After a few minutes with out gay interior designer Anthony Michael, it's apparent that he does his own thingwith no apologies.
Outspoken to the point to being ( charmingly ) boisterous, Michael was candid about a whole host of topics during a recent talk with Windy City TImes. However, being unafraid to offer his opinion is key to being successful in his fieldand Michael's attitude and talent have helped him reach the top of the interior-designer heap for decades. ( In fact, the business has acquired so much business that it has moved to a larger space, at 2501 W. Washington Blvd.and Michael had several prerequisites for the new space, including being close to arteries and "having no squeaky floors." )
As another aspect of the uniqueness of his award-winning firm ( and his boat-chartering business ), Michael is even offering the opportunity to ride on his black yacht, the H.R.H. Lola, named after his beloved dog. ( Check the website listed below for details. )
Windy City Times: When did you know what you wanted to do?
Anthony Michael: When I was 6 years old. My mom always had something going on in the house, so they'd be decorating magazines around or paint samples or fabric swatches. One of the things I was always enamored with was all the colors in the paint storesthey would be like my candy stores. I would play with those for hours. My porn was basically Better Homes & Gardens.
My earliest memories are of those Broyhill [furniture] ads and The Price is Right: "And this, too, could be yours on The Price Is Right!" I wanted the picture-perfect house more than anything. Living in the western suburbs, I kept wondering, "Why couldn't we be this family?," and I learned that other families had furniture you could sit on. So now I've been in this business for 35 years.
The minute I was able to get out, I did. I've always been out and proud, by the way.
WCT: How grueling is this business?
AM: It can be very tough. People can look at you with jealousybut I break my ass every day. I work 12-14 hours a day, and the stress. The obligation, the clientsI have to bring in $200,000 a month just to stay afloat. I'm not complaining at all. I do have some trappings, but I deserve them; this job is not glamorous. You do what you have to do; that's just the way it is.
WCT: You list your approach on your website as "concrete to sheets." Tell me more about that.
AM: I try to be aware of is the entire project. We can focus on furnishings and interior, but I don't ignore the architecture. I notice all the little details as well: the way a faucet feels, for example. Architects sometimes focus more on the functionality and the flow of space. Designers sometimes emphasize aesthetics more. I try to be aware of all facets, especially when children or older people are involved. We have third-generation clients, which doesn't happen too often.
I'm not offering [random things] to people or bullshitting them. I tell them what's going to hang beautifully, for example, or the best sofa material if children are going to be around with popsicles.
We do what's called a "Cinderella installation." A lot of designers go out with their clients and go shopping with them. I've learned that the client is hiring us to lead; they don't want us to give them a multitude of optionsthey want solutions. If I don't know how to read a client at this point, something's wrong.
I feel I have this down to a science. The first presentation is a general one in which I show the overall mood, tone and flavor are. I'll show them a sample color scheme and furniture arrangement. If they're good with all that, the next presentation is when all the selections are made, including artwork, beddingeverything. We do a virtual-reality rendering, so you feel like you're there. The next meeting is the budget; we go over everything line by line. A lot of designers don't do these things; they give the client several choices.
The next stage involves ordering items and warehousing them. The labor takes placethings like painting and electricaland things are prepared. Then the installation of items takes place
WCT: How long does a typical project take?
AM: Different projects take different amounts of time. One that we're working on has a lot of customized items started in January. [The interview was in late July.] Another project we started in Mayand I love these Art Deco chairs I've purchased. I try to save money where I can, but other times I have to buy something, incorporating the client's personalities. We're a client-driven firm, as opposed to an ego-driven one; I live vicariously through each client.
WCT: How has your style changed over the years?
AM: Oh, I've evolved. It's much more mature and sophisticated, and I'm always learning. I'm surrounded by younger people so that I get new ideas from them. I still sketch, however, so I'm old-school that way.
For my master's thesis, I drew the entire Notre Dame from memory. I have an incredible memorybut I have trouble with left and right. My staff knows not to argue with me, but I'll bring up things from the past. [Laughs] People are, like, "You're weird."
WCT: What are the most rewarding and frustrating parts of your job?
AM: The answer is the same for both: the clients. I had a client who called me at 7 a.m. to tell me that she loved her home. The rewarding part is when clients see the transformation and appreciate what we've doneand knowing I've made a difference. Most of my clients I'm with for life, so they become a part of my life.
The frustrating part is when a client, for example, wants a chair that I originally suggested, but they said no; give me some latitude. Then, there are people who take the budget apart bit by bit. Then there's my favorite line: "Did you know it was going to look this good?" I always say, "No." [Interviewer laughs.]
WCT: They never threaten to take their business?
AM: They know how good I am. They say, "You've thought of every detail." I've done 1,150 homesI should know what to do by now.
WCT: What won't you do?
AM: I won't deal with people who are micromanagers. I won't deal with liars. I won't deal with people who try to misuse me or my staff. I won't deal with people who are cheapas opposed to people who are frugal. Every once in a while, I can't connect with a space or the client. I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but we have a lot of business30 to 35 projects right now, which is unheard of.
WCT: What would you advise up-and-coming designers?
AM: You have to be a Teflon-coated individual. You've gotta be a bitchreally. This is a cutthroat businessand you're only as good as your last project.
See AnthonyMichaelInteriorDesign.com .