Fearless in Design
Photos by Matt Rose
Steve Parker and Chris Slusher are not your typical designers. That becomes readily apparent when you step into their North Asheville home, which doubles as a design incubator and office space for the two men, partners of 30 years.
In concept, the lower floor of the residence echoes the names of the two design companies that Parker and Slusher have been respectively running for the past few years: Urban-Suburban Design, Inc., and Portable Style, Inc. The walls are covered by silver-painted tin roof and Victorian ceiling tiles, street signs and vintage license plates culled from antique stores and eBay. “My default in design is always asymmetry and diversity,” says Parker. “I will, of course, respond to a client’s needs and desires, but if left unsupervised, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Slusher has a degree in architecture, an inclination toward historic preservation and a talent for creating folding-screen art pieces. Parker has a degree in marketing, a business background and an “absolute passion” for interior design.
“We’re calling what we mainly do right now ‘design consulting,’” says Parker. “We both were raised in families where, if you wanted something, you made it yourselves — champagne tastes on a beer budget, as I like to say. We can come up conceptually with designs and execute them, or we can play very well with others and collaborate with local people. We do what we’re calling a lot of ‘value-added items.’”
Parker and Slusher are skilled at transforming found items into show-stoppers and antique pieces into carefully crafted centerpieces, much like the wall coverings in their home. The team adds ambiance to rooms with everything from up-cycled clocks to creative upholstery on the walls. “We help people find their way to creative interiors through design services, as well as our own long careers in history and art and decorative interiors,” Slusher says.
“We are going for a look or a feeling that’s not necessarily needing the investment of the Sotheby’s piece,” adds Parker. “It’s a forté of ours — and we have fun doing it, and the clients enjoy it.”
Some of the duo’s creations can be found at the Screen Door in Asheville, a 25,000-square-foot wonderland of accessories for home and garden that Parker once managed. Combining the efforts of Urban-Suburban Design and Portable Style, the two are also launching a Web site, a Facebook page, and an Etsy shop, doing business as Hanker and Itch, a moniker they’ve recently assumed.
They’ve also created pieces for Canyon Kitchen, a restaurant in sleepy Sapphire, N.C., owned by the Eason and Jennings families of Sunburst Trout Farms and helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef John Fleer. Canyon Kitchen has been modeled to look like a revamped barn, with expansive doors to let in a stunning view of the ridge that serves as its backdrop. “We thought it was important to acknowledge its country presence without getting cute — so no roosters or chickens,” says Slusher with a laugh. Instead, they focused on farm-life details, creating a lamp using a water pump with a shade made from an old wire basket. “Things that speak to country living,” says Parker.
Though their own styles evidence a love for metallic paints and found objects like old lunch tins, antique soda bottles, and distressed shutters affixed to doors for dramatic textural interest, the two are clearly adept at adapting a space to fit more traditional tastes. As with Canyon Kitchen, Parker and Slusher listen to the spirit of the structure to determine what it needs — Slusher calls it finding the “ghost” in the room. “But we listen very well, first to the client, and secondly to the space or house — and we trust our intuition,” he says.
Slusher’s design pet peeve does not involve a certain hue or cut of furniture but, instead, a client’s fear of those very things: “The fear to open yourself up to try something new, the fear of even putting a different color of paint on the wall,” he explains. “For me, it’s the fear of the unknown that causes people to be complacent and accept the status quo. If people have worked with us, they know they can trust us to come up with creative things to their liking that will be safe enough for them — or even that go out on a limb enough for them. My biggest peeve is when people are bound up in their fear and not willing to live large.”
“Life’s too short,” adds Parker. “I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Your interior is your nest, and I would like to see people treat themselves to some things, even if it means going with less stuff. Why own things that don’t create joy, pleasure or comfort?”
“Surround yourself with beauty and utility,” Slusher agrees. “Get rid of the clutter.”