Sunday, September 23, 2007

Designer Homage or Blatant Rip Off ? - You Decide

I am a firm believer that there are no new ideas in design - only new unique interpretations of past designs colored by our current experiences and exposure. I believe that any talented designer or home decor enthusiast draws from their own personal well of inspiration that they have collected over their lifetime to produce one of a kind interpretations of things they love. That being said, I also think it is acceptable to draw inspiration directly from someone else's work and then mold into your own unique design.


Imagine my horror when reading the online cover story on this months Domino on Barrie Benson. This up and coming designer from North Carolina is featured front and center on the cover and shows a melange of her work inside. She practically boasts about "snaking" designs verbatim from other designers. Benson says, "We snaked the entire look from a house done by Tom Scheerer ...."

Check out the designs below. The first picture is Benson's Room - the second the original room done by very talented designer and "snakee", Tom Sheerer. I ask you to be the judge. Is Benson paying homage to the innovative and well designed room by Scheerer or is she just ripping him off. If I were Scheerer I would be more than a bit peeved to see this less than stellar duplication complete with over sized lampshade minimal wall decor and identical bedding. It seems that all she did was swap the colors of the walls and lampshade.



Below - Another picture from the photo spread in Domino - Look Familiar ??? Why yes, that is Kelly Wearstler's famous plate wall from the Viceroy. Again, as with the other room, we have the swapping of color from dark to light. Does the fact that these are Hermes plates make it good design? They aren't even hung straight.




The article quotes Benson describing the room below as follows:

"Mid-Century furniture in a Mid-Century house is so, well, last century! The mixing styles and using luxurious new fabrics with saturated colors makes it so fresh and new".


What is she talking about? I see a photo of my cousin's paneled basement with the old furniture that grandma was throwing out mixed with a worn out couch found on the street and some yard sale lamps and pillows. Where is the "saturated color"? Take a look at that sad blue velvet bergere and the cheap looking under filled pillows and tell me what's fresh and new.

Below- Find a superbly done room by the afore mention Tom Scheerer with a brilliant mix of period and modern furnishings. Benson should have ripped off - I mean - taken inspiration from this room.


So, as you can tell I have no opinion on this subject. But you decide, Homage - Rip Off - or - Just Bad Design? You be the Judge!


My opinion - Domino should be doing a cover with Tom Scheerer on it. !

53 comments:

Vintage Rose Collection said...

Hi Jackie,
Very interesting post and one that is certainly long over due to be addressed...As a designer myself I will go out of my way- NOT - to be influenced by other designers, artist. Its accentual to my creative side to be authentic to my own individual gifts. When you stay unique and original to your own specific talents is when you discover true success within yourself. There is always going to be rip offs and copycats, they lurk behind every corner of life just waiting for someone else to come up with the newest rave. I encourage you to be leaders and trend setters before settling on being " trend benders". What would the world be like if we all used the special treasures God handed each and every one of us..... Oh how beautiful the world would be huh...
Your imagination is a terrible thing to waste...
Jo-Anne Coletti

patricia gray said...

Well Jackie, we are living in very interesting times aren't we. First of all I would say shame on Domino for promoting this snaking! Secondly how unethical and totally in poor taste on the part of both Domino and Barrie Benson. Thirdly Tom Scheerer is a class act and his designs will always be the first and I predict that his designs will pass the test of time.

Leigh said...

I totally agree--it's one thing to be inspired by, it's another to just out right copy. At least she admits to being a copy cat by using her snaking phrase. If it's done privately for a client trying to replicate a well known designer's work, I could understand, but featuring a designer's own work that's essentially someone else's in a design / decorating magazine--that I don't understand. I can't believe domino allowed the wall of red, crooked, HELLO, plates--eek.

the House of Beauty and Culture said...

A lawsuit should be in order, but I do think a good slap would be so much more satisfying. This, she rather, is the best example of inauthenticity I have ever seen - dreadful. And to be so smug about it just adds insult to injury.

Arlene said...

After having a horrible day, you made me laugh out loud...and you are so very right! Thank you...

stljoie said...

I actually like the fist one but the rest are really awful.

Cote de Texas said...

omg, I can't believe this!!!!!!! Earlier today at Style Court, she posted these same two bedrooms and I questioned what is going on here? Is this a reenactment, like I designed this cheaper or something? go read my comment!!! I'm laughing, we are SO alike!!! ok, ok, and on Habitually Chic, she said this was her favorite cover of Domino EVER and how wonderful it was and I swear, I looked at it and went yucccck. I think it's hideous. Like some bad porn movie set. And I love what you said about that basement room with the paneling, exactly!!!! I've lived through that crappy point in design, why do I want to see it again????? You have GOT to write a comment to Domino. And I think her bedroom is beyond horrible. Sorry. I do.

The Crafty Weasel said...

You know, I have to say I'm with you. And I'm even more surprised that a supposedely reputable magazine would publish this so light-heartedly, and even further as the cover story!
But then again, maybe she got permission from the original designer?

Fairfax said...

Couple of things:
* I hated that the plates weren't hung straight. That just kept bothering me.

*if you're going to have a mid-century modern house, why not play up that aspect of it. Otherwise, why bother?

*that big lamp in the top picture looks like it came out of no-where! it doesn't seem to fit at all. scale, colour, shape are all wrong.

katiedid said...

Hear Hear Jackie!
Having seen Tom's website, there is a clear distinction between his original thoughts and the "copycat" poser. I only hope aI can be that creative in my work, and original. I am surprised at Domino. Although Tom seems to have been courted by magazines that really are a step up. Domino is marketed to those who want to get that look for less or those who DIY. There is sonething to be said for that too though.

Sandra said...

Hello Jackie,
You are voicing what many of us already think. Shame on even publishing the word "snaking" with pride, shame on her for poor judgement and bad design and shame on Domino. Anyone can say they are a designer these days, just like anything else very few are. Credit needs to be given where credit is due. The rooms she did are not even good rip offs so I vote bad design. I love your blog.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

I'm glad that you all understand my motivation behind this post. I was more than a bit nervous after posting it. I am certainly not here to criticize other designers original work but I couldn't hold back from commenting on the presentation of this particular article. Katiedid makes a great point about Domino being more of a DIY mag and if the publication would have used Benson's rooms as a "Create this look yourselves" inspiration - I would not have had a problem with it. But after I saw the mention in the article to Tom Scheerer I went to his website and it was apparent that she had copied his room verbatim and not for the story in the magazine. The Kelly Wearstler imitation was also blatant.

As far as the mid-century room goes I am just dumbfounded when magazines print rooms like this and try to convince their readership that this is good design. Maybe it's me and I am just not sophisticated enough but I just don't get it!

In her defense, there were some more attractive rooms featured in the magazine but because of the few bad ones I saw I felt that if I had the kind of great eye for detail that Hab Chic or Peak of Chic have I bet I could have come up with a few more identical caparisons of her work.

Thanks everyone for commenting, I think we should all strive to be inspired by good work to create our own original interpretations that represent our unique talents.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Katiedid,
You raised an excellent point that I didn't take into consideration. Domino is touted as a DIY manual of sorts and their readers are looking for rooms with points of direct inspiration for them to emulate. If the article about Benson had been about achieving designer looks for less or how to create that style etc. I would have had no problem with it. I think those types of articles are great information for the reader. I love articles that show a designer room compared to the copy of the "room on the cheap" Her rooms would have been better served in an article like that.
Jackie

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Fairfax,
She was quoted in the article saying that Mid century Modern was so , well last century! Wasn't last century like - 7.9 years ago - OMGawd that's like so long ago, like a century!
A little Valley Girl humor for ya there.

Brilliant Asylum said...

So many posts about the new Domino and I STILL don't have my copy yet! I can't fully judge having not seen the article, but I think most designers are guilty of "borrowing" from those who came before. However, matching item for item seems like an unbelievably uncreative and ultimately unsatisfying job. I happen to like this pink room a lot (both ways) but must reserve the praise for the snaked and not the snaker. Had it not been pointed out, I would have never known. As for the other "homage" rooms, I am not such a fan.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

HBC,
To be fair who knows what gems they chose to highlight from her interview. Although I don't have much respect for a designer who copies work from others her attitude didn't help. I think thats what put me over the edge.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Joni,
You are too funny - didn't know you were familiar with porn movie set decoration ! Is there something you're not telling us?

Jackie Von Tobel said...

CW,
She or the mag may have had permission as they certainly pay some homage to Scheerer in the article and have links to the his website in the online version. It seems they must have featured him before although I am not sure of that. I just think that Benson would have been smarter not o use those rooms in the article and show original designs more prominently. I felt it was arrogant to show those rip offs so flippantly.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Fairfax,
Those were some of the things that stood out to me as well. Photo styling is not her strong suit.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Sandra,
I agree - I think the fault lies with Domino. Their staff should be looking for more original work to highlight.

Cote de Texas said...

Jackie: I'm going to kill you!!!! Yes, I've been harboring a secret about who I really am, that's why I post anonymously. Beware of people who post anonymously, they have secrets to be told.

ok, since the truth's out, remember Debbie Does Dallas? There was another video, admittedly not as popular:
Webb Wets West U. so there, go rent it.

Joni Webb, West University, Texas

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Oh dear. That is not nice at all. But on a more upbeat note, can I just say that I am so loving that last image! It is fabulous!

LIBERTY POST EDITOR said...

Well Ladies, I might as well jump in! Lot's of lively discussion here. First of all, the cover (fron a marketing perspective) will sell big time. If you do a focus group (The 3 sec. test) consumers will buy a red cover. That has nothing to do with the room design. Second, It is my opinion that no matter how hard a person tries to copy a designer, it can't be done completely - everyone has their own creative DNA. It's pretty difficult in today's world not to be bombarded and inspired at the same time. There will be overlapping of ideas. I just think both of these rooms are far nicer than the ones many women have in countless poor countries. We should be so lucky to be debating this! This is an example of pure democratic liberty! Oh, one more question...don't you agree that it is quite a compliment to have people (especially readers/consumers)trying to get your 'look'? I must say, I'm loving all of your opinions on this..keep it rolling...

Jackie Von Tobel said...

LPE,
Your points are well taken - it does seem frivolous giving the serious subjects the world is facing to debate this issue but for some of us who make our living in this business it strikes a cord. I agree that no one can copy a room exactly but the question I am asking today is; should a professional designer who is at a level that she is receiving national acclaim on the cover of design magazine even try to copy another designers work so closely? Would she be better served creating unique designs while drawing on the inspiration she receives from seeing other designers work? I'm of the opinion that she crossed a very thin line that many in the design world consider in bad taste.

On the other hand - it is so refreshing to hear everyones point of view. I think our industry could benefit with more frank discussion rather than blanket a$$ kissing.

Thanks for Posting :)

LIBERTY POST EDITOR said...

I guess this exercise is no different than having a friendly greeting card competition where each card must be designed based on a designer's room, except in this case it's a room based on a room. Most people involved in the arts have a list of people whom they most relate to or take inspiration from. Painters, musicians, writers, photographers and designers. Don't you just love blogs? Anyway, I understand your question and I think the answer is, there is no right answer, just many points of view.

Bonnie said...

Seems like a copy cat room to me! I am surprised that the magazine published it but since she declared she "snaked " the design , I guess they felt safe enough to publish the article & pics. It seems alittle brazen & in bad taste to me, but that's just me.
Bonnie

Me, Myself, & I said...

Great post. Bravo to you for tackling such a topic...it seems long over due.

Linda Merrill said...

I wish I had my copy to take a look. Interesting. Very interesting. Based on what you've written and the photos, there is some serious copying going on and one wonders how the designer can accept a payment from the client with a straight face. Yes, it's common to be asked to create a look "based on" a particular room and client has seen. But I always refuse the request to outright copy. Besides, what's the fun in that!

Jordan Cappella said...

God love you Jackie, Fantastic post and more so because of the reaction it stirred, nice work!

Jordan

Habitually Chic said...

Jackie, you've sparked an interesting debate.

I have to clarify something for everyone, the photos you posted were from the online pictorial of Barrie Benson's work. They were not included in the magazine. The magazine article was a feature on her own mid-century home that she filled with family furniture and a mix of periods, not all mid-century furniture, which I happen to love. It's the way young people live these days.

It doesn't bother me that she copied someone else's work. It happens all the time. The client could very well have asked for it. Not everyone can afford an interior designer on the level on Tom Sheerer. Domino to me is about how real people live. If you want perfection and soul-less interiors, go buy Architectural Digest. I'm sure Tom Sheerer has taken inspiration from someone else's interior at some point in his life but his was probably from some obsure place in Paris or Belgium. Look how many designers copy David Hicks on a daily basis.

I read Domino to see how real people live and if that happens to be with crooked plates, so be it. But that wasn't in the magazine so I don't think it should be that big of an issue.

beachbungalow8 said...

ok, i haven't read ALL of the comments but here are mine:

everyone has a publicist these days. everyone. the publicist gets you into these magazines. the general lemmings, buy what you're 'selling' and suddenly you're the next 'it' designer. emporer and his new clothes stuff.

ok, kelly wearstler did nothing new. her 'look' was being done by everyone out here when she became 'known'. because of a large cash flow and being well connected to editors, she was able to get herself better known than others. also, i have some vintage books and magazine that wearstler clearly snaked. snaked as bad as this gal did. just lifted the idea and put it into the viceroy, exclaiming, that she was inpired on a trip to italy.

i clearly have no opinion on this matter either! my hope is that people will not be swayed by a great photo spread or by what an editor might say is great but rather what appeals personally. expose yourself to a lot of different ideas. there is no one right idea. design is self expression. or should be.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

BB8,
Maybe I should find out who her publicist is - she obviously did a very good job for her client! I could use a helping hand like that.
Jackie

Cote de Texas said...

That point isn't that Domino showed the stolen bedroom, the point is - is Domino so desperate for designers that they need to show some 2nd rate one who has to blatantly copy someone else and then laugh and brag about it? It makes the reader feel used and deceived. When I saw that picture on Style Court I was dumbfounded. It's one thing if the magazine hires a designer to show you how to copy a designer room on the cheap, but I seriously doubt this bedroom was done on the cheap - it's just a copy, pure and simple, not done to show you how you too can have a high fashion look - it's the same look, for the same, if not more, money. And most amusing, this episode and Jackie shows the power of the blogosphere - people getting together and discussing design while tuning out Domino's noise telling us how great this looks. It would have been one thing if only one room was copied, but two were, at least. And Jackie's right, that den was a fright, imo. Real people in Domino? Have your parents buy you an apartment and then hire a top decorator do it up? If you want to see how real people live, there are plenty of magazines out there called Budget Decorating, Romantic whatever, Cottage etc. - that's how real people live. Domino showcases young people, yes, but most are very wealthy and connected (as Domino explained in their title page) and not what I call "real" by any stretch of the imagination.

And one other gripe, off topic, I really hate it when magazines put out two covers and act like - "gee, we just couldn't decide, they were both so great! Which do YOU think was better?" BS they need to pump their sales up for the advertisers and take the customers for dummies when they confuse us and we buy both issues. I hate that!!!

decorno.blogspot.com said...

Where the hell have I been to have missed all this???! Probably busy throwing myself a fake birthday party on my blog an writing about Rachel Zoe's wrinkles.

What a kickass post you have here and look at all the debate!

I am not as catholic about design as the rest of you (that's a knock on me, and not you). I would rip someone off anyday. But the difference, I guess, is that I am not asking to be on the cover of Domino, either. :)

katiedid said...

One more thing...I do notice a distinct similarity between Tom's work and Vicente Wolf. Both use the Saarinen table to distraction. While not copying, one or the other has been influenced I think. Or perhaps it is just a collective consciousness thing, because I love both of them!

Anonymous said...

Well thank god I came across this debate. I wait eagerly each month for my issue of Domino to arrive, and I have to say, I studied the room on page 162 at the top- with the gilt mirror on the board-and-batten wall and thought to myself- I'll never make it as an interior designer if this is what is considered good. But I am so relieved to see I should trust my own judgement.

franki durbin said...

I can see why this prmoted such a strong response. Good for you for 'going for it' and bringing the issue to the forefront. Nothing under the sun is new, but blatant copying shouldn't be rewarded. That does seem odd.


Either way, Tom Scheerer is perpetually stylish ;)

Anonymous said...

Domino, like Lucky, is all about selling. Their editors all log-roll their friends' businesses and houses (have you noticed how well over half of the homes and businesses featured in any issue are in Manhattan and Brooklyn?), and they make up stories based on what manufacturers'/home decor companies' p.r. flacks send them. Notice how all their editorial rooms are always "eclectic"? Because that's what you get when you shove a big pile of completely unrelated furniture, accessories, and wall and floor coverings into one room. I love a well-thought-out "eclectic" room, but these spreads lack any kind of coherent design esthetic and definitely any sense of soul. Good for you for calling bullshit on this story!

kate (pm) said...

Enjoyed your post!

I didn't mind the Barrie Benson house. Like lot of people on these blogs, I always can appeciate how a home is decorated even if it is not my style (I usually can still find some element I love). However, is definitely not a favorite. The living room was my least favorite room and I certainly didn't think it was as cover worthy or as ground-breaking fresh as it seemed to be presented. The house was rather average Domino-esque at best. I was surprised it got as a big of a spread as it did. To me, the cover & huge spread resulted more from a blatant clique connection thing. I know it happens, but in this case it was disappointing because of the way Domino hyped it up.

BTW, that Tom Scheerer room you posted is one my top all-time favorite rooms & looks. I hope Domino looks at him again soon. I loved the version he did of a hallway 3 ways (don't recall issue off-hand & I'm in the office right now. it's from 2007).

Anna said...

Wow Jackie - this is powerful stuff!!! I am in complete agreement with you - shame on you Domino for promoting this plagiarism and "snakey" behaviour! I would be embarrassed to be seen copying someones work, certainly not proud of it like this Benson person seems to be! Thanks for putting this topic up for discussion Jackie - it was certainly interesting hearing your views and the views of your readers too!!
Anna

Katherine said...

I wish for say, twin bed pink canopied bedroom, it would Benson had been quoted, or somehow noted, as saying she had loved the Tom Scheerer room and was inspired by it. That would have been cool by me. I like seeing people's interpretation of a room very much. It also would changed my reaction had it been presented that way.

Anonymous said...

I will leave the Benson/Scheerer debate alone but I would really like to comment on the plate wall. Kelly Wearstler straight jacked that from John Dickinson—and it doesn't bother me! Designers borrow and inspire each other. I just wish people would realize that although KW is a talented designer—the decorative arts existed before she transformed herself from Kelly Gallagher . . . . . . .

Anonymous said...

Good point: Because one designer did a plate wall, does that mean no one else can ever do one? Ever?

Wearstler's plates are solid color (no patterns). Benson's plates have patterns, and she has deliberately put them up in all different orientations--they aren't "straight." They crooked patterns look like snowflakes, tumbling down. To me, both these things--the use of patterned plates, and the non-alignment--count as substantive differences from what Wearstler did. I don't see anything sneaky or unenhical. I see a clear and distinct variation.

Anonymous said...

I'll probably get shredded for this, but: Not that big a fan of the Sheerer bedroom. I don't like those shoebox-top things he installed above the beds. They give a vaguely coffin-like feel to the whole setup.

And I don't see a lot of originality in Sheerer's combining a Saarinen table, Panton chair, and hide rug. It looks decent, but it's not trailblazing.

Not thrilled with all of Benson's work either, or Domino's use of it. The Benson room on the cover of the Oct. issue is about as non-"cozy" as it gets.

Jackie Von Tobel said...

Hey you anonymous commenter's, Thanks for joining in. I agree with you it''s all been done before. I mainly took issue with the snaking comment which is a sensitive topic for poor schleps like me who work like dogs only to get ripped off all the time by local competition and sub contractors. We love all comments so please don't worry about being "shredded". Listening to other peoples opinions is enlightening and essential to personal growth. So have at it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the claws really do come out on these design blogs--I've got to join in on the fun!

As a non-pro, I have to say, I HATE the domino cover this month (starting with the outfit and the smirk). My reaction upon seeing it was f*ck! another worthless domino. Some of us just don't like this type of "decor" no matter how many times we see it in a magazine. On the other hand, it does make me think, Sh*t, I could put a room together that looked like that in a heartbeat!

HC points out that domino is for the way most people live. Uh, no it isn't! I live in an immaculate L.A. neighborhood where the tiniest houses sell for $800K. One of my favorite things to do is go for long walks in the evening when I can get a peek at people's houses. It's a disaster out there, ladies! Most people don't have the interest, the style or the money to even furnish their homes in domnio style. Most people are going for the pottery barn look and Better Homes and Gardens is as good as it gets. Only a tiny fraction of the U.S. population lives in stunningly decorated homes.


Bungalow8 calls it right on Kelly W. About 3 years ago I briefly dated an antiques dealer on Robertson and he told me the same thing. Now, I didn't need him to tell me that, because instinctually I could tell there was something inauthentic about it. Plus, a lot of it is just down fugly. So, I don't have a problem with anybody ripping off Kelly. I do think people have been hanging plates on walls for a long, long time. I doubt anybody can take credit for it at this time.

Another thing about Kelly. She's a magazine editor's dream because she's so beautiful. I don't doubt that her looks play a huge role in her success. Once you get in a magazine, everything snowballs.

Finally, everything is derivative. I've wasted hours on design blogs this weekend (since y'all list each other) desperately searching for something fresh, new, that I haven't seen before. I've got news for you, it ain't out there!

Anonymous said...

I like your attitude, Jackie! Thanks for the encouragement.

About the paneled mid-century room: No one is jumping on the real offense there--Benson's implying that she invented eclecticism. In fact, she's done nothing inventive. Pairing pale blue with brown, the obligatory turquoise, the double-gourd lamp, the fancy-formal chair paired with the boxy-modern sofa, the Moroccan rug with the X-pattern--it's all been done to death.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of that cover: Why is Domino making everyone take off their shoes to be photographed? Is it part of a campaign to infantilize everyone in the Domino universe? It's right up there with the "For Like Ever" poster and phrases like "So Right Now".

(And yes, red, white, blue, and tan is a not "cozy" combo. And a leather Barcelona is not a "cozy" chair.)

Anonymous said...

Jackie,

In a previous comment you said you are working really hard and are being ripped off by competitors and subs. If your work is such that it merits imitation then you are making a mark and magazine cover or not you are "successful" as imitation is the best form of flattery.

Jessie said...

I am scared to comment. lol ;)

I think it fine to be INSPIRED by others, or take an idea and SPIN off another idea.

BUT BUT BUT,...how can this so called designer,..call herself a designer if all she does is copycat???? I don't understand why shes on the cover. It upsets me too.

Anybody can look at a room,....then go shopping for items that look like the stuff, and COPY IT!

I do my own work,....I am not a snake!! Why does she get to be on a cover????????

great post. :)
jessie

ps
I think what bothers me the most, is the way she looks on the cover. Shes smiling and all proud of her so called "work". Maybe this is what makes us so mad. Not really fair to all the REAL designers who will never make it on a cover of a famous design magazine.

{this is glamorous} said...

Oh my goodness--how did I miss such an interesting and lively debate? I've always loved that bottom Tom Scheerer image (and I have to admit the crooked plates do bother me . . .)

Kirby said...

God, you are one snarky bitch. Jeaslous that you haven't scored a Domino cover?

Stephanie Lowder said...

Blatant ripoff.

Sure, we learn from every new design that we see, we learn and then push design forward.

Wouldn't want to tar & feather a young designer copying the masters (though I daresay this featured designer may need some crisis mgmt to handle the ill will generated by this fiasco).

But... I certainly would expect more from Domino. I agree totally – they should have given Tom Sheerer the exposure.

Print magazines, even the best desgin pubs, can hardly afford to track down & publish truly new ideas/designs, because – just like news media – information is given away free online, budgets slashed, and pubs going out of business right and left (and, by the way, most bloggers and original sources go unpaid - so there are few paying gigs for anyone).

Sooner or later, someone, somewhere will have to pay for excellent reporting, editorial, and even design talent. or awe'll be left with only endless tired regurgitation and "snaking."

Thank you for having the courage to publish your question, and comments. May it help us to move forward to better editorial, better design, and exposure for those innovators most deserving.