If you’re in the know about the latest Bay Area design trends, chances are you’ve come across the name of our latest Spotlight guest: Caroline Lizarraga. She and her work, it seems, are everywhere these days. And with good reason–it’s fresh, bold, moody, sexy, and best of all, it’s hand-painted! What oftentimes registers as wallpaper upon first glance, is the result of the undeniably talented decorative artist. Marble? Check. Woodgrain? Check. Fairy tale mural? Check. Dripping gold? No problem! Inspired by life itself and a wanderlust attitude, Caroline is just getting started. We had the great pleasure to have her work grace the walls of one of our recent remodels and our clients couldn’t be happier. Read on to hear how Caroline got her start and where’s she’s off to (once travel safely resumes)!
Jeff King: Can you shed some light on your background? How did you get your start in this highly specialized world of decorative painting? What were some of your earliest projects?
Caroline Lizarraga: So I actually went to school for fashion design, but after getting a job in the field, knew I needed something different. I started going to garage sales and fleas markets on the weekend. I would always fall in love with furniture pieces, but I had a different vision for them. My first piece (a two-tiered table) I painted chartreuse, and I handprinted magnolias on it did gold leafing details (I had no idea what I was doing with the leaf!). An interior designer saw it and offered me $1,200, I paid $20…so I thought I might be onto something. I then moved to Florence and studied restoration. When I returned to San Francisco, I apprenticed under an amazing decorative artist for years until I was ready to go off on my own.
JK: How does the type of project you’re working on (e.g., residential, restaurant, retail) determine your approach?
CL: Well I generally think restaurants and hotels tend to be more dramatic than residential spaces, but in the past few years I would say our residential clients are getting just as bold. I think restaurants and hotels should start trends not follow them. For example, when we did Robin restaurant in Hayes Valley, I poured rose gold resin down the walls. It was the first time people had seen that, but that was at least five years ago, and now residential clients constantly ask for that in their homes. As far as residential spaces are concerned though, the people, their style, and the architecture all influence my approach to their spaces.
JK: Where do you find inspiration?
CL: I get inspiration everywhere! I used to get it from travel, and hopefully will again soon. I get a lot of ideas from fashion, nature, and of course art and artists. I am constantly amazed at how much inspiration is around us.
JK: Have you had any happy accidents while on the job?
CL: I try not to have accidents, but our resin pouring is such a result. Previously, we’d used resin only on furniture. But one day I was pouring and a little got on a wall sample, which sparked my idea to pour the resin down our walls.
JK: What is your idea of a dream project?
CL: I just had my dream project! It really comes down to the clients and the designer really trusting me, and having a positive, excited feeling about the project itself. I think when we are allowed a certain freedom, we’re able to create a certain magic. We just finished a project with the design team from Homework and your company, and it was just that: magic. We created something that was so unique and perfect for the home. It’s projects like that that are why I still love painting after all these years.
JK: Your work graces the ceilings, walls, and floors of some of the top restaurants, as well as some very lucky residences, in San Francisco and the North Bay—where are some of the other places your work lives?
CL: We have work all over! In the US, you can find us in Montana, Los Angeles, lots in New York, Connecticut, Washington DC, The Hamptons, Michigan, New Orleans, Florida, and North Carolina. We have also done projects in London, and Morocco. Lucky us!
JK: When you’re on the job site, and working on your feet for hours on end, do you have or do anything that helps you get in the zone so to speak?
CL: Well if I am working alone, music always sets the tone. I know it wouldn’t seem like it but our work is very meditative. When you relax into the work, it just flows very naturally.
JK: What do you find more rewarding and/or exciting: completing a project to the utmost satisfaction and delight of your clients or discovering new methods and techniques for a completely new design?
CL: Oh gosh! That is a hard question. I would say both. It makes me SOOOOO happy when my clients are thrilled with a project. That is always my goal. But, yes, personally when I discover a new idea I get so excited by that. I really dislike doing the same thing twice, so discovery is essential for me.
JK: What are some of the ways you unwind and recharge?
CL: Well cooking and baking with my family is my favorite way to unwind–I have a hard time sitting still and this really relaxes me. I love being with my family, we have a lovely time being all together.
JK: What are some destinations that are on your bucket list?
CL: Since Covid, my bucket list has gotten way bigger! The first place I’ll be traveling to is Puglia, Italy, where I’ll be teaching a class on painting, which was postponed due to the pandemic. Honestly, I love traveling so much, so really anywhere! But if I had to pick I’d say hiking the Dolomite Mountains in Italy, Mexico, and Morocco just to get things started!