Dunn-Edwards Portraits: California Man Pursues Creative Path Over Planned Medical Career
01/15/2024 | Danielle Kinahan |
Calvin Ma immediately sketched a plan for his professional trajectory upon receiving admission to the University of California, Los Angeles. That vision included four years of medical school after completing four years of college. Ma swiftly observed, however, that higher education offers its own roadmap for transformation. Upon entering college, he abandoned plans to enroll in medical school and earned a sociology degree instead.
But Ma soon grew apprehensive about a profession in which he would investigate social issues. “I started getting nervous because I am such a creative person,” he explained. “My heart was really telling me I needed to follow my passion. I always enjoyed the interior decorating aspect at home, so my mother suggested I try interior design because she knew I enjoyed it. I took her advice and am now pursuing a master’s degree at UCLA Extension/Cal Poly Pomona.”
Following his passion not only led to educational success but also professional recognition. Ma submitted the winning project for the annual Dunn-Edwards Emerging Professionals Design Competition. Ma secured the grand prize in 2023 and won in the commercial category in 2022. “I was thrilled to hear the news,” Ma said. “I put a lot of effort into my design, but so many others did the same thing. It was an honor to be recognized. Dunn-Edwards offers all up-and-coming designers a wonderful opportunity to enhance their skills by offering these competitions.”
Admission to the competition was open to student designers from across the country. As part of the competition, Ma redesigned the living area of a musical artist’s casita, or “little house.” Designers worked within constraints and incorporated Terra Rosa, (DE5096) Dunn-Edwards 2023 color of the year. Ma described Terra Rosa as a refined color that both inspires and nourishes those in the room. He regarded the color as "crucial" to achieving his overarching goal for the project, which was to design a living space that engendered coziness, comfort, and creativity.
When developing a design project, Ma relies heavily on the past. He studies the area’s culture, society, and history and looks to the architecture for inspiration. According to Ma, the competition sparked his curiosity regarding sustainability and the exploration of design cultures from around the world. To prepare, he conducted extensive research on the social fabric and history of Palm Springs. He explained, “When you think of Palm Springs, you envision low mid-century modern homes retreating into the distance." Ma said they often adorned these homes with vivid colors. “Since we are right on the border with Mexico, I wanted to pay homage to the people who helped build Palm Springs.” He honored the Mexican people and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians by placing handcrafts, ceramics, and woven objects in the living room.”
When designing the layout of a room, Ma also focused on reflecting the outside world. “I like to incorporate the environment into a room,” he explained. “In this design, for instance, I scalloped the ceiling of the living room to mimic the line of the distant mountains. Then I thought about directing the sun away to moderate temperature and using the best tiles for cooling.” Along with that, Ma envisions how people will live and move through the room. “Functionality is obviously important,” he said. "A musician uses this small space. To accommodate a record player or speakers, I concealed storage space behind sliding doors. It was important to arrange the sectional and bookshelf to allow for easy access to a book.”
To provide a sense of holistic balance, Ma introduced several Dunn-Edwards Life in Poetry shades. Considering them "cool, but welcoming," he relied on Singing the Blues (DET576), Thundercloud (DE5774), and Aloe Plant (DE5563), to evoke the open sky and desert plants. "I love the Life in Poetry color palette, and Terra Rosa is a part of it,” he said. “It is bright and summery. It fits in well with a casita in Palm Springs.” Ma prefers several Dunn-Edwards shades, especially in the blue color palette. His current favorite is Dusty Dream (DE6312), which he described as a muted blue green.
Being the recipient of two victories provided Ma with the chance to assess his progress and observe the development of his abilities. Comparing the two winning designs, Ma remarked that his use of materials was more sophisticated. His confidence has increased with every skill he has mastered, allowing him to rely on his intuition. This has made the creative process more seamless and accurately represented his authentic design aesthetic. Ma urged those interested in a career in the industry to trust their intuition and stay true to themselves. One recommendation for doing that, he said, was to avoid “drowning in a sea of visual information.” “Right now, there are so many social media platforms and design websites and blogs out there,” he said. “And those can really blur the lines between your personal style and someone else’s style. We need to take a step back from all this visual media. I recently realized that I had leaned a bit too far from my own personal style after studying certain individuals' work. I took a step back from all that noise and rediscovered myself by looking back at my portfolio from when I started. It is crucial to find that balance.”
Structurally and aesthetically, Ma’s style leans toward the creation of passive, environmentally friendly structures that will last. “I am really interested in sustainability and upcycling, as are most people in the industry,” he said. “We need to work better, whether it is using recyclable and biodegradable materials or increasing things that are usually just tossed away.” As for the future, Ma is planning to graduate in the spring of 2025. He also has a strong interest in architecture, which he intends to pursue after he receives his master’s degree. “There are just so many benefits to my career because architecture and interior design go hand in hand in so many ways. If I don’t do this, I know I will regret it,” he said. “It will be another few years of schooling, but I can take it.”
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