Shaker Heights-based interior designer Dawn Cook prides her success on two defining characteristics: being a good listener and an overall effective communicator.
Prior to working as an interior designer, Cook obtained a Master of Business Administration degree and held various marketing roles, such as marketing director for Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts Stores and sales planning manager at Kraft Food Groups. In typical ‘Dawn Cook’ fashion—which means, committing to all jobs with the outmost conviction and attention—she decided to stay home with her son after he was born. When her son turned five, about ten years ago, Cook started Dawn Cook Design. Cook now shares a studio space, named BLDC, in Shaker Height's Van Aken District with designer Linda Mauck Smith of Blulens.
Cook lives in Cleveland’s historic Shaker Heights and credits about 50 percent of her client base to this community which she calls home. The other 50 percent are referrals from places like Edelman, Houzz, industry colleagues and client word-of-mouth.
We were lucky enough to chat with Cook about her work and love for interiors.
What do you enjoy most about transforming an older home?
The bones are already there. The home is in many ways already beautiful.
The process is always kind of like a puzzle. Most of the time people need to blow out walls, raise ceilings, redo electrical, or demo something else to get that kitchen island that they want.
When we’re done, though, whatever we did feels like it’s supposed to be there. It’s not some crazy departure from what the house was supposed to look like. The design can be modern or contemporary or transitional, but still looks like it fits in a tudor style home.
You have to work with elements that are already in the house and think about them in a different way. I recently worked on a Shaker Heights home that had a spiral staircase in the middle of the kitchen. Many people would think, ‘Why the heck is there a spiral staircase in the middle of this kitchen?’ But, for me, it’s about balance. In another Shaker home, there were brick arches in the kitchen that were drywalled over, so we opened them up. The classical elements of these homes ended up being the crowning jewels of their kitchens.
I think it’s really important to tie these classical elements back to the house and show how the home was meant to look – but make it feel fresh.
What important tips or reassurance you give homeowners when they’re embarking on a large project?
I really trust my team.
There are bumps along the road and I think everyone should know that. It’s not smooth-sailing, so being a good team from the get-go is very important.
We are really present from start to finish, always listening and hearing what our clients are saying in terms of what they want, what their budget is and what they are comfortable or not comfortable with. It is really important to determine how the client will use the space. Being a good listener up front and a good communicator all along the way is key for helping people visualize what the end result is going to look like. My clients get excited if I’m excited about the project!
How would you describe your personal style?
Even though we live in this traditional neighborhood, I am definitely more of a transitional designer. I have clients that are super modern and some that are super traditional. I tend to like a neutral palette and a lot of different textures. I like light and bright and sometimes I think ‘less is more.’
I am drawn to simpler lines and a focus on lighting. I think lighting is really important. I have a background in lighting design, so I try to help people understand how important lighting is for their home. Older lighting might appear cool, but it also may need to be updated.
Focus should be on one thing that is the big ‘WOW.’ A home should be harmonious – with one attention grabber and the rest of the elements working to compliment that focal point. You should feel good when you walk into the space. There’s no need for multiple aspects of a room to fight for your attention.
How do you describe your personal home?
You get comfortable in your own home. Mine is definitely eclectic. I would love to eventually buy an old Shaker house and make it look modern. I’m always attracted to something I’m scoping out for my clients.
What 2018 trends are you and your team excited to try?
We definitely go to trade shows. We go to Chicago and New York and California. We love to do that because we get super-inspired by new and fresh things.
My team and I are very strong to say that we like to give everyone a very unique design. My clients are not going to have their neighbors faucet or their bosses finishes.
I’m not letting anyone do crazy tiles! Trends are shifting and people want cleaner lines and less visual noise. They want designs that are calming and less challenging visually in their own home, especially with all the technology that is bombarding us daily. A home doesn’t have to feel spa-like, instead just reserved and like a sanctuary. People still like white spaces, but white on white on white is going away. Bright and fresh spaces with colorful accents or accessories are in now.
I will always be super honest with people. I will not let anyone put a barn door in Shaker Heights. The ‘fixer-upper’ trend doesn’t belong in your 1920s historic home.
Why do you like to incorporate custom designs in your clients’ interiors?
They are one-of-a-kind. I probably do not make nearly as much money when I commission a custom design for a client, because of the time involved, but it’s one of my most favorite things to do. Living in the Midwest—in Cleveland and Chicago and Detroit—we have amazing industrialists and artisans and iron workers and cement masons and wood workers in our backyards. I think it’s important to utilize local resources.
For concrete, I love Ideal Services in Cleveland. Michael Potts is like a mad scientist. He makes gorgeous work and does not charge you for every second. He wants to be creative and enjoy his own process as well. He’s making me a custom cement breakfast room table for one of my clients and I couldn’t be more in love it how it is coming along.
Custom designs are unique and special, so why not use all the amazing resources that we have?
Why do you choose to work with Edelman?
When I first started in interiors—when I switched from marketing to design—one of my first jobs was to work with a high-end custom builder who worked with Edelman. I met Anna through him and she has become a friend and a life-long vendor/partner ever since.
The biggest reason I go to Edelman is for their customer service. They take care of me. Whether that is delivering an appliance to a client on the day they need it or fixing a problem. Everyone at Edelman is like family. They call themselves a family and they truly are. They take care of their clients like they would their own family. I like working with people who appreciate local service.
We use our vendors because it’s about the back end, the ‘how are we going to fix this?’ It is the people that help us when something is just not right, broken or there’s a mistake at the job. Edelman has always helped me out.
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