Clint Engel -- Casual Living, August 1, 2008
Retail buyers who visited or passed O.W. Lee showroom displays at recent markets often commented about how good they looked. Some retailers, inspired by Marcia Blake’s design nuances, put similar concepts into use when they returned to their own stores.
Reflecting influences of fashion designers Gianni Versace, Carolina Herrera and Ralph Lauren, Blake knows the value of passing good ideas on to others. Last summer, she worked with O.W. Lee to introduce Outdoor Couture, a customized accessory program of pillows, drapes, throws and table runners designed to enrich and define outdoor living spaces. She feels most proud of her newest collection, which will be shown this month at the O.W. Lee showroom in Chicago.
“I am excited to be able to bring the finishing touches to the outdoor room,” Blake said. “To me, the product line of Outdoor Couture helps you feel the difference in the overall effect that is produced in the outdoor living space.”
Always avid about the outdoors, Blake turns to natural settings for design inspirations. “All of my inspiration stems from the emotions I feel when nature, color, people, places and music surround me,” she said.
Whenever her creative energy runs low, she finds it easy to recharge by spending time outdoors. “Being a part of nature and feeling the emotions that a blue sky, sunset, mountains, ocean or wildlife evoke help me reenergize my creative juices,” she said.
Like many other designers, Blake took a circuitous career path before returning to the work she now finds rewarding. She graduated with a degree in dental hygiene from the University of Pennsylvania and practiced for 15 years. During those years, she tapped into her artistic interests and entrepreneurial flair by designing women’s and children’s clothing and children’s furniture, which she sold to boutique stores in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.
After Blake retired from dental hygiene, she became an executive recruiter in the direct marketing industry. “I placed executives in companies such as Vermont Country Store, Wet Seal, Ross-Simons, The Limited,West Marine and Sundance Catalog,” she said. “I transitioned into one of the catalog companies when a client of mine asked me to manage a new catalog concept that a national company was launching with home decor, specialty gifts and clothing. This was my introduction into the merchandise world.”
When a friend later told her about an opportunity at California casual furniture retailer Roger’s Gardens, she met with Gavin Herbert Jr. and made a lasting connection with the casual furniture industry. “He was impressed with the skill set that I could bring to Roger’s Garden,” said Blake. “He hired me to manage and buy products for the patio department and collectible businesses within the company.”
As a retail buyer, she sought the best casual furniture and solidified her instincts for what made one collection better than the next.
“A great casual furniture design incorporates comfort and style and can be used in many applications with multiple color palettes,” she said.
She left Roger’s Garden to start her own design business. She trained at the Interior Designers Institute in Newport Beach, Calif., and now works with private clients creating completely finished outdoor rooms. She also shares her design knowledge with others by writing columns and blogging for Casual Living.
When asked what she knows now that she wishes she had known earlier in her career, Blake’s focus was direct. “I always knew design is my passion,” she said. “I wish I had followed my passion earlier in my career but I am thankful that I have many more years to be inspired by design as well as inspire others with my designs.”