VISION IN BLOOM
ARTICLE | Alana Wagner
PHOTOGRAPHER | Kelly Moore Clark
WEBSITE | www.hamaker-art-design.com
Of the services Robin Hamaker provides through Robin Hamaker Art & Design, perhaps the most valuable is vision. Whether it is an interior design project or an art consultation, Robin is able to see past what is in front of her, to envision what can be and hold onto that vision in the midst of moving parts, scattered pieces, and the sometimes overwhelming messiness of a place in progress. This has served Robin’s clients for her 13 years in interior design and consultation, and it has also served her. She is able to bring and maintain this vision in her work for others because she has practiced the same throughout her own life.
Robin was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a mother who was a homemaker and a father who was an orthopedic physician. She grew up with a desire to learn and a creativity that was fostered at home. Though she already knew she loved art, the influence of her father’s career led her to study molecular biology at Tulane University in New Orleans, in which she earned a Bachelor’s of Science.
Yet the vision of being an artist and her desire and need to create remained in front of Robin. “Art eventually won out,” she said of her decision to pursue a career as an artist after college. She still takes great interest in biology, sometimes getting the impulse to enroll in a class to satisfy that part of herself. “I would have the best drawings of molecules out of anyone else in the class,” she said with a laugh.
Robin’s three siblings have similar interests and pursuits to her own. Her sister Tish Miller is also a designer, and the two often collaborate, particularly if Tish needs a piece that she can ask Robin to paint for a remodel or redesign. Cynthia Ryan, Robin’s youngest sister, is a jewelry designer. Robin’s brother, Mike Bailey, followed the route of the sciences as a medical representative. “But he’s also creative,” Robin said. “Everyone is creative, just in different ways.” Robin believes that everyone has a creative aspect and merely needs the place and the opportunity to give way to that creativity. Both of Robin’s sons also have distinctly artistic careers: her first son, Miles, is an urban designer and landscape architect in Oslo, Norway, and her younger son, Graham, works for Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi.
Shortly after graduating from Tulane in 1984, Robin was offered the opportunity to open her first studio in Covington, Louisiana, so she rooted herself there for a time. She was approached by a local business owner who had an empty studio previously used for photography. Robin said that it needed a lot of work to get it into decent shape for her purposes, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The benefits greatly outweighed the cost. While the studio space was much more affordable for Robin than others at that time, more importantly, this allowed her to take part in an effort to revitalize the area. “I was fortunate to be a seed in planting and revitalizing downtown Covington,” she said. Thus, Robin Design Studios opened in 1985.
Other studios and artists’ spaces soon began to appear alongside Robin’s studio. She said this was an invitation that she and other artists received and a pattern they followed multiple times: being offered a studio space for a lower cost in dilapidated areas in exchange for helping to breathe life back into those places. It was an arrangement that proved fruitful for everyone involved.
During her time owning and running Robin Design Studios, Robin began designing restaurants. From 1990 to 1995, she helped plan and design several restaurants, most notably Semolina Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana, and Coffee Rani in Covington. These jobs are what eventually led Robin to the interior design work that she does now.
While working with these restaurants, Robin was able to collaborate with other artists and creatives. The collaborative aspects and possibilities in her work are some of the most enjoyable for Robin, in both her design work and personal art. While for interior design, this may look like hiring local vendors; in her artwork it means learning new styles from other artists. She attended an artists’ workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2016, where she had the experience of artists sharing their methods with one another. “I learned techniques that I never would’ve thought of using,” Robin said. She would love to attend more workshops and co-ops like this so she can continue learning from other artists and growing her own range in her painting.
Robin’s paintings are a way for her to process through what is happening in her life currently as well as what has happened in the past. She has an ongoing floral series titled “Flowers, Wild & Tame” that reflects her awareness of and connection to the cycles of life. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated New Orleans in particular, her works took on a misty, vague, and undefined character, and she began her “Mist series.” Hurricane Katrina was just one of several significant and unexpected events that have brought periodic interruptions to Robin’s life and work, including a move to Monroe, Louisiana, in 2012 to be near her family. Yet through all of these events, she has painted, returning to what she knows and placing before herself that vision of what can and will be again.
From her restaurant design work, Robin then moved to working with galleries. She served as gallery director for Brunner Gallery in Covington from 1997 to 2004 and has represented Henry Hood Gallery in Covington and LEVEE GALLERY in Monroe. Both Robin’s art and design work have also taken her much farther than Louisiana. She has traveled as far as Florida and New York to meet and consult with clients and exhibit her work.
Though the series of interruptions kept Robin from formally establishing Robin Hamaker Art & Design until 2014, she began doing her current interior design and consulting work in 2007. She offers services to redesign a single room, specific features throughout the house like window treatments or cabinetry, or, as she does most often, to plan the remodel of an entire home. “We strip it down to the studs,” Robin said of her usual starting place for a project.
Robin has her eye on everything from the planning of the layout to the placement of light switches, carefully and thoughtfully planning out the smallest detail to best meet the purpose of the space and the needs of the client. These fine details, she said, can be some of the most overwhelming. It is in these moments that her ability to cast and see the vision for that space is most needed and valued. Keeping this perspective is perhaps more easily done for Robin’s clients than for herself in a remodel, though. She remodeled and designed an 1850s home, drawn to the house for its character. “It was a pain to do,” she laughed, “But it reminded me of being in New Orleans, and I couldn’t pass up this house.” And in spite of any difficulty, Robin feels rewarded by seeing a space transformed.
Because there are so many pieces that have to come together throughout a redesign or remodel, Robin tries to get to know her clients first. “I want to design the space to suit their personality,” Robin said of the importance of this relational aspect of her design work. She’ll talk with the client, sharing openly about herself and striving to create a space for conversation and mutual comfort.
When asked about the role that perfection plays in her work, Robin said that it depends on what’s before her. The design work that she does for clients and the painting she does for herself have different audiences. Even within her design clients, the spectrum is broad in terms of each client’s expectations. Robin said there are some people who give her free rein, trusting the entire process to her once they’ve settled upon what the job is to be. Others, she said, like to be involved in the minutia of the work. Regardless of the client’s chosen level of involvement, Robin wants the finished product to meet the client’s wants and needs exactly. With her own work, however, her needs are met not only in the finished product but in the making, as well.
While perfection may not be a driving force for Robin, intentionality is. Her goal in a home redesign or remodel is to create a space that feels comfortable, that truly does feel like home. She tries to bring the same feeling when redesigning commercial spaces, as well. She will consider the setting and the service being provided, especially when working with spaces in healthcare, and see what elements can be added to create a warm and inviting environment that makes the client feel cared about just from sitting in the waiting room. Robin brings in local artwork that captures the atmosphere and brings a personal touch. She also makes changes to the seating or the colors of the room. Robin believes that even these small changes are significant for the client, especially in a place where the client may already be going through something difficult. “When they know you care, it enhances their experience,” she said.
To Robin, success is relative. A successful design job is when the client feels at home. In her own artwork, a successful piece is one that conveys the intended message to any viewer, even as that necessarily takes on a subjective character for each person. Perhaps the viewer didn’t experience Hurricane Katrina, but if the “Mist series” can still communicate a sense of uncertainty, Robin is satisfied.
Robin does commissions and enjoys the opportunity to help complete a space. Sometimes, she’ll even have a piece already done that fits well. But she makes sure to give herself time and room to focus on her own work when needed. Whatever changes or disruptions come next, Robin knows that painting will continue to be a constant for her. “It’s always what I come back to,” Robin said. She also said that she finds it interesting when people witness or learn what she has experienced and tell her that she’s strong. “I don’t think I’m strong,” she said, “I just think, what else can I do but keep going?” Her art helps her do just that.
You can view the wide range of Robin’s interior design and art consultation services on her website, www.hamaker-art-design.com. Here, you can also view Robin’s artwork, including her two ongoing series, and her artist’s biography. Robin is on Facebook @RobinHamaker and Instagram @robinhamakerartdesign, where you can view both artwork and previous design jobs. You can also find Robin at her studio on Art Alley