Photo by Barry Fitzgerald
Dana Gibson stands in her home’s vibrant entry, wallpapered by Barden Decorating in her Peregrine paper for Stroheim. She designed the lamps years ago when she was making ceramics, and the table and mirror belonged to her grandmother.
Anyone who is familiar with artist Dana Gibson’s work may be surprised to learn that her own home is actually quite subdued. Known for her unrestrained use of bright color and large-scale pattern in her eponymous collection of fabrics, wallpaper, lighting, home accessories and furniture, Gibson uses color as an accent rather than the main story in her West End home.
“I think color is a tool you can use,” she says. “I think it’s powerful, but I also advise restraint with color. … I spend all day in a studio and showroom where there is tons of color and stuff all over. I want it to be more relaxing at home.” Creating a relaxed, approachable elegance has always been Gibson’s M.O. Her updated versions of classic motifs are at once fresh and familiar.
A National Design Presence
Last spring, Stroheim, a major American wallpaper and fabric company, launched the Dana Gibson Collection with an ad campaign in national shelter magazines. The collection features bold, graphic designs from Gibson’s archives in an array of vibrant color combinations — pink and orange, turquoise and lime green, persimmon and cobalt — as well as neutrals.
“I am surprised that it has been received so well,” she says of the collection’s success. “I didn’t realize the impact it would have over a broad audience. … I think it has filled a need: It isn’t overpriced, it’s always available and it’s colorful.”
Gibson has wallpapered her entry with Peregrine, a multicolored bird print, and covered her dining room in the damask-like Nouveau Palazzo in gray, using the same fabric in the reverse colors on two chairs in the adjoining living room. The chairs are from her new furniture collection for The MT Company, launched this fall at the High Point Furniture Market in High Point, North Carolina.
The collection of sofas, chairs, beds and ottomans features Gibson’s fabrics for Stroheim along with brightly colored leathers and solids. “In a sea of neutrals, it was a pop of color," she says, "but it also shows some restraint — which I was calling for the whole time.”
Gibson is exploring other licensing options as well. Caroline Hipple, formerly president of Storehouse Furniture and an executive at the late, Richmond-based This End Up, represents Gibson through her marketing agency, HB2. “Caroline is introducing me to manufacturers,” Gibson says. “She was familiar with me from her days in Richmond.” Future partnerships with bedding or rug manufacturers are possibilities, Gibson says.
An Artistic Heritage
A Richmond native, Gibson studied studio art and English in college. She grew up surrounded by art. Her great-grandfather was Charles Dana Gibson, noted painter and illustrator and creator of the Gibson Girl in the late 19th century. Her mother, Casa Bacot, also is an artist. Her sister, Sarah Gibson Wiley, owns Huger Embroidery. “We grew up in a creative house, with an awareness of the arts,” she says. “My mom took us to gallery openings, and we were exposed to a lot of creative people.”
When browsing the housewares department in Henri Bendel in New York in the early 1990s, Gibson realized she wanted to try to make a living as a creative person herself. “I never really wanted to do fine art,” she says. “I liked applied arts, making things you can live with rather than things you hang on a wall.” She began making functional porcelain pieces — soup tureens, vases and platters adorned with fanciful natural motifs. By 1994, Henri Bendel was selling her wares, along with Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
Her relationship with upscale retailers began to fizzle as the economy declined. “I got tired of making ceramic things,” she says. “I thought about another way to express myself and make items that the average person could afford to perk up their home — useful, pretty things.” Gibson designed a line of tole wastebaskets and traveled to China to find a factory to manufacture them. “I reduced my prices by one-third and that allowed me to survive,” she says.
Gibson at Home
Gibson and her family — husband Mark Longenderfer and sons DeWolf, 14, and Jack, 16 — have lived in their home for eight years, making many improvements during that time.
“We’re working against a house that’s got a lot of issues,” she says of the 1957 split-level. “It gets little natural light and is limited as far as architectural detail. We have had to add a lot.” They recently remodeled the living room, with Longenderfer, who owns Balustrade Construction, doing the work. They have also remodeled the kitchen and master suite.
“I have tried to create a house that is airy and open, serene but interesting, with charming details,” she says. Pattern, texture and color are used strategically throughout the home, adding interest but never overwhelming. Art takes center stage — she owns numerous works by her great-grandfather and mother. The newly paneled living room draws the eye up to a narrow band of wall painted citron. The master bedroom is serene, but far from boring, with beautiful textiles and painted furniture.
“I love mixing old with new, rustic with refined,” she says. “Contrasts make it much more interesting. I also like some drama.”
Gibson says her home has evolved, just as her work as a designer has evolved over the years.
“I have broadened my interests,” she says. “I want to have a chance to broaden my scope. I want to make an impact on the design world somehow. I think I have something to add out there.”