When a former Blue Man Group member meets a film and television set designer, things can get funky. But the atypical design backgrounds of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based husband-and-wife duo responsible for full- service interior design studio Me and General Design only help to fuel their aesthetic. Their designs can be found in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful’s concept house in Colorado, the upcoming Obsidian Virtual Concept House by the Black Artists + Designers Guild, and more. And the duo’s design chops extend beyond creating living spaces into award-winning product design as well. Cristina Casañas-Judd and General Judd spent some time speaking with Custom Builder about their roots and their take on current housing design.
You both come from unique backgrounds. How did a former Blue Man and a film set decorator join forces?
General: The sort of point that brought Cristina and I together was that we are both very creative. She was in the TV film industry and I also had a film and TV production background when I lived in North Carolina. That’s what unified us ... besides falling in love.
Cristina: We blend really well together. [General] did have that experience, being in the art department for film and production, which really is interior design in a whole different capacity. When we joined forces to create our business, he just flew in seamlessly and all of that prior training came in there and then his experience as a performer, as a Blue Man, helped all of the chats [we have] with people and the performing side of our business. It was definitely unconventional and unique, but it’s really proven to give us that little edge.
Cristina, how does your Chilean background influence your work? And General, do you incorporate your North Carolina roots into your work?
Cristina: I am first generation, but I heavily traveled to Chile during my childhood, and now we frequent every year, and my parents actually moved back. So the roots, the family, are all still there strongly. How it influences my design aspect is I have a love of textural, hand-crafted, artisanal materials, which I think, in Chile ... there’s loads of that. I obviously just love the natural elements in my design and I feel like it’s a nod to that, a nod to my Chilean heritage, and combining that with a contemporary, modern twist with maybe some massive pops of color.
General: For me, North Carolina symbolizes past and present; a nod to the past as far as older things, antiques, family heirlooms ... and things like that. I sort of bring that into the future. I like mixing those elements. There are families that may have an antique thing we can update. We had a client who had a piece and we turned it into something new that was more modern but still had its old edge to it.
Tasked with designing the “adult playroom” for House Beautiful’s Colorado concept home last year, Me and General Design chose inverted Fireclay tile, local artwork, and their own Swick Board speaker to enhance the modish space.
Your design philosophy also emphasizes storytelling. What does that look like?
General: We built that from the beginning because you listen to the client and you start to take in their story. We begin to build a design based on that. Then we listen to ourselves ... and we create this story that informs every nuance of the design, from the colors to the wallpaper to the textures, even the magazines on the side table and things like that. The wonderful thing we love about all of this is that everyone’s story is going to be different, so you’re going to get a unique design [each time].
Cristina: As coined on our website, “We elevate the human spirit.” When you fix and renovate someone’s home, envisioning it to [meet] their expectations of how they want to be, and then they see it, that’s the best part for us. [Clients] feel that confidence ... that “Wow, you just reenvisioned my whole lifestyle.”
Your studio focuses on “minimal essentialism.” Can you explain what that means?
Cristina: I feel like that also comes from Chilean roots as well because when you are in another country, you do live a different minimal essentialism. You’re literally using what you have available to you and are reusing and recycling. It happened a lot more frequently when I was in Chile visiting ... what I’ve experienced in my time there. I love applying that, even to the richest clients in the world. You may have a massive house, but we’re going to utilize every aspect that you’re using, every square foot of your home, and it’s going to be whatever level you are and whatever you are; it’s curated especially for you.
The duo’s lobby design for Rose Associates’ residential building focuses on showcasing the work of local Brooklyn designers and artists.
You try to use custom designed pieces in your projects. Tell us about one of those pieces and why you do this.
General: The standout thing for us, because we created it, is our custom Swick Board. It’s a surfboard speaker. The client asked for something very special. We had this idea, and Cristina said, “Hey, let’s put this thing together!” We came up with the idea, we put it into production, and we worked on this for a while ...
Cristina: … It’s an upcycled surfboard we repurposed and, to give it a new life, we incorporated sound into it. We engineered it with Leon Speakers, in Ann Arbor, [Mich.] The Swick really is unique in the sense that we did this for a client one time and it turned into four, then 10, then 20. And we always look to other colleagues—fellow makers and designers—and incorporate their custom designs.
As a team, how do you resolve decisions when your visions don’t align?
Cristina: That’s always the most fun question! I think we have mastered the artistry of listening, not only listening to our clients, but listening to each other and team members at the same time. And it’s really understanding and opening the door to hearing what they have to say and, whether it works or not, assessing it and talking about it. It’s a process of being open, and that translates into the personal sector as being husband and wife. You remain open to each other’s ideas. Whether [an idea is] thrown in the trash or it’s used, either way, we give each other the respect of that.
What is something you both would love to see more of in home design?
General: In custom home building, it’s been the year of working on inclusion. With Cristina being from Chile, and me being from North Carolina and being African American, it’s to have more people of color represented and having that representation in all aspects of the industry, from architects to designers, to engineers and artists and products.
Cristina: When you broaden the spectrum of having more representation within design, then the design of homes themselves becomes more eclectic and more open. Also, one of the things we touch upon is, no matter what culture you come from, it’s not necessarily a design of that culture but a design from myself. I do bring in moments of what I am from Chile. There is an element of what I would bring to [a design], while keeping clients’ desires in mind. I also have certain things I bring to the table as a recommendation [for clients] to mix with what they have.
Are there any current or emerging design trends you’re loving or hating?
Cristina: The biggest trend was the home and the office. Your home is still going to be your epicenter. People are not going to forget that if something happens, they have the comfort of their home. That trend is the new normal, it’s here to stay. That’s the trend that emerged and we all felt it. [And now] it’s going to be living in a different capacity, as things open up again.
Caroline Broderick is associate editor of Custom Builder.