Meet three locals who understand both business and art
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
Paul Rand, the legendary graphic designer who created some of our most iconic pieces of visual language, once said that “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.”
Design goes far beyond simply laying out lines, colors and shapes on a page. It is the fabric of our culture, the visual palette of our lives. And, yes, it is far more complicated than just making things look pretty. Here you’ll meet three locals who know full well how complicated design can be, and what a difference it makes when it’s done correctly.
Locals Alex Sineath, Kathleen Mayers and Shane Gould share a passion for great design.
This product designer wrote the book on Hilton Head Island signs
You may not know who Alex Sineath is. You might have even met him before, or heard the delightful stories that flow so effortlessly from him in his soothing Southern-toned accent. Even then, you might not know who he is.
But we can all but guarantee you’ve seen his work.
“I feel like throughout my career I’ve been competing in a hide-and-seek contest,” he said with a laugh. “I must have won, because they can’t find me.”
If he’s hiding, it’s in plain sight. Beginning his career with legendary firm Design/Joe Sonderman in Charlotte, Sineath’s introduction to the Lowcountry came in the late ’70s when the firm was hired to design signage and structures in Sea Pines, Shipyard and Port Royal. “I dealt with people who were instrumental in designing the Hilton Head Island character as we know it,” he said.
I feel like throughout my career I’ve been competing in a hide-and-seek contest,”
He was hooked on that character, and saw his future in helping tell its story as the island grew. Moving to the island, he helped develop the visual languages for Northridge and Main Street, among others. “I was a perfect fit for the island, and I knew I would be because I’d designed signs for Sawgrass and a bunch of projects in Florida.”
His flair for design and his painstaking precision would soon see him designing far beyond signage. Designing and building his Hilton Head Plantation home was just the start of a phase in his career that saw him designing clubs, buildings and resorts. In 1991 he landed with the Melrose Company, where his work as a project manager saw him designing not just local sites like the company’s Daufuskie Island sales office, but far-off projects from ski clubs in Colorado to the Esparanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas. Then one day, a chance meeting with a client changed everything.
“We were standing in a power line easement because he wanted to buy the land to expand his project, and he said to me, ‘Alex, I just took my daughter off to college this weekend, and I don’t know her. I’ve been going all over the place working.’ I told myself, ‘That is not gonna be me.’”
At the age of 45, he went out on his own. This desire to be near his family saw him reinvesting himself in the visual language of Hilton Head, designing all over the island and serving on the town’s Design Review Board. If we say he wrote the book on Hilton Head Island’s design, it’s because he actually did. In his upstairs office, tucked among dozens of scale models of familiar signs from all points of the island, you’ll find a dusty paperback design guide, an official town document he helped create in 2002.
But he still takes pride in every job. He just finished up the new signs at Shelter Cove, and to hear him speak you’d find him almost choking up when he thinks back on it. “That’s really the place I have pride,” he said. “I get to leave something behind that looks nicer than it did before.”
This rug designer really knows how to tie rooms together
As the KPM of KPM Flooring, Kathleen Mayers knows a thing or two about what makes a good-looking floor. From hardwood to tile, she’s been responsible for some of the most stunning looks in some of the most lavish houses in the Lowcountry.
But a few years into running her flooring company, she realized there was one accessory that truly makes a custom floor pop: a beautiful custom-designed rug. At the time, however, the technology just wasn’t there to let her truly accomplish her vision.
“Historically speaking, custom rugs and hand-knotted rugs were a tedious process when I got into this business,” she said. “But about 12 years ago, vendors latched onto the idea that you could do it quickly and cost-effectively.”
That gave me the confidence that I could do it much more aggressively.”
With the possibilities opening up for custom rugs, she started slowly at first, pulling a pattern here or color there from a client’s home to make something truly unique for their space. One of her first, she recalls, came from a sketch on a napkin. The custom rug that resulted now enjoys a spot of honor in her sister’s Chicago home.
From there, she says, “it just kind of grew.”
The breakthrough for her came around seven years ago during a trip to Nepal. She had been working with a vendor there, tweaking their existing designs and creating custom rugs, when she had a breakthrough. “I did a whole line of rugs and just sat on the floor of their offices and colored for three to four days,” she said. “That gave me the confidence that I could do it much more aggressively.”
Her designs flourished in Lowcountry homes, drawing inspiration from all sorts of places. The famed “lichen” rug which appeared in the pages of LOCAL Life came from a friend’s post on Instagram. For her other custom pieces, inspiration is everywhere. “I travel quite a bit, and when I travel, I make it a point to look around. I’ll pick up inspiration from a wrought-iron gate, or the millwork in an old home,” she said. Her travels have even found her spotting her designs in the wild – while visiting a friend’s showroom in Portland, she learned that a rug she’d designed was one of the top sellers.
For her, the ultimate goal of design is to create a distinctive look to a space, one that defines and ties a room together. “You have to take it from color and concept, really understanding what the client is looking for,” she said. “In fact, it’s our preference that you pick your rug first. There’s so much customization now that unless you need the rug tomorrow, there’s so much that we can do.”
Creativity led this pro snowboarder into apparel design
Shane Gould never set out to be a designer. But somewhere on the road between the life of a professional snowboarder and the head of an internationally renowned apparel company, it just kind of happened.
“When I was traveling on world tour, I was always looking for a side hustle,” said Gould of his early days snowboarding. “The snowboard companies (Sims and later on Burton) I rode for saw early on that I was interested in how things are designed and made, and they really pushed me toward it. Creating apparel out of the gate was just a simple side hustle I thought could work.”
Fuel Clothing was born out of $1,200, a car that served as a mobile showroom and what Gould refers to as “dumb luck and a few other lucky skills.” Now, 28 years later, you’ll find Gould’s designs across a whole line of apparel including jackets, pants, T-shirts, hats, socks and more. Not bad for a self-taught designer.
When you look at a design that worked, and you rely on it to work again,”
“Ask anybody that’s in the design field, you don’t necessarily have to go to school for design. In designing apparel, obviously there are some things you have to learn, but it’s just having an eye for it,” he said. For him, it’s an extension and a reflection of the creativity that drove him as an athlete. “In our industry, the individuals who participate are typically more creative than in team sports. If you’re a snowboarder, you’re by yourself painting a line down a slope. You find people who are more solo artists and creatives within that industry.”
In the last 10-plus years, Gould has expanded Fuel’s offering, taking a risk on private label socks, hats and beanies that blew up in the best way. The apparel is still Fuel’s calling card, but it’s the socks that have drawn the A-list clients. “Let’s say Ford calls me up saying they want to make socks; no problem. Let me do research for color codes and brand guidelines, let me put a little Fuel touch on it, and send me back some samples. Fortunately for us, we’re working with FedEx, Lowe’s, Hoonigan and 500-plus other companies — some of the best brands, athletes and teams in the world,” he said. “I get to dive in and see what they’re about and hopefully create something that resonates with their customers.”
Just as the Fuel brand has expanded and evolved, so too has Gould’s outlook on what makes good design.
“When you look at a design that worked, and you rely on it to work again, you’re typically not looking forward. You’re looking backward. I’m not saying you can’t pull a vintage piece out and make it better. I look at a lot and say, ‘Why did I do that? How did we make that mistake?’ It’s a learning curve like anything. At the end of the day you’re constantly trying to look forward.”
(click on gallery thumbnail for larger photo)