Eddie Lee comes from a daunting-sounding family of high achievers: Dad’s a doctor, Mom’s a nurse, Sister is a doctor and Brother has a graduate degree in genetics … he was supposed to become “the lawyer”, but that didn’t happen because he became an interior designer. It wasn’t an easy path but he followed this sage advice: “Think about what you used to be. What were your passions when you were a little kid before you ever thought about money or a job?”
We couldn’t dig up very much on you but we did find that little spoof video you did “Sh** Designers Say” – “sooo chic”, “tell me you love it” and so on … it was funny. How did the idea for that video come up?
So, Tori Mellott who worked at Traditional Home and emailed me on a Wednesday and said, “I’m doing this short little video thing at the D&D and you’re like, really funny. Can you just, like meet me there tomorrow?” I was just, like, “Yeah … sure.” I was wondering if it was like, a little insulting to the design industry?
It’s not insulting. It’s just to show that you don’t take yourselves too seriously.
I totally don’t take myself too seriously. These were scripts and there were some things that would never come out of my own mouth so I did say, “Can I say that but in my own words?”
What did you study at Vanderbilt? We do at least know you went there.
I studied political science. I went on to do an MBA at Emory after that.
A lot of designers study political science! Why do you think that is?
I don’t know … truthfully what took you towards political science is that my father is a doctor and my mother is a nurse; my sister was going to medical school and my brother was going to graduate school for genetics and there was never like a thought of design as a profession. There were like, “You’re going to be the lawyer.”
So, I thought, well what do people do before they go to law school? So I did [political science] After I graduated I worked for a year at a marketing firm in Nashville and friends all said, you cannot do this—it’s going to crush your soul.
I suppose when we’re young we’re more likely to be influenced by our parents—when did you give yourself “permission” to be who you are?
I spoke to someone who gave me some sage advice. He said, “Think about what you used to be. What was your passion when you were a little kid before you ever thought about money or a job?” And my mom got Architectural Digest and House & Garden and I used to just pore over those magazines. I used to draw furniture plans, just thinking it was fun.
Did you just move to New York to start doing this?
Yes, I just moved to New York. I started taking classes in the evening at Parsons while I was working at Ogilvy and Mather. Then I met [the late] Greg Jordan at a party and [eventually] I started working for him. He was just starting to get press. I said to him that I would do anything … I would work for nothing and just be an apprentice. Many things in my life, when I look back, it all just sort of happens organically. When you look back it makes sense but while it was happening it was just figuring things out.
He had really big clients like Blaine Trump and Libet Johnson, didn’t he? They were all from Millbrook, weren’t they?
What were your first duties?
Before I even started working for [Greg Jordan] I took a week off work and they flew me out to Vail to help install Libet Johnson’s ski house. We were like, craning furniture in—I’d never done anything like it before! Greg said that they had hired design school grads and they wanted to be working on a design project right away. They didn’t want to climb up a ladder and re-hang a curtain or plug in lamps or carry a bolt of fabric five blocks to the upholsterer. I was willing to do anything.
They were testing me out that week.
It all sounded almost too level-headed at Greg Jordan’s office but I rather miss the screamers. I would like to interview more screamers. We don’t get them anymore! Where are they?
[Laughs] I’m not trying to sound like some sugary, sweet person. Greg wanted to see that I treated everyone with respect and they offered me a job the week after.
What did you not like about the advertising business?
Well, perhaps I would have liked it more if I had been on the creative side but I was in product management and, I mean, how long can you talk about tampons and be, like thrilled … over and over and over again.
What did your family think when you finally ditched the “proper” jobs?
Whatever makes you happy. I think coming out was harder [laughs].
So you’ve become who you are, have you?
[Hesitates] Um … I think I’m still finding out who I am.
What is involved in becoming who we are?
Keeping your eyes open … I know this all sounds so cheesy. I do think honestly that great ideas can come from anywhere. It’s about connections and being a sponge.
Did you ever live in LA when Greg Jordan opened an office there?
No, but I love LA. People give it a bad rap. To me you find the people you like everywhere you are and you find assholes everywhere you are. Maybe you need to filter a little more in LA because a lot of people go there relying on their looks … wanting to be into acting. There’s something about LA, all the crunchy, chewy … the [new age] things you joke about … there’s something really cool about that.
Well, everyone is so driven in New York.
Yeah! I’m going next week and I’ll typically shop the showrooms on Thursday and Friday, stay with friends and fly back on Sunday. And when I’m in the showrooms I’m like I am in New York, boom, boom, boom and you’re out and on to the next one. But the people working in the showrooms, are like, “Hey, do you want some cappuccino? Would you like any green tea?” At first I was irritated but then, I’m, like “You’re right and I’m wrong. Why can’t I sit with you for five minutes and enjoy your tea?”
You said that you like reading … what are you reading?
I’m mortified that I’m saying this but I love escapist fantasy literature. I’ve read the whole of “Game of Thrones” … but years ago. And John Green’s, “The Fault in Our Stars”, which is one of my favorite books of the last few years. I sobbed through half the book.