A Legacy Designer Forges Her Own Path

It’s both a blessing and a curse to be a creative born into a design family. While inspiration and learning opportunities abound, it can be difficult to craft a new vision out of an established legacy. Julie Lawrence, though, is finding the perfect balance. The stepdaughter of VAN THIEL & CO. founder Rudy Van Thiel Sr. and a designer for the company, which produces furniture for a number of high end- retailers, Lawrence grew up steeped in her family’s passion for design and craftmanship – her two brothers also work for the company and her mother is an interior designer. Now, Lawrence is stepping into her own spotlight with the launch of two lines for RH (with whom her family company also collaborates). In her debut solo collections, the Roanoke, Virginia-based designer looks to blend traditional and modern in a fresh way, taking inspiration from Diego Giacommetti as well as contemporary forms and rich materials. AD talks to her about her inspiration, process, and achieving an authentic style.

AD: How would you describe your aesthetic?

Julie Lawrence: In one word, "classic.'' I truly appreciate so many different styles of furniture, art, and decoration that I am continually striving to incorporate elements of both traditional and contemporary design so they are complementary and balanced. I think the contrast makes everything more interesting.

AD: How did your parents' creative work influence yours?

Julie Lawrence: with amazing views of the city below and was filled with the most interesting mix of antique , modern, and contemporary furniture and art, as well as art and mementos from my parents' trips to Africa. The artifacts took on a look of modern art, and the whole effect was really an interesting and beautiful mix. My step-father (who is really like a second father to me) had a passion for European Antiques and art, and could almost fill a showroom with antiques, but it never felt "old fashioned" ...he would pick out the right mix so it often felt contemporary. I learned from each how important every piece is to the overall impact of a room and home, and how easily the mood can shift with just one seemingly small change. Also, that not every piece shou ld try to be the star. You need some rest in a room , too.

AD: How do you distinguish your style from theirs?

Julie Lawrence: At this point, our tastes are pretty similar, but I probably am just a touch more contemporary. I do find that if we are shopping together in antique stores, showrooms, art galleries, or jewelry stores, we tend to gravitate toward the same items. High quality, purity of design and materials always grabs our attention.

AD: How did your time in Europe influence your aesthetic or process?

Julie Lawrence: I studied and worked there for about five years just after university and developed a strong appreciation for art, architecture, and furniture that could withstand the test of time, not only in style, but in materials that could survive for centuries, and in most cases only become more beau tiful with wear and age. Patinas become deeper and warmer, stone and wood become smoother and richer. From the grandest cathedrals to the simplest churches, I loved the way even the hardest of stone steps would be worn away from centuries of use, the roughest iron felt impossibly smooth and warm from being repeatedly touched by human hands .

AD: Can you tell us more about blending old and new in your line?

Julie Lawrence: These classical materia ls have been used and have been used together for centuries, and I would like to think that there is a classic feeling to the style, but I think they have a very contemporary feeling as well, in that they are so appropriate for the way we live today. One of the most important elements of the design is that I believe it can be so beautiful in such a wide variety of homes and lifestyles, from a contemporary urban home or apartment to a more traditional setting jus t about anywhere ...it can work with just abou t any style.

AD: This line is all about "authenticity." Can you explain what that means to you?

Julie Lawrence: To be authentic is to be true to oneself, so the authenticity of this collection is that we're being true to the materials-letting the materials shine. The veining of the Carrera marble and the handworked texture of the iron is, in part, what makes the collection work. It is not trying to be anything more than it is, and in my opinion, it is that type of simplicity and honesty that makes it beautiful.