Cleotha Bell is the founder and creative director of Bell Design Factory. The Miami based design studio focuses on residential interiors and Product Design. His studio focuses on timeless, modern and honest design. Which is visible in his interior projects, as well as his furniture and product design.
“The client should not need a manual to understand my finished projects. Designs, finishes and materials should be honest in their representation”-Cleotha Bell
When I decided whom I wanted to interview for my first “A Seat At The Table” spotlight Cleotha Bell was without a doubt my first choice. I sit next to this talented Architect and designer on a daily basis and I have always wanted to pick his brain, as he’s not a man of many words, EXCEPT when it comes to conversation of Design, art, architecture, and culture this is when he shines.
1. Describe your creative process.
Spontaneous chaos. I do not have any particular process that I follow. Ideas come and I try to find the best way to express and develop them. I wish I had a process that I could follow for each design, but I am too much of a scatter brain.
2. What sparked your interest in design?
Design. The good, the bad and the ugly.
3. How do you balance creativity with business?
It would be really difficult if I had to do it on my own. Thankfully, I have the help of my partner who is a lawyer and a great business minded individual. I like to focus on the creative process and would find it distracting if I had to concern myself with all the details of daily business work. It’s good to know your strengths and weaknesses.
4. When you’re feeling stifled, how do you get unstuck creatively?
I travel. If I can’t physically get away, I do it mentally. I try exchanging stories with friends, designers and strangers alike. You would be amazed at the places you can visit by just having a conversation with the person sitting next to you.
5. Where do you find the inspiration for a product/design projects?
Everywhere. Literally everywhere.
6. What would you say is a great example of great design (digital/physical) not including your own works?
The Vespa. It was created out of a need. Italy, after World War II, needed an affordable mode of transportation for the masses and Piaggio’s Vespa was the answer. Also any and everything designed by Achille Castiglioni. I’ve been a fan of him and his work ever since I was a design student.
7. Are there books/ exhibits/ conferences or lectures that you tend to admire?
I find Ted Talks very informative. I also love being able to visit exhibits at the PAMM in Miami and the Triennale di Milano when I am in Italy. I really love my design magazines as well even if I mainly just look at the pictures.
8. As a designer, what is the most important aspect of you job (or your design)?
To make sure I am not only designing something that looks good, but also something that is useful and feels good.
9.Is there a common theme in all of your pieces? Or do you build each piece on a singular thought or theme?
There always seems to be a common thread connecting my design, even if it is a subconscious one. With that said, I think of my designs as family members. They are all uniquely different, but still connected.
10. Who are your role models in design? Who are the role models in your family that helped influence your design?
I don’t necessarily know if I have design role models, but there are certainly designers that I look up to and admire. A few come to mind. Stephen Burks, Patricia Urquiola, Archille Castiglioni, Michael Anastassiades, Vico Magistretti, Carlo Mollino, and Jasper Morrison. My mom helped influence my design a lot. I was never discouraged from being creative as a kid. I had the most vivid and wildest imagination. I would sketch for hours and hours and she would do her best to put each one of them up for display.
11. Do you have a quote or mantra that you live by?
“Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.” Chetan Bhagat
12. And lastly, tell me about a time when a client didn’t like your work, how did you handle it?
I think I handled it very well. I understood it wasn’t that my design was bad, but sometimes people just don’t know what’s best for them. ;)