Designer Friday: An Aspire Exclusive Interview With Mark Lavender

Passion for clean and timeless design is what Mark Lavender continues to strive for, even after 30 years in the business. Carrying this philosophy to his very own firm, M. Lavender Interiors has been able to design unfading homes all over the Midwest and throughout the country. By accommodating his client’s budget, inspiration and timeline, Lavender is the go-to designer when creating inviting spaces that reflect your personal lifestyle and aesthetic. He has been featured in many publications such as Veranda, Good Housekeeping, and now aspire design and home. Introducing this week’s Designer Friday, Mark Lavender.

In this humble Illinois home designed by M. Lavender, the homeowners’ heirlooms scattered throughout formal living space offer an English country aesthetic. Photo by Christopher Bradley Photography.

Andrew Joseph: If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?
Jaguar – sleek and fast and you have a beautiful brand of automobiles named after you.

Andrew: What makes you angry?
Currently, the political climate in this country and the fact that people I grew up with and respect are so gullible to internet conspiracy theories. I often say, we were raised better than this. Another thing that makes me angry are people that are late for appointments. I feel it is so disrespectful of my time.

Andrew: If you could live in any home in a movie or television series, what would it be?
Don Draper’s apartment on Mad Men. Such a great midcentury vibe and love the use of the trend colors. It is easy to imagine living in this era with the interiors on this show, the parties, the view, the beautiful people.

Andrew: What’s your favorite cocktail?
Hendricks Gin and Tonic on the rocks with a lime. This is my go-to drink year-round (I know, gin and tonic is a summer drink) but I just love the juniper taste all year. RL in Chicago makes the absolute best.

Andrew: What are three words to describe where you live?
Beautiful, Peaceful, “The Bubble” (At least that is what my friends in the City refer to it as but for context, I live in a bucolic suburb on Chicago’s North Shore called Winnetka).

An eclectic multi-colored rug is the anchor of this large space. Used as a space to display their many travel treasures, this spot in the home carries the client’s whimsy and wanderlust without becoming cluttered.

Andrew: What would you like remembered about you?
He was always a nice guy with a funny personality and you could always depend on him.

Andrew: What’s the weirdest thing a client has ever asked you?
To install a trapeze over their indoor pool. I had a lovely client that I have done several homes for who was moving into a new home with a large indoor pool. She had recently started taking trapeze lessons in the City and wanted to install a trapeze above the pool so if she fell off, she would fall in the water. We engaged a local stage rigging company to design the apparatus and they installed it. We realized during the design that to get to the trapeze, we would need to create a floating platform to allow her to float out and then her house manager would need to pull the floating platform back for her to use the trapeze. I can say if anyone is looking for a trapeze in their home, we are your designer.

Andrew: What was your first job?
Lifeguard at our local Country Club when I was 15. I worked every summer in high school and college and can say I still miss being outside during the summer. I met a lot of nice people and later in my “swimming pool career” I coached the club swim team. I believe this job taught me so much about managing people and the logistics of things with this job.

Andrew: Who was the nicest person you worked for? Dare you want to share the worst?
I have several clients that I would put in the nicest category. It’s interesting, most are unique and have different qualities, and I would consider most all of my clients as nice, HOWEVER; I had a client that was referred to me by a friend when I was launching my business who was just a mean and nasty person. She was looking to renovate her downtown apartment and I was helping her from both a design and management perspective. We would schedule contractors for walk-throughs and after meeting her, they would all call back and were either down in their back or too busy or just not a good fit, the excuses kept coming until I ran out of people in my contacts list. I came to realize all of these contacts had a better sense of her personality than me and knew to steer clear. I was praying she would fire me and ultimately she did with the nastiest letter I had ever received. Looking back, I am thankful this happened early in my new adventure and it helped me to recognize traits in people that told me to walk the other way. Things like being rude to the waiter at the restaurant where we were introduced, to walking out of showrooms in a huff when someone said they had to look something up, to basically re-writing my letter of agreement. It was a great business lesson so I am actually grateful to her for her behavior and the life lessons it has taught me.

The subtle mix of wildlife creatures, rustic wooden beams, and elegant furnishings all harmonize to create the perfect living area for this Evanston Tudor.

Andrew: What’s your current TV obsession?
Foreign Shows. Since signing up for Netflix and Amazon Prime, it has opened up a whole world (literally) of great television shows. I just finished watching Last Tango in Halifax and thought it was going to be a slow dramedy about a couple of elderly people finding love. My neighbor had recommended it. Wow, what a dysfunctional group of people for never a dull moment. We also loved A French Village from France and Ekaterina from Russia. Both historic dramas set in different times. I especially loved the interiors and the palaces in Ekaterina – we were supposed to take a tour of Russia this fall but unfortunately, it was postponed until next year.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Clean, Elegant, Cool.

Andrew: Must have clothing item everyone should have?
Checked or Gingham Shirts. They are a large staple in my wardrobe and I wear them everywhere. Dress them up, dress them down, under a sweater, with jeans or khakis or dress pants.

Andrew: What are some of the podcasts you listen to and why?
I listen to Kimberly Seldon’s Business of Design. She is a great business coach and I have learned so much from her and feel my business is better run because of her. I learn something from her or one of her guests weekly.

About The Designer | Mark Lavender is the principal of the Winnetka-based interior design firm, M. Lavender Interiors. He is an architecture graduate of the University of Kentucky – College of Design. Mark worked for several years at two of Chicago’s most prestigious architectural firms – VOA Associates and HOK prior to starting his own. While at these firms, he developed a reputation for managing large teams of professionals and contractors to create great designs that realized the client’s vision.

M.Lavender Interiors’ reputation is built on their passion for clean and timeless interiors. They see each project as a unique challenge and are dedicated to getting it right every time.

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for aspire design and home magazine. See more of his work here.

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