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Outliers in Design

Last week I was privileged to attend the New England Design Hall of Fame Awards and Gala hosted by New England Home Magazine. Since 2007 this event annually recognizes five individuals or entities who have made notable contributions to the residential design landscape of New England.

Listening to the bios and acceptance speeches of some of this year's inductees made me think of Malcolm Gladwell's best seller, The Outliers. It's a book worth reading if you haven't already done so. Outliers are people who have achieved extraordinary success. Gladwell writes that success is a function of many things, but he attributes the success of some to a total of at least 10,000 hours spent cultivating their passion. Take Bill Gates of Microsoft, for example. As a youth, he had the rare opportunity to have access to mainframe computers and accumulate many hours honing his skill at computer programming.

When designers talk about how they got interested in design, they often attribute it to something that sparked their interest as a child. Patrick Ahearn, an architect, and Gregory Lombardi, a landscape architect -- two of this year's Hall of Fame inductees -- both recounted in their acceptance speeches how their career ambitions blossomed in their childhoods.

Patick Ahearn grew up in Levittown, Long Island, the largest post-war single-family housing development ever constructed by a single builder. About 17,500 homes were built, but only five different models were offered, varying only by color, roof line and window placement. As a baby-boomer, born and raised on Long Island, I totally understand how Ahearn's roots in Levittown could fuel his passion for architecture. How do you distinguish a 1600-square-foot cookie-cutter house? That's what inspired Ahearn. He started modeling with cardboard and, as you can say, the rest is history.

Greg Lombardi mentioned how his passion for plants started with visits to nurseries with his grandmother. She'd let him buy the plants he wanted and his parents let him plant them. Before long, he had re-designed his childhood home's gardens as many times as he had purchased plants to fill them.

I'm hardly an Outlier. But maybe my interest in design started with the first Barbie Dream House. Entirely of cardboard, the Dream House was a studio apartment sans kitchen and bathroom. But it did have an entertainment console with TV and hi-fi, and built-ins that housed clothes' storage, vanity and bookcase. I can attest now that it was my first lesson in space planning and zoning.

We all have to start somewhere.

 

Photo credits: Patrick Ahearn's portrait courtesy of New England Home Magazine, photgraph by Kent Dayton. Gregory Lombardi's portrait courtesy of lombardidesign.com.