Nam, in Calgary

nam cover

NAM DANG-MITCHELL’s ascent to the top of international design has been a steady one since she launched her design firm in Calgary, Canada some years ago. What inspires me the most when reviewing Nam’s design portfolio is the sophisticated combination of contemporary luxe and livable glamour.

As a regular reader of Nam’s blog, I’m always inspired by her vibrant and thought-provoking design collages which incorporate her love of art, design, fashion and travel. Nam is a woman with style in spades who offers a fresh perspective on what luxe truly means in 2012. As she’s said, “In an age of Real Housewives and the Kardashians, perhaps we need to rethink our ideas about luxury. Give me less, but give me quality and restraint.”

One of Canada’s top designers and an ascending favorite of design bloggers around the world, Nam is inspired by diverse muses across the creative spectrum like Cy Twombly, Miuccia Prada and even musician Keith Richards. And while super-capable in her design process, Nam continues to challenge her design aesthetic by testing new ideas and spontaneously throwing the unexpected into the design mix to keep her projects moving forward.

Nam, when did you know that you wanted to be an interior designer?
I guess I’ve always known. My idea of fun as a kid was going to see show houses and to the flea markets. It’s still my idea of fun, except now I’m designing the show houses and perusing 1st Dibs!

Do you have a signature style?
Every time I start a new project, I think of it as completely different from the last. But people are always telling me they can spot my work immediately, so perhaps I have a signature after all! I’m not a minimalist, but I do like a certain spareness. I like that spareness to heighten the moments of luxury or sumptuousness.

I love that “to heighten the moments of luxury or sumptuousness” I would definitely describe your work that way. Which style and design innovators have most influenced your work?

Gosh, so many…Cy Twombly, Axel Vervoordt, David Hicks, Francois Halard, Jean-Michel Frank, Herzog & de Meuron, and Goya. On a more current front, I love the Stevens: Gambrel, Sills, and Volpe. Steven Gambrel for his color sense, Stephen Sills for his poetry and Steven Volpe for his genius juxtapositions. They are rock stars!

What inspires your creativity when beginning a new project?
I love starting a new project. Sketching and pulling ideas together is my favorite part of the process. The architecture, the setting and the client’s aspirations are the given parameters. Within those parameters, I try to identify the visual language that will heighten what is special about the project…the view, ceiling heights. More and more, I am learning that once I establish that language, throwing in a few pieces that are its polar opposite aesthetically really makes things sing. Unfortunately, I can’t always convince my clients of this!

The inspiration collages that I do on my website have been a great way for me to test run ideas, color palettes and juxtapositions. They let me explore things aesthetically unencumbered by the realities of budget, clients and time.

How does Canadian design differ from American design, if at all?
Our windows are double-paned because it is cold here! Other than that, not much different, especially now that everything is so accessible via the Internet.

Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with in design?
I think Miuccia Prada is a genius. Her work manages to be both commercial and intellectual, historically rich yet avant garde, kooky and refined. And she has done this consistently for so long. I would love an opportunity to learn from a mind of her caliber. And if she wasn’t available, then I’d take James Franco!

What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?
Fitting it all between the time I drop off my kids at school and the time I pick them up!

Describe your personal style.
My style is pretty classic, but hopefully with a modern edge. I cannot resist coats, handbags and shoes. Always a high heel, even on construction sites. It is a full on love affair with my new Celine bag.

Who are your style icons?
No one specifically, but I always love the Italian women on The Sartorialist. They look fantastic: sexy, never vulgar and really stylish in a natural way.

What are your three must-have beauty essentials?
Eminence Eight Greens moisturizer, Bobbi Brown concealer and Nars Mindgames lipstick.

Describe one unforgettable place you’ve traveled to.
The most unforgettable trip was definitely India for me because I found it so challenging. I consider myself a very open-minded traveler, but I hadn’t realized just how Canadian my values were until I got to India. The poverty and injustices blew me away. It took me a long time to see the beauty, which was out of character for me.

Name one place you’d like to see before you die.
The Taj Mahal. Yes, I’d like to go back to India. We did Mumbai and traveled south along the coast and never made it to Agra. I’d also like to see The Hermitage [in Russia] before it disintegrates.

Music is such a defining element in people’s lives, is there a song that takes you some place special whenever you hear it?
A Winter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum always reminds me of the summer I spent in Paris when I was seventeen.

One word…
Thank you.

What advice do you have for younger women?
Work hard and be kind to people and know that you are more capable than you will ever know.

Asked to write your memoirs, what would the title be?
I don’t know if my life is worthy of a memoir, certainly not yet. But I have always wanted to write a book entitled The Architecture of Melancholy tracing the history of melancholy through art and design. So, should anyone from Phaidon be reading this…call me.

Interviewed February 2012 by Yolanda, editor of Zavvi Rodaine.
© Zavvi 2012. No part of this interview may be used or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the Editor of Zavvi
Photos courtesy of Nam’s personal and professional portfolios.

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