COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN.

S2 EP5: VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO

January 31, 2024 NICOA DUNNE CORNELIUS Season 2 Episode 5
COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN.
S2 EP5: VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO
COFFEE WITH NICOA: Creating A LIFE BY DESIGN. +
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Show Notes Transcript

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO is Nicoa's college BFF.  Virginia (for those who really know her she's "Ginny")  is an authentic and down to earth, literally, architect, interior designer, educator, author, daughter, mother, and amazing friend! She is the chair of the department of design at San Jose State University and has a long list of accolades in the world of 3D printing design with pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and  SanFrancisco Museum of Modern Art just to name a few! Recognition for her art and design work over the past three + decades is off the charts and quite remarkable! Nicoa is so proud to introduce you all to her friend Ginny and her DESIGN LIFE LIFE BY DESIGN! Their love and enthusiasm for life is contagious in this caffeinated coffee chat.

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The TEETER TOTTER Wall Story
Two communities in Mexico and the United States, long separated by a border wall, came together to play on three oversized teeter-totters that spanned the US-Mexico border. The wall itself acted as a fulcrum for the teeter-totter installation. Echoing US-Mexico relations, movements and actions taken on one side of the border directly impacted the other, as children and adults alike enjoyed the see-saws. The installation temporarily transformed this small section of the border into a space of hope and elation, exposing the borderlands as a place where women and children live with dignity in spite of the xenophobia and violence perpetuated by the wall and its construction.

Buy your copy of YOUR LIFE BY DESIGN: A Coffee With Nicoa Self-Care Coaching Journal
on Amazon today! 

YOUR ISLAND GATHERING AWAITS: Baldhead Island, North Carolina, USA, April 11-14th, 2024
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND RESERVE YOUR SPOT

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Nicoa Coach:

Grab your coffee and join me Nicoa For a caffeinated conversation about life. I'll be talking to people who have chosen to walk their own paths and just like me, are creating a life by design. I hope it will give you the inspiration you need to do exactly the same. Hey, Virginia, how are you this morning, my friend? icaiHi, Nicoa. I'm well thank you for asking. Thanks for getting up early. You're over there in California, correct? Yes, I'm in California, but it's nine two. It's not that early. Okay, that's true. Have you had your coffee yet? I was curious.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Coffee is always first. Yes.

Nicoa Coach:

Right. Everybody, please meet my sweet, sweet friend who I tried to add up the years Ginny. And by the way, I'm gonna call her Ginny the whole time. I know, she changed her name back to her Virginia back. And I don't know when you started getting professional. And I was like, yeah, no, we're calling you, Jenny. Because I've known you now for I think it's like 34 years.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, since 34th 1990 1990.

Nicoa Coach:

Okay. Gosh, so we were both at NC State together. And I call you really like my, my closest college friend, you were my college BFF. And we met while I was working at NC State information desk, and then you started working there. And then I have so many memories.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I know it was fun. We used to schedule our shifts. So we could be on the same shift and work together. And that was

Nicoa Coach:

good, because that was how we did things back then. Oh, my God, that was something that was back in the day. And when I thought about this interview, I was like, oh my god, I'm so excited. Because having an interview now doing these podcasts with people that I've known for so long. It's kind of like you're getting a snapshot where you really only know them from their youth. And then you see them in their grown up nervous. And you're like, Wow, you are so freaking amazing. Like I told Jenny before the start, I was like, a little nervous. She was so impressive.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I'm still the same old Ginny.

Nicoa Coach:

You are. That's what makes me love you. But let me just share with everybody you're even more like, let's say American Dream. amazingness. So because that's kind of the the fight we're all up against is all these external achievements. But you have really seemed to integrate it beautifully. And I love the fact that I focus on life by design, because you have a design life. And we're gonna dig deeper into that. But here is your background for everybody listening. Virginia Sanford. Hello, is an architect, and interior designer, and an educator. And I added she's also an amazing daughter, a mother, a sister. She's a friend. She's an activist, she's a writer. And I read in a recent interview you did that you're also referred to as a material scientist, which makes a lot of sense, because you're playing with materials in a way that maybe have never been played with before. You are the Chair of the Department of Design and the Department of Art and Art History at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley. So cool. She recently you won the international interior design Educator of the Year award. You're also a winner of the metropolis magazine nextgen design competition, your creative practice, Ryo San fratello was named and emerging voice by the architectural League of New York. And in 2021, they were awarded the Beasley design of the year. And I don't even know what these amazing things are, but they sound very impressive. And you're also the co author of printing architecture, innovative recipes for 3d printing, which we're going to dig deep into because I really want you to share some of the pieces that you have in some museums around the world. This book, however, re examines the building process from the bottom up and offers illuminating case studies for 3d printing, with materials like Chardonnay, grape skins, salt, sawdust, and my favorite coffee. She is a partner in emerging objects, a creatively driven 3d printing make tank. So cool. I like that phrase make tank specializing in innovations in 3d printing architecture. And she's the co founder of forest is that am I pronouncing it properly? Yes. Yeah, fo r U. S. T. Right. Her work is recognized by several institutions, including the National Building Museum, the Bellevue museum museum for freedoms and is including in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Amazing. The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, LACMA and the Design Museum in London. Ciao, you have been busy for 34 years,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I have been working hard.

Nicoa Coach:

I mean, my first memory of your design work, I was standing over your shoulder at NC State while we were at the information desk, and see if you remember this project, okay, you had a large variety of pencils, and a whole bunch of sequence. And you were like sewing them together or something, maybe I'm making this up. But do you have any recall about this project?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Well, if it was sequence, then I was probably I was probably working on like a fashion design project, which in NC State, at that time, didn't have fashion design. So I was doing probably an independent study, and thinking about, you know, the construction of intimate architecture is how I think about it now. So like, clothes are our most intimate buildings, you know, they're, they're soft, but they house us. And I think I've always been excited about architecture, but also excited about fashion, excited about product design. You know, I never really, I've never really felt like I could or wanted to be so easily categorized in my design life. You know, it's all design, right? I'm a designer. And architecture is just a subset of that. And fashion design is a subset of that. And it's all super interesting to me. And working with different materials is all super interesting to me. And thinking about the relationship of the body to the built environment or the constructor, the crafted world is all super interesting to me. And so I just kind of moved fluidly, you know, I might have been working on I can't think I know which ones really bad, but that's the one I remember a way to guarantee the beginning of something else, right. I mean, I remember after a course in in undergrad, I was working on those fashion pieces kind of independently. And later, when I was in my first professorship at Clemson University in South Carolina, I kind of came back to that because I was in this space where there weren't a lot of tools and a lot of materials that I was used to working with in New York, or maybe in Raleigh, because we were in this really rural context. And the only place I could find materials was Home Depot. Walking through Home Depot one day, you know, I want to make something but I don't really have the the resources, let's say the financial resources to build a building right here in Clemson. But I want to make something and so I came back to this idea of like, intimate architecture of doing making small enclosures for the body, but I decided instead of using fabric or sequins, I would use architectural building materials. So I bought like the big pink batt insulation. And I made this big, giant, puffy pink coat out of it. Oh, cool, which you know, it keeps you warm. Looks really cool, because it's pink, and it's puffy. But of course it's fiberglass and you can't touch it.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, how do you wear that? Well, so I

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

stuffed it into it like transparent painters cloth. And I got these really thick like dishwashing gloves that my grandma used to wear. And I wore them while I sewed it all together. That was this moment of thinking about, like how you I can take materials from one world and use them in another world. And I think I love that early moment of crossing between these different design disciplines and using materials in inappropriate and unlikely ways. Right? Yes,

Nicoa Coach:

unlikely ways. I mean, I think there's a couple of things that popped up while you were talking is you're really referring to design thinking, you know, and I love NC State talks about that, as you know, my son justice also went through the design program there and, and I liked that program so much because it caused you to think outside of the box, it caused you to think cross departmental and cross functionally and, and it was a way of thinking not a way of doing and, and I just I love that. I also heard you reference, you know, what am I going to do and how do I find things in this rural community? You know, you're from a rural community. Talk to us a little bit about your foundation and how you believe that fostered your creativity or if it didn't, maybe it causes you to resist I'm very curious about that because you're from like, where Mount Olive

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, not not even outside of Mount you know, that's that's a really good question because I think you I grew up in the rural south, and in Georgia and Alabama, and North Carolina, eastern North Carolina. And I think there was a long time where I tried to, like hide that or really move away from that, you know, I left the rural south and went to, of course, NC State in Raleigh, which rallies the city, I moved to Berlin after that, I moved to New York after that. So it was really trying to leave those roots behind. But it was, it was many years later, when I, I started to realize how influential that upbringing has been on my own creative practice. When I was studying architecture in New York, it was in the mid 90s. And that was a kind of revolutionary moment where I think computers started to become pervasive in the way that we work, and maybe live, I remember getting my first email account in 1995. And so, working with digital technologies became something that was emergent and nascent, but also increasingly pervasive. And I think in in my work that certainly that learned part of my design, life is certainly important. But I bring that kind of rural upbringing to it, and mash them together. It's kind of a mash up. No, my dad is a forester, and he used to take me to cruise timber with him. So I could walk through the woods and talk about which type which species of pine tree you're looking at. And I can't help but think, well, that's why I want to figure out how to 3d print with wood. You know, I love the forest. And I and I spent lots of time in the sawmill where he used to work. And so for me, it's totally natural to think about these materials. It's kind of agricultural materials, or natural materials or geologic materials that were so much a part of the rural landscape that I grew up in, and how do we transform those using emerging technologies and rethink the way we build the future. And I and I tell my students that to you know, when I'm teaching them new software applications, or how to use 3d printers, I remind them that this technology is the great equalizer, it will make you all good at the same thing. But it's what you bring to the table from your lived experiences that make it unique, and that make it special and that make it stand out. And it took me a long time to realize that but but I think that's important that we can all recognize we're bringing something really unique to the table that no one else has. And to not be afraid of that to not push it aside. But to slowly figure out how to incorporate it into what you're doing. I think Well, I

Nicoa Coach:

think you've done a very beautiful job of that I sometimes think about your southern demeanor, like my own having travelled and been all over the US and, and I am sure we could probably do an entire podcast on the number of times someone heard your voice and or mine and thought, who's this little girl from the south and what she has to offer? It works against you, but sometimes it works for years. Exactly. Exactly. Often, I said I can talk southern if you want me to really like it. People really like it. But some people are like what the hell who is? So did you? What was the the art or design or creative element prior to going off to college that that caused you to say I want to go down this path. I'm curious what you were doing at home? And how did you get supported to go down that path?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Oh, that you know, I think it's it's natural. I mean, I always loved drawing and making things and art class and just making doing my own little weird projects at home, whether it was building some furniture that would fall apart. Or sewing like I used to sew my own clothes. My mom gave me a sewing machine.

Nicoa Coach:

That's right. Yeah, I remember that now. Yeah. Okay.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

And, and you know, we'd see these designs and magazines that I would want but of course, they were very far out of my reach. Okay, I'm gonna say that myself. And then oh, my god, don't twist on it. And so yeah, I mean, I think I always knew that I was going to be some sort of designer.

Nicoa Coach:

What I love about your background, though, is I forgot to reference the fact that you were also a flight attendant. And this to me was a shock. I remember we were friends. You were designer. You were talking about going off to grad school. And then one day you call me up and you said, By the way, I'm now a flight attendant and I'm going to spend the whole summer or the next year I don't even know how long you did. flying around. Yeah. What so tell us that story like because how did that didn't occur to you as an option?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Oh, well, that's, it's a funny story. So I just finished my first year of architecture school in New York. And I was in my apartment thinking, Oh, I really need to get a summer job. And I want to stay in New York, I don't want to go back to North Carolina for the summer, you know, I'm here have an apartment have this whole new life. And these are back in the analog days, and I was reading the New York Times. And reading the job ads, an airline is right before architect. So I'm looking at archetypes are going to probably in reverse order. That sounds like something I would do. And then I get through architect and into airline. And, and I see this ad that says, I want to travel the world. And like, yeah, I want to travel the world. A second language, I was like, Well, I can speak enough German to you know, ask what you want to eat for lunch. Because I had been living in Berlin. And it's it will be at the Waldorf Astoria at 3pm. And it was noon. And I was like, Oh my gosh, really be at the Waldorf Astoria at 3pm. So I just got on the subway and went down there. And they gave a, you know, a pitch like, this is what the job is going to be. And we're hiring for this timeframe. And you have to live within 70 miles of the airport, you have to be able to get there and certain amount of time and and so if you meet all of this criteria, stay in interview, and I was like, Okay, I need all of those criteria. So I stayed in my little 10 minute interview, and they just hired me right there on the spot.

Nicoa Coach:

Of course they did, I'm not surprised at all.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

So I did, you know, the three weeks of flight attendant training, and then I just told them, I was like, send me out the whole summer, I want to travel around the world. And I think the most is pretty heavily unionized. So the most you could go out was 21 days at a time. So I would go out for 21 days, and then I would come back for three days to my laundry and then go back out. And it was like the best summer job ever.

Nicoa Coach:

Oh, my God, I that is just so cool. And and that was after living in Berlin. So you went to Berlin with NC State, right? Is that how that worked? Or? Yeah, well, and I have you remember what I found the other day and sent you a picture of Do you recall?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

What was? What was it? Oh,

Nicoa Coach:

a stack of letters. And I bet this isn't even all of them. I'm holding the stack of letters that I have wrapped in a purple and white ribbon. Which I think you sent me the purple and white ribbon with something. I think it was in something. I don't even know why. But probably because you always had materials. But you have written me letter after letter after letter to you. And I love the art of correspondence. And you and I must have been writing you back may find you threw mine away.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I've moved around.

Nicoa Coach:

Okay, fine. I won't hold you to this. But okay, let's hold out hope you went out promise me we'll have a date where we reconnect. And we're just going to sit here and read this. There's some guy that you're talking about in this. I'm just telling you some hot meal. Oh, you have really been an inspiration to me over the years. And I just want to shift now into some of the work that you've been doing. Now, of course, you're like I see you're also a mother, you have this beautiful son Mateus. And he turned what 15 The other day? 14 1414?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah. Oh. So we're finishing Middle School.

Nicoa Coach:

14, and he's doing well. I hated eighth grade for my kids. What about him? Is he okay?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

He's fine. I told him at the beginning of the year, I was like, Okay, this is the last year where the stakes are kind of low. You know, like your grades don't really count towards college. He travels a lot with me. And sometimes he has to miss school for that. Yeah, yeah. Now, we all know that when you're feeling bad, you stay home, you don't go to school, so that too. And so I told him I said, you know, this is the year where you have to learn how to be like responsible and accountable. It's up to you to go back to school and figure out what you missed. It's your responsibility. So trying to, like embed that in him as a young adult. You're in charge of your life. And it's sinking in now, which is good.

Nicoa Coach:

Good. Oh, I'm so glad I'm not again not surprised about him, either. I mean, you guys have raised a really great son and I know that you had a lot of life changes I even used took him to Italy for the summer. So you've really demonstrated a life by design. You went through a divorce and then you've had to manage that. And now tell us about taking off and just decided you were going to live in Italy this past summer. Yeah,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I've been living in Italy, the last two summers.

Nicoa Coach:

Oh, two summers, I miss that.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

blurs together forever. Yeah, I mean, because I'm an educator, I'm usually working nine months out of the year. And so I have this free time and in the summer to do, you know, different things that I want to do. And one of the things that I decided to do after the life change of the divorce was to because I have a lot of freedom now was to apply for artists in residence programs. And this would be a really nice opportunity for me to step outside of my everyday life and kind of walk away from the consistent and pervasive everyday commitments that we have of you know, cleaning the house and cooking dinner and going to the grocery store all this stuff. And just, like, find time to focus on my creative work, and find a place where I can be dedicated to my creative work, and not worry so much about what my day to day obligations are not worrying so much about what the ultimate outcome will be. But just to give myself kind of space and freedom, and one of which is amazing, I would recommend it for anyone and everyone,

Nicoa Coach:

for sure, for sure. And even if you can only carve out an hour a day in a different spot in your house, you can create space for creativity. Yeah.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

So I decided to create too much for myself just just to, and to go into it very with a very open mind and not feel like I have to produce but just just learn from what's around me and, and the new people that I'm going to meet. And in both of the residencies that I've done, there are other artists there, which has been amazing because I'm, I'm making new friends too. And I'm not alone, which is really nice. And so I get to have new conversations with people from literally all over the world who are there for the same reason I am so we you know, we already have something in common when we meet each other. And so I've been taking Mateus with me for half of the summer for half of the summer. And, and he's also working with me, he's like my assistant, he can fill the 3d printer with clay and he knows how to press all the buttons. He's not planning things, but he likes being an assistant. I offered to pay him because you know, you can pay your own children to work you can.

Nicoa Coach:

And you can write that off,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

and you can write it off. All I want is to go to dinner at spaghetti note that just by me.

Nicoa Coach:

I saw pictures of y'all eating pasta at that place. He was very happy.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

So that's the deal. Like he gets pasta and I get a personal assistant.

Nicoa Coach:

I love it so much. And you chose Italy because of your family name your history. Why did you choose it?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I mean, originally, that's why I chose Italy and the first place I went was actually Sicily, which is where my great grandfather or my great grandparents are from so my grandfather's parents, and he immigrated to New York, from San fratello, Sicily. So I decided, you know, I've been 3d printing with clay for years and years now, probably since around 2015. And I decided, I suppose two years ago now, like I want to find my ancestral clay and I and I just have a feeling that it's there. I can't really know. I've never been to to San fratello. So I flew to Palermo. And I was just walking around the city trying to figure out like, well, there must be artists here. There must be ceramicist here. And I found this place called the mud lab and I went in, you know, they're making ceramics parents a little public pottery workshop. And that's where do you get your clay? And, and they told me oh, there's this place, you know, and like they're, you know, drawing a little map writing down the name of the town. And so I'm looking on the map and, and it turns out 30 minutes away from San fratello. Sicily. Oh my god. Yes. Yeah. I rented a car and I drove up there up into the mountains and and sure enough, there's this ravine, they're digging Wild Clay they're they're making ceramic furniture. And I just went in and I was like, Oh, can I have some clay? And they were like, yes, sure here. And so I found my, my ancestral clay and I made some pieces out of it. I actually made one beautiful piece which I call the San fratello disc. Hot tea jar and have good exciting news. But I'll tell you, I just bought it for their permanent collection,

Nicoa Coach:

San Francisco MoMA? Is that what you just said, Oh my God, that for them, oh, Lord, oh my god.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I mean, I, I, you know, it was all just like me going on this journey to find, like my history and making something that I made a cookie jar because because every Christmas growing up, I would go to my grandparents house and my grandma had a cookie jar. And you know, that was the first thing you would do is walk into the house and dip your hands in that cookie jar, because you knew there was gonna be something good in there. And now my mother has that cookie jar, and maybe one day I will have that cookie jar. And for me that just felt like home. And so I decided to make a cookie jar. And now this cookie jar has found its place in the world. But that's that's kind of the you know, that's maybe how this all works. Right? You have an idea, you make something and, and you hope that it's gonna find its place in the world. But don't worry too much about it in the beginning, you know? Yeah,

Nicoa Coach:

it naturally organically emerges based on that initial thought you're like ancestral clay. And I think people are, if you if you actually create purpose in your life to design your life, and you you are drawing lines to purpose and legacy with these choices. And with this, this permission to go follow a creative path. Oh, sure. I can say ancestral clay, I make that up. And then next thing, you know, I'm creating cookie jars that are related to my family's ancestry. So it is what you desire. And anybody can create anything, you can't get it wrong.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

No, it is what you make it and you don't have to wait for someone to invite you to do it.

Nicoa Coach:

And it doesn't have to be in a box of design history. And the structure and rules is your rules your creative life. I mean, as I've described you and your history to my friends over the years, I never quite knew how to describe it. But it did feel very free in the way you lived. And you guys kept going down pat, and I kept thinking, how are they? How are they funded? For a lot of that? So how did you get emerging objects and all of that to to gain traction so that you had an income and an ROI from that investment? Were you just teaching on the side all the time in order to fund your lives? Or how did that work?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

There's there's three different sources of income. And one of them Yes, is my is my job. So I'm a full professor, I, you know, have that very steady and reliable income at a public institution, which I'm very grateful for, you know, pay the bills and allow me to live right. And sometimes I use that money to fund these projects, right? Like, I use that money to pay for my plane ticket to Palermo, and to rent the car, right? The cloud was free though. The other thing I do is write grants. So I write grants to the California State University system, I write grants to like, I have an art and technology grant from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I had a pretty significant grant from the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency that I used to buy a lot of equipment. So that's another way that this research is funded. And then the third is through commissions. So sometimes a company or a client will commission you know, small building, or research or an object, and they they pay for that design service in that product. So those are kind of the three the three ways.

Nicoa Coach:

And I'm I'm assuming that as you've continued to mature in your career, and in this established F endeavor, with the makerspace and all of the work you've put out in the world, that it's word of mouth now. You just start getting phone calls. I bet. I mean, you don't have to market anything, people are just like, Virginia, we need you and your expertise in history. Is that right?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I mean, you know, I have good relationships with some some people who are familiar with my work, and that certainly helps. But I still work pretty hard to push it out there. Yeah, yeah.

Nicoa Coach:

What are you in right now? What are you working on that you want? If you could choose what element to spend your energy on? I mean, how do you decide where to put your focus? That gets you the return you need but also fosters that creativity you're trying to keep in your world. Yet

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

again, I think there are different ways so right now I'm working on remote working on three projects. This This that are due in November.

Nicoa Coach:

So we're coming up on

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

these three, anyone No, four is there four or three. One of them is a is a show that I'm curating. So I'm curating an exhibit of 3d printed work for the first time. So this is completely new venture for me. I'm doing it in collaboration with our curator at the university, we have an exhibition space. But I just approached her and I said, Let's do a show on 3d printing. And we'll bring together artists and designers and scientist and kind of present things in a unique way. And she was like, Okay, let's do it. So we've been, you know, I've been working with different artists to bring their work to the university. The show, by the way, is called G code is my love language.

Nicoa Coach:

Awesome G code. G code

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

is the computer language that all 3d printers. And I actually saw someone saying that on their Instagram posts, and I was like, that's so brilliant. I love Thai writer. I'm like, Can I use that? And she's like, she cared is my love language? Yeah. And so that's been a good learning experience, and really fun to have the opportunity to bring in other artists. And there's a startup 3d printing company here at Stanford, and I reached out to them say, Hey, will you make some of the things for the show? And they were like, yeah, yeah, just kind of, you know, just asking people, will you do this? Will you participate in this? And like, nobody said, No, you know, everybody's into it. So we're pulling that together. And then I'm doing an installation in Redwood City that I was invited to do by a curator. So this is one of those moments where, yes, someone's familiar with my work, and they invite me to do something. And then I'm working on these furry 3d printed light totems for I sang those Yeah, which are really

Nicoa Coach:

hard. And they're so colorful, then like, more, more colorful than a lot of the stuff I've seen you guys work on in the past, I was really, and I love that you're like, it's fuzzy. Sorry,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

it's fuzzy. It's very, and that was the that has a good I think backstory, because the last year all of this crazy AI, software exploded. And I was experimenting with text to image AI. And it's really, it really takes a long time to model for things in 3d modeling software, and then render it so I was doing all of this text to image prompts that to make fairy things and these beautiful images in like, less than a minute. So amazing. But then I was like, well, but an image isn't enough. Do you know I want it to be real? How do I 3d print these things? And so I started figuring out techniques for printing the fire and making these light totems which they're actually sitting here next to me, I can show

Nicoa Coach:

you. Yeah, and everybody if you're listening and want to go to Instagram really quick, you can actually follow Virginia at VA s FSF oh my god, it looks so fuzzy. It's like a digital Fache. And it's so much bigger than I thought with those images. That's very large. That's the

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

biggest one, it's about five feet tall. So I'm posting them on Instagram, Instagram, and, and my gallerist. In New York, she she rents me, she's like Virginia, what are those things? Like? Well, they're gonna be light fixtures and kind of like, LED lights on the inside, and they'll glow. And she's like, let's show them. Let's show in Miami. So, so that's what I'm working towards. So it's kind of one of those things where you start something you don't know where it's gonna go, and then it, it finds its place in the world. And we'll you know, we'll see how they resonate with people, but they're just here in my living room. And the funny thing is, like, Yeah, I'm just working in isolation. I have no idea if they're good or bad. But different people come through my house, you know, like, like, the housekeeper was here the other day. She's like, What are those, and I really liked them. And then a curator from a museum was here looking at something else. And she was like, what are those? And I told her, she's like, I really liked that. I think it's just many people are responding in this way, then maybe we'll get some traction. But

Nicoa Coach:

oh, well, the fact that you just said my gallerist in New York City. I think you've got a channel I mean, you've got people in your network that are supporting your personal creations and I mean, what beauty you're leaving a legacy with every every project that you give yourself permission to pursue. And I think I really want to hit that one on the nail because So many people don't give their creative outlet permission in their day to day lives. And I know that you've designed a life, you know, that enables that. Obviously, it is designed. But let's flip it into how do you stay focused on those elements without getting stuck in that? Well, I should just do you know, I should just be a teacher and not, not waste energy over here, and just take care of my house and my kid and the American dream, how do we help people give themselves permission to go a little bit out of that box,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I think I would be so unhappy if I didn't do that for myself. And I know, at this point in my life, enough about myself, to know that if I want to be happy, if I want to really be happy, then I have to give myself the space to be creative. Because if I'm just answering email and solving everyone else's problems, I mean, sure, I'm gonna get a paycheck, I'm going to be good at my job, my house will be clean, but I'm not going to be happy. And, and at the end of the day, like, that's the most important thing, right? The world's not going to ask.

Nicoa Coach:

Happiness is the the ultimate goal to feel good and have all these experiences. And I really feel like we're like this spiritual soul that's inside a body that creates sensory experiences. So our only real goal is to have the sensory experience, visually listening, taste, touch, all of that is why we're here on this planet in this reality. So you bring a lot of joy to my life, not just because you're my friend, and I'm so proud of you. And I love living vicariously through you. But I mean, when I would clap with all the clapping hands that I have put under every post you've ever put out there. I feel like I am having that sensory experience with you. And I just want to thank you for that. Because I think you're so cool. Oh.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

You're on this journey with me then? Quickly.

Nicoa Coach:

And I think we all are, we're all on the journey with each other. And I want people to feel encouraged that creative outlets are going to make you feel better. And they are role modeling in a world of design. But this is your life by design. I mean, actually, how would you define a life by design for you over the years?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, I mean, I decided, I think a long time ago that I want to have an extraordinary life. And, and it's up to me to make decisions about what that means. And that I am responsible for making that happen. So if there's something that I want to do, like, I'll just say, for example, I'm on sabbatical next spring. And when I like going back to being a flight attendant, I love to travel the world, right? Like, where do I want to go? And what do I want to see in what will be extraordinary? And, and I decided, I want to go to the Arctic Circle, I want to go to Greenland and I want to go to Iceland, and I want to make something there. And what's it going to be you know, have a proposal, but you know, you have to make these things for yourself, you have to make these opportunities for yourself. And ah, it might help me, you know, I'm a little worried that what I'm going to do, or what I want to do is gonna totally fail, but you know what? It'll be okay. A different project, or it might take longer to do it. But it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, right? It's right. It's this extraordinary experience that I want to have. And I want to give myself, so I have to make that happen. Until maybe, you know, I'll sell the fairy light fixtures pay for the trip.

Nicoa Coach:

Exactly. Yeah.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

It's all connected in a way like one thing feeds another and then it keeps moving. You know?

Nicoa Coach:

So you're really intentional about that. I mean, how would you take that so that's kind of at the top of this big funnel of your way of of creating a life and you you leveraging the channels you have access to okay, this university will give me a sabbatical. Great, let me take advantage of that. Right. So what is available to me and you ask for what you want. The other critical confidence thing that people have to be confident enough to say, excuse me, you know, even justice the other day, I don't know if you knew this. He asked his company said by the way, I speak Japanese. I love Japan. I'd like to take I am taking a vacation to Japan. Can I do that for a month please and vacation for two weeks and work in the main office in Tokyo? And they were like, Oh, yes. What a great idea. Never thought of it. They're not going to come knocking on your door. We're saying Why don't you consider working in Japan? So, great pieces of advice? Let's take the funnel down now into your How do you make a life by design daily? Like you talked a lot about your love of, you know, clothing, that's one of my favorite things like an outfit choice will get me up out of the bed. I'm like, What am I gonna wear today? Okay, so how do you take that into your day to day? Who,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

um, well, you know, my day has to be fairly structured, I would say, and I, I am good at planning things in advance. That's actually maybe I'll just diverge for a second here. You know, I know, again, going back to this idea of happiness, that one thing that makes me happy and gives me comfort is to have things to look forward to. And so I always have things in my calendar. Like, this is the thing that I have to look forward to. But these are also all the things that I need to do so that these fun things can happen, right? Like, I need to show up my job and do a good job. Right? You know, I have a very structured usually will organize day. And that also includes blocking out time for my creative work. And I don't let other people into that space, like, you know, this week, it's going to be actually this afternoon from noon onwards, like that is my 3d printing time. And it's in my calendar, it's blocked out, that's why I'm wearing my work shirt today. This is gonna be dirty. So, you know, I have my coffee calendar. I'm like, oh, today is the day right today's day where I have like six hours blocked out with 3d printing, or that today is the day where I'm going to be dealing with this faculty issue. But instead of saying, I'm not so excited about this, because we have drama, we have problems, like okay, sometimes problems lead to opportunities. So let's, let's go into it with that mindset. Okay, here's the problem. What are your ideas for how to solve it? Here are my ideas for how to solve it. Let's make a work plan and see if we can make things better. And so just thinking about, you know, a struck a well organized, structured day, and if you have free time, great, go do something fun, go get your nails done, go to go shopping, there's things like you those things make me feel good to those little. I call them guilty pleasures, but they're really not. They're just playing

Nicoa Coach:

me. I know you're not feeling guilty about it. I'm gonna write a book one day, Ginny called, I feel guilty for not feeling guilty. Do I think I've got to use that title. I don't know what I'm gonna say yet. But that's, that's the title. Yeah. And having structure is important. I think people don't understand the power of an intentional calendar. And, and you got it. You just talked about your sacred time, and not letting that be eroded because you think something else has greater priority. You know, obviously if Mateus calls from school and needs you, you're gonna grow up, jump in the car and go get him. But that's different. That's about, hey, I'm gonna have a role here as my child, but But you get to the side. You know, if if the university calls and says, Can you do a meeting today at 215? You're gonna be like, I'm not available. I could do it at 615. Yeah, you know, but that's you having the confidence and, and really, what is self love that we have to have are something I deserve time that I dedicate to myself. I take every Tuesday off, people think that's so weird. I'm like, why? They're like, what are you gonna do Tuesday? Okay. Okay, today is a Tuesday. And it is an exception that I'm interviewing you. Okay. But I was on vacation for two weeks. So I gave up my Tuesday, middle of the day just for you, my friend. But most of the time, I don't know what I'm gonna do. Because I want that kind of freedom in my life by design. And John's like, what do you do? And I was like, I don't know. I'm gonna see what needs me. Yeah. Or what just feels frivolously fun.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, yeah. And those things are, you know, they're restorative. And I think we've been conditioned in the United States to think that we have to work all the time that you can't take a day off, or you can't go for a walk in the middle of the day to also sometimes like to do on a work day, because I've been to I can walk for 30 minutes without, you know, any devices and just let my brain wander and wander. And, and oftentimes, it's in those moments when I can work through the problems or I can think about what it is I want to do next by just giving my brain some freedom and having my legs move. And I think that's really valuable. Like that's, that's work and I don't think I should have to take off to do that because the value added is is worth it. Right?

Nicoa Coach:

Absolutely. oohed Lee Yeah, I mean, the downtime of our bodies and our minds. And, you know, I am curious, you've traveled the world so much, have you picked up any belief systems or practices from other cultures that you would encourage the American culture to take more advantage of?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Well, I mean, in Italy, there's definitely a siesta, you know, in the middle of the day, which has to do with the temperature, the climate there, it's hot in the afternoon. And so people take a break, stay inside, in the afternoon, they have a nice lunch, they rest afterwards, that makes sense to have a very high quality of life. And they also eat a lot more whole food and a lot less processed food than we do. They walk a lot more and drive a lot less. And, you know, all those things are good for your body and your mental health and try to to remind myself

Nicoa Coach:

to say, how easy is that to incorporate back at home? But you know, you're absolutely right. I was in Spain for two weeks. And it was we didn't have dinner until like 10 o'clock at night sometimes. And you wouldn't eat lunch until three and you know, or whatever. And it was a very different way of being. And I recognize, as I know, that you as well are recognizing is that we can pick that up from anywhere and apply it wherever we are. So I think that's key to a life by design, being open to different ways of doing things just like in your creative endeavors. What's a different way of seeing this and thinking about this and experiencing this, that would make me feel better and happier. And you are really role modeling. I just love your your life by design. I think it's phenomenal.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

It's easy to live like the Italians do when you're in Italy, for sure. And it feels very healthy. Like you can still have gelato and bread and you never gain any weight. And then when you come back

Nicoa Coach:

why don't have to work it. It's got to be something. Gotta be the mindset because I bought bread yesterday, I had more bread in the last two weeks than I typically would. And I think it's just a story that we're telling ourselves that I bought some focaccia bread yesterday, and I've been like biting off of it ever since I got back from the farmers market. And I'm like, it tastes so good. So I'm gonna eat more bread. Yeah.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

pleasures to not feel guilty about.

Nicoa Coach:

That's right. Well, Jenny, tell us as we wrap up, because I want to keep talking to you. And I'm, we have to put something on the books for us to reconnect face to face, I want to have something to look forward to that is including you. So I won't go. I think within the next 12 months, we got to find some way to connect, and what pieces of advice would you give and maybe some advice you've been giving your students about life in general, as you've got these young minds in these classrooms? And I've been talking to a lot younger guests and looking at my college and graduated children now. What advice would you be giving them right now based on what you've learned in your life by design that you think would be beneficial for our listeners as well? Hmm.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

That's an interesting question. I say these things to the students so often that they start to sound trite to me. So I don't want to sound trite. But, you know, for the students, I always feel like you have this for years at your university to explore the things that you're interested in. It is your education, you curate your education, and by extension, curate your life, right? And the choices that you're making. And I'm here to be your resource to guide you. But I'm not here to tell you what to do. And I think a lot of young people look at a professor or look at an employer, or parent, and they're waiting for them to tell them what to do. Like you tell them, I don't want to tell you how to live your life. You tell me what you want me to do to help you. And so that's one of the things that I like to share with the students. And I think that can apply to life outside of the university as well. Right? Oh, absolutely. And also the other thing that I tell the students, they get very caught up in, oh, is this real architecture? Or is this real interior design? Well, it's, it's real, because we're talking about it. But yeah, it's speculative. We're not going to build it because we're in school, you don't have a client. But this is your chance to be serious about your education. But it's also your chance to play because the stakes are so low. So I'm invested in this idea with the students in my own life of serious play. How can how can we have both the things that are important and necessary theory, but be playful about them and with them as well as a way of discovering, you know, and so I think that's another another way of operating and living and learning that that has emerged over the years.

Nicoa Coach:

Well, let's take that one, because I forgot to even mention your playful, powerful activism, when it came to the pink teeter totter wall project and installation. Would you mind sharing with everybody about that endeavor? And tell us a little bit about where that stands today? Yeah,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

sure. So the, the pink teeter totter at the border wall was an installation that we did in the summer of 2019. And it, it actually came out of a concept or sketch or drawing that we had made many years prior, maybe 10 years ago, when we were thinking about kind of alphabet of things that could happen at the border between the United States and Mexico, at the border wall, which is this very expensive infrastructure that, in my opinion, is not necessary, but and a lot of hostile horrible things happen there. You know, in 2019, the government was taking children away from their parents, and, and I really don't know anyone who would say that's a good idea. Like, why would we ever take children away from their parents. And so we had made these, these pink teeter totters to insert into the wall between the United States and Mexico earlier in the year, maybe in the winter of 2019. And the narrative or the idea is that these teeter totters would allow one to think about the kind of imbalance that exists on both sides of the wall and to think about how things that happen on one side influence the other right, that there is a relationship between the two countries, and that we need to find a kind of equilibrium and we need to play nice, right on both sides of the border. And we kept asking, we had made the teeter totters and they were just sitting in storage in Juarez. And we kept asking different governments the Border Patrol, like can we do this installation? And nobody would say yes. But nobody said no, either. So we decided, finally, at the end of the summer, we were so distraught by this issue of the children, that we really needed to bring attention to the children at the border between the United States and Mexico, because things are you know, they're just children like your children and my children. Like why aren't you presented? Why are people living in these communities presented as being bad people? Right, right. And so we decided to do this little renegade event, where we would actually insert the taters, teeter totters into the border wall fence, and with the children who are living in the communities on both sides of the wall. The neighborhood on the Mexican side of the border, comes out really close to the border, maybe like three or five feet away. So there's always lots of people there. And on the US side, the communities a little bit further away. So we invited friends who live in El Paso to come and bring their children. And so we brought the teeter totters from the Mexican side, push them through the fence dropped in the seats and the handlebars and everybody jumped on the teeter totters and started playing, you know, the kids like they could barely wait for the handlebars to be put on. And so everybody got on and we were playing and it was so it was amazing to like ride the border between the United States and Mexico and there was something about it like like when you inserted this teeter totters in the wall like you were stabbing the dragon, right?

Nicoa Coach:

Yes. Oh my gosh.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, we knew the Border Patrol would come. We could see them up on the mesa. And sure enough, here they come five minutes later, and they're like, What are you doing? We're, we're just playing. We're here playing with the kids. And they're like, Okay, they just sat there. And they watch. I didn't stop us. The Mexican police came on the other side. And they were like everybody here. Citizen individually. Yeah. And the women, the women. This is one thing that I didn't anticipate. Most of the people there that day were women and children. There were men, but it was mostly women and kids. And and I think that's one of the reasons that the police and the Border Patrol didn't shut us down. Because we it was like a normal scene like if you go to a playground anywhere yeah. There's moms and there's kids. And there's few dads. But yeah, it's just, it's just families playing. So why would you why would you stop that? Right? Why would you think that's going to be illegal or? Yeah, confrontational. And so we played for about 45 minutes, everybody got a little bit tired. And, and that was it, we, we took the teeter totters out, and shook hands through the fence and said how fun it was and, and laughed. And then the next day, we were driving back to Colorado, and posted video and photographs on Instagram, drove eight hours, got home, gotten the bed. And the next morning, we woke up to like 1000s of emails. And it just gone around the world. You know, everyone had seen these videos. And and I think it was a moment where people saw this, this act of resistance right to what was happening at the border. But it was done in a way that was playful and joyful. And it was something that people could get on board with right like not, oh, I'm gonna go commit a crime or hurt someone or kill someone. But I'm going to address this problem in a way that brings joy, right and brings togetherness. And I think that resonated with so many people around the world. And I think so many people are looking for that, like that kind of way of, of being together and overcoming our differences, which our government unfortunately, doesn't do. Right now.

Nicoa Coach:

There's a there's so much resistance. But if we and even just this morning, I posted a picture of myself makeup free hanging in the bed, drinking my coffee and just reminded everybody that like energy attracts like energy. And when I am peaceful, and I am playful, and I am happy than I am attracting that from the other person that's across from me, even if they're across the globe, and you attracted playfulness from one side of that border, from the other, you connected in that playful way of being played by design is one of the things I say as well. And I wish you could keep them there. I think you did end up putting them as an installation at a museum as we

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

keep them there. You can't permanently attach anything to the border, just like you know, it's a piece of government. Yeah, just like you can't attach anything permanently to the courthouse in your town.

Nicoa Coach:

Right and who owns it? And then who maintains it? Yeah, so

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

you know, we we brought the pieces back and, and the art world appropriated it, we didn't do it as an art project necessarily, but the art world appropriate, appropriated it as a piece of kind of public art. And so yeah, the pieces are have been exhibited in different venues around the country. And you guys

Nicoa Coach:

also did the billboard showing children being taken from their parents. It was symbolic of the border. Right?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Exactly. Yeah. Freedoms, billboards. Yeah. Yeah. Where

Nicoa Coach:

are those? Are they still?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Yeah, that was the short term installation.

Nicoa Coach:

Wow. I mean, your activism through art may not be coming out of a sense of like anger. It's coming out of a sense of possibility. It feels like when you describe it,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

yeah. possibility and, and also reparation and, and bringing, like awareness. You know, a lot of people don't know, unless you live, or you've spent time at the border between the United States and Mexico, you just don't know, you only hear the rhetoric from our politicians. You don't really know what's happening there. And so we thought this is this is a way to show it in a light that is maybe more normal that, that people don't see if they don't live there. Right.

Nicoa Coach:

I'm so glad that you did that. And out must have been so exciting to have gone viral. How interesting. It was

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

all, you know, like, I remember laying in the hotel bed the night before thing, you know, my heart was beating fast. And it was like, I couldn't get arrested because that was like a possibility. I was laying thinking, Okay, I think I can go to jail for one night. I can tell you, but like I don't want it to turn into a week or like I have a kid to take care of.

Nicoa Coach:

I go to jail forever. Oh my god.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

I'm doing anything illegal, you

Nicoa Coach:

know? The What if What was the biggest reach out? I mean, what was the most like, famous or political like who reached out to You guys, did you do interviews about this? And we did tons

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

of interviews with, with different news media from all around the world. I mean, we actually went the studio here in San Francisco and did like a news show. Wow. But there was there was so much email that I think like the New York Times was one of the first people that wrote and we just never even got that far down through the list. So to respond to their article,

Nicoa Coach:

oh, my gosh,

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

it was crazy. I've never experienced, I never imagined that would happen. I've never experienced anything like that. That moment. Yeah. Well,

Nicoa Coach:

my friend, you are living the extraordinary life you had hoped for. I mean, without a doubt, and you're leaving an impact. It's, I like this phrase, you've used it, finding a place in the world, I feel like you have found your place in the world. And it's only getting better and more exciting and even happier for you over the next the next half of your life, because you and I are going to be living up till at least 100. So I can't imagine what's going to happen in the next 50 years for both of us. So exciting. And I'm just, I just so grateful that you spent time with me today. Is there anything else that you feel compelled to share or you want to make sure people are aware of before we wrap up?

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Have I don't know I think I want people to Yeah, make time for themselves. And you know, make your life make your life the life that you want it to be that's important. You're in charge of your life, curate your life. That's

Nicoa Coach:

exactly right. curate your life. Your life by design is up to you. I like to say you're the common denominator of this life. Yep. And all of us. We're just characters in your play. And so we if you're listening to this right now, it's because you needed to hear Nicoa and Ginny, have a little love fest and shared any slides because there is a reason that you needed to hear all of these details in this advice. Don't ever think that, you know, coincidences and synchronicities. They all mean something. So we're in your play with all of you. And I hope you'll take some words of wisdom from us today and really go curate your life exactly the way you want it to be. Jenny, thank you. I love you.

VIRGINIA SANFRATELLO:

Thank you. Nicoa. Love you too. And I'll see you soon.

Nicoa Coach:

Yes, I'll talk to you later. Bye. Bye.

Jennifer Gardner:

Thanks for joining us for a caffeinated conversation. Subscribe to Coffee with Nicoa for more stories from people living a life by design. You can also find inspiration on Instagram. Just follow Coffee with Nicoa and check out our website Coffee with nicoa.com and that's Nicoa N IC O A. We look forward to talking with you soon. And enjoy your coffee between now and then.