James Swan

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Decorating; Three Great Ways to Learn

Robert Couturier on Million Dollar Decorating

When it comes to decorating no one knows everything.

The whole wide world is made up of areas of study, practice and expertise of which I know little or nothings, regardless of how interesting the field of study might appear.  I look, with a bit of envy, at a friend who actually is a rocket scientist (he’s working on the unmanned mission to Mars) and whose work astounds me for its universal sized reach and for his deep knowledge of science, space and the universe as a whole. I feel I’ve accomplished something if I recall all the names of the planets.  But in all fairness (to me) he says similar things when he accompanies me to antique auctions or sales.  The history of furniture or art is a blank book in his mind and he sheepishly turns to me with wide-eyed wonder as I converse about the provenance of this piece or that.  Clearly we are masters of our own areas of expertise and our mutual respect for each other is the foundation of our friendship and of the many casual, educational moments we’ve shared.

But what if I wanted to actively educate myself on a subject in which I’d developed an interest but which I knew relatively little?

I’m asked this question by individuals interested in learning more about the worlds of design and decorating and my answer is simple; roll up your sleeves and become a student.  That doesn’t mean enrolling in a college level course (though that is an option in many urban areas) but it does mean understanding how you are wired to do your best and then discovering opportunities around you to learn.

Humans absorb new information in one of these Three Best Ways to Learn:

  1. Auditory: If you are an auditory learner you learn by hearing and listening. You understand and remember things you have heard. You store information by the way it sounds, and you have an easier time understanding spoken instructions than written ones. If your field of learning is DIY design and decorating you might listen to books on tape, attend a lecture or participate in a webinar focused on design principles or enjoy a podcast featuring leaders in the world’s of design, decorating and beautiful living.
  2. Visual: If you are a visual learner, you learn by reading or seeing pictures. You understand and remember things by sight. You can picture what you are learning in your head, and you learn best by using methods that are primarily visual. You like to see what you are learning. For the DIY design or decorating student this might mean attending museum lectures and tours, visiting antique and furniture dealers and traveling to architecturally important destinations might suit this type of learner very nicely.
  3. Tactile: If you are a tactile learner, you learn by touching and doing. You understand and remember things through physical movement. You are a “hands-on” learner who prefers to touch, move, build, or draw what you learn, and you tend to learn better when some type of physical activity is involved. For the DIY student of design and decorating this might mean adding a floorplan app to your IPhone or IPad and becoming proficient in its drawing and layout capabilities.  This might also mean taking up weaving classes where the study of fabrics in key or it might mean a webinar or lecture on creating design boards filled with inspirational images, samples and sketches.

With the question of “how I learn” resolved you are free to explore all avenues of learning related to DIY design and decorating.  There’s always something more to learn and there are many interesting and exciting avenues you can choose for self-education.  Be a life-long student.

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About the author, James

With the launch of the new podcast, Million Dollar Decorating, James Swan adds media-host to his career accomplishments. The interview-based show becomes the first daily podcast devoted to the worlds of design, decorating and beautiful living and features interviews with the world’s leading designers, decorators, architects and artisans. Life-style leaders like Robert Couturier, Sandra Nunnerly, Vicente Wolf and Timothy Corrigan populate the podcast where unguarded conversations reveal behind-the-scenes sources of inspiration, resources and stories that inspire and motivate.
James Swan has built a career crafting classically influenced interiors across the United States. Swan has been featured in House & Garden, House Beautiful, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune and wrote for the “Trends & Shopping” column in House & Garden magazine. His book “101 Things I Hate About Your House” won a 2011 American Bookseller’s Award.
Television appearances on HGTV’s “Homes Across America,” speaking engagements with the professional design industry association NEOCON, regular guest spots on national radio programs have consistently placed Swan in the media spotlight.
Swan’s career took off back in Northern California at a noted San Francisco architecture firm, where he managed residential interiors. After that, Los Angeles beckoned, specifically the prestigious design firm of Frank K. Pennino & Associates, where as senior designer he managed high-profile projects, and earned a reputation for refined classical design that succinctly reflected his clients’ lives. In 1999, Swan opened his own firm in Beverly Hills.
Swan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in theology and music from Southwestern College in Waxahachie, Texas, and studied in Arizona State University's Architecture and Design master's degree program.
Swan is a past member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, serving on its Executive Board of Directors. His other commitments include PAWS/LA, which assists with the care of pets for people living with disabilities, and KidSmart, an art education foundation for inner-city youth. In his free time, Swan may be found furthering his passion for skiing and traveling. Currently he lives and works from his home on the Maine coast.