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Patti Cowger

Thirty years ago, I was a computer programmer in San Francisco’s Financial District. I had been one for eight years and a math teacher the previous four. You could say that my careers had left me in desperate need of a creative hobby.

I soon discovered the San Francisco Design Center and fell in love with fabric. I had never seen such beautiful quality and interesting patterns. I ended up establishing relationships with various fabric mills. In March of 1989, I applied for my first business license and began to design table linens. I called my business “Tavola Bella.” Thirty years ago, the word “bella” was rarely, if ever, used. In fact, 30 years ago, Mediterranean interiors were not yet as popular as they soon would be.

Over the next three years, I took trips to Italy and France, and was so inspired by their historic and artistic beauty that I left the tech world to pursue a degree in architectural interior design.

Around 1992, Mediterranean-everything was all the rage in Northern California. It didn’t matter if one’s home was built in this style because painting techniques were introduced to the public that could make anything look Mediterranean. Paint Magic, a now-defunct company on Fillmore Street, produced a line of specialty paints and held instructional classes. I took them and learned how to crackle, distress, rag and wax all sorts of surfaces from walls and ceilings to furniture and accessories. These techniques transformed the new into the old in the spirit of Old-World decor.

While practicing these techniques in the evening, I was working for a boutique cabinetry studio during the day. I designed uber-modern Danish cabinetry. It seemed that the public wanted either decorative and historic Mediterranean or clean and precise Scandinavian.

In 1994, the Home and Garden television channel made its debut. It was the beginning of the do-it-yourself movement with shows featuring known designers and decorators who inspired viewers with affordable ideas. In 2000, a show called “Trading Spaces” aired, and in my view, triggered the end of reasonable ideas and the beginning of reality TV. Like all reality TV, there wasn’t anything real about it. (I know; one of my rooms was featured on a show called “Sensible Chic.”) Budgets, timelines, and client-designer interactions were replaced with whatever drama would get ratings.

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Throughout the years, however, HGTV did illustrate that our surroundings matter. They affect our moods and our daily lives.

For many years in California, Breuners, a furniture store founded in Sacramento in 1856, was a popular retail destination. Unfortunately, it closed its doors in 2004. My guess is that the plethora of Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and West Elm stores had an impact. The benefit of these later stores is their affordability and friendly styles. The downside is that they lack layered and distinguishing character that make one’s home personal and unique.

The internet has also impacted interior design. Anyone who Googles “sofa” will see hundreds of options from which to choose, including those from Pottery Barn et al. But nothing compares to Design Centers and their extent of furnishings that are never seen online or in retail stores. After 30 years, I am still in awe of, and inspired by, the countless possibilities they offer.

It’s been 30 years since I started down my unconventional path to interior design. I encourage anyone seeking a career change to take a broader view of what that might be. I was a math major who later realized that I had been more enchanted by the Greek symbols and geometric shapes than by what they represented. I took all my class notes with a fountain pen because I liked the graphic designs the class lecture produced. No kidding.

After all these years, I’m so fortunate to still enjoy interior design, the people I meet, and the weekly opportunity I have to share it all with you.

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Patti L Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.