Jeff King Talks With

San Francisco Designer Cynthia Spence

Cynthia Spence, Principal of the San Francisco interior design firm Cynthia Spence Design, began her professional career in the corporate space at prominent entertainment and technology companies, focusing on relationship marketing and project management. And it’s this experience that gives her an edge to running her successful design firm. Cynthia’s tailored spaces are well edited, helping her clients achieve a sense of calm in the ever-noisy world in which we live. We had the pleasure of chatting with Cynthia to find out what sets her apart from other designers, what her dream project is, and how she came up with her great logo!

Before we start talking design, there’s something I read recently and I’ve wondered about it…I know you’re a native Californian, but for some reason, you’re often mistaken for a New Yorker—why do you think that is?

I think it has to do with my style: the short hair and inclination to wear fashion in solid colors (mostly black) with architectural lines. I have also done a lot of business in NY and I think that has informed my business style, delivery, and carriage.

Speaking of business, I know you started your career in marketing, within the entertainment & technology field. How do you think that’s helped your design career? Did having that marketing experience make it easier to know how to define CSD? 

My positions in marketing have always had a creative aspect to them; building the strategy behind a brand and the mark to best represent it is relevant to my job now—which I see as creating soulful, individual environments that work for its specific inhabitants. But a product versus a person is where it varies; this is a much more personal process. We are invited into our clients’ lives who share their preferences and needs for how they live. It is sensitive. My corporate background in working with schedules and budgets also comes in very handy. When I started out, I used that to differentiate myself.

What led you to make the bold career change from marketing to interior design?

I embrace the business side of my brain and have tested it in my career but I felt it was time to do something more creative. I have always been into fashion, theatre arts (I worked in entertainment prior to tech) and the design of my own home(s) so this felt familiar. Granted, I had to learn the ropes inherent to this field but I have always invited the challenge to continue to grow. I also wanted to be able to pick my boss; we all work for someone and, in this occasion, it is the client—but I get to have a voice in whether or not it’s a good fit.

What sets you apart from other designers? Does your style/philosophy have any core elements or guiding principles?

I actually prefer to look for our commonalities. When I am having a particularly tough moment, there is nothing more gratifying than to commiserate with a fellow designer. It makes me feel less like an island.

My most prominent guiding principle has to do with superior customer service. I believe that is a dying art; I have built my business on a willingness to serve.

What are the differences between interior & commercial design that you enjoy?

I enjoy the very personal nature of residential design; getting to know the clients’ wants and needs and creating a space built specifically for them. The range of materials is also broader and, presumably, endures less wear and tear. That said, I would welcome the opportunity to do more commercial work. Particularly as it tracks back to the corporate brand ID. Given that my focus has been primarily residential, it would be an exciting challenge to use my branding background for the interiors of a commercial project.

What’s your dream project? Is there a type of project that you haven’t worked on yet but would like to? Particular place? Particular client?

New builds are a particular passion in the residential space; to be part of the team imagining and delivering on a specific clients’ dream is very fulfilling. But we welcome the opportunity to participate in the same on the commercial side. My team would love to craft a boutique hotel and, given my tech background, I would welcome participating in creating a start-up’s first branded corporate ‘home’. As for location, we make it work wherever it is.

Do you have a signature design element that you incorporate into every project?

I know I say it all the time but I think our homes need to provide us a cocoon; a ‘shelter from the storm’ of the world and its chaotic energy. So, if I had to name one thing I rely upon, I think it would be the edit. I am not saying that the end result needs to feel sterile or austere but, given how the eye tracks, too much ‘stuff ‘ can take away from the whole—and create crazy.

Changing direction a bit, I’ve been admiring your new logo. What can you tell us about it?

I am fortunate in that my graphic designer is my nephew and, when he graduated from college and was looking for a job, I invited him to live with me. During that time, he experienced my particular take on interior decor and the importance I place upon the edit. So, when I asked him to help me with a new mark, he came up with this direction that just resonated with me. The ‘less is more’ approach I take with design is readily communicated by the lack of vowels and I loved it.

So do we, Cynthia! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. To find out more about Cynthia’s San Francisco interior design firm, head over to her website.