Connecticut College Magazine · Fall 2012

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Jennifer Evans '06 trains Dillon, a capuchin monkey, how to be an assistant and companion to individuals with disabilities. Photo courtesy of Helping Hands.

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Inside the designer's studio

Inside the designer's studio
Joe Lucas '95

At Connecticut College, Joe Lucas '95 set the stage for an unexpected career

by Mary Howard


For Joe Lucas '95, there's no place like home — an exceptionally well-designed home. With residential projects from Florida to Montana, the interior designer and co-owner of Lucas Studio Inc. in West Hollywood, Calif., has built a reputation on stylish, comfortable and classic interiors. Traditional Home named Lucas Studio one of the “Top 20 Young Design Firms to Watch” in 2009; last year, House Beautiful recognized the firm as one of its American Design Trailblazers.

But Lucas never set out to be a designer: The theater and child development major had his heart set on acting. After a stint in the Seattle theater scene, he moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to pursue a career in film and television. To pay the bills, he took a job managing an antique store, occasionally helping out with the owner's interior design clients.
“I didn't want to wait tables like the rest of the town,” he says.

In 2000, Lucas started taking on small design projects for friends. He also got some decent TV roles: His biggest was playing Jack's boss at Barney's on the NBC sitcom “Will & Grace.” “That role got me noticed a bit and was great for my resume,” Lucas says. But the 2001 actor strike slowed his career.

A friend put Lucas in contact with Michael Smith, a top Los Angeles designer. (Smith is now the White House decorator.) Lucas joined Smith's team in 2002 and spent the next three years honing his craft.

“I learned more working with him than I ever could have in any design program,” says Lucas, who went from assisting with design to managing multimillion-dollar projects.

While working with Smith, Lucas met Parrish Chilcoat. “She and I started the same week and became great friends,” he says. When they got the opportunity to work on a few projects themselves, they left and started Lucas Studio in 2005. Three years later they opened Harbinger, their retail showroom.

At Connecticut College, Lucas spent an awful lot of time rearranging his dorm room. He covered a Salvation Army couch with fabric from the mall and put his bed on a makeshift loft to make the room seem bigger.

“Warning bells were sounding everywhere, except in my head,” he says.

Lucas loved his theater professors; Linda Herr, now professor emeritus, and David Jaffe '77, now chair of the department, were great inspirations. Lucas says Jaffe helped him make significant breakthroughs as an actor: “He will always be a mentor to me.”

Jaffe never saw Lucas as a designer. “It just wasn't on my radar,” he says. “I didn't know if he was going to make a life in the theater, but I did know he was going to make a strong place for himself,” Jaffe says.

The humor and spark crafted in his acting classes now help Lucas make sales.

“At the end of the day, I'm a salesman,” he says. “Whether it's selling my business to a potential client or selling a design plan, I can't be boring.”

Read Joe Lucas' tips for decorating like a pro.


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