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Designing Woman
By Tammy Minn - Inland Empire Magazine, June 1999

Ruth ChafinSeasons change. People change. Ruth Chafin believes interiors need to reflect those changes.

The back road from Ruth Chafin's San Bernardino design show room to a client's home in Yucaipa needs some TLC. The dips and dives in and out of potholes and around errant squirrels nearly sacrifices her ceramic mug of coffee, but she steadies it without blinking. Focusing on the road, she's deep in con- versation about "the big picture" of interior design and how the process of changing people's homes can throw a wrench into their sense of security. It's not the change itself, she explains, it's the process that can up-end people because the familiar is being altered.

One good chunk of cracked road jiggles the cup again, and the hockey stick in the backseat of the Ford Mustang lurchaes forward, begging attention. It gets it. Trade magazines and fabric samples are standard cargo for designers; hockey sticks are a new twist.

Chafin acknowledges the stick and explains that she joined the San Bernardino hockey league two years ago because she needed to change her viewpoint. After 20 years as a business leader, she wanted to learn how to be a team player without being the one who calls the shots.

"Girls my age were taught Barbie. Boys were taught team sports," she says.

Less tactile learners would have taken a management class, but "Ruthie" as her co-workers call her, prefers the hands-on method. It doesn't matter to her that as a 50-ish grandmother she's the oldest player in the league, or that her petite frame could be mowed down by an energetic teenager twice her size.

"God's given me three scoops of passion for living and no scoops for good sense," she laughs. But that poke at herself in fun is just that. Chafin's method for getting where she's at, both professionally and personally, are based on logic, not ran- dom acts of nonsense. For example, her decision to tackle a male-dominated industry was based on her drive to fill a void for clients.

She realized after opening Interior Network Inc. in 1982 that as good as architects are and as skilled as subcontractors can be, there was a missing link between builder and homeowner. Too often Chafin and her design team would trail-in after people had spent a lot of money on new homes or remodels. Clients complained that something still didn't feel right and hoped Chafin could fix it. She found herself making changes after-the-fact that could have been penciled-in before the blueprints went to press. Her degree in home economics and interior design and a credential to teach the latter were a good start for running a solid design business. But she wanted people to be happy in their homes, to be able to control what was around them, rather than having the space and "their stuff" dictate to them.

She wanted the confidence to be knees and elbows with plumbers and electricians and feel qualified to state her opinions about such topics as water pipes and lighting choices. Ultimately,pipes control where plumbing elements will go and bad lighting can kill a room. So in 1994 she went back to school and got her license as a general contractor. She's also a ceramic tile distributor and a member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, the San Bernardino Assistance League, and the First Presbyterian Church of San Bernardino.

With the license taken care of, Chafin focused on the 10-plus people employed by her company. She wanted to learn what they might feel like on the receiving end of her enthusiastic motivation. She needed to be coached, not be the coach.

"I feel that God has sent me the people who have come to me. Some of them have been with me for years. We've become family. I owe something back to them because they're giving me part of their lives," she says.

But hockey?

"It's fun and it rejuvenates me," Chafin says.

And that's how she feels about most things, especially change. When she makes her New Year's resolutions, she types them out and breaks them into man- ageable monthly goals so they don't over- whelm her by January 31. Change is a con- sistent part of those goals, in one form or another. June's goals include cultural events to cultivate the fine arts of life. She also likes to invite a few friends to dinner each month so she doesn't lose contact with people she loves.

Homes are our havens, she says, and it's fun to invite people in.

After the road trip to Yucaipa, Chafin is back in her own San Bernardino home, eager to demonstrate how change isn't a bad thing and, when done properly, doesn't have to be a nerve-jammer. Itcan even be energizing.

"Seasons change. People change. Our homes need to reflect those changes to function well and feed our changing needs," she says.

It's really pretty natural, she adds. You just have to be prepared for it. In fact; Chafin can switch her winter theme living room to summer in about 23 minutes. But it takes planning, she says. Choose a color scheme, such as tan and black, then switch accessories, artwork and slipcovers as the seasons change. The basic furnishings, like an antique armoire or a family sofa, don't change. They don't even have to move.

Chafin's hints for easy-change rooms are ones she's pretty much applied to her life: Eliminate clutter, value the stuff that makes you feel good, and don't do anything real crazy.

Present sports excluded.


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