San Francisco designer Lauren Nelson is a girl after our own heart. She believes “when our surroundings are sources of comfort and inspiration, we lead happier lives.” While she began her career in public relations, she couldn’t ignore her natural pull towards design. Lauren decided to take a risk, follow her passion, and open her own firm. She specializes in mixing old and new, raw and refined – resulting in spaces that are sophisticated yet never pretentious. We knew her own home – which she shares with her husband, young daughter, and pup – would be no exception. From the moment we stepped in the front door, we realized that Lauren is a perfect example of practicing what you preach.
Tell us a little about your professional background. How did you get into interior design?
My first job out of college was working for Williams-Sonoma Inc. in their PR department for the Pottery Barn brands. It was a fantastic job, with fun people, and I got to work with the top home magazines and TV shows in the country. We worked on design stories in order to promote the brands, and through this I realized I enjoyed the design part of the job even more than the PR/marketing side. So I explored the possibility of interior design as a career by taking classes at UC Berkeley’s Interior Design & Architecture program, and then left Williams-Sonoma to work for an interior designer in Los Angeles. From then on, it was clear that interior design was my newfound passion.
We love that! Tell us – when designing a space, where’s the first place you start and why?
I always start with the intention of the space. This involves 2 main questions:
1. How is the space going to be used? For lounging, for entertaining, for kids to play?
2. How does the client want it to feel? Informal and open? Swanky and initimate? Playful and quirky, or calm and ethereal?
Once we establish the functional needs of the space and the ethos, the rest of the design process flows much more efficiently and purposefully. Then, the pinning and inspiration searching begins!
What would you say are the hallmarks of a Lauren Nelson designed space?
I try to tailor the look and feel of each space to each of my clients’ lifestyles, my hope being that each place feels a bit different from the next. With that said, my designs tend to have a common thread of being light, clean, modern but warm, with punches of color & pattern. You’ll always see a mix of old and new, something mid-century modern, and something a little bohemian.
What do you most admire in a room?
I most admire rooms that blend eras, styles, and materials – rooms that create a new experience for your eyes.
Your space has a brilliant use of color. Which colors do you use most?
I’m a huge fan of blue, particularly where it meets green. The range of blues and blue/greens is so endless – from peacock blue to deep indigo to icy blue. I also have a slight love affair with grey. I love using a light grey on walls as a neutral backdrop, and darker charcoal greys too for a moodier effect.
Why is design important to you?
Design has such a huge impact on our quality of life. It affects our mood, the way we live, how we interact with others. I think it’s a pretty big deal, to love the space where you spend most of your time.
We couldn’t agree more! So, running your own firm is bound to come with challenges. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the process?
Relationships are everything. Treat everyone you encounter with respect and it will come full circle. And building relationships with craftsmen & artisans that can execute your vision is invaluable and essential to succeeding in this industry!
Since beginning, what is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Being named House Beautiful’s Next Wave designer was a proud moment. And having happy clients. I think that’s an even prouder moment, when I get a handwritten note from a client (or even a text) that expresses how much they love their space. That’s the best. Making someone’s home a place they love to be.
Congratulations!! What do you attribute your success to?
Hard work and commitment. Good taste is important, but it only gets you so far. Owning your own business takes dedication and a willingness to put in the extra time to make it run smoothly and successfully.
For our readers – what is your top advice for turning a house into a home?
1. Imperfection. It may sound odd, but a house needs to feel lived-in and comfortable, and that doesn’t happen when every pillow on the sofa is lined up perfectly and you’re nervous about fingerprints on the coffee table. It needs to feel warm and welcoming, no matter what the style.
2. Stories. A home should tell stories about the people that live there. This can be through art or accessories collected by clients on their travels, family photos, books…. basically anything that tells a story about the people that inhabit the space.
What would you say is the biggest decorating mistake you see people make?
Scale. It’s one of those things that can be hard to visualize and comes with experience and intuition. And it’s the thing my clients tend to feel they need the most help with. Balancing the scale of furniture, the heights…
Many of our readers are renters. What’s your best advice to make a rental feel like home?
Things like window treatments and light fixtures can be costly things for renters to invest in, because they are so specific to each space, and not cheap! For high-impact, low-cost, I’d recommend painting walls and adding new textiles – pillows, bedding, blankets – they make such a difference! I’d also encourage investing in art and certain furniture pieces that you love and will bring with you wherever you go (like that antique dresser you saw at the flea market). Start collecting now, it takes time to fill a whole home.
In your own home, what was the biggest design challenge and how did you work around it?
Storage. When we moved in, it felt like we had a generous amount of storage space. But after 4 years of accumulating stuff, and having a daughter, storage is scarce. It is by far my biggest design challenge – how to maximize the space, keeping what I think we need and what we love, while maintaining a clean aesthetic. So, I started taking advantage of vertical space! We bought a tall dresser to replace our low one, installed wall-mounted shelving in Kaila’s room, added storage cabinets in the living room, and bought attractive baskets for Kaila’s toys. Another big solution: editing and purging. That’s hard for stylists like me to do (“but this could be great for a photo shoot one day!”). Thankfully, I’ve gotten better at it.
Do you have a favorite room?
Our living room. It’s filled with bright sun all day long, and I’ve recently revamped it to feel more open and cozy. I replaced a flat weave rug with a shag rug from Morocco, and replaced our big coffee table with two smaller hex tables I had custom-made. I also added a wall sconce for better ambient light at night when we have guests over. The overhead lights felt too bright. It’s much nicer sipping wine chatting with friends in a dimly lit room. Mood is everything!
Finally, we’re sure our readers would love to know. What are your top 5 resources for great design?
Madeline Weinrib: Her textiles make me weak in the knees. They are the gold standard in silk ikats and colorful graphic rugs.
Super Simple: My new favorite shop in SF for giftables, specializing in Japanese ceramics, tabletop, and vintage pieces.
Black & Gold: This store feels on par with shops in LA – swanky, refined midcentury pieces that have been beautifully restored, eclectic accessories & rare finds.
John Derian: His upholstered furniture is so well proportioned with beautiful details, and his textiles shop is a treasure trove of beautiful finds.
MIDCENTURYLA: For lovers of Danish midcentury furniture, this is the mecca. David, the founder, goes on regular trips to Scandinavia to bring back the best of the best.