Style

On Style with James Funderburk

James Funderburk in a black Armani t-shirt, Hudson jeans from Silverfly, shoes by Asics and a belt he bought from a street vendor in Johannesburg, South Africa.
James Funderburk in a black Armani t-shirt, Hudson jeans from Silverfly, shoes by Asics and a belt he bought from a street vendor in Johannesburg, South Africa. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

James Funderburk’s mom calls him an “impresario.” “That’s a person who gets excited about things and wants to share them,” he says. The first business he opened was the fashion-forward Urban Evolution in 1993, followed by clothing stores Civilian and Lotus, then the nightclubs Tonic, and Hôm. Today he and his husband, Jim Hock, own and operate The Home Collection, a compilation of 30 furnished residences available for rent. Each space reflects Funderburk’s passion for design and his love of travel. “My life has always been about getting everyone into their comfort zone,” he says. “That’s when the magic happens.”

Q. What’s your favorite quote?

A. John Love said, “You can never legislate cool.”

Q. Are you cool?

A. My belief is the moment you think you are cool you are not.

Q. Do you remember the first piece of clothing you chose?

A. In the second grade I had a burgundy sweater with a sewn-in, fake gold dickey. I did not want to part with that, and it got so small on me that my belly stuck out of it and my mom took it away.

Q. Who affected your style growing up?

A. My Aunt Judith. When they were designing a really modern house in the ’70s I felt like I was involved with it, and since then I’ve thought about space and how it affects people. I think interior design and architecture are among the most powerful art forms. I love to create spaces that affect human interaction.

Q. What style do you seek for your own home?

A. The style of my home is the story of my life. It reflects the artists that I know, the places that I’ve been, and gifts from friends and inheritance from family.

Q. What does style mean to you?

A. Personal style is made of the things you bring into your life because they make you smile and they make you feel good.

Q. What’s your uniform?

A. Giorgio Armani black T-shirt, Hudson jeans and a pair of bright colored tennis shoes.

Q. What would surprise people about your style choices?

A. That I have 30 of the same black T-shirt.

Q. Do you wear suits?

A. I don’t often, but when I go to Bangkok, I visit the Pierre Boutique Tailors and have one made. I love picking a beautiful lining. I’ve got a deep royal blue suit with a golden silk lining.

Q. Why are tennis shoes part of your uniform?

A. I don’t have to carry an extra pair to the gym, they work on the construction site and they look sharp.

Q. How does your sense of style affect your work?

A. I love mixing strong modern elements with the old and unusual. By not following any one course of style or design, I think it makes people more comfortable and adds interest to a space. I want a space to always feel lived in.

Q. Tell me the best piece of fashion advice you’ve been given.

A. It’s always better to be underdressed than overdressed. It sets people at ease. I don’t think there is anything attractive about pretense. Personally my fashion is very casual and relaxed. If I need to go to a cocktail party, I can put on a blazer.

Q. What hair products do you use?

A. American Crew grooming gel.

Q. What’s the last thing you bought?

A. Silver earrings for my mom in Taxco, Mexico.

Q. Where do you shop in Charlotte?

A. Silverfly, Charlotte Running Company and Black Sheep.

Q. Do you have any fashion quirks?

A. Trends bore me. I’ve always been able to see way beyond the curve, fashion wise. The thing that I do love about fashion is a lot of times it’s the first way people see their own beauty. When I was in the business, I loved putting someone in front of the mirror and watching them discover their beauty.

Q. What was a style game changer for you?

A. Moving to Tehran in 1978 when I was 14, from Eden, N.C. I was basically a poor hick and my mom married a guy who was a partner in a telecommunications business. It was the Paris of the Middle East.

Q. What did you first notice?

A. It was the meshing of modern and a very old and artistic society. We lived in a modern villa with marble walls and everything was very minimal, and then there were extremely ornate Persian rugs.

Q. What did you learn from the Iranians?

A. I learned how to be gracious to other people. You would go to someone’s house and they treated you like royalty. They just could not be more welcoming.

Q. Tell me about a prized possession.

A. My artwork. My favorite piece right now is “Peace” by Nico Amortegui. It’s inspired by Jonathan Ferrell right before he gets shot.

Q. Whose work would you love to own?

A. Frida Kahlo.

Q. What’s your best bargain?

A. This map of Paris. I bought it for $3 at a thrift store on Freedom Drive.

Q. Biggest splurge?

A. I’m not an extravagant person. We spend most of our money traveling.

Q. Tell me a new project you’re excited about.

A. I’m doing interior design for Advent Coworking in Plaza-Midwood. And I really enjoyed designing Luna’s Living Kitchen.

Q. What’s a favorite recent vacation spot?

A. Melbourne, Australia. It’s an amazing city of very defined and different neighborhoods. People dress to the nines there, and they have two-martini lunches.

Q. Do you have a favorite hotel?

A. Chateau Marmont in L.A. It feels like its own little kingdom in the Hollywood Hills.

Q. What do you still want to accomplish?

A. I’m really concerned about inequality and the way our society is splitting in so many ways. I’m a very empathetic person. I would love to contribute to integrating the city of Charlotte in terms of income and race, in our neighborhoods. What could bring people together would be affordable housing that would also attract the wealthy.

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