Even in a saturated market like luxury design, Aaron Duke has managed to make his mark. I’m not surprised either. Whether it is with his stylish fashion, his bespoke design projects or the way he chooses to run his business, Aaron moves to the beat of his own drum.
A self-described extrovert, Aaron is very transparent when it comes to his business model, his service offerings and himself. After talking to him on the phone, I quickly gathered that catering to high-end clients isn’t really about the money as much as it is about his preferred design aesthetic. “I couldn’t tell you where to find tile that costs $1,” he admits. I’m totally with you Aaron.
But the best part about Aaron isn’t that he tells a story through each of his interiors; it is that he is genuinely a nice guy. He doesn’t let the craziness of the interior design business get to him, always remaining calm under pressure and treating every employee, vendor and colleague the same way he would want to be treated. Now that is the mark of a true professional!
Karina Jones: Your interiors are very versatile. Is there a design aesthetic you personally prefer to work in?
Aaron Duke: When I started my company, I had worked for designers that each had their own style, taste, and aesthetic. It has taken me a lot of self-discovery to define my own point of view and personal brand as an interior designer. At the beginning of 2017, I read the book, Branding + Interior Design by Kim Kuhteubl. I hadn’t even gotten through the first chapter when I started to realize that I needed to be more specific about my point of view and personal brand. Through social media and blogging, I have been using 2017 as a launching pad to emphasis the fact that I create interiors that are classic and timeless. If you asked me what the current design trends are, I couldn’t even tell you.
Karina Jones: We can always expect to find something unexpected in your projects. Is this part of your bespoke philosophy?
Aaron Duke: Every design I create is tailor-made for that client. I believe in telling their story through interior design. Finding something that is unique or incorporating something they already own makes them feel special. I find that adding something unexpected evokes emotion from people. Interior designers are artists. Like artists, our work should cause some sort of reaction from people who view it, or why bother.
Karina Jones: You are quite fashionable. In your opinion, how does fashion inform design and vice versa?
Aaron Duke: Let me start by saying this. Fashion is a business, but style is personal. I have my own personal style, which is an outward reflection of who and what I am. Your home should also reflect your style. I like to ask clients open-ended questions about their lifestyle, so I get a better understanding of how they live, work, play, rest, and entertain. Tom Ford says, “Dressing well is a sign of respect.” I believe a well-lived life begins at home.
Karina Jones: If you weren’t an interior designer, what would you be?
Aaron Duke: If I wasn’t an interior designer, I would be a psychologist, life coach, motivational speaker, and author. I have always found people and their stories interesting. On a minuet scale, I do this with friends and family. I want to know what your story is. What are your dreams, goals, and aspirations? Let’s make a plan to get you there. When you are in pain, let’s talk about it. I am sure I have been there, too. Most people have a fear of public speaking, but I do not. I love to share with others what gets me excited, what struggles I have had, and how I have overcome them, and what my dreams are and what I do every day to get closer to them. For several years, I have wanted to write a book. I really need to sit down and write it. It would be geared toward children and adolescences who maybe feel different or that they don’t belong. I certainly felt that way at that age. It would be great to provide hope to young people that life changes and it does get better. Your dreams can come true.
Karina Jones: I love your confidence. Was that always the case or did that develop over time by being in this business?
Aaron Duke: Let me be vulnerable for a moment. I grew up with self-hatred. Low self-esteem was a step up for me. My interior design education and experience played a vital role in cultivating confidence. I believe the hardest part of starting my own business was discovering who I am as a designer. After years of working for other people, you curb your taste, style, and aesthetics to those of their liking. I am truly grateful for every designer that took a chance on me, and I had the opportunity to learn from him or her. When you are a young designer starting out, you are very unsure of yourself. It was their mentorship and encouragement that helped me gain confidence in my skills and abilities. I was a sponge. I soaked up all the information I could from each and everyone of them. I have spent a great deal of time over the years constantly in a state of self-improvement. Everyday, I want to show up and be the best version of AARON B DUKE that I can be that day. Trust me, it is a life-time job. I feel that you have to be confident as a designer in yourself, your skills, your business model, your design choices, and every move you make.
Karina Jones: What are current trends that you would like to see go away?
Aaron Duke: Like I previously mentioned, I don’t follow design trends, per say. One of the trends I would like to see go away is the misinformation that is being given to the public. Recently, an article was publish by Architectural Digest, This is How Much the Average American Spends on a Kitchen Renovation Cost
http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-much-american-spends-on-a-kitchen-renovation-costs. First, the photo featured in the article doesn’t attribute the designer or architect who designed this kitchen. Next, the photo isn’t a realistic portrayal of what that kitchen would obviously cost for a homeowner. Finally, the statistics presented in the article I found to be well below actual costs for even a budget conscious remodel. I feel it does a disservice to the interior design industry and sets clients up for disappointment.
Karina Jones: You created a hexagonal ceiling pattern in one of your many fabulous projects. How important are ceilings to you when it comes to design?
Aaron Duke: I had a professor in college tell a joke one day. The only people that pay attention to ceilings are hookers and architects. For some reason, that has stuck with me. Not every room should or must have a ceiling design; but for those special rooms, I believe it adds a layer of depth to the design. When I design, I visualize everything from every angle of the room, and take great consideration of how the client or their guest is going to be experiencing the room. The particular ceiling you reference actually started as a white box. All the modeling details were applied after the client purchased the penthouse. It gave me the opportunity to have a blank canvas to create something special. I knew I wanted to do something wonderful with the ceiling in that room, since it was the first room you would be entering after the foyer. Give the unusual shape of the ceiling; a typical coffered ceiling wouldn’t have made sense aesthetically or mathematically. I actually had found a fabric that had this design and decided to use it as the inspiration for the ceiling design. Through collaboration with the millworker and contractor, we were able to create a spectacular, grand living room for the client who entertains often.
Karina Jones: How did you get into aircraft design and how is it different from designing a home?
Aaron Duke: The private jet was actually collaboration with my former employer, friend, and mentor, Ike Isenhour. In the high-end, luxury market, clients tend to have more than one home and possibly a private jet and/or yacht. We had worked with this client on two of their homes in Europe. Every ten years, private aircrafts must be inspected. At that time, typically, this is when clients decide to remodel. It was time, and we enthusiastically began creating their new private jet. Designing a private aircraft is quite different than designing a home. First of all, there is a list of preferred vendors and products, so that limits your choices for selections. Finally, as you can imagine, there are major regulations and codes. There was lots of testing, calculation, and engineering that went into this project.
Karina Jones: What projects are you currently working on?
Aaron Duke: Currently, we are working on a 12,000 square foot new construction home in the Mediterranean style in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of August. We just completed a home remodel and interior decorating project for a major celebrity client. I keep my client’s confidential. No kissing and telling going on at AARON B DUKE. We have a couple of full home remodeling projects going on in the various neighborhoods of Los Angeles. I am very excited that we are being considered for a new construction home in China. Fingers crossed!
Karina Jones: What’s on the horizon for you and your team?
Aaron Duke: Well, I don’t want to give all my secrets away. We are expanding into markets outside of Los Angeles. Recently, we released a small collection of limited edition, bespoke candles that are handcrafted in Los Angeles. We are working with a local vendor to create a private label collection of table linens. In 2018, we are going to be launching a small furniture collection that will be made in Los Angeles. I am a proponent of using local and American manufacturers who understand the nuance and detail of fine home décor. We want to offer designers and end users something of quality, craftsmanship, and excellence.
Karina Jones: Which designers/architects, past or present, do you admire?
Aaron Duke: First, lets start with the past. Paul Williams was a groundbreaking architect in Los Angeles, being the first African-American certified architect West of the Mississippi. His homes speak of classic and timeless style, that I have always find myself intrigued with the perfectly proportioned home as a whole and each of the rooms. Seriously, if anyone is listening, my dream is to be the interior designer for a Paul Williams home. Michael Taylor was simply brilliant. He was a visionary and far ahead of his time. I can look at his designs today, and they would still be relevant.
Now, for my present designers I admire. For their design aesthetic and style, I would definitely say, my favorites are John Saladino, Rose Tarlow, Michael S. Smith, and Mark D. Sikes. I look to them as the tastemakers of our time. Each of them has their own unique point of view as a designer. It is consistent and strong as you look through their breadth of work. They all understand the elements and principles of design. Each one of their projects is more than a photograph. They are homes for living, and living well.
Finally, I admire Barbara Barry for her business acumen. She is not only an accomplished interior designer, but she also designs products. Barbara does it ALL. I really think this is the mark of a true interior designer – something that is missing in the current climate of interior design. I intend to carve out a niche for myself in this same exact way as my career progresses – textiles, rugs, wall coverings, plumbing fixtures, furniture – I want it ALL.
Karina Jones: Who would you like to partner with and why?
Aaron Duke: I would love to partner with Oprah; she is my guru. Everyone has a story, and what an incredible one she has. She has always been authentic and never shied away from the “bad parts of her life.” Oprah brilliantly used the medium of television to change people’s lives and offer differing viewpoints on topics that were not being addressed openly on television. She had the ability to make that person sitting at home who felt they were the only one who had experienced something in their life realize there were other people in the world just like them. She created connection for people. Oprah is very inspirational. She has a way of inspiring people and enrolling them in the dream. That is something I find very admirable in a person. I would love to just sit with her and discuss spirituality and philosophy. Lastly, Oprah is an influencer. How many products and careers has she helped catapult to the top? Finally, it is the daily practice of gratitude that we both share. The more we are grateful for what we have, the more we get.