From the Desk of ... Gretchen Smelter

From the Desk of ... Gretchen Smelter Welcome to FTDO (From the Desk of...), a new series that answers the question "What IS all of that crap on your desk?"

Anybody who knows former Brides CD (and former SPD VP) Gretchen Smelter knows she was born to travel. So, after a stellar career that has included stops at Fast Company, Martha Stewart Living, SmartMoney, and Real Simple, it was not a big surprise that in September 2010, she jumped at the opportunity to work in Hong Kong as the Group CD for Edipresse, publishers of the Asian editions of the renowned British Tatler franchise and 180 other properties.

In early 2011, Smelter and photographer Frédéric LaGrange traveled to Bali to get married, and decided they wanted to stay. By October, they were living in the island paradise, and traveling and working all over Asia. Gretchen can count Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Macau, Japan, and Turkey among the recent stamps in her passport.

Recently she and her husband were hired by Aman Resorts to create a book about their outpost in Bali. That's where we caught up with her.

  • This villa at Amankila was Gretchen's office for a month
    This villa at Amankila was Gretchen's office for a month
  • The lobby at Amankila, home base
    The lobby at Amankila, home base
  • Gretchen's terrace view
    Gretchen's terrace view
  • Gretchen's mantra
    Gretchen's mantra

1. I notice you're reading The 4-Hour Work Week. How's that working out for you?
Actually I haven't started reading it yet because I've been too busy. So I guess it's not working out so well for me yet--although I am working in Bali ... that's a start, no?

2. Looks like you do all of your work on your laptop, no big screen. I guess that's the price of being portable. By the way, where's the nearest Apple Store?
Between Frédéric [LaGrange, her photographer husband] and me, we have 2 laptops: a 15" and a 17". But I do end up doing all of my designing on a laptop--definitely a challenge. But like you said, it's the price of being portable. And thank God I haven't needed an Apple Store yet (I'm knocking on wood as I type this) because I think the closest one is in Hong Kong, not exactly around the corner! That said, I have gotten much more tech-savvy being without a tech guy. I know a lot more than I realized!

ED NOTE: We checked. Gretchen's nearest Apple Store is actually in Perth, Australia (1874 miles), not Hong Kong (2023 miles). But at least the Genius speaks English. Also, that's Gretchen's mantra on the screen.

3a. Are flip-flops the new power shoes? What's that thing next to them? 
Ha! Yes, Havaianas are the new Louboutins here! I left all my heels in NYC. I miss them a lot, but my lower back thanks me every day for leaving them behind.

I wish I could say it was something cool and "Eastern" like incense but, that thing next to the flops is an anti nyamuk bakar which translates to "anti-mosquito grilled"--a mosquito coil. In the early evening, bugs get nasty here.

3b. And what about all those photos on the floor?
That's our storyboard on the floor. It's for a book project that Frédéric is shooting and I'm designing. When you're based in a hotel room, you can't tape stuff all over the walls, so we improvised and are using a bamboo mat on the floor.

4) What's in the box?
I got the box about two months ago when I was traveling in Sri Lanka. It's hand-painted with peacocks--I had to have it! Inside I keep my Indonesian flash cards. I'm trying desperately to learn the language and they come in handy when having to converse for work. My favorite line that I've learned so far is saya tidak enak badan, which literally translates to "my body is not delicious" but in Indo means "I'm not feeling very well." Too good! That other thing in the box with the scratched-in balinese characters is called a lontar. The Balinese put them in their homes to ward off evil spirits and to bring them luck. This one was hand-made for me by one of our Balinese friends here at Amankila. And a hand fan, a necessity here because it gets HOT!


5) Every designer has their desk "stuff." What things do you need around you to make working easier? And have you been schlepping your books all over the world with you?
Once I became mobile--about 7 months ago--I knew I couldn't lug around so much stuff, so I had to down-size and just take the essentials. I really just need my font library, my laptop, my pica ruler, a portable hard drive, mechanical pencils, and my iPhone (for music). Oh and a mouse! I'm old-school like that. Frédéric has a fancy tablet, but I just can't get the hang of it.

Of course, if you'd asked me what I miss having, the first thing would be a big, fancy color printer. Second? A high-powered scanner. Third? A production assistant (so don't love trimming my own layouts and setting up templates that require me to accurately measure. Blech!)

I do have a few books that I carry with me, but we end up buying books and magazines wherever we are, depending on the project. Thankfully, most places we've been have a decent book shop or at least a mag stand. The books on my desk are borrowed from the Amankila library. I needed to research the Aman brand and also get some reference on Bali and Balinese fabrics and batik, since the book we are currently working on is for Amankila, which is located in East Bali. Luckily, they have a nice library.

I'm surprised you didn't ask about the carved wooden penguins on top of the book pile. Those were given to us by one of the local ladies who worked in the house we rented. She knew we were planning on coming back to NYC, and she associates NYC with being cold all the time. So she carved the penguins herself and gave them to us as our going-away gift when we left! So bizarre, I love them!


  • Neil Jamieson

    no fair...seriously, this is so unfair that you'd post this on a dreary thursday morning here in the big (grey) apple. How marvelous though! inspiring stuff

blog comments powered by Disqus