When I saw the expressive twin spaces Justin Shaulis created as one of American Standard’s 2015 DXV Design Panel participants, I knew I had to feature him for two reasons: the sensual storytelling he achieved within the spaces he designed and the novel he chose as his inspiration, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, which has always been one of my favorites.
A Room with a View x 2
Explaining his point of view, which you can hear more fully in the video above, he says his film/literary design interpretation centers around a woman who’s discovering her life. Inspired by Lucy’s character, he explains he used two different vignettes to show how big and different the world can be. Focusing on her struggles with the two men in her life—one she is engaged to marry, and another who would infuse her life with more passion and adventure—was Justin’s jumping off point: “That’s where I started and what led me to create two vignettes.”
The character of Cecil—a quintessentially stiff Brit emblematic of his prim and proper era (and the man to whom Lucy is betrothed)—inspired the masterful masculine milieu shown above. Anchoring the vignette is a deep bathtub—the Lyndon Freestanding Soaking Tub, which is surrounded by lavish accouterments and adorned with a lush landscape oil painting hung above it, set within an ornately grand period-appropriate frame.
The light-filled vignette (the top-most image) references both the Italian adventure Lucy has taken as Forster’s story launches and her well-heeled life in Great Britain. “I used contemporary fixtures from the Lyndon Collection, including a trough sink for this design,” Justin explains. “It is a shared vessel with two faucets, which invites people to stand in front of it—side by side. I was thrilled to be able to use this sink because I think there’s a certain sensuousness in how thin the porcelain is. The Percy Faucet, which has these simple ring handles, calls to mind a wedding.”
For this DesignSalon post, I asked Justin to give me a bit of intel as to why this particular story meant so much to him that he would choose it for this project. Sit back and enjoy his elucidations; and if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it for your summer reading list:
SH: Who introduced you to E.M. Forster?
JS: In high school, I developed a fascination for period films, more out of escapism than pretension. Luckily, the video rental shop had a great collection to choose from. Merchant Ivory introduced me to E.M. Forster with their renditions of A Room with a View, Howard’s End, Maurice and Passage to India. What hit me at the time—and looking back now—was the casting of such great actors. Most novel-to-movie productions don’t work as well as the books; they seldom translate when there is a lack of understanding for the subject matter, and here is where I feel Merchant Ivory excels!
SH: Tell me what you remember about your first introduction to the story.
JS: I recall being in the family room with my friend Carrie, getting caught up in how lush the set design and costumes were. Julian Sands, Daniel Day Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter and Maggie Smith were cast as the main characters, and their portrayals of these restrained Edwardian people captivated me. They were able to convey so much with a furtive glance, a turn of the head or a sip of their tea.
SH: Do you remember when you first read the book?
JS: I read the novel shortly after seeing the film, as I believed there would be more within its pages than what could be conveyed on screen. This wasn’t necessarily the case, as Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screenplay, captured so much of the subtle nuances of social etiquette that ran so deeply through the novel that the film was as satisfying to watch as the story was to read.
SH: Have you returned to the story over the years or do you tend to read a book once and not go back to it? If you have re-read it, have you had different responses to it at different times in your life?
JS: I have re-read most of E.M. Forster’s novels. At each reading, I discover another thread or a moment I missed previously, and I look for more within the words and pages that corresponds to my changing interests each time.
SH: Have you been wanting to use the premise of the story for a design project or did it just pop into your mind when you knew you were going to participate in this DXV project?
JS: Merchant Ivory developed fascinating playgrounds in which the E.M. Forster novels could come to life and I’ve always admire that. During my first architecture job in New York City, the firm was working on a home in the Hamptons for clients obsessed with Howard’s End. I enjoyed studying their interpretation and I mused that perhaps I would have the opportunity to transpose A Room with a View architecturally at some point in my career. I studied for a semester in Italy, and could identify with Lucy having her heart and soul divided.
SH: What’s your favorite thing about how the vignettes turned out?
JS: The lighting, as it was the primary motivator in the design for the two spaces. I used texture, color and pattern to further enhance the lighting, and the counterpoint between the two. The two vignettes had to be disparate with few parallels. Aesthetically, both needed to be rooted in the time of A Room with a View.
SH: How do you think the vignette Lucy inspired would make her feel?
JS: My hope is that she would identify her struggle between Cecil and George. Cecil in the moody Edwardian vignette with the singular tub and the door slightly ajar beckoning curiosity as to what is beyond. George in the bright Florentine vignette with the sun partially filtered between the slats of the shutters and the double sink with double rings of the DXV faucets foreshadowing a wedding.
SH: How do you think George would feel when he walked into the space he was meant to share with Lucy?
JS: I believe George would have a primal reaction to the Edwardian vignette as everything he loathes. He would gravitate to the Florentine vignette as the place where he met Lucy, fell in love and had their honeymoon.
SH: How do you think Cecil would feel when he walked into the space he inspired?
JS: Cecil’s reaction to the Edwardian vignette would be one of familiarity in the shadows of things unsaid and dreams not reached for. The Florentine vignette would be foreign to him in all ways, as it exposes too much and leaves no opportunity for the vague. [THE END]
I’d like to thank Justin for taking the time to answer my questions about his design process. And in closing I leave you with a bit of Forster’s magic, the lyrical language he uses one of the reasons I enjoy his books so much. In this scene (from the novel), the brash, outspoken Mr. Emerson, George’s father, and Lucy Honeychurch are standing in the Basilica of Santa Croce as he implores her to try to establish a rapport with his disillusioned son:
“We know that we come from the winds, and that we shall return to them; that all life is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smoothness. But why should this make us unhappy? Let us rather love one another, and work and rejoice. I don’t believe in this world sorrow.”
You can visit Justin’s DXV Design Panel page to see all of the manufacturers whose products were used in his spaces, as well as the DXV fixtures he chose. In my opinion, Justin is well on his way to cementing a design legacy of merit, which Forster did so brilliantly in the literary realm. I salute American Standard for producing such a remarkable series each year—this novel idea is one of the finest examples of brand enhancement by way of noble cultural association I’ve seen.
While on the DXV site, take the opportunity to learn about how the other designers approached their vignettes. Here are links that will take you right to their projects inspired by classic works of literature: Lori Gilder and Rebecca Reynolds, Lisa Mende, Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Schwartz, and Regina Sturrock.by