Friday Focus: Interview with James Swan

Driving back from the city after meeting up with some of my facebook design friends, I had to pull off the freeway to call  James Swan

Yes you read that right, the suave author of 101 things I hate about your house.

James Swan

James was residing at his winter place in Portland Maine, when he answered his phone.

Apparently it has everything one needs for a second home, History, Charm, Topography & most essential lovely neighbors.   Remoteness and snow are part of the appeal. Sounds like a picture book moment. Here I am in my car, in a less than salubrious section of Redwood City, and I am picturing James on the other side, cozy by a warm crackling fire.   Everyone should visit Maine at least once, James reveals. Personally I hope to visit while James is in residence, so I can drop in to enjoy his spontaneity and graciousness as a host (are you reading this James?) while surveying topography & historical charm.

I was so tickled to actually speak to  James, who impressed me with his quiet charm & confidence.  I told him we would start off easy, after I had shared my delight in having this opportunity.

Since James obviously loves the written word I decided to flor him by asking for a well thumbed book.  James instantly rattled of three including Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Name  your favorite Design Element ?


James has a great love of what happens on the floor of the room .

According to him It’s the first piece.

Design begins from the ground up.. Of course he first establishes the design vocabulary for the space.

Next is what goes on the floor.

Its the subliminal foundation of what support us, it all stems from the floor.

What is your calling card ?

My work speaks for itself.

I win projects because of my desire to build relationships.     Its not about friendship its about being mutually respectful.

How do you do to appreciate your clients ?

By respecting their time, we don’t let them fret over options – we give them 3 options and tell them there are no wrong decisions.

We respect their boundaries

When family friends come into the house we evaporate.

We also try to surprise each client with something that is unique – a piece of art or sculpture as a gift.

I asked James to elaborate, what if your client is on a small budget?

It does not have to be expensive, I did a friends Brady Bunch house and they were working on a tight budget

(For their gift) I found a wonderful piece of art for the daughter’s bedroom on Ebay.

The personal touch is not about money!

Den of James' in La a favorite of his.

Give an example of a marketing tactic that has been successful for you

at completion of project we will typically throw a House warming party

Host provides guest list

We do the rest – Call in the caterers and decorate! ( Sounds like a clever ploy to me.)

Its a fantastic way to get referrals, since we are at the party and connecting with guests.

How have you changed the way you do biz to meet the challenges of a changed world?

The Dot-bomb enforced change and James discovered he likes it. He prefers to be working on 1-2 projects face to face with clients, rather than running a big office.

Any advice for would be or for upcoming designpreneurs?

Keep it as simple as possible. Be very clear about how you want your business to look.

So artful How did you come up with your 101 things I hate about your house?

At a dinner party in Boston, after many glasses of wine, a friend of mine asked me “so Jim, when are you going to do your big design book?

and James says “the last thing people need is another big book, that is not how most people live!”  so  what would he do?

and James says “oh something like 101 things I hate about your house”  His dear friend Carol Beggy was at the dinner too, and she tells me “we have to talk”

And so a book and an experience is born.  It takes a dinner party …  the book is sounds smashing  An Illustrated Compendium by of ideas to aid homeowners in creating their own castles -the wonderful thing about illustrations beside their charm and beauty is that they depersonalize the sticky bits, and it really does speak to James’ love of antiques.

I forgot to ask James if there was a critique sheet included. but I did find this excerpt:

Swan has partnered with veteran journalist Carol Beggy and award-winning set designer Stanley A. Meyer to create a dazzlingly illustrated road map for navigating the subjective world of home design and decoration, room by room, subject by subject.”

What is a well loved way you celebrate your life?

James loves to drink a glass of Rose champagne , while enjoying sunsets, and his favorite is Billecart Salmon Rose Champagne if you want to send him a bottle!

When his book is released  James plans on Celebrating with bubble baths  (no doubt drinking some of that Rose Champagne and reading and 101 things the press love about him)

He is always trying new bubble bath products and is currently enjoying  Jo Malone bubbles.

James describes himself as a voracious skier and insatiable reader, lover of dogs, & antiques; the history, language and the beauty of hand crafted pieces.

Whats next for you and how can we help you?

A book tour  when the book is released (I hope you are coming to my area James!!! – I will buy you a glass of champers)

and for the next 12 months they will be promoting and selling to his fan base, so get on his email list or join his fan page.

James laughs and tells me they have submitted a proposal for a radioshow on NPR  about “Love living in a gracious and beautiful manner in our homes”,

if you can like and support his efforts and vote for a pilot, spread the word you will help James enormously.

Find James on facebook       http:   //

find James on twitter

The Daily Quotient

The hour with James was swift, and sheer delight.  I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy  of his book:

“101 Things I Hate About Your House: A Premier Designer Takes You on a Room-by-Room Tour to Transform Your Home from Faux Pas to Fabulous”

The best comment, will win a  Signed copy of James book which will be released on February 8, 2011    Winning entry chosen on Friday January 14th 2011  so start crafting some witty repartee.

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Friday Focus: Interview with James Swan — 33 Comments

  1. Jen,

    A very interesting interview. I appreciate the practical and economical ideas Mr. Swan had to offer. Enjoyable to read.

  2. I love learning more about designers personally. So often we just ‘meet’ their work and not the person or persons behind the design. Can’t wait to get my paws on his book!

  3. Haha, I loved the first line of your interview- “I had to pull of the freeway to call James”, I could just envision you asking him questions and rolling with laughter (not good to do whilst driving!
    He seems like such a funny person, must have a great sense of humor. I have learned a lot from this interview and love the idea of throwing a client a party after a complete home renovation – great way of saying thanks.
    Good questions Jen, they were usefull in pulling information out of this wonderful designer. Many thanks!

    • Dear Jil, so lovely to have you stop by. James was a true delight to chat to. I kept wishing I had a glass of wine in hand. and that I was on my comfy couch. I too thought the party idea was a bit of brilliance.

  4. I love learning more about what makes James tick. He is such an interesting character, engaging and a wonderful teacher. Thanks Jen, for digging in and dishing on our everyday, must read, no matter what; James Swan and 101 Things I Hate about Your House. Love it, him and of course YOU!!

  5. Jen,
    Fantastic interview! I just love James and marvel each day over his FB posts. Your writing style made it feel as if I was part of the conversation. You’re amazing – Thanks for revealing the man behind “101 Things I Hate About Your Home”. – Kim

  6. Wait a minute – I just saw there is a contest for witty comments. How about this: Little did I know when I started reading “101 Things I Hate About Your House”, that James really meant MY house. Boy have I learned a lot. Don’t even get me started. Embarrassing.

  7. I loved reading the interview Jen. James is always an inspiration and I thoroughly enjoyed his earthy responses to your inquiries. His suggestion re: keeping it simple, and working face-to-face with the client takes designers from the big office and to the basics of relationship building. The economy has created shifts that seem to prove rewarding for some. Both you and James expressed it with grace and subtly, as usual. I loved to hear that he honors his clients with a thoughtful gift of appreciation, however it by no means was a surprise ! I’d love to tag along to his home in Maine with you (LOL). Wouldn’t it be fabulous if he were in San Fran in February. A gang of us could meet !!

    • Darling Cate, you explain it all with verve. It would be a delightful romp indeed,if we could gaggle along with James. Clever James has bright ideas. No matter what I cant wait to hang out in February

  8. Oh Jen, we kept you to long at lunch. but for good reason, what fun! LOVE the interview with James and I think that when he comes to SF we should take him to lunch and share a bottle of bubbly together! Not to witty tonight, but truly enjoyed reading. One thing though…Maine in the winter? hmmmmmmmmmm

    • Irene you are such a class act. It was indeed a lunch of fun, one to be repeated often. Yes lets take James to lunch and ply him with bubbles. You are right, Maine in winter sounds hellish. What am I thinking? all that cold.

  9. Tell him to come to Dallas for his book-signing, he can stay at our house 🙂
    Thank you for interviewing James, I learned something new again. I especially liked the idea with the unique sculpture that he leaves as his gift and I liked the party he organizes for his clients. A wonderful way to say thank you and to connect to more people.

    I’ll be there for the book-tour!

  10. Hi Jen,
    I can think of 101 reasons why I love you and James, but as your interview shares, keep it simple and start from the ground up. It has been a delight meeting you on Facebook and reading James posts. I am sure James could tell us how to lay that perfect crackling fire, and meeting you and discovering your blog has lifted my spirits!

    • Philip your delightful comment made me smile madly. I think we should descend on James, rose bubbly in hand, and watch him lay a perfect fire, and explain all about keeping in simple. The delight is all mine, daily!

  11. What a fun interview, Jen! And I love the title of his book — that alone will catch a lot of eyeballs.

    I love that he mentioned “Bird by Bird” as one of his favorite books. It’s one of my favorites too! Anyone who writes (or aspires to write) must own a copy of this book!

    James’s retreat in Maine sounds Glorious!! Oh how I would love to be in that environment (with the bubbly too, of course).

    Heidi & Atticus
    “commentary to give you paws…”

  12. I look forward every morning to get on Facebook and look at the newest album that James has provided. I’ve learned a lot by reading the posts. I can’t wait to get the book!

  13. Congratulations Philip! I love your charming witty comment. You are the winner of the soon to be released James Swan autographed book.
    It was a tough call, but I couldn’t resist your clever lines.

    Philip Bewley
    Hi Jen,
    I can think of 101 reasons why I love you and James, but as your interview shares, keep it simple and start from the ground up. It has been a delight meeting you on Facebook and reading James posts. I am sure James could tell us how to lay that perfect crackling fire, and meeting you and discovering your blog has lifted my spirits!

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