Beginning with my earliest memories, I always wanted to escape to a safe and opulent place. At age 7, I built a “fort” deep within the woods where I would disappear for hours, hidden under Indian Sari fabric draped over the tree branches in such a way as to form a peaked-tent.
I lounged on a myriad of vintage pillows piled atop a period-appropriate Mohair shag rug, contemplating the hope of the daffs against the decaying leaves, and listening to the Grundig singing “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head”.
I would bathe in the luxurious colours and textures of my surroundings: those found in nature – and those designed by man, that I had re-purposed, from a garage sale or flea market. It was there, in that fort, that I first created a look of “grounded-opulence”. It was also there that I started my relationship with energy.
I chose to surround myself with things that not only looked great but also felt great. Things that nurtured, balanced and supported me. At that young age, I was subconsciously creating a space in which I felt cared for: in which I could take root, regenerate and breathe. I felt as if the energy emanating from the objects in my curated environment sheltered me from, what I later learned, was severe Narcissistic Abuse.
The only child of an English model, “Postcards From The Edge”- type mother and a Texas A&M /”Donald Draper”- type father, I grew up travelling between Europe & the States. My father was in the upper echelons of the US Steel business during the Alaska Pipeline deal, so we lived in Pittsburgh & Houston, vacationing with the D.C. crowd on the East Coast and occasionally in Europe with family in England & France.
Not surprisingly, I developed an acute understanding of the differences in the ways people lived and viewed the world. I also learned to love Western saddles, English humour, the Steelers, Italian race cars, Petanqué and, of course, Design.
Design basically saved my life – allowing me to consistently create a protective environment for myself, blanketing and nourishing me with its beauty. Any form of art lent itself to “decorating” my safe-rooms: I read spy novels, watched French cinema, and listened to music on vinyl; taking note of the beautifully designed covers, reading the lyrics, delighting in the art of the placement of album tracks and experiencing the journey into the soul.
As I approached university, I originally planned to earn a degree in International Relations in preparation for a career in the CIA. Fortunately, during my studies, I came face-to-face with my true calling in the form of two Rugby-shirted lads from Cambridge. They taught me to get out of my (somewhat narrow) mindset and follow my passion for beauty, travel, British music and the desire to be a part of the emerging global culture. By the time I graduated, I was heading to London instead. And a new life.
In the English capital, I found myself embraced by the international worlds of photography, design, music and production. I began Representing Models, then Photographers and finally Producing Commercials.
Known as a Creative Producer, I interpreted the vision of the project and then brought together the necessary elements to make that vision a reality. Over the years, I travelled the world. From London to Ibiza, Paris to Capri, L.A. to St. Barts – I worked with the créme-de-la-créme and was surrounded by the influencers of the time.
No matter where I went I’d seek out the local designs in clothing, textiles, art and accessories; discovering music, food and things that I’d never seen or experienced, intrinsic and unique to that place/culture. Sometimes we would incorporate them into our projects.
I developed shopping/experience lists and would take extensive notes and photographs. Being an only child, I’ve always found it easy (even vital) to talk to “strangers” whilst wandering alone. This tended to lead to unique experiences, and from there I’d find hidden gems, being drawn to things and places by feel, experiencing the energy of them, as well as by visual pleasure.
Although I loved elements of my work, I became disenchanted with the façade. I had originally entered into Advertising at a time when it was a gateway into film and an art form unto itself—a way of beautifully (or humourously) communicating with the world on some level, which I yearned to do. Over the years, however, I found myself increasingly at odds with the energies surrounding me. I was interested in the art and “they” were interested in the commerce, but acting as if they were making art.
Energetically it was exhausting, I could physically feel the energetic burden on my shoulders the minute I stepped through the revolving doors. Working in corporate America felt like I was connected to a vacuum cleaner, the tube of which was attached at my solar plexus, and it was sucking the life and soul out of me. I had also spent, by this time, many years pursuing therapeutic endeavors, and longed to find a life role with a more rooted sense of commitment to the greater good.
As the universe would have it, I was called upon to become a full-time mother to my (then 7 year-old) stepson. And, as it turns out, the need was great. The abuse he had suffered directly mirrored my own, and it seemed I might be in a unique position to be of some help to this boy.
But the situation was delicate and complex. I was going to have to leave my career and find something I could do from home. After a bit of soul-searching (and a tiny push from life-long friends) I uncovered something I’d been connecting to all along, and I made the move into design.
As my second career evolved, so did my “mothering” skills. As I was re-experiencing the trauma of my own childhood through my stepson’s relationship with his mother, I began to instinctively do anything I could to protect him. Listening, sharing & drawing from my own experiences, I was able to create a safe place, energetically, for him to share, process and hopefully, heal.
At the same time my Interior Design clients were responding favourably to my work and things seemed to be shifting for them: a long-awaited adoption granted, a marriage healed, a vocation found. I was creating environments that tapped into that sense of what was energetically right for the space, while at the same time deriving pleasure from the visual. In turn, the space was acting as a type of panacea for my clients. At the time, however, I was unaware of the connection. All I knew is that I was helping people and their places looked great!
A few years later, once my step-son was safely at University, I divorced and relocated to Los Angeles, where a chance encounter led to some work with teens on the Autism Spectrum. It was then that everything began to make sense.
I aided teens with ASD, start their transition into some level of independence and societal interaction. We focused on socialization skills and almost every kind of relationship interaction you can imagine: at school, in the community and at home.
Surprisingly, I found I could completely empathize with the raw feelings of these kids. I could relate to feeling extremely sensitive to the, sometimes harsh, energies of the world and it’s various environments. I myself had sought comfort from just that harshness. This community is so sensitive that they can often feel/hear the neon in the lights. Imagine how overwhelming it must be, from a “noise” perspective alone.
Over time, the young adults I was working with blossomed. One non-verbal young man, who could not write or type more than the occasional few words, began writing poetry. In our interactions, I could hear in my head the words what he was going to “say” before he typed them. They were beautiful and the emotions were complex. I was overwhelmed both at the poetry itself and at the intensity of the interaction. Never before had I really understood that I was able to hear and feel others’ thoughts and emotions.
Another non-verbal young man and I were able to explore the different ways to energetically communicate when he correctly identified some difficulties I’d been experiencing and showed empathy for and a detailed understanding of them, without knowing me at all.
It was through this rewarding work and the incredible energy exchange I shared with this group of people, as well as my continued work on my own personal development, that I came to the realisation that it had all come full-circle. I found myself designing sensory rooms for the schools, counseling parents on ways to maintain equilibrium in the home and eventually to designing with choices that would be supportive, encourage healing and bring visual joy.
I became aware that the more well “regulated” (to use an ASD-term meaning balanced) these young people were at home, energetically-speaking, the better equipped they would be to deal with the chaotic energies in the world around them.
That regulation/balance could be had by using a holistic-based design approach. In other words, once the home environment became peaceful & harmonious the ASD individuals became much more balanced when they then went outside of the home.
Their behaviours decreased, they began to spend their time in receptive mode rather than reactive mode and they began to flourish. It the occurred to me that what would benefit these families, could actually benefit all!
This is the journey that has driven me to create Ava Suren Interiors: ID (Integrated Design), something I hope will help me spread this philosophy and continue my work helping others.