Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 4/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Landscape designer-builder and television personality Nicholas Walker is featuring his outdoor-inspired products at this month's High Point Market via the Jardin brand he cultivated with supermodel entrepreneur Kathy Ireland.
As one of the Kathy Ireland Worldwide design ambassadors, Walker has overseen growth from a concept she asked him to develop just over a decade ago. Last year alone, Kathy Ireland Worldwide moved $2 billion worth of licensed products at retail, making her a larger licensor than the formidable Martha Stewart, according to a recent Forbes feature.
The Jardin brand's growth from the seed of an idea is no real surprise to Walker, who describes watching his two grandmothers work their gardens all of their lives. "Their choices were always dictated and influenced by nature," he said. "They used to tell me to ‘just sit in silence outside and be one with God the creator and listen. The gift s you have are from him so treasure, use and protect them.'"
Their advice fell into fertile ground because Walker always loved the outdoors. "I was one of those weird kids who would rather be in the garden than anything else," he said. "I had two master gardeners teaching me, my two grandmothers, and they're the ones who started it all. They were really into their gardens, always improving compost teas, discovering new roses or grafting a lemon and an orange and a grapefruit into one tree. To me, it was f ascinating to enter their world that they so loved. My paternal grandmother, Ruth, loved lilies of the valley and she could never grow them. So I took on the challenge, it was back in New York, and she had an air conditioner. I found a root stock and I was able to give her a whole batch of lilies of the valley placed at the end of the condensation AC line and they thrived for years."
It all begins with an idea, a concept, says Walker, whose experience includes serving as the outdoor living host of HGTV's Designing for the Sexes, as a featured guest on numerous television shows and in several magazines.
"Bring everything back to the natural element - design begins by editing," Walker advises. "Clear out the visual noise and bring it back to the way God intended it in the first place. Visualize it, walk the property, be with the land, go below the canopies of the trees to get and feel the existing topography, hear what the client is saying and be a steward for the soil, the trees and the water that flow s through or is trapped by manmade construction and development.
"My challenge is to communicate clearly what I envision, what comes to me," Walker said. "I'd rather be outdoors than anything. That is why I am happy to be working with Kathy. She challenges me to bring the outdoors in, such as a beautiful rug from Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Shaw Living inspired by the Gardens of the World."
Walker describes Ireland as his mentor and inspiration. "She says, ‘When I started the brand everybody thought I would have started with bathing suits. That to me was too obvious, I wanted to start from the ground up with socks,'" Walker recalled. "And she just sold her hundred-millionth sock!"
Ireland said to him, "‘So my strong advice to you, Nicholas, is to do the same with building your brand of Jardin. Don't start with the obvious outdoor furniture or anything outdoor, but bring the outdoors in. Use the outdoors as your inspiration.' There's such a great opportunity of marrying anything from the outdoors and translating the inspiration into a Jardin product. For example, the agave paryii is a plant that has a great shape architecturally that translates beautifully into a necklace for the Kathy Ireland jewelry Jardin collection. Or the bougainvillea flower or a ginkgo leaf pattern are other gre at translatable inspirations that can go into Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Shaw Living rugs. Experience the scent of autumn inside your home by using freshly picked scents of a Granny Smith Apple of Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Hannah's Candles. Practice sustainability by using Kathy Ireland Designs by Brand Source Jardin in their ‘green' offering of nano silver food containers. Sofas, leather couches, casual dining, click clack, mattresses, upholstery are all products from our new Kathy Ireland Designs ACafe and Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Primo launching at High Point in April 2012. And it continues. What's wonderful - it's never-ending."
Walker felt fortunate to have Jardin included in the Forbes profile of Ireland. He said it also was auspicious to have had the Bel Air garden he designed for Elizabeth Taylor highlighted in Architectural Digest as well.
"I need to get into the specific vocabulary of the people I work with," Walker said. "We all have paradigms as well as different lexicons that reflect the paradigm from which we live. So the challenge for me as a designer/builder is to really listen carefully to what is being said and not said in order to deliver what the client is requesting. A perfect example is Elizabeth Taylor. She said, ‘I've been asking for a herbaceous border for years and no one has been able to deliver that.' My inner dialogue went something like, ‘Uh oh!' It means I have to understand what she means by herbaceous border; I know what I think it means and I must heighten my listening in order to capture her version. So I presented numerous drawings, sketches, and images articulating the idea/word ‘herbaceous border,' almost to the point of irritation. It was so satisfying when she said, ‘Finally, someone has understood and delivered the herbaceous border that I've been asking for years!'
"People say it's difficult to deal with a big personality," he said. "To me, I find it refreshing and a joy. I'd rather deal with a passionate client who has a strong point of view rather than someone who says, ‘I don't know, just do what you want.' That to me is a red flag. Ultimately my job is to realize an outdoor space tailored to reflect a client's personality and needs. I want to design a space that they will yearn for whether they can express it or not. "When she first approached me in 2001, she said I would love for you to join my team and develop an outdoor brand. I said, ‘Kathy, I'm just a designer/builder.' She said, ‘Exactly, because I don't have a green thumb (and she's so gracious by saying that and was equally magnanimous in her invitation to join her team) I want the real deal. I want someone who does it, who has been doing it for years and who has passion about it. You are the person I want heading my outdoor division.'"
Ireland asked him to name the best garden show on the West Coast, Walker told her the San Francisco Garden and Flower Show is the premier exhibition.
"She said, ‘Great, this is where we're going to launch Jardin,'" he recalled. "She said, ‘I'm going to give you a limited budget - $7,000 - to do the whole thing, which means renting two U-Haul trucks, shipping all of the materials up there and then converting a space that was assigned to us by the committee and develop an idea, a concept based on our mission statement, ‘finding solutions for families, especially busy moms.' We heard the chortling and the commentary: ‘Here's the LA guy with the supermodel.' I was getting quietly irritated and Kathy leaned down and whispered, ‘Nicholas, I'm used to this, you're not, so just turn down the volume and focus on what you love to do. They're making fun because they don't understand what we are doing, but it doesn't help you at all to get engaged with the negativity.' And I thought, ‘Wow, I like this lady and I think I am going to love working with her.' We were awarded the Gold Medal and Jardin was launched."
As a father of four, Walker has found value in Ireland's consistent messages. "She said, ‘I have four promises that are the foundation blocks of Kathy Ireland Worldwide and they are simple: fashion, quality, value and safety - and safety being the most important. Make that your commitment and the governing catalyst of everything you design.' As part of the exhibition we used twinkling lights that ultimately became an inspiration for outdoor lighting for Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Pacific Coast Lighting. We used four tons of recyclable glass as a cover-mulch, and the hues of the greens and the blues were inspirations for Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by Hallmart Collectibles top of bed. The other thing we were able to translate was a particular sheen off of the four tons of recyclable glass into Kathy Ireland Designs Jardin by JJI international in their picture frames. Kathy smiled and said, ‘Keep bringing the outdoors in.'"
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