Welcome back to our Q&A series with Bay Area architects and interior designers. Today we catch up with Marnie Wright, a San Francisco interior designer, to get her perspective on residential remodels.
Marnie Wright has had substantial experience over the past 30 years with residential, corporate, and institutional clients. Ms. Wright was a partner of Fisher Wright Interior Design from 1985 to 1990, prior to which she was an interior designer at Gensler and Associates. Ms. Wright graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1979 with a B.A. in Environmental Design. Her work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The World of Interiors, Milwaukee Sentinal San Francisco Magazine, and Mountain Living Magazine.
Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?
Marnie Wright: I love women’s fashion and I’ve always noticed that it influences what happens in design. I look at materials, textures, and colors that are current and I think about how it would translate to interiors. When you dress people, you use designs that are becoming to them and make them look and feel good. In people’s homes or office spaces, you should do the same thing. You should compliment people.
The first thing I look at every morning is the blog Remodelista: it’s a tool that I use a lot now, it’s such a great resource. In terms of magazines, I love the British Elle Decoration and the Australian version of Vogue Living. They are fun to look at and inspiring.
Q: Improvement is the motivation behind all remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?
A: Hopefully they’ll tell me that! Usually clients call and tell me how happy they are and how my design improves their space. I love the problem solving aspect of doing remodels. In San Francisco that usually means opening things up and making the home flow and function better.
Q: In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with preexisting structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?
A: The biggest challenge is keeping cost down. With any kind of renovation, you’re going to run into unforeseeable issues. Redesign can also be challenging for clients because they have to deal with the two worst things: 1) making decisions and 2) spending lots of money. I guide them through the decision-making to ensure they get the best topical product they can. There are so many options and choices that it can be overwhelming for some people.
In terms of the space itself, it’s fun when there are limitations on the redesign because it gives me some parameters. The problem-solving aspect makes it more challenging.
Q: As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner?
A: It’s the heart of the home really. It’s where everybody always tends to hang out. In a lot of older houses, the kitchens were more secluded and cut-off. Now because of the way we live, making kitchens part of the living space is important.
It’s also nice to have a separate work area adjacent to, or part of, the kitchen. It’s tricky because you don’t want things to get greasy, but it’s nice to have that adjacency. It’s two places people spend a lot of time at.
The trickiest part with kitchens is always finding the right materials to use. Some people don’t want countertops to ever show marks, scars, or mars. For some, it’s finding the perfect countertop that will never stain. Other people want material that ages and looks like it’s been used. Kitchens need to be durable because they are such a high-use space, the materials are important. How it holds up to grease, how the floor reacts when you drop stuff on it, how hard it is to keep clean. The material end is fun. It also affects how it all looks. Is it warm and cozy or sleek industrial?
Q: Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?
A: I love bathrooms! Whenever I can, I put in radiate heat flooring: it’s such a nice feature to have warm feet in the bathroom. People are naked a lot in the bathroom, and you want to be comfortable (which for me is warmth).
The lighting is really important, especially for us women to put on our makeup. One thing some people like is having a small television in the bathroom. When you’re getting dressed it’s nice to watch the news if it’s not too intrusive.
Q: Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?
A: The living room is really important. That’s where you are if you aren’t in the kitchen or bathrooms. It’s expensive buying rugs and nicely upholstered chairs, so I tend to keep those pieces generally neutral. It’s expensive to recover a sofa. I’d rather keep big pieces neutral and keep accents of color; pillows, accessories, paint, and things that you can change around.
You want the living room to be durable and not too precious. I hate going into places where everything is so precious you can’t sit on a chair. These days, with stores like Crate & Barrel and West Elm, you can buy coffee tables and side tables that aren’t expensive and are easy to change around. But a good sofa is something to invest your money in.
Again, lighting is really important so you can have different moods. Table and floor lamps are good so you can have light just where you are; it creates coziness. Lots of books is always great, it feels like a home.
Q: In the San Francisco design community, are there any trends you hope to see disappear in the near future?
A: One thing I don’t like is the slipcover. It always looks sloppy to me. I know it’s an inexpensive solution, but I hate when you have to stuff the corners back in every time you get up from a chair.
Another thing is that sometimes, in design magazines, there’s so much crap in these rooms. It gets to that precious phase of “where do I put my drink down?” There’s no space left here. It’s a delicate balance: you want your stuff around that makes it uniquely your space without being over-cluttered and overdesigned. It’s too precious. Too contrived. Certain designers have a style that is so strong, their places all look the same. That doesn’t reflect the owner. I like that challenge personally.
Thanks for the great interview, Marnie!
See Marnie Wright Design for more inspiration.