Shawn Christman, Independent Stair Designer
Founder and former president, Seattle Stair & Design
President, Stairbuilders & Manufacturers Association
The Home Trust International (HTI): Thank you for being here today. I was extraordinarily impressed when I first learned about your relationship with Compagnons du Devoir, the elite Guild of woodworkers who built the great cathedrals and chateaux of France. But I quickly learned you’re a global citizen who travels to wherever is necessary to ensure extraordinary design and quality. What is it that inspires Shawn Christman?
Shawn Christman, Seattle Stair (SC): I think the lines in Vermillion Canyon, Utah reflect the sensual flow that is evident in good staircase design. Or the shape of a wave of breaking surf. Or the curves of a woman’s beautiful long flowing hair. These all relate to the organic and curvaceous forms we introduce into the structure of our work.
HTI: Speaking of staircase design, what first compelled you to enter your business field?
SC: Two things: Beauty and necessity.
Beauty because staircases should be beautiful. They can be dramatic and add to the beauty of one’s life. They have historical and cultural echoes that involve home and family. And Hollywood! My Fair Lady, Southern charm and the kids at Christmas.
Stairs are a necessity; make them something special!
I was pushed into it. I had studied and built staircases for 15 years when I was asked to complete two major staircases in a home of a Fortune 500 individual’s waterfront estate. The architect, one of the best in the region, told me he was stumped. Yet, in my head, the design was already complete. It just needed to be put on paper. That was the point when I realized the critical nature of what I do and why architects and designers seek this help.
HTI: Do you have a particular style?
SC: Absolutely not. Unless I’m asked, my work nearly always fits within a larger context. If I have a style, it’s this: to get deep enough into the mindset of the owners that I can effectively generate design concepts that resonate with them. My drive is to inspire and tantalize a client so thoroughly that they fall in love and are simply unable to walk away from a design.
HTI: On a more personal note, are you the same person at home as you’re known by your colleagues and industry?
SC: I’m known in the industry as a globetrotting, Seattle-based, creative class entrepreneur who pilots his own plane to projects in Sun Valley, Lake Tahoe and LA. My friends and family know me as rather quiet and introspective.
HTI: I’d add intellectual and inspiring to your descriptor. In what ways has your company or industry changed over the years?
SC: The world has evolved a lot. People have very little extra time on their hands these days. Things move much faster than just a few years ago, and that’s not just because were all getting older.
I can feel the relief my clients experience when they realize we can solve their challenges. It’s palpable. They stay involved in the process, but they know they can relax about this part of the project and go on to other pressing things.
HTI: Again, what inspires you and who has most influenced you?
SC: My clients! We’re not done until that’s mutual.
HTI: Shawn, thank you for your time today.