From Showrooms to Showhouses – An Interview with Paul Thompson

by Tim Young

“Listening to the client’s needs and their perspective about a project causes me to think and develop directions beyond myself and what I have done before…”

Paul Thompson is a recognized professional with over twenty years in space planning, product development and merchandising in the gift and home furnishings industries. He has conceived, designed and installed award winning showrooms across the United States. He has particular expertise in using color and style to communicate trends in sales environments as well as expressing a client’s unique personality when designing home interiors.

Paul ThompsonPaul Thompson

TIM YOUNG: Where do you begin when creating a new showroom? Do you usually have a color direction in mind before starting, or do you take your cues from the client?

PAUL THOMPSON: Almost all projects have their own limits or implied directions. This can be evidenced in the space itself or the color preferences that the client or design team may have.

Often new showrooms are based on previous showroom development and these various spaces reflect existing brand criteria for the given company in the fixtures, flooring and overall style of the build-out. The color direction is often a lighter background for the product to play off of, but often we use saturated color hues for bold backgrounds that enhance the various products on display.

Paul Thompson

Showrooms are usually planned to be changed or modified structurally or within the space twice a year as it relates to spring/summer or fall/winter markets. These changes most often involve repainting based on a product direction or overall theme of a show or fashion trend. I have always relied on Pantone and the fashion color forecast to inform and direct me as needed. These reference tools are so helpful in conversations with clients to see trend and overall market directions with color.

Paul Thompson

TY: Does color help your commercial clients communicate a brand or product message?

PT: Absolutely; the brand of a client is often rooted in their company logo and the marketing and brand guides. If a company has not updated their logo, or has no guide for style and color direction, it can be an opportunity to help refresh and create new logo and brand directions that may be long overdue.

If a company is known for a bold use of color, then an expectation and an association with color exist with that client’s customer. If the client has no real color direction past the logo, then adding a color palette to the brand can create excitement and update the perception of what can be perceived as a stale brand look.

Paul Thompson

TY: You also design residential interiors. How do you decide on a color palette when designing a residential space?

PT: Getting to know your client is essential in this process, along with reviewing what the existing space(s) have looked like and identifying the furniture and furnishings that will continue to be used in the space(s).

Paul Thompson

Most clients have a color sensibility and you need to determine what those colors are and how much you can direct the client into a modified or new color palette that the client feels comfortable with. I always say that I do want to put my signature on every project but I also understand the client need, budget and result that they want to live with. While I am known for a clean and contemporary direction, I do want my projects to reflect my client’s style and preferences, not mine exclusively.

Often a basic color palette can be enhanced with texture on fabrics and other décor along with color on drapery, pillows and rugs to add new life and boldness to a somewhat calm or safe color direction.

TY: What is the most memorable space you’ve designed?

PT: It would have to be bedding and bath retail shop that I did with almost no money, little time, and no real brand direction.

Thanks to good contractors that I have used for many years on commercial projects and an existing relationship with the company management, I was able to deliver a finished space that looked great, functioned well, elevated the brand and didn’t exceed the approved budget.

Paul Thompson

This project became a turning point in my own development and in the way I approached working with clients and my methodology for design. Ultimately, this shop has become a model for classroom instruction on visual branding and store planning that I teach. The store and its development make for a great case study for students to use to understand design concept, space planning, logo and brand development, fixture design, color study and merchandising and display for a retail space.

TY: Do you have a current favorite color or palette?

PT: I am finding that bright bold color and design details to be my main focus as I work on a project for an institution, trying to look from the perspective of the students who will be using the facility. What colors will they respond to, and in what combinations and in what graphic formats.  How will the colors and the textures work together to be harmonious and energizing without distraction. Also, how will this final palette be used in contrast with murals and other student artwork that will be created to be installed in the facility.

TY: What inspires you?

PT: My clients inspire me. I have the good fortune to work both on commercial and residential projects and this may include a team of people or a single client. Listening to the client’s needs and their perspective about a project causes me to think and develop directions beyond myself and what I have done before.

Paul Thompson

I often take the thought that is least related to my gut reaction and think about where that direction comes from and what might be possible from that suggestion. These suggestions always include the discussion of color and its use in materials and specifically painted finishes. It is important to recognize how we use color since it affects how we feel and perceive our surroundings.