West Coast Meets East Coast at Chapter 1
by Lisa Lelas
Ever wonder how Connecticut home design and style differs from that of the west coast? While there are some differences, bi-coastal interior designer, Ron Smith explains that from a designers perspective, that, as one might expect, clients on the east coast are usually more conservative than typical California based clients. Homeowners on the west coast are much more likely to take bold risks with color, furniture and overall architectural design.
He gives insight to a couple of projects he’s working on in California differing from homes on the east coast. “I have one client who hasn’t started building yet but I’m already working with architects and builders from the initial blueprints. It will be a massive 20,000 square foot home, sitting high on a mountain. We actually had to cut off the top of the mountain to put a road in. Here, I am responsible for all of the interior details. Could be one to two years away but it’s rewarding to work on a project, literally from the ground up…helping with design sketches, selecting tile samples, floor and molding designs, and everything else.
Because Ron is able to work the design details from inception, he can even select best location on the lot to place the structure of the house, which comes into play while configuring position of windows and doors to best match the position of the sun at any given time of day. Interior design will most likely reflect light or earthy tones in a more modern setting.
“Another home I’m working on is in Sonoma. Incredible views…you can actually see right through the house…vineyards all around. Natural surroundings. It’s a farm house, but contemporary too! It’s a sophisticated mixture of the two styles: a feeling of ‘easy living’ for that casual Napa lifestyle.”
Naturally, in a home like this, many windows are an integral part of the overall design so heavy furniture and big wall units would not fit in.
Homes in the New England area, on the other hand, likely because of the harsher elements of winter, take on a more rustic or warm and cozy feel. Even with open concept room designs all the rage these days, most New Englanders still prefer having more intimate gathering spaces within their overall design. Wood trumps most metallic surfaces, antique accessories are commonplace over contemporary, fireplaces are often used as a room centerpiece and deeper wall colors…all adding to that feeling of warmth many locals prefer.
“Over the past 10 years, along with a struggling economy, the home furnishings business has been down but it appears to be recovering now. California is recovering faster than the East Coast.”
Ron also reminds us that most of his west coast clients have moved there from the east coast originally, so they may have some east coast influences. Climate differences also factor in to the types of furniture finishes and fabrics he selects.
“Transitional to traditional. Neutral tones have no boundries,” he says. “If you’re by the water, I love soft blues. I like to work with a neutral palette. It’s basically timeless so it doesn’t date you.”
Not every community can boast it has a bi-coastal top resource for innovative design. Residents of the greater West Hartford area and even throughout southern New England have been enjoying a fresh breath of creative inspiration for their homes via Ron Smith and his Chapter 1 Designers Warehouse.
Chapter 1 is not your typical furniture store, but rather a complete full service home design warehouse…and Ron is anything but your typical designer!
What makes Ron Smith stand out as an interior designer, is that he works on both coasts and runs a successful designers warehouse. Following his instinct to connect to his passion at a young age was easy because, quite simply, he couldn’t see himself ever doing anything else. “My family lived in Massachusetts before moving to NYC when I was young. As a child I was always interested in furniture design, furniture placement and colors. I attended the Parsons School of Design. Afterward, I moved back to Massachusetts and worked for a furniture company doing design work and the floor displays, which I loved.”
In 1978, he moved to California and thought about opening his own design firm there, as he started working with a furniture store in Danville, near the bay area.
In 1980, he started “J. Hettinger Interiors” with his business partner, Jerry Hettinger.
Despite his dream of opening his own firm, he didn’t expect to do it so soon, while still just in his 20’s! “I knew Jerry well and we both decided to take the leap!” he says.
The economy was booming in the 1980’s. Ron started to get very high-end clientele. He recalls working around the clock but didn’t mind because he was fueled by his love for the business. Although in the year 2000 he decided he was ready to retire. The company was doing well financially, but he just needed a break. His partner bought him out and Ron left the company and he relocated to southern California, where he began investing in various homes. Eventually, he and his wife, Bonnie decided to move to Connecticut when one of their sons was attending graduate school in Hartford.
He started his company, aptly named ‘Chapter 1’, representing this new chapter in his life. Designers Warehouse is an incredible 10,000 square foot showroom of fine home furnishings which Ron calls “a designers paradise open to the public!” As a designer, first and foremost, he explains that they service to the trade itself by catering to many other design professionals, as well. Hartford Design Source, a well known industry provider, owned The West Hartford Design Center, which had been the previous tenant at the Talcott Road location.
With over 35 years in the home furnishing business, Chapter 1 is a unique family owned and operated business, with an exquisite display of products and designs in the showroom. Chapter 1 offers complete design services with top interior designers, custom upholstery, furniture design and custom building.
What makes Chapter 1 so different from other design firms? Ron begins by explaining, “We specialize in one of a kind furniture. We also have a showroom. We treat people with respect & don’t have an attitude,” which is why Ron says he doesn’t socialize in this trade, “My philosophy is personal and I can’t relate to attitudes. Anyone can come in and browse with no pressure. Customers can purchase right off the floor or special order anything. The Chapter 1 catch phrase now seems to make sense: ‘Begin a new chapter in the life of your home.’
Ron Smith personally goes out to see clients for in-home or in-office consultations.
Susan Leone is the lead on-the-premises designer. Susan, a West Hartford resident, is highly regarded by Ron. “Susan has been in the business for a long time and is very knowledgeable and talented”. They cater to almost any room in the home: living room, bedroom, kids room, home office, media room, outdoor areas, as well as wall art and accent pieces.
“We have multiple price points in every style from modest to extremely high. There is something for everyone and for every home décor style. I like working with real people.” He smiles, “People that never thought they could afford a designer. I like to make it work for them.” Ron’s upholstering division, Renaissance Interiors, for example, can re-create any high end design for much less.
“My design work is separate from the showroom.” Says Ron, who’s home interior design clientele keeps growing. “When designing for a typical CT client, I help with most aspects of re-modeling the room. I will offer advice on everything, including best room tile and wall color to use but I will actually do everything if I have the entire project to work with.”
At the start of this year, Ron re-established business dealings with his California partner, Jerry Hettinger, when Jerry was struck with health issues. “I started taking back some of my northern California clientele, serving them through my West Hartford, CT location. I travel both coasts every month. Two weeks in California and two weeks in Connecticut.”
Ron reflects for a moment on his own homes over the years. “Every home I ever lived in was totally different. One was an industrial type loft, another was an old farm house…all very different. I’m an extremist when I get into something… whatever style. Each house is a blank canvas for me!”
Whether west coast or east coast, Ron contemplates whether he has a favorite overall design trend. “I work with all designs from contemporary to French Provincial. My personal favorite motto is ‘simplify’! No matter if country or contemporary…don’t overdo it!”
A common mistake Ron believes many homeowners make when decorating their own homes is actually adding too much. “Typically people overdo everything in a room. He suggests de-cluttering. Less can be more”. Don’t fill every space in the room with furniture or oversized pieces.
Ron is quick to also point out “the size of furniture and accent pieces need to be the appropriate proportion for the size of the space. It’s actually better to be under-scaled. Also lighting is very important and often overlooked.
“People should remember its not just about decorating one room. It’s also about the relationship it has to everything else in the house. If I’m at a dinner party at a home I did, I even like to color coordinate my clothes to the room. But, when in doubt…basic black always works!”
So, what’s next in the life of this jet setting bi-coastal designer? “I’m going to take one year at time and see how long I can keep my pace up,” he chuckles, “but I’m a workaholic at heart. I work 7 days a week. My clients will never pay for the actual time I put in. Whether I’m at dinner, in the shower, or out buying groceries, I’m always planning because I really enjoy what I do. I’m passionate about this.”
And how does this creative entrepreneur re-charge his own personal batteries to keep going? “Relaxing at home.” He states without missing a beat, “I’m a real home-body.”