Designer SpotlightOct 2, 2020

Designer Spotlight: Lauren Nelson

Written by All Sorts Of
Photographed by Bess Friday

Lauren Nelson is the principal designer behind San Francisco based firm Lauren Nelson Design, and we’re so thrilled she took a few minutes to chat with us today. Lauren creates elevated interiors that seamlessly balance form and function. With an appreciation for natural materials and sculptural forms, Lauren’s designs come to life in an eye-catching array of spaces you’ll instantly covet.

Read on to learn more about Lauren’s journey from PR to starting her own design firm, how nature and travel serve as the basis of her inspiration, and the best advice she’s ever received.  Scroll through to see some of the stunning work she’s created, and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram for endless inspiration!

a conversation with lauren nelson…

Tell us about yourself!

I’m an interior designer and mother of two young girls living in a small town outside of San Francisco (called San Anselmo). I was born on the East Coast, and moved to San Francisco after graduating college, intrigued by the California sunshine and laid back lifestyle. Needless to say, I fell in love and have grown roots here since. I run a small design studio in downtown San Anselmo, with a team of three wonderful designers and humans. I grew the business a few years ago when I leased the studio space we are in now, and it’s been amazing to have this large space to really spread out and be creative, and work as a team. Our designs are very much a product of collaboration between our entire team and our clients. Each person provides a unique lens by which we form a greater whole.


Tell us about your design journey. How did you get started and how did you get here?

My journey into design was an evolving one, not one that happened overnight. I always had an artistic side to me, constantly taking photographs and drawing and painting throughout high school and college. But I had no idea what I wanted to focus my energies on for a career. I considered art school, but let my practical side talk me out of it. Fast forward, after graduating college I worked for Williams-Sonoma Inc. for several years in the Public Relations department, immersed in the retail side of home design. It was there that I was introduced to interior designers who were using our products for home makeovers and I thought to myself, “I want to do what they’re doing.” So I began taking interior design classes at UC Berkeley at night while working full-time at my corporate job. Then I took the plunge and switched careers at age 26, moving to LA to work part-time for an interior designer, while making paintings with the rest of my time in hopes I would make ends meet. I lasted a year with the money I had saved up, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the hourly pay I was making for much longer. After a year of soaking up as much as I could from this new industry, I started taking small design jobs that led to bigger projects. And with my portfolio (which were mostly photos I staged in my own home) I was hired by a creative agency to be a prop stylist for magazines and commercial clients. It was scrappy and amazing, straddling these two worlds, which gave me so much creative energy. I felt so empowered, and grateful that there were enough people out there that trusted me enough to pay me. That’s what gave me the confidence to start my own business.


When you were first getting started, what were some of the biggest hurdles you had to overcome?

Oh geez, the invoicing, sales tax and time billing was a big hurdle for me in the beginning. I still don’t enjoy it, but at least I have systems set up and a bookkeeper–fancy that! In the early days, I was so energized on the creative side, and the client-facing personal side, but when it came to the bookkeeping portion it was a big learning curve. Just knowing what was the industry- standard was hard for me because I didn’t have a lot of friends in the industry to bounce questions off of, and didn’t even have an accounting program. I was using excel spreadsheets and word docs to send invoices. And whenever I made a mistake or forgot a shipping charge, I never invoiced the client for it. I didn’t want them to pay for my inexperience.


How would you describe your design ethos?

I think my design style is constantly evolving, and I love that. I become enamored with so many different genres of design, and that is what keeps it interesting to me. I notice this most when I travel to different countries; I absorb the local design vernacular and want to bring that back into our designs.

As for my design ethos, I do think there is a more constant thread. An appreciation for natural, handmade materials and sculptural forms that create warmth and soul.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, either personally or professionally?

Don’t let self-doubt get in your way, and always be curious. This business is not an easy one to navigate, it’s actually quite complex and full of non-creative tasks, but if you really set your mind to it you can find your place in it. Whether it’s working for a firm or running your own business, know that if you believe in yourself, use your curiosity for growth, and work hard enough you will get to where you want to be. And always be kind in the process. To yourself and to others.


What inspires you?

Put simply, nature and travel. I think we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by nature and undeveloped land. My husband and I are constantly exploring with our two girls, taking them on hikes, trips to the ocean, to the mountains, and even to other countries. Nature and travel opens up our senses, and inspires anything from color palettes to textures and materials. I am often bringing home foraged bits and bobs that make it into a room somewhere. My six-year-old daughter has started to do this too, and it makes me smile.


What are 5 things you can’t live without right now?

My family, morning tea, Gillian Welch on repeat, wine with girlfriends, and summer nights.


What’s next for Lauren Nelson?

We’re working on several exciting projects that are slated for completion in early 2021 that I can’t wait to share. Each project is different from one another stylistically, which keeps things fresh.

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