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Storytelling with space
Lisa Pinyan’s interior design tells the tale

INTERIOR DESIGNERS don’t get their names on walls. Much of their work is temporary.

And people really only tend to notice it either when it’s drop-dead spectacular, as in “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” or gaspingly hideous, as in a dated hotel.

So Lisa Pinyan’s work—commercial, functional and beautiful—hides in plain view. You might say the New York native, an interior designer for architecture firm LS3P, is sitting with you when you enjoy a read at the Southwest Chatham Branch library.

She’s in every chair, shelf, mirror and light. (She’s also there in Chatham County Juvenile Court, the Georgia Ports Authority and many other projects. But none are as public and joyfully “loud” as the seven-year-old Savannah Mall library.)

“Often, we don’t get to go back into the spaces that we design a year or five years later,” she says, calling the library one of her favorite projects.

“But I think you can go into that space and see it being used exactly as we planned and designed for it to be used.”

Pinyan worked on the library as part of a team, of course. There were architects, library officials, engineers and others to consult.

But what makes Pinyan’s part so fascinating, in my opinion, is the space-branding, psychology and creativity that it goes into it.

Take chairs. “There are two-hour, four-hour and eight-hour chairs,” she says. “So, the first thing you have to look for when selecting a chair for a client is—What is the use?”

By that metric, I chose poorly when it comes to this medieval torture device, otherwise called a low-budget office chair, that restrains me for most of the days when I write.

Also by that metric, bars and restaurants let me know exactly what they think of my time—money, money, turnover, turnover—when they select hard-back, hard-butt seating.

Color is another matter. You and I might equate purple and yellow with Barney and Big Bird. But what if those are a company’s corporate brand, a university’s cherished colors?

“I’d like to think if a client came to me with an absolute demand for a color that I could design around it,” she says. “I had to design around purple and at the end of the project, I thought it looked good... I’ve probably had every color in a space to some degree.”

People today want warm colors and textures, even in the commercial and institutional spaces that Pinyan designs. Wood floors, stone accents, plant-inspired materials.

We want our work to feel more like home. SCAD does this well. And that brings up fashion.

“If you follow fashion, you can often see the colors and the materials that will be in interior design a year or so later,” she says, naming examples. “I feel like mohair became really popular. Slubby wools, really deep, deep textures, even in furniture and fabrics.”

Sounds like shag carpeting. “Which is also coming back,” she says. Zoinks, Scooby! Run for the Mystery Machine! Not my groove.

On the bright side, Pinyan says the Savannah of 1996, when she came here, was much more behind-the-times, design-wise, than today.

I can vouch for that. I came here in 1998. And I do think Savannah is less “squelchy” of things like sustainability, sleekness and openness. Inside, the cubicles are coming down. And millennial-friendly shared spaces are coming in. But how to maintain some privacy?

Pinyan and her team make it work. “It’s taking risk and having something really interesting and impactful,” she says of the work she most admires.

So what if her name isn’t on the wall? It’s in the story the space is telling.