CLARE DONOHUE I’ve been designing homes professionally since 1996, and long before that for fun. My knack for project management was honed in the magazine business, by running a paint crew, and founding an environmental organization. I’ve been an art director, general contractor, and activist. Basically, these are all the same job: getting a whole bunch of disparate people to sign on to a united vision and then make it happen.
Background and Training My passion for design has taken many turns.
I started drawing floor plans for fun when I was 8. Like most budding designers, my first project was my childhood bedroom: Following instructions in a home design magazine, I sewed up a fashion-forward quilt from sheets bought with my allowance.
But I also loved typography and lucked into an early admissions program at the local college. After moving to NYC and graduating from the School of Visual Arts, I ran a graphic design studio for 14 years.
That magazine quilt story? I ended up working for that creative director.
All the while I never stopped designing rooms. I moved all over the city (16 times), from apartment to apartment, fixing them up for fun.
Then I was hired to art direct a series of home design magazines, but the budget and staff were tiny. We wondered, who could we rope into overseeing all the renovations? The editor turned to me with a raised eyebrow and said, “You’re always fixing up your apartment.” I thought, “Sure. How hard could it be?” (Ha!) So I became the de facto general contractor as well as art director.
Immediately bitten, I made the switch to designing rooms instead of layouts; I’d found my true love.
At first I did all the work myself, but demand grew quickly and I soon trained a crew, which grew into a design/build firm. After a few years I wanted to scale back to just designing. Now I work with several independent contractors and focus on design and oversight.
PHILOSOPHY It’s important to enjoy the trip, not just the destination.
It’s been a great benefit having this varied experience and seeing the process of renovation from so many points of view. It makes me consider any project from three perspectives – that of designer, client, and contractor. I believe renovations work best as collaborations. As we go along, we’re problem solving and making decisions as a team. The process is just as engaging as the results.
One thing I learned working as an art director was, if a crew was having fun at a photo shoot, it showed on the film, and made for great photos. It’s the same with renovations: if the team loves the work they’re doing, that makes for great rooms.
EXTRACURRICULAR We need to redesign our global home, too.
In addition to running my design studio, I helped found Sane Energy Project, a non-profit devoted to the transition to a renewable energy future. Sane is now run by a wonderful staff of energetic activists. A portion of profits from One to One Studio is donated each year to support the terrific work they do.