June 2011
- DI Details March/April 2011
- DI Details Fall 2010
- DI Details July 2010
- DI Details June 2010
- DI Details May 2010
- DI Details April 2010
- DI Details Spring 2010
- DI Details 2008/2009