For CVA, award-winning interior designer James Hunter to discuss creating space for artists

As a luxury interior design director, James Hunter typically configures spaces for high-profile clients; however, in his blueprints and designs, he also maps out room for artists. 

“When I explain to clients that by buying this object, or by having this thing made for them, not only is it unique to them, but it’s actually promoting this opportunity for artists to continue to support themselves and what they love to do,” he said, “that is one of the things I am most proud of with my work.”

At 5 p.m. Sunday in the Hall of Christ, Hunter is scheduled to give the final Chautauqua Visual Arts lecture of the 2022 season, though Institution programming remains, to a degree, tentative this weekend. He describes the lecture as a full-circle moment in the trajectory of his career. 

In college, while working as an undergraduate teaching assistant in the painting department at SUNY Fredonia’s summer school program for art students, he was invited to participate in a group exhibit at Chautauqua. 

“The exhibition was at the very beginning of my career, before I ever started working in interior design,” he said. “I had work in one of the galleries, and now here I am (over two decades later), coming back to give a lecture.”

In his lecture, Hunter will talk about the different types of jobs available to artisans within the realm of interior design and his role as a leading design director at the Wiseman Group. 

The Wiseman Group is an interior design firm based in San Francisco. Although the firm originally specialized in creating luxury residential interiors for Fortune 500 company owners, it has since transitioned into designing other spaces, such as offices, vacation homes and even private jet and yacht interiors. 

The company was originally founded 42 years ago, in 1980, by designer Paul Vincent Wiseman. Hunter joined the firm in 1996.  

Before Hunter started doing interior design work, he worked primarily as an artist, who specialized in textile-based work and surface printing. He received both an undergraduate degree and a master’s in art education from SUNY Buffalo State College. After attaining his master’s, he attended a formative decorator showcase in the city, which provided creatives with the chance to be selected to redesign the interior of a home.  

“I submitted a proposal to re-do the space and I got selected to do the project. That was really how I got started in interior design, because I was able to combine both my textile and surface printing backgrounds,” he said.         

The result was the creation of a printed linen fabric that he upholstered on home walls. Hunter said the experience ultimately sparked his interest in interior design and was the onset of much of the upholstery-based interior work he did at the beginning of his career. 

After college, during his free time, he started regularly redesigning spaces like apartments, homes, and even restaurants for himself, friends, and family members, which eventually led him to receive actual clients through referrals. 

One day, he had the epiphany that his passion could be translated directly into a full-time career.  

“I realized that while doing all this, when I was taking some time off work, that I was working harder doing interior design than when I was working,” he said. “So, I decided to pursue it.”

What started out as a simple pastime has become an extensive career. After focusing on designing and moving to the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1990s, he accepted a design position at the Wiseman Group. Hunter has spent 26 years of his professional career at the firm. As a director, he manages an entire team of designers and other directors, and works directly with clients to help bring their unique spatial visions to fruition. 

“Working with clients is great because many of the clients are already patrons of the arts in many different ways,” he said. “Not only are they on the boards of galleries and museums, but they appreciate collecting and buying art. … They’re also very philanthropic. … If it wasn’t for our generous clients, the artists wouldn’t have the work (opportunities). Our clients help support artists by allowing us to do these beautiful interiors.” 

The firm often collaborates with artisans and suppliers to create custom pieces and designs, ranging from simple to extraordinary, and traditional to contemporary. The company works with creatives in a wide variety of fields and skill sets, such metalworking, fabric embroidery and printing, carpeting, custom furniture design, lighting design and decorative painting. 

In addition to their studio practices, many artists often have to find other ways to make an income, and through his work, Hunter endeavors to connect them with the creative outlets, tools and resources to do so. He ultimately views interior design as a way for artists to supplement their income and as a means to make a sustainable profit for their work, which can be difficult. 

“Decorative painting is just one example of a great segue,” he said. “A lot of decorative painters are also visual artists, but then they do decorative painting as another form of income. We will typically have painters do murals for us, and custom painting on walls.”

Through his work, Hunter strives to bring awareness to the different career and business opportunities available to artists.

“There’s a lot of different paths that someone who is a visual artist can take, whether it becomes their mainstay or it’s just an addition to their fine art,” he said.  

Tags : The ArtsVisual Arts Lecture Series

The author Will Karr

Will Karr is a rising senior at SUNY Fredonia majoring in journalism with a minor in English. He is from Jamestown, New York. This is Will’s first summer at Chautauqua. Will is working as the Daily’s visual arts and youth reporter. He will also be working as a multimedia journalist at WNY News Now in Jamestown. He is very excited to serve Chautauqua County communities in all his different endeavors this summer.