Shea Soucie is a master at blending work and play. At Soucie Horner, a full-service Chicago-based luxury interior architecture and design firm, Ms. Soucie’s strengths lie in the architectural integration of the design process and transforming clients’ wishes into definable space.
Coming from a land-developing background (her father was a contractor), the decision to study design and architecture was natural. After studying at the Art Institute and in Paris at L’Ecole Speciale d’Architecture, Ms. Soucie was partner at a Chicago-based design firm before she broke off to create Soucie Horner in 2000 with fellow Art Institute alumnus, Martin Horner.
“Design, to me, is not a job – it’s a way of being. Even when I’m not in the office, design is everywhere,” Ms. Soucie said. “So do I shut home off and put on work, or vice versa? No – it all kind of melds together. It’s more of a time balance than a work/life balance.”
Soucie Horner’s strong suit, and Ms. Soucie’s forte in particular, is defining lifestyle through design, whether through environment, space or light. In addition to her full-time job as principal of Soucie Horner, Ms. Soucie sits on the board of the Right Angle Education Foundation, is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization in Chicago and is part-time teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The designer takes architectural and environmental cues from the places she’s lived – Indiana, Paris and Chicago – for client inspiration, as well as the places that she visits such as Russia, Mexico and Peru. She also draws inspiration from history and art.
“Personally, I love beautiful objects. A lot of things out of nature are inspiring, such as color combinations, textures and interesting shapes,” Ms. Soucie said. “When I travel, I gain a lot of inspiration from how a place feels.”
However, Ms. Soucie claims that one of the biggest sources of her inspiration is her four children. Though traveling is tough, her support system is close-knit.
“My mother lives in my coach house and is a huge help. I have a huge support system between my mom, my nanny who’s been with us for eight years and my husband, who is supportive emotionally, because he travels a lot, too!” Ms. Soucie said.
In this Q-and-A, Ms. Soucie discusses what makes a house a home, the importance of client communication and how Soucie Horner is making moves in the architecture and design world.
What do you bring to the Soucie Horner team? How does Martin complement you?
When I see a problem, whether design or business, I can immediately see the process that should be taken to get it resolved. And in the design world of very creative people, I’m not sure that a lot of people have that skill set. It just makes sense to me – I connect the dots.
Meanwhile, Martin has a very organic way of getting to a solution. He has impeccable taste; I tell everyone in the office, follow his taste. We talk about raising the standard of design and I think he sets that standard intuitively.
Do you have a specific “style” for yourself, or are all of the lines blurred because of your job?
The lines are blurred. To me, it’s more interesting when it’s not about a specific style.
What does Chicago bring to your design aesthetic?
Chicago used to be the hotbed of architecture; an incubator for new, interesting ideas and innovation. But, Chicago fell off the map in the 1960’s.
However, in the early 2000’s, the mayor and municipalities put a lot of emphasis back into design and the development of architecture, especially with Millennium Park. This has, in a lot of ways, paved the way for design to come back into Chicago.
Beautiful spaces are front-and-center again in terms of architecture and design, and that is really inspiring to see, and we’d like to see it more.
What does your home say about you and your family?
My personal home is very monochromatic because one of the things I need in my life when I go home is calm. It is funny because I have four kids and the noise level is never calm, but the space needs to be calm. For instance, our new house that we’re renovating is going to be all white.
How is decorating your home different from decorating clients’ homes?
It’s more personal. My own house is more about surrounding myself with things that I like visually and less about making it a certain style. But, having children makes that a challenge.
What must all homes have?
A personality. There is a definitely a difference between a house and a home. A house can have a theme and beautiful objects, but a home has a heart, it has a sense of warmth and personality to it. Homes that people love conjure up a feeling when you walk into them and, even if you don’t love the decoration, you can still get the feeling.
Have you decorated many “houses” (rather than “homes”)?
Yes, they’re not as much fun. You go back into them and they’re beautifully decorated, but it feels like a museum rather than a place where someone lives.
How do you convey this practice to students you teach at the Art Institute?
We teach the professional practice class and the idea of how important a relationship is in designing anything – knowing who your end user is, how to ask leading questions, how to get to the heart of what people are after, whether it’s a home or a physical product. An emphasis on intimately knowing your audience is how you teach that.
Residential design, rather than hospitality or commercial, is more about the personal relationship. You have to like that aspect of it or you’ll just be a decorator of houses.
What is the first question you ever ask a client?
Have you ever worked with a designer before and, if so, why aren’t they using the same people now?
Why do people use or not use designers?
If you were to ask most people, they want the house to have a personality that’s theirs, that’s reflective of them. We’re not the pillow-makers, not the window-treatment makers, we’re the magic makers. The visionaries. That’s why we are hired. Most people can’t put that all together in a way that will conjure up who they are and that’s really what our job is.
What is your favorite type of space to decorate? Why?
Something for a fantastic client – fantastic clients make for fantastic rooms. Those are people that hire us for our expertise and communicate clearly, but let us do our job.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When I feel like indulging, I shut off all my devices and spend time with my kids. My kids are a huge source of inspiration, and energy. We also like to travel, and one of the best things about my job is the opportunity to see the world in a lot of ways. We were recently in Marakesh and this year we’ll be in Russia.
Online at: http://www.souciehorner.com