My wife and I had recently moved to San Antonio, and we were becoming acquainted with the city’s hip art scene. While at Blue Star’s Arts & Eats, a friend of ours came over with his date, a striking woman with a nest of hair that looked as if swirling ribbons of honey were pouring out of her head. He introduced us to Jill Giles. Her design firm is responsible for much of the cool look of San Antonio’s chic buildings and restaurants.
1. You had a rather unorthodox, globetrotting childhood. I grew up in Brazil, Washington D.C., and various other places. My father was a diplomat and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in Brazil. In the early ’80s I came to Texas to visit my grandfather, and ended up at UT Austin.
2. Do you see San Antonio as a hip city in terms of style and design, or do you wish it were a little more progressive? By and large, San Antonio is fairly provincial. However, as with anywhere else, there are exceptions to that, with some people doing very progressive, exciting things. I would say that, in a certain way, the “style” of San Antonio is a “low naïve” style.
3. After I met you, I discovered that all my favorite stylish things in the city came from your studio. Is there one project in particular that has special meaning for you? The lighting installation at Pearl. I loved how it evolved, and the final results: One looks up, and the minimum speed of the motors turning the filters into themselves is so peaceful. It has a magical serenity that I’m very proud of.
4. Did you have a mentor? I’ve been, and continue to be, inspired my many people. Some are international stars, such as Philippe Starck, but I’m also inspired by the creative talent here at Giles Design. We all tend to motivate each other.
5. Can one develop a sense of style? Because it seems to me that, if one could, celebrities and people with money wouldn’t have to rely on stylists and designers for their sense of taste. I think of it more as a passion. And like any passion, one can nurture and develop it. Without that passion, however, I don’t think it works.
6. There was a time when you were at the top of the list of San Antonio’s most desirable singles. Now that you’ve found wedded bliss with the handsome and dashing Kimberley, has it made your work life easier? I am possibly more focused now.
7. When you find yourself in a dry spell, are there specific things you do to get your artistic juices flowing again? Yes, I go back to my fine-art roots. My degree at UT was in fine arts and art history, and then I continued on with marketing design. I look at inspiring work by people like André Kertész, David Hockney, Caravaggio, and I will go to museums and galleries to be re-inspired. Also, sometimes it’s just good to take a walk.
8. Is there anything like a design element or color scheme that one can instantly identify as a Jill Giles signature style? Or is your sense of design constantly changing? Maybe you could answer that one better than I. I do have several friends that refer to a certain yellow-green as “Pukey Jill Green.”
9. I’m not going to use a word ending in “-aholic” to describe you, but you might be the most hard-working, driven person I know. What’s your idea of relaxation? I like to travel. Love reading Australian design magazines in bed with a latte. Watch films. I like to renovate things, so I visit junk shops and scrap yards.
10. Speaking of which, you were recycling materials long before it was cool. Any highlights? I love to redesign and repurpose stuff that might otherwise be tossed. I did the interior for Bohanan’s Bar, and used numerous old pieces, and I milled and installed a reclaimed floor. I also just finished Auden’s Kitchen in which I designed light fixtures from mixing bowls, wine bottles, beer filters, and I’m using old ’60s resin lights for a redesign of Rosario’s. •