Born in Buenos Aires and living in San Francisco, Soledad Alzaga has a global sensibility hard to resist. We first introduced you to her with this beautiful home tour– who could forget that infamous Muhammad Ali print that packs a punch? Since then we’ve been totally smitten and recently had the chance to sit down with Soledad to talk all things inspiration, lessons learned, and much more!
How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Eclectic, functional, elegant.
What do you love most about your home?
My house is an old Victorian that has windows on three sides, so we get amazing light all throughout the day; and the best feature are the 12 foot ceilings.
Favorite memory in your home?
My husband and I bought this house when I was pregnant with my second child. It was the first home we owned together. He had the wisdom to let my pregnant self make almost every decision and take control of the whole project. It was a great process to decorate with him and make our house a home. I would come up with an idea and he would tell me he didn’t agree and I would do it anyway, and then he would turn around and tell me “I knew my idea was going to look great”.
The biggest design mistake you’ve ever made and the lesson you learned from it?
When I bought the tile for my entryway, I ordered enough to cover the space and a couple extras. It is hand painted Mexican tile and I worked with the fabricators to make a big center piece and a border. When the tile arrived I realized I didn’t have that many extras and some were broken, but I had enough to finish the project. I thought I could always order more later. Big mistake! Some of my tiles cracked a couple years later, and the company I worked with went under with the faulty economy and with that, the possibility of getting the same tile in the same color design. I have seen similar ones but it will never be the same color, because it was made specifically in the colors I chose. So the lesson learned was to always order extra tile or any other material for that matter. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
You’re from Buenos Aires and your husband is from London. How has your global perspective influenced the way you decorate and live in SF?
I grew up traveling quite a bit, and now I travel as much as I can, when I can.
I used to have an apartment in Buenos Aires until 6 years ago where I had a mix of art and pieces I had collected and bought at auctions and flea markets in BA and around the world. When I sold my apartment I decided to ship almost everything over here. I brought the table I have in my entrance, as well as the big painting from the argentine artist Sofia Huidobro which is one of my favorite possessions. I have a lot of my finds scattered around my house, and I enjoy using and seeing them every day. I stopped worrying about my kids breaking or ruining my unique things a while ago. I decided that life is too short not to put your feet up on your furniture even if that is a very old LV trunk that used to belong to a great grandfather. The trunk was used as luggage and got beaten up on trips on ships, so my kids jumping on it shouldn’t make that much of a dent. Maybe I am crazy?!
Although I have to confess to crying over my youngest kid painting over a beautifully custom embroidered upholstered chair with red nail polish… I left it as it is, didn’t change it, now that chair has a better story to tell. And that is what I want with my clients’ homes: to tell a story; show their history even if it’s with one piece alone, or the story of who they are now. Having everything new and modern tells the story of who they are now too. A new beginning maybe…
You’ve been in the design industry for 11 years. How has it changed since then, if at all?
When I started remodeling homes, I was my own client. I was very curious about construction and the whole process. I came from a country where everything is built with bricks and cement blocks. I was very intrigued about the way construction is done here and all the codes in California due to being in an earthquake zone. Dry wall was a novelty for me. I realized I wanted to learn about plumbing and electricity and how drywall and insulation worked. So I spend countless hours on job sites learning as much as I could, getting my hands dirty and my hair dusty. I have to say it was the best training I have ever gotten. Because now I know what can and cannot be done inside walls, bearing walls, with plumbing, etc, I can make better decisions when working with my clients. It was funny when I had a contractor tell me an idea of mine was crazy and not possible, and explaining to him step by step how it can be done with knowledge of all parts and have him applaud me- and do it!
Things in the industry have changed quite a bit. New materials, more options, more finishes, and now you can remote-control everything. The internet has made our jobs so much easier. We can research and find things from all over the world and have everything shipped where you need it. Websites like 1st dibs and online magazines like Rue, have made finding unique pieces a click away.
When you start a new design project, what’s the first piece you build the room around and why.
I actually first look at a space, and I ask my clients how they live, how they will use the spaces and what their needs are. I then ask what pieces that they already own they want to keep and why. I ask what their favorite color is and which ones they hate. I try to get a feel about who they are and how they will use their homes. Do they have kids and or pets? Do they entertain? Are they casual or formal in their everyday lives? I think that is the most important thing to know when I start a design project.
Biggest decorating mistake you see people make?
The biggest mistake I see people make is thinking that because they own a piece of furniture that it has to work in a space. If a sofa is too small and you bought it for your studio apartment 10 years ago, and it’s out of proportion with the room in your bigger living room, then it just doesn’t work. It’s the wrong shape, the wrong color, and reupholstering it won’t change that. We can use it somewhere else, but you probably need a bigger sofa that better fits your space. The other mistake is people not wanting to get rid of anything because they might use it in the future. I believe in recycling and sometimes giving things away or selling them for someone else to enjoy them is a liberating exercise. If it has sentimental value you should for sure keep it and make it work in a space. But your futon from your college years needs a new home even if it brings you great memories.
What was the design goal you had when redecorating and remodeling your home? Did you stick to it or has it evolved from your original vision?
I wanted a comfortable, easy maintenance space. I have 3 young kids and I wanted my home to be lived in and every room to be enjoyed. I have a lot of white sofas (which people think I am crazy) but they are all slipcovered and they are very easily cleaned in the wash with bleach if needed. I used layers and textures which I think make my rooms cozy and inviting. I wanted my home to be open, warm and welcoming, no space is off limits.
Complete the sentence: “I think my biggest strength is…”
Being able to listen and understand my clients’ needs. Sometimes I feel I am a bit of a therapist, couples counselor and a friend. I am able to envision a finished room in my head as soon as I see it, but I have to walk through the process with my clients and see it come to fruition in a way that they understand it and feel they are participating in the process.