Strength and Solace in the Design Community: Michelle Gerson and Ashley Stark Kenner In Conversation
Michelle Gerson is a New York City based interior designer who has spent over twenty years designing luxurious homes all over the world. After a successful career as a fashion designer, she opened her own design firm, Michelle Gerson Interiors, in 1998, and has been a highly regarded voice in the interior design community ever since.
Our Creative Director, Ashley Stark Kenner, joined Gerson on Instagram Live to speak about Gerson’s start in interior design and how she’s staying safe and inspired within the interior design community in the midst of the global pandemic.
Ashley Stark Kenner: How did you get started in interior design and how did you make your own firm?
Michelle Gerson: I got started in a really organic way. I was a clothing designer, living in Italy. Working for Victor Alfaro. I learned so much from him. Being a small business owner, not saying ‘no’ to people, and how to get things done.
I started to help some people I knew style interiors, on the side. It just felt like the right place to be. An old boyfriend said to me “my business partner is moving into a new apartment. Do you want to decorate it?” I said “OK!” I literally had no idea what I was doing.
We went to go look at the apartment he was moving into, and it just so happened that I knew the people living there! They hired me to design the apartment they were moving into. That was 22 years ago!
ASK: What are some trends you’re loving?
MG: Watching the nickel and chrome fade into the background and seeing warmer metals coming in. They look fresh.
I also like a lot from fashion. You’ll see floral patterns on the runways, and all of the sudden people have floral couches and floral wallpaper. Old school florals that are modernized and using them in exciting ways.
ASK: And trends you would like to see go away?
MG: I want people to grasp at not having to define their style so stringently. To mix things, be whimsical, have a sense of humor. Surprise people! Take a risk!
ASK: Right now, there’s such an emphasis on home. How do you set up a home haven? How do you make it your sanctuary? What advice do you have for everybody?
MG: There’s so much uncertainty right now. It is important to try to focus on your home and view your home as a haven you can relax, exercise, spend time with family in. It’s hard to go shopping for new things right now. So, take your throw blankets, put them in the wash, make them smell good. Make your house comfortable.
Anything that you don’t like anymore, like old throw pillows, push them away. Move around your accessories. Create a haven.
Soft, high pile carpets feel good under your feet. STARK has nylon puffy rugs that feel like you’re walking on a cloud, and they’re on the more affordable side. For me, it’s warm cozy textures, fabrics, and carpets.
ASK: I know you have been working with Thomas Hayes to help raise money to donate masks.
MG: It’s really amazing what Thomas Hayes doing. His fiancée, his three kids, and he are all home, in his studio, making protective masks. You can go on their GoFundMe page and donate. It’s a great cause to donate to.
A lot of us cannot do anything except stay home right now. Which is a great thing to contribute also! You can give 10 dollars and it’s going to help people get masks.
ASK: A lot of designers are worried right now. You’ve had your firm for a long time, you said 22 years. You’ve been though a lot of ups and downs. People are scared, they’re nervous. What advice do you have to those that are worried?
MG: I wish I knew how to tell people how to navigate this. This is a different situation than we’ve ever come across. Try to reach out to all your vendors. STARK has sent me a library I can have at my house to look at carpet and show my clients and send to my clients.
I am actually shocked at how helpful everyone has been. I think that as a community, people are really coming together. And you should reach out to other people. Let people know we are all going through the same thing.
I do think there are brighter days ahead. In the meantime, do as much as you can. Know that people want to work. Clients want to keep doing their projects. We are lucky to live in this age of technology. We are able to talk to the world together. Take a deep breath and do what you can do.
ASK: I want everyone to feel good. It’s a scary time. To feel connected and realize everyone is going through it too. We’re not alone.
MG: The people in our field, in our community, everybody is out there for each other. If anybody has any questions, dm me, send me an email, I’ll answer.
ASK: Same with me. I am always here. Feel free to contact me via dm. We’re all here for each other. The design community is a strong knit community.
MG: We’re really lucky to have each other.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Under the tutelage of Stark founders Arthur and Nadia Stark (her grandparents), Ashley Stark-Kenner has developed the ultimate eye for style and luxury in carpet and rugs. Traveling the world to seek out the most unique designs, qualities, and textures available, Ashley has now brought her eclectic finds to Ashley's Window inside the World of Stark.