We’ve all got our favorites; favorite make, favorite model, favorite color. It’s part of being a gearhead. And Lisa Smith is a dyed-in-the-wool gearhead. She’s on her 4th blue Porsche and she’s not above letting them stretch their legs on the track. Lisa left a comment on our friend Casudi’s interview, we visited her site, and immediately knew we had a real gearhead on our hands.
Introduce yourself! What’s your name? Where do you live? What do you do for a living?
I currently live in Pepper Pike, Ohio – about 2 miles from Shaker Heights, where we lived when we first moved to Ohio, but about 10″ difference in snow level – we get more. I’ve lived all over, California, North Carolina, New York/New Jersey, and grew up in beautiful Harbor Springs, Michigan.
I am an interior designer (2nd career) with commercial and residential clients. My specialty is color, a little or a lot, with results which are livable and comfortable. A Twitter friend and fellow blogger likes to introduce me as the bad-ass of design (affectionately) as I don’t mince words and believe in do it once do it right. Interior design is a vocation not a hobby.
Being that I live in color, I am also an artist. My work is acrylic on canvas mostly contemporary abstract, whimsical and sometimes representational. I have a Delahaye drawn on canvas, but as I am no Tom Hale, I have yet to put too much paint on it.
What do you drive and how do you drive it?
What do I drive? Lovely question. 2008 997 Porsche Turbo in Cobalt Blue. Just sold a 2006 987 Porsche Boxster S, in Cobalt Blue. Had a 996 in Cobalt Blue and a 986 in Zenith Blue. See a pattern, I/we like blue. I have driven all in Autocross and Driver’s Ed events (Nelson Ledges and Mid-Ohio) with the Porsche Club (past treasurer). Those are the fair weather cars…
For winter driving and luxo cruising it’s a 2008 Mercedes S550 AMG, in silver only because MB blue is basically black and their white is cream. Shopping for a replacement on that one. For work I drive… “The Cute One” a 2011 Mini Clubman S in “Lisa Blue” – see pic. Of course it came in silver but I had a wrap made in blue with a piece of my artwork on the top. Seriously, it does go faster in blue. :)
What did you do before interior design and how did you come to the decision to change careers? What was missing from your life?
Career switch, hmmm… long story short: 1. Still a glass ceiling on Wall Street 2.
I was in the compliance end – I love rules, and well, as a person in charge of compliance, if a broker goes rogue but the powers [that be] choose to look the other way – the compliance person can get kicked out of the industry. That happened to a friend of mine and I just didn’t want to risk losing a career for doing the right thing. I suck when it comes to looking the other way. I did fabulous things on Wall Street; was margin clerk, Stock Broker, compliance officer, and had my dream job of working for the Stock Exchange, where I caught people insider trading, and a few other jobs.
What was missing from life: nothing other than I just can’t compromise my integrity for anyone. Besides, I had done all I wanted to and it was time to be creative. As you might be able to tell, corporate BS is just not my thing. I like to question how & why things are done, interior design is the prefect place for that. I can be very analytical – always having to understand cause and effect 5 stages out. I’m a closet architect, too, which helps, and I’ve always been a think-outside-the-box person. I’m an information sponge and idea factory. Though I do miss that the job (mentally) was only 9-4:30 when the markets were open.
Similarly, it would seem you’ve got the blues (in the best possible way). How did you come to be such a German car enthusiast?
German cars? Having grown up in Michigan, where the (ignorant) mentality was one could only buy American, I did buy a Mercury Capri as my first car, then when it came time for a 2nd, it was a Volvo 240 and I was forever turned on to foreign cars. They are so much better value, better built, more for your money, make sense, don’t rattle. After the 2nd Volvo there was an Audi S4 & Boxster and I was hooked, a couple of X5s in there too. Things work, the options make sense, they are built for driving and they last. Yeah, I know that is hardly relevant for me as we are always changing cars. Germans engineer a superior car and they look good. If I’m going to drive something, it isn’t going to be ugly.
Volvo 240! Love me some Swedish Dumpster! I scrounged up an 86 245GL for a grand after my car was totaled in an accident while I fought a sketchy insurance carrier for replacement value. Eight months later, I sold it to my father-in-law for the same price I paid. I think that says something about the value of the old Bricks.
Yes, you clearly get the value concept I refer to.
Let’s dabble in metaphor, shall we? You have specific vehicles for specific times of year and weather conditions, and you track them all to test their performance limits – how would you explain interior design in terms of vehicle selection?
The interior design of the vehicle plays a huge role. Did you see my post on the Fisker Karma? Hence the reason we didn’t buy one, that and never ever buy the first year of any model and oh yeah… is it out yet? Or is that going to be the next Solyndra II? Sorry, it’s a weighty topic for me.
One correction, I don’t track everything – S550 hasn’t been out yet or the Mini (ready spring autocross). However, I do carry with me what my instructors taught me into every day driving. Breaking to steady the car prior to a turn and when to apply power. And the always useful, “brake on the straight.”
Back to interior design. I’m probably more ergonomic minded though we can dispense with the fruity words. I want to sit comfortably and have everything I need within reach, without reaching and without major eye diversion. Mercedes has a problem with some models where the rear view mirror is too close to your head rather than being more out in front so you can glance up without moving your head.
With new models of both Porsches, Porsche made every change one could have wanted, but with the interior door panel and armrest they went backward. It was sleek, curvaceous and fit one’s arm. The new model was like they forgot they’ve evolved beyond the early 911 interior with square and cheap – yes cheap – and clunky detail. Yes, I nixed the Panamera because I hate the “waterfall” because it eats too much space and is not luxurious. Oh yeah and it is UGLY, it is a $100,000 hatchback. No thank you. I heard a guy at Pebble Beach liken it to nothing so ugly since the Pacer.
The Mercedes I will not buy again. Granted I love the car but the stalk shifter is just friggin stupid. That was a design change for the sake of change – always a poor idea. The problem is this is exactly where the windshield wipers are in the Mini and the other day I went to hit the wipers by tapping my finger on the stalk and the damn car went into neutral. DUMB!!! Put the shifter where it is supposed to be or make it like they used to be where you had to use your whole hand to move the thing.
Best interior design – and it should be for the money – goes to the Rolls Royce Ghost. Forget the fancy woods polished for hundreds of hours or the hand selected dashboard leather, sumptuous seats or those indulgent sheepskin rugs, what had me as soon as I sat down was the simplicity of the entire dashboard. What you need, where you need it and if not, it hides away. No extras or gadgetry nonsense, pure driving necessities. Bentley is nice, as is the Ferrari 458. Lambo equals sitting on the ground; can’t have an inch of fat on your hips either if you want to fit into those uncomfortable seats.
The Mini, though nice, has too many dust catchers – yes that matters, I hate a dirty car and places that one can never get clean. The big speedo is cute, but the space could have been better utilized for the radio/iPod portion.
I look at space management as well, it needs to fit appropriate luggage or be easy to grocery shop with. I do transport things, so I love a fold-down rear seat, but that is just intelligent design. Third row seating is stupid, I’ve not bought cars due to that wasteful non-option. Comfort or ease of access and egress also matters. Aston Martin Rapide is a failure on that one; you can rack a number of body parts getting in or out.
As an interior designer you likely thought I’d only focus on looks. True, I am a sucker for a two tone interior (black and cream on the S4) and the seat has got to be comfortable. I turn down many cars because the seaming in the seatback causes a uncomfortable ridge which hits right at my shoulder blade. Looks do matter, contrast stitching or piping does a lot for me too, and I love the old cars with the plaid seating. (I made our daily use sofa in mohair because I loved the mohair seats in the 1930 Model A I grew up with.) I don’t like a lot of distraction visually so a clean simple interior is my preference. No phony suede seat inserts though – they pill.
On a final note, color. OMG this just about kills me. White should be white, not cream. Blue should not be black and Aqua is blue green not the color Porsche titles it. For interior, they need more gray options, as it is a much cleaner color and better with so many exterior colors than cheap yellow plastic-y tan. Oh, if I can’t get the color I want or combination, I go to another car. Do you have any idea how many compliments we get on the blue Porsches? While parked next to a black, silver, Arena red or other color – people gravitate to an attractive color. Red interiors make me carsick and just have this 1950’s retro-cheap vinyl mentality so I can’t even go there.
Hmm, did I say too much? You hit my hot button. Car manufacturers need to understand, more than just testosterone goes into buying a car.
Hot button, indeed! While I’m not as particular as you in this regard (I daily drive a 20 year old Mitsubishi and have never owned a car which MSRP’d for greater than $25k), I share your feelings on interior design. It’s why the new Jag XJ appeals to me so much, and why I was disappointed with the Pontiac Solstice.
I had not seen your Fisker Karma piece until you pointed it out. One of the defining characteristics of a true gearhead is looking beyond pointing out problems – real gearheads reflect on their experiences to offer solutions.
Ha, I always have solutions – but that would have made my response 2x longer. My husband always says car companies should hire me as a color consultant. I would work within their box, but that nasty orange-red interior in the first Boxster was hideous. I’ve also seen this interior with their lemon chiffon yellow – gag. Seriously, that should have never come out of the factory.
Since you mentioned the Jag… OMG the new one XKRS is stunning (posted on that too), Fisker could copy that interior dashboard!
You offered to help Fisker sort the interior; did they respond? What problems do you see with the Karma and how would your address them? Would they increase the cost dramatically? Would that be a good thing?
No Fisker did not respond. The thing is simplicity doesn’t require money. There are lesser cars with better interiors (MINI). It doesn’t have to be fancy, but if you want to compete in the $100K market you’ve got to play in the same sandbox. In their case, it was like they felt they needed a great designer for the exterior but not the interior. Sleek, curvaceous, no need for wood or metal which only adds to the price. Soften the lines of the dashboard, etc. and forgo the Darth Vader edges. Chamfer the edges leading to the focal point of the NAV/INFO screen. Oh yeah, that was a bit rudimentary too – Mercedes is better.
They need insulation in the headliner and doors so the road noise does not equate with the Mini. Again for $100K – compete! It is very much like new body on an old car. The rear seats need to be reworked because many people have a butt wider than a few inches. I understand the transmission hump but work with it, not just use it as an excuse. The rear door panel and armrest could be more body-friendly so one doesn’t feel as if their only movements in the seat can be within a few degrees. It has been a couple of months… I can’t recall all the fixes.
What can I say, cars are a hobby for both of us and as we say cheaper than having kids.
You are an artist, an interior designer, and a gearhead – a consummate professional. How have your experiences in these areas helped you bridge differences? How do you know which gear to select when networking?
Now you’ve got the hard questions… Let me first say networking is a skill I have not mastered. But as you said, experience trumps stuff.
Because of my vast experiences and interests, I’m pretty good at engaging in conversation with most anyone – unless they want to talk sports or babies. My experience and desire for such has allowed me to live in different areas of the country and, as my mind is a sponge, I often have something to relate to when talking with someone or working on a project. Been there, seen something, driven it, done that and, if not – willing to hear/learn about it.
I am a seeker and observer of life. I observe how people use their space, how they make decisions, certainly understand the role money plays in any decision. I like to say having two phones in my ear (pre cell phone era) with a floor broker on one and CEO or CFO on the other with little ole me making the decision whether or not to halt a stock from trading was less stressful than interior design. From that experience people don’t phase or intimidate me. I can talk to someone from any walk of life.
How to know what gear comes down to listening and perception. One has to hear what people are saying and listen to what they are not – no different than driving, listen to the car, feel the road and be aware of what is around the next corner. Listening to one’s gut is also effective… when you don’t overrule it.
I’ve never heard a driver say, “I don’t know how that happened,” after a spin or other situation. We know if we listen. If I feel myself getting bored on the track (usually at the end of the day) I get off – before I make a mistake. I’ve learned when anyone ever holds a carrot out of the “next design project” before the first one is started it never comes to fruition and the people aren’t authentic. (Typical tactic to get more for less, sorry just pay your bill and you’ll get my best work.)
Thank you for sharing such an excellent story with us, Lisa. It was a pleasure getting to know you. I’m sure any of our readers who might find themselves at Nelson Ledges or Mid-Ohio this summer will be keeping an eye out for blue Porsches (or Jags). Additionally, you can catch up with Lisa and her colorful mix of design and automotive stories on Twitter and on her site, DecorGirl.net.
- What’s your favorite color for a vehicle?
- How do you prepare for what’s around the next corner?