Aesthetic Dreams

At home with Sam Day and Kate Nickel


Sam Day is a partner at the architecture and real estate development firm Dryline, which has championed such projects as the Big Friendly Brewery and the single-family detached homes in Wheeler – and he’s not your ordinary architect. A visual virtuoso, Sam’s work depicts elegant restraint and beauty. He and partner Kate Nickel are a destined match, with her artistic talent found in not only her paintings, furniture design and photography, but in gardening and farming, as well. Kate is a true aesthete in the most genuine of ways. Individually and collectively, this couple has their fingers, and expertise, on the pulse of what good design is.

405: Despite different media that you both use, do you find yourselves drawn to the same kind of aesthetics?
SAM: I’d say so. Maybe this has something to do with our having grown up in the same place at the same time, or maybe it’s us rubbing off on one another. There are some elements of design, like color, where I don’t feel very confident in myself, so I end up deferring to or trying to imitate Kate.
KATE: Yes, we are always asking each other’s advice and feedback, and I value his opinion. I get inspired by new materials and colors that Sam is experimenting with on different projects.

405: What icon, designer or artisan inspires each of you?
SAM: I love the work and business model of the UK firm Assemble. As far as historical icons, Sol LeWitt and (Ludwig) Mies van der Rohe come to mind. I’m inspired by their work with real structure and its symbolic representation, and I admire the way LeWitt conceived of art as a set of instructions – much like architecture.
KATE: The furniture is certainly inspired by the furniture of Donald Judd. I love the simplicity and functionality involved in his work. I’m highly inspired by the painter Agnes Martin, along with many artists from the ’50s and ’60s such as Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Josef Albers, Bridget Riley – and I could go on.

405: If you could pick one time period to live in, in relation to design, art, lifestyle or architecture, what would it be?
SAM: I’m fascinated by the architecture of the ’50s and early ’60s. It was a period when the consensus around an international modernist style was disintegrating, but postmodern architecture hadn’t fully emerged. I wouldn’t choose to live in any period but the present, though.
KATE: The time period I’m most familiar with, which has most inspired me, would be during the 1950s and ’60s. Movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Colorfield Painting, Neo-Dada, Happenings and Minimalism were all major influences.

405: Do you have a favorite design movement or trend?
SAM: I don’t know about favorite, but I’ve been reading about the Japanese Metabolism movement recently. The Metabolists’ buildings were always visually divided in small compartments, which helped mitigate their enormous scale and also provided a framework that would theoretically accommodate addition and subtraction. Their proposals often towered over existing urban centers but left them mostly intact, unlike previous modernist schemes. While I’m generally skeptical of big utopian projects, I think the current demand for housing in some urban areas should encourage us to reexamine some of these ideas.
KATE: I try to stay away from trends; they seem to change all too often and I can’t keep up. I guess my favorite movement would have to be Abstract Expressionism, as it was the precursor to so many of my favorite styles in artmaking.

405: In your home, is there a particular space, function or design characteristic that you love?
SAM: I’ve really been enjoying the backyard setup that we’ve been working on. A few months ago, we built a 10-foot-long outdoor table that Kate designed, and it’s helped to create a popular secondary office and communal dining room.
KATE: The 5-foot-by-8-foot front window that overlooks the garden and out onto tree-lined Marion Street has to be my favorite. One of the first things I do in the morning is open the curtains and look at all the flowers covered with butterflies and bees.

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