By happy chance a few months ago a new blog appeared in my inbox. I was immediately taken by the graphics, which were clean and to the point. Then I glanced at the upper right-hand side of the page at the smiling faces of two fabulous women. I was intrigued, but became positively elated when I realised a Jamaican was in the house.
I donned my writer's hat (a felt fedora in chalkboard black... it is fall isn't it?), smeared on my Wench Red lipstick and sent an e-mail to Nicole White-Quinn of Nicole White Designs. I wanted to know more.
Cecile Levee (CL): Nicole, how did you get from here (Jamaica) to there (America)? Fill in the gaps, please.
Nicole White-Quinn (NW): I grew up in Jamaica and left when I was 18 years old. I went to Dunrobin Prep and had a great childhood. We played outside 'til the wee hours without a worry in the world. Oh lord, this is going to really date me, but I remember having a black and white TV set, when JBC was the only station and they didn't sign on until the evening. We watched Ruff and Reddy and the evening news. I remember when playing dandy shandy and jumping rope were the highlight of an amazing day. I also remember when our neighbour was the first person on the street to get a colour TV and all of us piled up at his living room window to see things in colour! After Dunrobin, I went to St Andrew High School for Girls where I formed some of my most enduring friendships. I love that school and am involved with the local Old Girls' Association. I remember having an amazing experience there (though I was kinda tough as a prefect!). I grew up with my aunt Maureen and uncle Winston. My uncle died when I was in lower sixth, so I moved to New York to live with my aunt after finishing my sixth-form studies.
CL: And your design journey? Was it one of passion turning into a career or was it the path you charted?
NW: It was definitely one of passion turning into a career. I remember, as a child, always rearranging the furniture in the house and wishing we had enough money to make curtains that I'd designed in my mind! But who knew what interior design was? I don't think anyone I knew growing up had ever heard of interior design. We knew of lawyers, doctors and accountants and I always assumed I'd become a lawyer because I was quite a chatterbox in school, was even captain of the debating team and could argue my way out of pretty much anything. But when I moved to New York, I enrolled at Brooklyn College and a teacher I had in my Political Science class loved my writing and suggested I transfer to the Journalism programme at City College. Now, at Brooklyn College I could walk to school. Transferring up to a school in Harlem meant an hour's commute each way, but I loved writing so I transferred. I thought being a writer was it for me. I had a great career and loved being a journalist but the business changed over the years and I found myself obsessing about decorating, working on design projects at my home and then for friends. That hobby soon turned into a full-time business and 10 years later I'm still in love with each project.
CL: What is your favourite part of the design process?
NW: Hmmm... I think there are several moments that I love. I enjoy the initial consultation when I walk into a space that looks absolutely hopeless and I leave knowing how amazing it'll be when it's completed. I also enjoy when all the pieces start coming together. When I find that one item that finally pulls everything together. And, of course, the reveal: to see a home transformed into something a homeowner has only dreamed about, and to see how much that space will definitely affect how they feel about their home is quite the highlight for me. I've definitely seen how a well-designed space can alter a person's life.
My least favourite part: Managing the budget! It's definitely among the most important parts of the process, but keeping track of how you're spending someone else's money can be very stressful. The irony is that I often fight harder than the client to stay within budget. It's never easy reining in a client's spending habits or letting them know that said spending habits have blown the budget.
CL: What are a few of your earliest memories of home?
NW: Man, I'm one of those Jamaicans who live abroad but who have Jamaica on the brain all the time. My mom,both grandmothers, brothers and most of my family are still in Jamaica so I spend a lot of time being connected to the island. I read five newspapers daily and the Jamaican papers are in that five. I just have great memories about having an amazing childhood where we didn't worry about much except playing outside and having a crush on some boy and which high school we would pass for! I remember being scared to go home because I'd gotten a B on a test and my aunt and uncle had demanded only A's. I remember walking the plaza during Christmas to window shop. I remember my first trip to Reggae Sumfest with my friend Zahra and her dad (Douglas Orane) and just being amazed that we could be teenagers experiencing one of the best musical experiences ever. I remember skipping school to go the Bob Marley Museum to celebrate Bob Marley's birthday, and sitting under the archway at Andrew's and chatting about silly girlish things and thinking this was as good as it got. I just have fond memories about my childhood in Jamaica that I never want to erase.
CL: What would be your dream design project and which designer or architect would you like to work with on a project?
NW: I'd love to redesign a home for battered women or a home for children in foster care because I know how much having an amazing and warm space to call their own could be. I'm a huge fan of Candace Olsen and would love to work with her on a project. Like me, she had another career before starting in design. I'm always amazed by how layered and well thought-out her spaces are.
CL: Describe your ideal client?
NW: My ideal client is someone who has seen my body of work and knows off-hand that I can be trusted completely to bring their vision to life. It's someone who signs a contract, agrees on the design plan and gives me the creative licence needed to get the job done. I'm wary of clients who are too involved, and have in fact turned down a few projects for that reason. You cannot micro-manage design. Too much of it is sporadic and you have to trust your designer to get it done without questioning every lamp or candlestick they purchase! Not cool.
CL: I know Xavier, the little man, is the high point of a well-lived life. What are some of the other things that bring you absolute joy?
NW: Well, yes, Xavier is an amazing high point. He is the reason I can laugh so much with all the madness that happens in my day-to-day life. But I'm also grateful to have found the love of my life — after many false starts! My husband Patrick is an amazing friend and supporter of what I do and I'm grateful every day that I went to church on that Sunday we met! I'm also blessed to have an amazing relationship with my mom, Joan. She was a teenage mother and so relied on my aunt and uncle to raise me, and it was hard for her to not play a major role in my early years. But we've overcome all that now and have a really blessed relationship and I'm grateful for that. We now talk and text every day.
CL: I tell you, church is the new club for hook-ups. Hopefully already vetted and blessed by the higher power. Amen.
CL: If you were given an eraser what would you change about your life, and how would you rewrite it?
NW: I struggled a lot as a young immigrant, and there were some tough years when I regretted leaving Jamaica behind to try to make it in the States, but I wouldn't erase it. I worked full-time and went to college full-time and worked pretty hard to get that degree, but it all made me the person I am today and because of those years, I'm not afraid to work hard to get what I want. If I could erase one thing it would be the death of my dear friend Simone. She died last year of cancer, and even after living through the loss of my father and two uncles, her death remains one of the most painful chapters of my life. She was still so young, with two little girls to live for and watching her life slip away in those final days is something I honestly wish I could erase.
CL: Share some of your completed projects and what you are currently working on.
NW: I did some major renovation projects this year, including a few kitchens and bathrooms. But I missed playing with fabrics and so have been thrilled to be working on a guest bedroom/office for one of my favourite clients, a repeat client whose house I've been working on for many years. I'm also working on a family room for the daughter of said client and am in the proposal/contract negotiation phase for a few other projects, including a few e-design/virtual design projects which allow us to guide clients through the design process without being there physically.
CL: Name a few of your favourite things.
NW: Returning to Jamaica to visit family/friends and to vacation, play time with Xavier, a nice glass of Riesling after a long day, catching up with old friends (by phone, not Facebook!) and spending quality time with the hubby.
CL: What would people be surprised to know about you?
NW: That I ran track and field in my last year in high school, and placed a dismal second-to-last in my debut at the National Stadium! That my first job in the United States was as a cashier at a grocery store, and I'm talking before they used scanners. That I've climbed Blue Mountain and made it to the top, that I celebrated my 30th birthday in my dream city, Paris, with my amazing cousin, Lisa, and that I long to visit Cuba.
CL: What inspires Nicole? In other words, what makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
NW: I jump out of bed every morning knowing that Xavier will have a huge smile on his face when I walk into his room and that because of that smile, I'm motivated every hour of the day to be a great wife, mother, daughter and businesswoman.
Nicole blogs at Live Laugh Decorate
Nicole White Design Inc. www.nwhitedesigninc.com
Specialities: full-scale renovations, redesigns, virtual e-designs.