Stephanie Lake has a fabulous studio in her home in Minnetonka where she hand crafts her luxury jewelry. In addition to her jewelry, Lake is an established interior designer with a Ph.D in the history of Decorative Arts and Design along with being the foremost scholar on fashion icon Bonnie Cashin. Check out her upcoming trunk show on April 7.
Photos and interview by Kelsey Johnston
Secrets: Where are you from?
Stephanie: At this point it’s a mash-up and I am “from” everywhere that I have spent significant time. I was born in Chicago. I spent my childhood in Houston and my adolescence in Minnetonka. As an undergrad I lived between Dallas and St. Paul and finished in London, where I ended up living for a while. For grad school and all through my 20’s I was based in Manhattan but also lived or worked in Paris, London, Istanbul and Tokyo. By the time I was 30 I was living on both coasts, commuting between Los Angeles and New York, until I re-met my husband, Cory (we were high school crushes). We started living here, New York and Los Angeles, and now it is Minnetonka full-time—not quite full circle but awfully close.
Secrets: You have had an amazing travel log, what are some highlights?
Stephanie: There have been so many surreal moments. I will never forget remember walking through Versailles with the on-site curators and opening rooms that had been undisturbed for decades, one filled with 18th-century cabinets covered in butterfly wing decoupage. But not everything is so lofty! (laughs) I went to Kyoto primarily to spy on Geisha and the Yakuza, the Japanese mobsters, who were incredible with their bleached hair and enormous American cars. The first time I lived in London I worked at Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus and one day I would see Vivienne Westwood on her bicycle, the next day Def Leppard signing autographs. In Istanbul, I almost drowned in the Turkish baths (it is not like a spa day, at all). So, there are a million memorable moments, but for me travel is always a reminder to look at my own day-to-day surroundings and find some delight. It is my constant assignment to try to maintain that heightened sense of wonder.
Secrets: Tell me about sense of space or what is important about a room.
Stephanie: For a while I lived on the second floor of the old mayor’s mansion in Brooklyn, this fabulous, grand nineteenth-century residence. One day the owner hung this shoddy, bright clash of a painting on my landing and I could not sleep at night. I hated it and I couldn’t cope. I wrote a letter and demanded its removal, and then all was well. (laughs) There are so few things that we can control, but for the most part we can choose the spaces we inhabit. The contents should reflect what you find important and inspiring. For me, it is not a matter of the scale of any particular space but I am obsessed with finding distinguished, beautifully-made art and objects. Collecting is a major passion for both Cory and I, and our home is teeming with things that we identify with and that make us happy.
Secrets: What’s your favorite metal or stone to work with?
Stephanie: Malachite! I’m obsessed with malachite! Malachite, malachite, malachite! (laughs)
Secrets: What’s it like to be the 5th scholar in the world to earn a Ph.D. in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture?
Stephanie: It’s staggering and it’s an honor and I’m so proud that I got through it. I am so proud. It took at least a year after I received my Ph.D. for me to realize that I didn’t have to wake up everyday and work on it. It was a grueling decade-long project. It also took me a while to realize that I actually earned those credentials. At first it was strange to be called “Dr. Lake.”
Secrets: Did you have a thesis?
Stephanie: Yes, Bonnie Cashin was the subject of both my MA thesis and my doctoral dissertation. In my degrees I focused on decorative arts and design from the last three centuries, primarily European and American, and my major field of study was French and American fashion. For the PhD it was a few years of coursework, then a year of study for exams followed by research, writing, editing, and defense of the dissertation.
Secrets: Tell me about your recent work.
Stephanie: I have been burning through recent finds: Lucite links, mid-century molten metal pendants, art deco rock crystal, Victorian metallic ribbon, but I never have a plan or a direction. I’m not interested in trends or thinking “this season, it is all about x y and z.” I am violently opposed to that notion and approach. Every day I go into my studio and stare at the design tables and try out different combinations in my mind. Half the time when I start to mock-up a design something else catches my eye and it goes in a new direction. I draw ideas from memory, from this incredible visual library that I amassed through study, but it is done subconsciously. Really, most of what I do is a mystery to me (laughs). It is instinctive and very intimate. When I am in love with a design and want to keep it for myself, it is done. Some of the earliest evidence of civilization is the instinct to adorn, to wear something that allows others to identify who you are. I find myself more in touch with that role, trying to create what I think are absolutely gorgeous, distinctive pieces that will become someone else’s signature.
Secrets: What do you like best about living near Minneapolis/St. Paul?
Stephanie: When my husband and I first got married I said “I love you, I want to be your wife, but I will not live in Minnesota. My life isn’t there, my people aren’t there, I can’t do it.” We had places here, New York, and LA, and because he is in the music business (he owns American Guitar & Band) we assumed we would settle in LA. This came crashing down when we needed a new mop. It took us two hours to get to Home Depot and that was it. Done. So, I got over it and we decided to be here full time. It helped tremendously to come back under romantic circumstances that were nothing short of a fairy tale. This is the place where I first fell in love with my husband 20-odd years ago. I can revisit being an adolescent, having a huge crush on him. I also love the ease of living here (mops are all over the place) and the discretion. It’s not a pretentious place. After living in Los Angeles, where the reigning sensibility tends towards desperation, I love that this is a respectful, tolerant place with a great deal of integrity.
Secrets: What is your favorite establishment in Minneapolis/St. Paul?
Stephanie: Walker Sculpture Garden. When Cory and I were kids we used to have our secret dates there. We would stroll around and pretend we were a couple, though at the time neither one of us dared to confess that to the other. As soon as he proposed, he whisked me off to walk through the garden. We went right to where we used to stroll hand-in-hand.
Secrets: What was your childhood dream career?
Stephanie: First it was a toss-up was between princess and prima ballerina or, ideally, a prima ballerina who becomes a princess. By the time I was 8 or 10 I wanted to be a lawyer or the president. I wore blazers with everything. (laughs) There are pictures of me flying to Florida for spring break wearing a blazer. I look like a miniature traveling salesperson, but I assumed that people stared because my look said “VIP” and they were trying to figure out who I was. Then I was convinced I would be a cellist, tennis player, painter, or French translator, whatever I was taking lessons in. In high school I did spend a lot of time daydreaming about being an art collector married to Cory Lake. By then I knew I would do something in the arts, but who knew I would also get the man of my dreams?