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Michael Zahler: That’s Good Design

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 12, 2014

Michael Zahler's enthusiasm is infectious. Listen to the Manhattan-based designer preach the gospel of good interior design -- and what it can bring to one's life -- and it's impossible not to emerge from the conversation inspired and engaged.

According to Zahler, who heads his own company, That's Good Design, "If you have a space that you're proud of, that you love being home in and having guests into, it just fills your heart with lightness. Residential design is more than just what furniture to buy and what accessories to put where, there's a whole emotional element that goes into it. It's about comfort, it's about function, it's about warmth, it's about entertaining people... it's about nesting."

Design is a relatively new passion for Zahler. Raised in Manhattan, he attended the University of Michigan for musical theater and after graduation was quickly performing on the road. In search of a way to stay creative between stage projects, he began working at West Elm as a design consultant. Soon Zahler was taking classes at Parsons The New School for Design and helping his father renovate an old family bungalow on the banks of the Delaware.

Following a stint at Jonathan Adler, he hung out his own shingle; in addition, Zahler works for Homepolish, an innovative new firm making waves in the design world.

Aesthetic Inspirations

Zahler cites a number of aesthetic inspirations, including the clean lines found in mid-century design, and urban-industrial’s focus on raw materials and infrastructure made visible.

What unites these discrete influences in Zahler’s interiors is the sense of joy that shines forth from his work. It’s in his love of bold patterns, prints and graphics, his playful use of a contrast stripe. "But also what I do," Zahler is quick to add, "is very specific to the client I’m working with. Every client comes with their own aesthetic and I have to be respectful of that. It’s all about the relationship. That goes into the aesthetic of what’s being designed as much as anything else."

While Zahler says that connecting with clients and forging new relationships is what excites him most about design, he isn’t above sharing his knowledge with cost-conscious do-it-yourselfers.

According to Zahler, kitchens and bathrooms are typically the most expensive rooms to redesign due to the infrastructure involved. To freshen them up without busting the bank, choose a color in a design element such as the tile, the countertop or the backsplash, and use that color in linens, textiles and accessories.

With spring on the way, now is the time to take inventory, get rid of things gathering dust on shelves and get excited about the opportunity to start fresh. Invest in a knockout main piece, like a sofa, and then think about styling the space with found items from markets, craft fairs and inexpensive vintage shops. Most of all, don’t feel rushed.

"Collect items you love over time," Zahler advises. "That way, every piece feels special. What people don’t realize is the process of design is just that: a process. You can do it in a quick and expedient way, but it can leave a very superficial feel to the space."

Good interior design, Zahler believes, is all about clarity, polish and cohesion. And, he adds, "Having it in your home can only bring it into the other areas of your life. For me, being an interior designer is about the opportunity to have a positive impact on my clients’ home -- and by proximity to that, maybe a positive impact in their world."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.