Since collaborating on this Edwardian renovation for a modern family, we have enjoyed getting to know Jeannie Fraise and her team at Lotus Bleu Design. Jeannie is unique from other San Francisco designers as she comes from a diverse background of art history, travel and retail for an aesthetic that is bold as it is lively. She is known for bright colors, layered textures and loud patterns to invoke a happy feeling when one enters the space. Keep reading to find out how Jeannie went from popular Hayes Valley boutique owner to high demand interior designer, sharing a few smart homeowner tips in between.
Jeff King & Company: You are known for being an avid globetrotter. Why is travel important to you?
Jeannie Fraise: My husband and I met and got the travel bug 25 years ago on a college Semester at Sea program; he’s French from Madagascar. We started backpacking around Southeast Asia and continued through the years visiting most countries in Asia. Our most important trips were when we went back to Vietnam and China to adopt our son and daughter. Travel and experiencing other cultures is so important for our family: educating ourselves about the world and finding something bigger than our immediate surroundings. Now we still spend a month in France with family every summer and take the last week of our trip to visit a new country in Europe. I know Paris very well but am excited this summer to spend time in London and go north to Scotland. And then in the winter, we try to take a trip to Latin America or Asia.
Did your travels have anything to do with your career path?
I started collecting on my travels and having trunk shows at my house. People really liked it. At the time I was getting my PhD in art history at Stanford and working at a museum. I wanted a change: modern art, New York and Paris ended up influencing my style. I thought, what am I going to do now? Professional interior design? Import products? Open a retail location? I started doing all three at one time; it was a great way to define my style.
Many people know you for your boutique in Hayes Valley. How did it start and what did it mean for your design style?
We started out in Hayes Valley in a 350 square foot space. We eventually expanded the boutique and it became a great way for people to get a sense of our aesthetic. The wonderful thing about the shop was people would come in and say it was like a bright and colorful candy store: they felt good, happy and joyful. That has always been an important part of my design approach and one of my main goals: I want people to feel good where they live and have an approachable and inviting home.
You also remodeled your own home at the beginning of your design career, how did that inform your approach?
We bought a house that needed to be remodeled from foundation to roof with a slight addition; the kitchen didn’t even have cabinets or running water. We started from scratch and did it all ourselves, so I learned space planning and making good decisions for a long-term home. Now I can help clients prioritize what makes the most impact stylistically to enjoy their house now, even if they don’t have the budget to do all the design at once.
What role does color play in your designs?
All my projects start with color and pattern. If homeowners don’t appreciate color and texture they’re probably not coming to me. We start with a color that has meaning to the client, something they respond to and want to live with. It could be inspired by a piece of furniture or artwork the client has, or something that inspired me from a trip.
Do you have a rule of thumb for choosing colors?
I like a layered approach with two main colors and a neutral grounding color. I start by defining what’s already in the space, for example I did a place off Corsica and was looking at the flow from interior to exterior. One room had pretty corals and ivories and walking out to the terrace, you see the same beautiful colors in the rocks. In Tahoe it could be the browns, greens and golds of the trees and mountains coming in from the outside and feeling part of the living space.
As a San Francisco interior designer, is it possible to go “too bold” with color and pattern?
You have to be careful: you don’t want something too crazy and trendy that you’re not into a year from now. If you’re going to pick a riskier color, do it in lamps or pillows. You can change those out in a few years.
You are known for using reupholstered vintage pieces in a room. When is old better than new?
Reupholstering a vintage chair is different than buying something brand new: it’s unique, has different lines and shows age. I like modern fabric with pattern and contrast to add something special to the space. We use really beautiful fabrics, they’re not inexpensive, and so I often recommend a solid color sofa with special fabric on a chair or window treatment. Textiles are a great way to make a lot of impact and make the most of your budget.
Do you have any tips for homeowners to get the most out of wallpaper?
I love wallpaper. It’s really hot right now but I’ve always loved it. If it’s expensive wallpaper, you can do one wall like a headboard or living room. I love doing patterns in a powder room, something really wow and vibrant. Wallpaper can add subtle touches: if one floor is the same color gray, the living room can be more formal by adding a grass cloth to the same tone. It adds some shine to it and makes it more special.
What is your favorite type of homeowner to work with?
Our ideal client is all about trust. Someone who is confident we are in touch with their goals and is comfortable with us making decisions for them and taking risks to get an end result they’re happy with. I’m always prioritizing how my clients live and what they like. A great team is also so important to the success of a project. I love to work with Jeff King & Company: there’s a connection there, you care about the client, and have a group of artisans with whom you’ve built trust and know will work with you to execute the spaces designed and envisioned by all.
See more fantastic work by Jeannie Fraise at Lotus Bleu Design.