Monday, December 06, 2004

Smoking Design

Last week Susan and I were installing (arranging new furniture and accessories, hanging art) at a client's home. I arrived a little later in the morning after Susan had been there for awhile. When I got there she told me an amusing story about how when she rang the doorbell there was a smoldering 3/4 length, but unsquashed cigarette butt on the front stoop. Susan glanced over the side of the porch rail and saw a number of other butts just like it.

Susan estimates that this client probably is a closet smoker who lights up only when people are not around. As soon as someone shows up--the cigarette has to go. Chances are, when Susan called the client to tell her she was close to the house, the client opened the front door and thought she was flicking the barely-smoked butt over the rail.

Susan has a soft spot for closet smokers and rather than risk embarrassing her client, she stretched her foot over to where the butt was burning and covered it with her shoe before the door opened and then kicked it off the porch when they walked in (now that's customer service).

This story wouldn't be as funny if the client and her husband were not cosmetic dentists. It was even more funny to me when Susan pointed out another long butt sitting on the garage stair rail, with a few more having fallen to the garage floor.

It made me sad that our client felt the need to hide her habit. Having had some pretty stressful weeks at the design firm, I have a new understanding of why people, especially some designers, smoke. They don't have time to exercise, eat or even drink as a way to relieve stress--coffee and cigarettes are understandable substitutes!

My friend Dave is a designer. It is not his paying job, but he loves doing it all the same and is quite good. We often team up to face aesthetic challenges. Whether he is considering a silk flower arrangement at church that is far past its prime (if indeed it ever had one) or Christmas ornaments for our children's program, he switches in seconds from mild-mannered marathon runner to hip-cocked, mock-cigarette waving, fast-talking, squinty-eyed design tsar. It is the imaginary cigarette piece that is most amusing. He holds it behind his back as he talks except when he is using that hand to gesture or to make a point. Then he pretends to wave the smoke away from his face. He turns his head and quickly exhales before his sentences.

Dave would be more likely to grow a second head than actually smoke, but his faux-smoking is so convincing that it seems to actually do what it needs to do for him, just as it does for some professional designers for whom it is almost a job requirement (the same goes for many nurses). I have even noticed that in England, where smoking doesn't carry the social baggage that it does here, designers frequently recommend putting cups of cigarettes in guest bedrooms and in living areas (for when they come to visit I guess).


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