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Today, I’m speaking with Jennifer from Niche Interiors, an up and coming interior design firm in San Francisco. What I like about Jennifer and her team’s work is the fact it’s so accessible, and yet inventive and unique. It’s great inspiration for anyone wanting to give their home a more polished, pulled-together look: Jennifer combines pattern and color effortlessly, mixes custom upholstery with off-the-shelf pieces, and brings a refreshingly youthful vibe to the San Francisco design scene.


Four Walls and a Roof: What do you consider your big break in interior design so far?
Niche Interiors: I’m grateful for all of the “little breaks” I’ve had along the way, but I would have to say my big break was the first clients that hired me when I went out on my own. They trusted me with their beautiful new home in West Portal, despite the fact that I had a very small portfolio at that time. Luckily, they were the most down-to-earth and fun clients to work with! The project reflected this and our collaboration resulted in a stunning dining room that is still one of my favorite images in our portfolio.


FWR: How do you keep every project fresh and unique to the client, but without losing your own aesthetic? Is it important to have your own ‘stamp’ on a design?
NI: Our philosophy at Niche Interiors is that each home should be as unique as its inhabitant. We focus on creating spaces that reflect our clients’ lifestyles, tastes, and hobbies — not our own. The one thing that we do bring to all our projects is a clean aesthetic. Whether it’s a traditional or contemporary space we always try to keep the design concept very focused.


FWR: It seems that appointing an interior designer is no longer something only celebrities and millionaires do! Who is your typical client?
NI: Very true. Interior design has become much more accessible. Our typical client is a 30-something couple (or family), living in San Francisco, who needs help creating a stylish and comfortable home. Niche Interiors is usually hired with a life change such as moving or expanding the family, and the budgets that we work with vary widely.


FWR: Tell us a bit about your design process. How do you get from vague concept to a concrete design?
NI: We create customized image books for each project. Client feedback on visual images is an invaluable tool that helps us create the design concept. We actually make lists of specific things that clients do or don’t like in the image books. For example, dislikes might be: Stripes, velvet, tufting. ‘Loves’ might be: Contrast, organic shapes, uneven textures. This helps in the creation of a specific design concept.


FWR: You’re obviously not afraid of pattern. What are your tips for using pattern in a home?
NI: Be bold and go for it! Mix patterns in similar tones and in contrasting scales. Small repeat prints mix well with medium or large repeats.


FWR: Do you have any tips for homeowners on a budget? How do they create a great look without spending a fortune?
NI: Start with a clear design concept and specific color scheme and don’t stray! Invest your money in good quality upholstery, rugs, and quality contractors. You can go low-end on things like side tables, lamps, pillows and occasional furniture.


FWR: I’m a big believer in the power of design to change the dynamics of life in a home – do you ever get feedback on whether your designs have impacted the lives of your clients?
NI: Yes, I do — and the feedback I get from clients is the most rewarding part of my job. Not only do we get comments about how beautiful the spaces look, but how much more comfortable and functional the spaces are for our clients. One of my favorite comments was: “We now sit in our living room every night because we love it so much — it’s very us but way better.”


FWR: What’s the biggest design challenge you’ve ever faced and how did you overcome it?
NI: That’s a tough one! I would have to say the TINY bathroom remodel we tackled in Bernal Heights last year. It was just under 6′ x 6′ and the only full bathroom in the house.  We needed to keep the tub since the couple was expecting a baby. The 14″ deep wall-mounted sink saved the day. The glass tiles made the room feel a little bigger, and the skylight brought in much-needed natural light.

FWR: For those of us in San Francisco, what are your favorite design stores in the city?
NI: Monument and Past Perfect remain go-to sources for vintage finds. Kneedler-Fauchere in the design center has a beautiful array of furnishings and lighting. A quirky shop that I like to stop in once in a while is The Apartment on 18th Street — you never know what you will find there.


FWR: What do you think are the big interiors trends for 2011?
NI: Lighter woods, brass, traditional shapes, and tufting are all on their way back. I also think there is a shift away from the eclectic “anything goes” look towards more polished, put-together spaces.


FWR: Couldn’t agree more! So, what looks are you dying to try in an upcoming design?
NI: I’m dying to create a huge octagonal ottoman in a bold print. I also would love to switch gears and work on a really masculine tailored space with menswear details such as pinstripes, herringbone etc.


FWR: Sounds intriguing. I hope you get the chance. So, one more question on a topic close to my heart: You’re a great example of how interior designers can use social media to build their business. What does social media mean for you and how do you find time to stay engaged with it?
NI: Social media allows us to connect with potential and current clients and other trade professionals in a more informal setting. We love being able to instantly share the progress of a custom piece of furniture or before and after photos of projects. It’s fun, collaborative and gets people engaged. I will admit that it can be a challenge to keep up with everything — but our goals aren’t too lofty. We try to write one blog post per week — my junior designer Kerry and I take turns writing to keep the content fresh.

Thanks so much, Jennifer!

Credits: Photos 4 and 6 credited to Hale Photography. Other photos via Niche Interiors.
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When we remodel the kitchen, we will have some structural work done that will require repainting the dining room. I’m planning on using this to try a new look. Here’s how it looks now.

We had the shelves put in just over a year ago and they’ve made an enormous difference to the room. Other than that, not much has changed since this post. But now it’s time for something new (apart from the table, which obviously desperately needs to be swapped out). The current wall color is Iced Marble by Benjamin Moore. I love it, but it’s been there for almost five years and I feel it’s a little drab now. So, I’m thinking of going several shades darker to Millstone Gray. As you can see, it’s a deep gray with a greeny-blue tinge.

Or else Kitty Gray, which is just a little darker and bluer (and, frankly, looks identical on my screen!)

Dark gray has been a hot color for ages, but I still think it looks fresh against crisp white moldings (of which there’s plenty in our dining room – and, if we paint the ceiling a brighter white, it should work well). Take a look at these examples.

Via Gorgeous Shiny Things.

Via the Girl in the Brick House.

Via Manolo for the Home. Although the walls here are almost black, rather than gray, this photo is particularly great inspiration because we have this Nelson Saucer bubble lamp in our dining room.

What do you think? Should we take the plunge?

If I’m going to continue the theme of red-accented spaces, this unique house is the perfect place to stop next. It’s the home of portrait photographer, Emily McCall.

Why do I love this house? Because it intrigues me and is truly one-of-a-kind. For a start, you’d think a palette of black, white and red would be brash and in-your-face, but instead it’s quiet, almost monastic, but with a twist.

Great mix of textiles from Suzani to sackcloth to leather.

Any place that can combine a white bust with a Panton chair and look great is ok by me!

The bedrooms are like negatives of each other (how appropriate for a photographer!) Here’s the light and airy white bedroom, with a few graphic punches in the form of the pillow, lamp and quirky clock.

And here’s the black bedroom – a perfect foil for a vintage bus route sign….

…and a red velvet wingback chair! Genius. Makes me want to break out the black paint.

Thanks, Emily, for allowing me to post photos of your lovely home. Hope everyone else enjoys them as much as I did!

Check out Emily’s blog here.

Maybe it’s a sign that I need some warmer weather and brighter days, but I’m on a roll with red rooms. How stunning is this dining room, spotted on Norwegian interiors site, Bo Bedre?

They say red is ideal for dining rooms because it stimulates both conversation and appetite. But this one turns tradition on its head with an all-white room, except for those gorgeous curvy chairs. So simple, sweet and stylish…

There’s so much to like about this red-accented space that it almost makes me want to redecorate our entire house from scratch (family – don’t be alarmed, I said ‘almost’).

There’s nothing quite like joyful, juicy red, used in just the right quantity. Here, because the space is so light and easy, the effect is uplifting. I’m a huge fan of the kilim rug combined with a very simple, blocky white table.

The central shelving unit looks like a clever disguise for a load-bearing column. Doused in red, it brings the entire space together.

The Asian elements, such as these meditation chairs, the Buddah, rush mats and Japanese-inspired screens below, bring order to a small space and prevent it from looking cluttered.

Is there any smarter combination than red, white and charcoal? That dark wall works well to ease the transition between living area and kitchen.

A perfect study in red.

From MiCasa via DigsDigs

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts recently, life around here is a bit hectic. Birthday parties, babies, schools, travel and lots and lots of work – frankly I’m amazed we’re keeping it together. It’s at times like this that I crave a home that is an oasis of calm. Of course, that’s not easy when you’re slowing disappearing under a sea of toys and laundry. We manage it for a few hours each week, after a major clean-up and when everything is sparkling and tidy. But, for the rest of the time, I have to resort to my favorite books and blogs to find the kind of simple, streamlined, relaxing interiors that make the perfect antidote to a stressful day.

Here are a few of my recent favorites.

This kitchen, featured in Skona Hem, via Emma’s Design Blogg, sums up my idea of restful design. Although it’s predominantly white, it’s not spartan (which I try to avoid as it just makes me feel uneasy). It has honey-colored wood, sloping ceilings, organic shapes, and some symmetry (those beautiful yellow and white glass pendants), all of which contribute to the sense of simplicity and calm.

A calming living room is the perfect balance of formal and casual, organized and relaxed. I’ve found the ideal combination in this room, from Greige, found via Fondly Seen. The art is what really sets the tone. But the comfortable chairs with a touch of formality, the slightly distressed wood paneling, the tall multi-paned windows – they all combine effortlessly to create an ideal of lived-in luxe.

A calm space doesn’t have to be entirely clutter-free. This living room (via Lilac and Gray) manages that relaxed feel, despite having open shelves. The neutral color palette helps but it’s the choice of materials that really creates the mood here: linen, cotton, wood and seagrass and the use of unpretentious and unchallenging ticking stripes, give the place a soothing, shoes-off vibe.

Can you have such a thing as a relaxing dining room? After all, isn’t a dining room’s design supposed to invite conversation, hilarity and stimulate appetite? Well, not in my book, not today at least! I like this dining room, from Elle Decor, via Arianna Belle, because it combines furniture styles and materials so effortlessly, is pretty and yet simple, and it combines striking full-height windows with softer drapes and chandeliers.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but for a relaxing bedroom, I like a lot of light. It doesn’t make any difference to me if the sun’s rays burst in at dawn because, with two young kids, chances are I’ll be up by then anyway! But I do like the sense of space and calm a light room provides. I don’t think I’ll ever have a canopy like this over my own bed, but the effect here is pretty dreamy. With the soft blanket, acres of white bedlinen and simple furniture, this is pretty much the perfect place to retire after a busy day. Via BeautyComma.

Now, for bathrooms, I’m going to have to go with this one (also from Emma’s Design Blogg). It has the cool neutrals, plenty of greenery, symmetry, organization and storage, but a relaxed organic feel, especially with the slate floors.

So what makes a calming room? Answer: whatever relaxes you. For some people that might be features like open fires or soft rugs, for others certain colors relax, for others it’s all about organization. For me, it’s neutral colors, plenty of negative space and light, a touch of greenery, organic shapes and textures and an effortless mix of styles that looks like it has evolved over time.

What about you?

This is the picture that started it all. A minor obsession with symmetry, that is. There’s something about the symmetry of the exposed rafters, the shutters, matching consoles and round mirrors that speaks to me. It’s cool, calm and collected – an effect that’s further enhanced by the all-white palette. Complete order and I love it.

Symmetry has been used in design for millennia, and it’s still one of the easiest ways to pull a room together. But, as a technique, it’s suffered a bit of bad rap because it can look so formulaic and characterless. So, I decided to look into what makes a successful symmetrical arrangement. How do you apply symmetry without killing the personality and warmth of a space?

This room pretty much sums it up: There’s symmetry in the architecture (paired windows) and in the way the chairs and pillows are arranged. But there are also elements that hint at symmetry but are somehow ‘off’ – like the three irregularly-grouped but similar urn-shaped vases on the mantelpiece. Then the striking rug, blue walls and mock antlers lift the space out of the sphere of the ordinary.

This living room, from Ellen Pompeo’s house as featured in Elle Decor, is much more understated. But the symmetrical arrangement is given a focal point in the form of an oversize moorish-style mirror. A single statement piece at the center of your symmetrical set-up can change the look from predictable to powerful.

Another technique is to use offbeat pieces to create your symmetry. Just one of these cane sofas would be eye-catching enough, but using two against a relatively simple backdrop is truly dramatic.

Here the symmetry of the room’s architecture is subtley drawn out with the use of two unusual red chairs in an otherwise neutral scheme. There’s actually no other symmetry in this room – the chairs are enough to create a sense of order.

Twin beds naturally invite a symmetrical arrangement. Unusual shapes and a strong monochromatic palette keep things interesting.

Sometimes symmetry can be found in the smallest details. These symmetrical shelves are a sweet way to ensure a sense of order in the kitchen without creating a wall of uniform cabinets.

So what do you think of symmetry? Design by numbers or a perfect balance?

Credits:

1 – Delight by Design; 2 – House Beautiful;  3 – Elle Decor; 4 – Canadian House and Home; 5 – House Beautiful; 6 – Canadian House and Home; 7 – Canadian House and Home

I read some advice from interior designer Vicente Wolf in a magazine interview the other day. He said that a space should have ‘flow’. “Like water flowing down a river. There might be a little rock here or a little bit of rapids there, but the river never stops flowing”. I take this to mean that the eye should move effortlessly from one end of a room to another – and between rooms – without visual obstacles or interruptions. His words struck a chord. The fact is, when you’re exposed to hundreds of photos of gorgeous interiors every day, it’s easy to confuse interior design with the creation of a still life. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how a room would look in a photo, rather than how it would feel to be living in it. I’ve been thinking about the placement of furniture and the layering of textiles and finishes as a two-dimensional composition. It’s an easy trap to fall into when the world of design is influenced by heavily-styled and meticulously arranged images. But it doesn’t make for a truly successful interior scheme.

So I decided to take a closer look at what Wolf means by ‘flow’ and try to learn some lessons from this. First, he uses a lot of white to create continuity through an entire space. He does the same with color by picking up the same tones in fabrics here and there throughout a home.

So far, so obvious (although I’ll admit it requires considerable discipline to stick with the same palette throughout a home – most of us need to express another side of our design personality by experimenting with different looks in different rooms). Wolf also eschews pattern, preferring instead to keep his spaces clean. Oops, having just decorated three rooms with ‘feature walls’ using wallpaper or contrasting paint, I can see the appeal of a ‘clean’ background, as Wolf puts it, allowing the shapes of the furniture to speak for themselves.

Studying his work, it’s clear there’s more to this idea of ‘flow’ than color and pattern though. The way Wolf uses interior space is unusual in that he isn’t at all constrained by structure. He says he likes to avoid putting up boundaries in a scheme, but I think he goes beyond that to create living areas that seem to float within a room while the walls and ceilings seem to melt away, using reflective and transparent materials. Sometimes he achieves this just by the way he places the furniture, refusing to hug the walls or follow conventional layouts.

Wolf mixes up styles and eras fearlessly, which helps create a more organic, relaxed vibe. Thinking again about that idea of flow, if you look at the way these contrasting pieces of furniture are arranged, you’ll see that they’re meant to be appreciated by someone sitting at the table or on the sofa – not just by an outsider looking at the room through a lens.

That’s not to say you won’t find great styling in his spaces though. Throughout Wolf’s interiors you see antiques and artifacts from his store, VW Home, arranged in pairs or multiples. These must be the ‘rapids’ he talks about: they certainly inject energy into a space.

It’s tempting to conceive a room scheme in the same way you’d frame a beautiful photograph, but it helps to remember that an interior must look and feel cohesive from every angle.

Credits: All images except the first one are from Vicente Wolf Associates‘ web site. The first image is from House Beautiful.

You’ll recognize photographer Laura Resen‘s work from the pages of several interiors magazines. She counts among her clients the likes of Architectural Digest, Harpers Bazaar, Elle Decor, French Vogue, Living Etc, House Beautiful and Domino magazine. But, despite this stylish line-up, the homes she photographs all seem to share a key quality: they’re truly inviting.

Flooded with clear, natural daylight, the spaces in her pictures are both elegant and comfortable. There’s a restrained palette throughout her portfolio but attention to details such as texture ensures each photo is one you want to step into (and sit down and curl up in…)

It helps that Resen has worked with designers such as Thomas O’Brien, whose house in Bellport, Long Island ranks up there with one of my favorite interiors ever. (In fact, she collaborated with O’Brien on a book that just came out this year).

But, whether it’s cool white living rooms, effortlessly styled bedrooms or glorious sun-washed patios, this is one stunning portfolio. In fact, I had a hard time picking just a few images to post here.

There’s also a lesson to be learned from Resen’s still life photos. I was struck by the use of layers, particularly layers of objects in harmonious colors. The effect is not only beautiful, but can also be applied when styling a home to achieve that lived-in, inviting vibe. From layering whites…

To different blues…

To metallics…

To dramatic black…

And contrasting hues…

All in all, I encourage you to check out Laura Resen’s site for inspiration. You won’t be disappointed.

After the florals and frills of the last few posts, I’m feeling the need to highlight some rooms with a more edgy aesthetic. (Maybe it’s the nesting instinct that’s drawing me to clean-lined, minimal spaces!?) Luckily, I came across this stunning house by designer Nacho Polo on Vintage + Chic, which fits the bill entirely. Cool, calm, collected and utterly stylish. Not sure I could live in it, but I sure wish I had the discipline to create something this stunning.

This is my favorite room. I love those dining chairs.

Interesting use of contrasting shapes here. It makes the simple color scheme more exciting.

Clever to use the all-white frames as a form of art in itself.

Love that black chandelier and rococo wallpaper in an otherwise modern minimalist bathroom.

Even if you can’t handle black and white in every room, I think it’s perfect for making the most of a small bathroom.

What do you think? Could you live here? And even if not, wouldn’t you love to visit?

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
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