It’s not often you come across the words “luxury,” “design,” “conscientious,” and “spiritual” in the same sentence, but after just a few minutes in conversation with designer Anita Lang, these keywords not only make sense in combination, but it becomes clear that “spiritual” and “conscientious” are at the forefront of her worldview.
Since founding the firm IMI Design, Lang has chosen to create spaces that speak as an extension of the souls that dwell within them, eschewing both the simply functional and passing trends. This guiding principle has also extended into Lang’s work designing her own line of sustainable, responsibly sourced products, as well as her philanthropic endeavors, community outreach, and support of the arts.
Describing herself in a good-natured but disarming fashion as “more balls-y than brains-y,” Lang started Interior Motives, Inc., in 1992. As the scope of work quickly increased beyond interiors, the name was shortened to IMI, and though there was an initial impulse to change the name, she chose to stick with the abbreviation for its sonic similarity to “I am I” (a meditative mantra) and adjacency to the spiritually significant Hebraic phrase, “I am what I am.”
“That’s really what interiors do for people – allow them to say to the rest of the world who they are or, even to themselves, ‘This is who I am,’” explains Lang. “I love how it’s come full circle in that now IMI is the most meaningful name I can imagine choosing for my company.”
Lang is a first-generation American; her family migrated to the States from Germany. Her father arrived with almost no money to his name, speaking no English, and went on to found his own machinery business, which evolved into the manufacturing of semiconductors. This was a common thread in her family – to build businesses as they migrated across the Atlantic and integrated into life stateside, including her uncle, who started his own tool-making company.
It’s this familial entrepreneurial spirit that Lang credits for her drive to strike out on her own and further her own vision rather than work to achieve someone else’s. She likewise credits working in her father’s machine shop and on the house he designed and built for the family when she was a child with fostering the spatial and logical aspects of her craft, along with, simultaneously, her creative side.
Discussing her approach to each new project, Lang stresses the importance of a considered methodology rather than an impulsive one. “I never start designing until I do what I call my ‘full download,’” she says, “because ideas start to pop right away, and I try to push off that part of the process until I hear everything about [the client]. In design, it goes everywhere from ‘What’s your favorite color?’ or ‘What’s a color you hate because it reminds you of an aunt you didn’t like?’ to ‘How do you like your socks folded?’ or ‘How do you cook?’ There’s such a span to what you have to understand about the people you’re serving – there’s so much psychology in design.”
For someone who admits to living for the natural high of the creative zone, not giving herself over to impulsivity must be difficult. But it’s clearly an approach that has served her well, as she and her studio have been tapped to design multi-million-dollar homes and commercial developments here in Arizona as well as further afield, with projects stretching from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach, taking in Costa Rica along the way.
Not unlike many others in her field, Lang attributes much of her current success to lessons learned from the 2008 recession. “I make sure there’s a good return on investment in everything we do. Even our design processes – we’ve catalogued and streamlined those.” This streamlining process led to her working with a software developer to create her own application for keeping every aspect that goes into IMI’s projects in one place, accessible to designer, architect, and client. Plans, invoices, spreadsheets – “all of that lives on the E-Binder platform. It makes the communication really clean for the entire team that’s needed to make a project a reality.”
Though she established IMI in Fountain Hills in ’92, Lang was born in Chicago, grew up in Maine, and spent time in Wisconsin, prior to settling in Arizona. After all this time, however, she feels like a native, and what she finds so exciting about the state from a design perspective is how much freedom she’s afforded stylistically.
“It’s a great place for design – it’s certainly allowed my career to blossom,” enthuses Lang. “You can be more innovative with design here in many ways, because we’re such a new state. We’re creating our rules; we’re creating our style. That’s an amazing background to build any kind of creative career from – especially related to architecture and design. I love that about our community.”
Something that is very important to Lang, a passion that carries over into how she helps her clients select the pieces incorporated into their projects (as well as her own product lines, including the already established Design 528 and her forthcoming line of bedding) is a concerted and purposeful shift away from the disposable society and a drive toward responsibly curated and considered choices. As Lang describes it, “buying the best piece you can, with the intention of holding onto it, to let your story develop, let your home become a reflection of your journey,” by incorporating the new with the old over time rather than getting rid of everything and buying all new pieces.
In the case of Design 528, it’s a name carefully selected by Lang for its meaning. “It’s the frequency,” she explains, “528 Hz. It’s actually considered the frequency of love. It’s also middle C, which happens to be the sound that, as humans, we most respond to in a positive way.” This philosophy takes the shape of creating a line of pieces from durable, sustainable materials that are responsibly sourced and produced with fair labor practices. Lang recognizes that the cost of manufacturing in such a manner keeps the price tag fairly high, and she’s constantly looking for ways to combat that and make buying sustainable more affordable, without sacrificing ethically high standards with regard to materials or labor.
Lang’s philosophy is reflected in her philanthropic work as well. Her own nonprofit organization, the Inspire Foundation, uses her connections in the design community (both the business and education sides) to improve nonprofit spaces, including the Foundation for Blind Children. Using materials, time, and expertise donated by businesses, the program fosters the growth of design students by awarding a scholarship and paid internship to the creator of the winning design, and a second scholarship to a student who played an integral role in the project.
Other causes Lang supports include AIDS and cancer research, the Phoenix Art Museum, and organizations aiding disadvantaged women. She also just accepted a position on the board of Walter Hive, an organization with a mission to bring art to the public in the form of practical creative arts that teach a usable skill set. Lang is an arts patron as well, having recently commissioned a large exterior mural at her home by the Fortoul Brothers.
It’s no surprise then, returning to the word “philosophy,” that the one IMI is founded on is “great design elevates the human spirit.” It’s the guiding principle behind every aspect of Lang’s work, and how she measures whether or not she considers her work successful. “Humans have this need for beauty and art, it makes us happy,” says Lang. “That’s what I can do – I’m not a brain surgeon, I’m not saving lives, but I can make people’s lives better and elevate their spirit through my talent in the way I can envision spaces. So that’s what I feel my calling is, and I want to do that to the best of my ability.”