Profile in Excellence: Aaron B Duke (Interior Designer)
Aaron B Duke is one of the most innovative and decorated figures in modern interior design. Over the course of his now 14-plus year career, he has designed dozens of bold and celebrated projects across the fields of high-end residential, hospitality, multi-family, and small commercial design–far cry from the strict creative confines of his hometown, the “cultural wasteland” of Garland, Texas. He and his work have accrued a number of accolades, including his being recognized as Build Magazine’s Most Innovative Interior Designer in 2016 and named one of the California Faces of Design by Modern Luxury Interiors California in 2017. I recently had the opportunity to ask Aaron some questions about his career, background, inspirations, motivations, and plans for the future.
Q: I took a look at your work and was blown away. It’s safe to say that you’re a bonafide artist. Is there any other field of art or design that you were considering pursuing before you landed on interior design? If so, why did you go with interior design instead?
A: Actually, I have been involved with the visual and performing arts my entire life. When I was younger, I participated in art classes at a local store. There, I was exposed to watercolor, oil painting, ceramics, charcoal sketching, and many other mediums. I studied piano for many years. Garland Civic Theatre’s Children on Stage gave me the opportunity to learn about musical theater and perform for live audiences. In addition, I was also a dancer and toured the United States, Canada, and Europe for three years. Finally, I taught high school dance teams and color guards throughout the North Texas metroplex. When I graduated from high school, I really did not know who I was or what I wanted to do. So, I took some time away from academia, danced, and educated others. On a whim, I signed up for my first interior design class. On the first day, a professor said, “Interior design enhances the way people live, work, and play.” This gave design a purpose and has allowed me to use my creativity to serve others.
Q: I would assume, like those of any other art form, that interior design skills are refined through practice. But it seems like interior design would be a tough industry to breach in order to get the opportunity to practice in the first place. How did you get the initial opportunity to crack the industry and build your skills as a designer?
A: Honestly, it was all about guts and determination. After my freshman year of college, I started seeking a part-time internship while I completed my degree. I have always wanted to be the best and work with the best, so I sent my resume and digital portfolio to only the best design firms in Dallas. I actually received three interviews and three offers. I chose ForrestPerkins. They specialize in four and five-star luxury hospitality projects. I actually worked there throughout my time in school and transitioned to a full-time Junior Designer after graduation. My time there taught me to be what I call a 360 designer. We had to do everything. The experience, skills, and knowledge I gained from this experience propelled me into working with other industry leaders such as Ike Isenhour; Fairfield Residential; and Rose Tarlow Design. I have experience in high-end residential, hospitality, multi-family, and small commercial projects. It has really made me a well-rounded designer.
Q: What was the first big project you landed? How much did the opportunity mean to you then, and how much does that specific experience mean to you now?
A: My first big project on my own was a 5,000 square foot penthouse in Pasadena, California. It is pretty amazing for that to be your first project. It set the standard at a very high level, and I have continued to maintain that vision moving forward. I was very fortunate that the client gave me carte blanche. I became the visionary and tastemaker for an empty space. It was a referral from a real estate agent that the client knew and trusted. Every project has a purpose and a way to serve the client. For him, it created a space that he could use to entertain, and it would become the home where he and his wife will retire. I am always grateful and thankful for every project that is in alignment.
Q: I think the most interesting project you have in your portfolio is your private jet design. How did you land that job, and was it more challenging than a conventional commercial or residential project?
A: The private jet was a collaboration with Ike Isenhour. Actually, designing private aircraft is not difficult, but it is filled with details and specifications specific to the aviation industry. There are preferred vendors who their products have undergone rigorous testing to meet the standards set by the aviation companies. Like any project, it requires mindful documentation and thorough quality control on the part of the fabricators and the designer.
Q: The work you have on your site is eclectic, but I feel like I can still recognize your specific sense of style in every project. When you are hired for a job, how much of the finished product reflects your vision, and how much reflects your client’s demands?
A: Every project is my vision. Each project comes with its own unique purpose dictated by the client. My job is to create solutions and bring their purpose to fruition. I create only one design – the BEST. Every project is presented to the client in its entirety. If there are changes that need to be made, we make those. I start off with a clear vision of how we want a project to look and feel. Then, I create mood boards, which are a visual and emotional representation of my vision. I tell clients that I feel like I have lived in their home before they have. The sum of the whole is greater than any one of the parts. I do have elements that repeat in every project. Often times, I am mixing new furniture with vintage or antique pieces to create a collected and curated look – eclectic if you will. My statements rooms are highly-globalized and integrate elements from other cultures. I define my style as my own unique brand of eccentric cool.
Q: Your website briefly touches on your “well-traveled European perspective.” Which part of Europe would you say inspired your style, vision, and overall attitude toward design the most? Why did you choose that place?
A: The European lifestyle and philosophy are what inspires my designs. In Europe, they buy fashion, home decor, etc… of quality and craftsmanship. It isn’t about acquiring quantity. They buy items they love and that speak to their own personal style. It is seen throughout their entire lives – from the clothes they wear, the car they drive, how their home is decorated, and how they entertain. There is a definite focus on quality rather than quantity.
Q: Are there any tacky trends or fads that are pervading the interior design industry right now? If so, what are they, and why don’t you like them?
A: Honestly, I don’t pay attention to trends. Design is an inside job. You have to know who you are and what you like. I find that in our culture, we are influenced by outside sources that tell us what we think we want. If a celebrity endorses a color of lipstick, women will go out and buy it – even if it doesn’t look good on them. You really have to know yourself. What do you like? How do you live? How do you want a room to feel when it is completed?
Q: Are there any misconceptions about interior design that you would like to clear up?
A: I believe that there is a designer for everyone who wants one. Every designer is different from one another in their personalities, the way they work, the types of clients they serve, the services they provide, their involvement with the client, and even the way they charge for their valued expertise and services. It is like dating. You have to know what you want and find someone that matches. Know who you are and what you want out of the experience. Referrals are 90% of my business. Ask around and get some referrals. Your network will be able to provide you will a designer that fits your needs.
Q: Cliche as it may be, I have to ask, what is your dream project?
A: My dream project is actually my own home. It is located in West Hollywood and was designed and decorated by the late, Jerry Robertson. He was the visionary and tastemaker for the Ralph Lauren flagship store in New York City. Although our home is exquisite, it is time for me to make it my own. Right now, I am working on creating our vision of how we want to live in our home. As a designer, the hardest project that you will ever do is your own home. I know that it is also the most important. Our homes design elevates the way we live, work, and play.
Q: Is there anything else you would like the world to know about you or your business?
A: AARON B DUKE is expanding in every way, every day. We are expanding into other geographical locations and other sectors of design including restaurants and hotels. In 2019, we will be collaborating with established brands and creating collections of textiles, furniture, rugs, wall coverings, and home accessories that reflect our own distinctive brand of eccentric cool.
We here at Troolr are thrilled to have a visionary like Aaron listed here on site. You can learn more about Aaron’s background and portfolio at www.aaronbduke.com and check out his Troolr profile here.