One of the things we both love about these interviews is the element of the unexpected. And because Joan and Jayne Michaels of 2Michaels Design are twins and who are tall and lovely enough to have once been models, we knew that this was going to be an interesting interview. But then it took another and very moving turn when we started to talk about their childhood and adolescence and how their careers as designers have been a kind of mutual dedication to the memory of their mother, who became ill with breast cancer when they were only 17 and died when they were in their early twenties.
I think we have to start off with the inevitable twin-thing – how are you similar and how are you different?
Jayne: We’re similar, of course our voices, as you have pointed out, and our aesthetic. We’re similar in our outlook on life. We’re different because Joan is so shy and she hates to be in front of people …
Joan: Well, in front of the camera.
And aren’t you in front of the camera?
Joan: Yes, we have a new TV show
Jayne: She hated it … hated it!
What was the TV show?
Jayne: It was on the Discovery Channel. It was twins and there were two apartments that were exactly the same and it was to see how we would each do them. It was called “Double Vision”.
And how did it turn out?
Jayne: I think it was cancelled after six episodes. It was amazing how different each apartment turned out. We were afraid that they would be the same. They were completely different. Mine were always bolder, color-wise and [with] big gestures.
Joan: Mine were more quiet … serene.
That’s like your personalities — you can’t have been surprised then.
Jayne: But then we started to kind of up the ante and she was doing more bold and I got more quiet, because then I got really interested in that.
So you work together pretty much every day…
Jayne: We do.
Do you pick the same type of men?
Joan: No! I always go for the arty type.
Why are you [Jayne] rolling your eyes like that?
Jayne: Because they can be a pain. They’re unrealistic about life—they’re dreamers.
Joan: I always go for the dreamers. Jayne goes for the very good businessman, very mature, stable man, kind of the father figure.
You grew up on the west coast, is that right? How did you come to be in New York?
Joan: We were actually born in Utah. Our father was an aerospace engineer. Our father was 18 years older than our mother and he was a scientist and they divorced. He went to Florida and my mother went to Palm Springs, and so we grew up in Palm Springs.
That’s a strange place to grow up.
Jayne: Sooo conservative. A lot of older people, a lot of cocktails with the so-called Rat Pack type of people … the Bob Hope Classic. All the old celebs live there.
Did you just want to get out of there?
Jayne: We did.
Joan: But I think it really made us appreciate modern design. We used to walk home from school through the Tamarind Country Club, which was Richard Neutra … and we’d look in the windows of all these [other] beautiful homes. It just really had an impact.
Jayne: That sensibility was so modern. It was really spare, and the light, the nature … we didn’t appreciate it at the time.
When you were younger did you try to get away from each other in order to be distinct from one another?
Jayne: We did. We tried to get away from each other but our mother died when we were 21 and then our father died two or three months later. Those years were pure hell. My mother got cancer when we were, like 17. She got breast cancer. So we felt that we couldn’t relate to our friends. Nobody else was going to the hospital with their parents. I guess we didn’t really have carefree teenage years.
[Sian] My mother died of cancer when I was 17 – how does it make you feel in terms of going forward with your lives?
Jayne: It makes you feel like life is really short.
Joan: But then it makes you feel more empathetic with people. You kind of automatically gain wisdom.
Jayne: You are forced to grow up really quick, but I don’t regret that, in a weird way. I don’t regret the fact … I don’t know, maybe you do resent the fact that I didn’t have that carefree time.
Joan: I always feel like somebody’s going to die … every day.
Jayne: I don’t have a feeling that I’m going to live to 60 because my mother didn’t live to 60 … in a way I don’t want to live longer than my mother, in a weird way … because I guess I feel she was cheated out of life, so why should I live beyond that point?
Do you think about it all the time?
Jayne: I think about it constantly.
I think about the role of aesthetics and what we have learned over the course of all these interviews, and sometimes I have found the interviewees shallow and annoying and materialistic, but at other times, I have wondered if this obsession with things looking beautiful isn’t a kind of bravery in the face of knowing full well that life is hard and unfair and involves suffering? What do you think?
Jayne: Well, my mother and my aunt were really good at making their environments beautiful, so I think it’s sort of a dedication to my mother that we do what we do. She always wanted to be a designer.
Joan: We kind of wanted to live out my mother’s fantasy.
Jayne: She had a very artistic way of looking at life and everything around her.
Do decorators and designers just have a hyper-nesting instinct?
Jayne: Yes, it is hyper-nesting because you feel like you’re creating your own little cocoon—and you’re safe.
And you’re good at creating that for other people?
Jayne: Right. And you want people to feel safe.
Joan: And comfortable—a place where they are happy to come home to.