Gary Inman thought that 2020 was going to be his year. The president/principal designer of Gary Inman Interior Design was set to begin a teaching position at High Point University all while launching a new website and firm, but then, the unprecedented happened.
“It was all falling into place in such a perfect way that it was almost scary,” Inman recalled. “I thought 2020 was going to be my best year ever and then suddenly, almost overnight, it all disappeared.”
For Inman, the COVID-19 pandemic not only delayed his new professional ventures but hit him at home as well.
“I was already in a unique transition, so it caught me at the worst possible time,” he said, considering himself a person who thrives on thorough planning and routine. But it didn’t take Inman long to navigate through his own new normal and stay inspired.
“The way that I processed it was thinking that I’m not so much pivoting, but the way I saw it was that I’m going to the same place I was going when this all started but I am going to have to be a little more circuitous in the way that I get there,” Inman said, who plans on beginning his teaching position at High Point in 2021.
Inman then shifted his attention to his design practice with a focus on long-term clients.
“I found inspiration in part just by reviewing what I had been doing and having the time—there’s always rushing, always a deadline, always a meeting—sometimes there’s such a frenzy in design that you don’t really get to slow down and enjoy the beauty of what you’ve created. I had the chance to do that,” Inman said.
He also spent time thinking about his design relationships and valuing them in a different way. “It was comforting because I was able to appreciate my work in such a way that I don’t normally get to do because it’s all moving too fast,” he said.
Particularly, Inman said that he has focused more energy on his other brainchild, Grace Purchasing. “I really just pushed that forward,” he said. “It was always part of the plan but I brought it to the front burner.”
Also on the front burner was another passion project, which was, according to Inman, “creating a firm he had always dreamed of.”
Although he was itching to veer in this direction, Inman noted that he’s grateful for his experiences elsewhere, particularly with Baskervill. He had coordinated an exit strategy with them and planned to leave in mid-May to relocate to North Carolina, giving him time to plan lectures for the fall semester at High Point.
“I’ve reached a point in my career where I think I want to spend more time mentoring, teaching and designing very specific projects, not being quite as pushed through projects to get them done, but being able to take on projects that I really wanted to do and counter-balance that with the teaching. They [Baskervill] were extremely supportive,” Inman said.
As for other new endeavors, he’s established a “creative pairing” with Dani Blake, with whom he worked at Baskervill with for five years.
“We just had a great design relationship,” Inman said. “We’ve created a different kind of partnership, we’re calling it a ‘creative pairing’ but we’re working together and going after projects.”
Inman believes that long-term clients—like the Washington Duke Inn that’s been with him for 17 years—are the core to his business but he’s working with Blake to layer on even more.
“It’s an exciting time but there’s so much change,” Inman said. “To be honest, it was a little tossing at first. I went through about two or three weeks where I just really thought that I had to sort this all out in my head. I was like everyone else, not doing the level of work that I normally do.”
Although Inman needed some time to organize his thoughts and plans, he noted that he benefits from such multifaceted work with the cores being: media, presenting and teaching; practicing design; and helping to develop resources in other companies.
Inman recently signed a contract with 60 Grit Studios, a fabrication company based in Temecula, CA.
“They can literally fabrication anything from Christian Dior high-fashion windows to King Kong,” Inman said. “A great team based in California but working globally for companies like Google, Disney, Lego and Dior…I’m going to be helping introduce them to the hospitality industry because there’s so much experiential design now and oftentimes one needs unique objects or art pieces to make that happen.”
Inman is also a brand ambassador for Tomlinson Companies, an upholstery company with more than a century of design including the iconic Vladimir Kagan.
“The consulting part is exciting for me because I get to take my own voice and thoughts about design and find marriages that make sense within the industry and then help to promote that brand that I think should be more mainstream and more reflective in the work of other designers,” Inman said.
The industry, Inman believes, will come out of the pandemic stronger than ever, with a focus on design that offers nurturing environments that lift spirits.
“I hear from colleagues all around the country and everyone’s been tapping into their own psyche and values. I feel like there’s going to be a real different attitude toward life and what really counts,” he said.
Inman likes to think of those few months in quarantine similar to that of a child’s timeout, having the time to “think about what they’ve done.”
“I think people are going to enjoy travel in a way that they took for granted in the past,” Inman said. “I think the way we approach business travel is going to change. I’ve talked to a lot of exhibitors who have had to cancel and they’ve learned new ways of interacting with their clients and some have done very well during the pandemic.”
Overall, Inman believes people will get right back to traveling, designing and educating.
“Fashion is always my retreat; my guilty pleasure,” Inman said. “I spent a lot of time looking at fashion and thinking about what it’s going to look like on the other side of this. I read this great quote by Chanel when she talks about after a period of restraint people have an instinct for luxury; a hunger for luxury again. I think there’s going to be so much pent up desire for beauty, design and travel that when we come out of this, we’re going to come out with a rage.”