Asmara Interview: How to Design an
Award-Winning Showcase House

This is an interview I did with Asmara, an amazing resource for handmade luxurious rugs, and named for a world heritage site, the capital city of Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa.

I fell in love with this rug, and specified it for a beautiful and bright living room in my client’s home. It would be the basis for her interior design.

Rooms typically start with artwork, the architecture, or a rug. These elements can create rooms within rooms (what’s on the rug,for example), and inform the rest of the room’s colors, shapes and the like. Artwork and area rugs are many times the largest investments one might make in their home’s interiors, and more and more I see people open to professional design, to help them make the best choices without embarrassing, or expensive mistakes.

I’m finding that clients (for the most part) are no longer interested in pieces that will last them only a few years. Rather, they are seeing the benefit of quality, and of creating an environment that’s unique to them. The right area rug, for example, will last lifetimes. The design can be personal. With an understanding of why that particular piece will work better than another, how it contributes to the creation a particular feeling and so on, clients feel more joy and happiness with their acquisitions. It’s a joy to bring so much happiness to my clients.

Why Did You Start Your Show House Room with a Designer Rug?

“I was actually designing a room for a client, but as her house was still under construction and the furniture already completed, I was able to make use of her pieces rather than having them sit in storage. The client was thrilled that I was going to use everything in a show house. I tend to design rooms around rugs and fine artwork, and I fell in love with the Asmara Summer rug. Thankfully, my client did, too.”

National Award-Winning Decorator Showcase Sitting Room vignette. Neoclassic 18th century bench. Custom window sheer drapery. 16th century stool. Asmara flat weave area rug. Custom cocktail table by Quatrain. Alabaster table lamp. Drapery fabric Old World Weavers. Limed walls.

“I picked up the floral design of the rug in the ceiling border and I used elements of the design hand-painted on the front of the cabinet. The sheer drapery hanging over the windows was also informed by the rug. We cut little leaves and petals out of the silk, and pasted them to the sheer, creating a waterfall effect. I was presented with a national ASID Home Book Design Excellence Award for the room. During this time we also started her collection of Pierre-Joseph Redouté botanical paintings. They work beautifully with this rug.”

National Award-Winning Decorator Showcase Sitting Room vignette with hand-painted neoclassical cabinet, 19th-century Italian chair, limed walls, and glass sculpture.

Have you Enjoyed Participating in Show Houses?

“That’s what’s so much fun about showcase houses, you can really push your creativity. This room was like being inside a candle. In addition to winning the national ASID Home Book Design Excellence Award, this room was also showcased on the flyleaf of the book Decorator Show Houses: Tour 250 Designer Rooms by Tina Skinner, Melissa Cardona, and Nancy Ottino.”

stacey lapuk

“This is a great example of what makes a well-designed room work. There’s a clear repetitive element—the grooves. There are grooves in the night table, lamp, bolsters on the bed, the candle sticks, the taborets flanking the ottoman, and more. This creates a cohesiveness, which in turn makes the room feel good. I also used Fortuny fabric on the bed spread which is an amazing, hand-blocked fabric with metallic inks. We took the pattern of the fabric and painted it on the green panels installed at the far end of the room, keeping the wall from visually falling away. We did the same thing with the shape in the middle of the ceiling. I installed fireplace screen metal material over the windows as sheer drapery. It was a joy to create this space.”

stacey lapuk

How Did You Become an Interior Designer?

“I’ve always been involved in art. When I was little, the question around our house wasn’t ‘where did you buy it’, rather it was ‘who made it’. My dad was a structural engineer. He also built furniture, electronics, even our house. My mom made everything. She loved crafts, making clothes along with all sorts of projects around the house. I ended up getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Connecticut. After graduating I moved out to San Francisco and went back to school at UC Berkeley in their interior design and architecture program. So I’m a little different in that I have more of a fine arts education than most other designers. For me, art school was much more intense than interior design school. For example, an entire semester of color in design school would have taken up two weeks in art school. My first job was in advertising, which proved to be not at all interesting to me. I began taking on clients on the side, and as I got busier, I decided that interior design was my calling, and happily left advertising behind. Though I didn’t know anything about running  a business at the time, I figured it out the best I could. Working on showcase houses led to being published, a contributor to a number of television shows on HGTVamong other awards and recognitions, all leading to more clients.”

What’s Unique About Doing Interior Design in San Francisco?

“Back East, the home is about being warm and nurturing, perhaps with complex window treatments to keep out the cold. Though there is certainly modern design there, there is also more of a history, and knowledge of antiques and European design. Out here, we are much more influenced by the Orient. It’s all about removing the delineation between the indoors and the outdoors. Views are what sells properties, and there is a lot of outdoor living.”

How Do You Remove the Delineation Between the Indoors and Outdoors?

“One way is to carry the colors you’re using inside, to the outside. You could install a green sofa that would draw your eye to the grass lawn. If you have shrubs or flowering plants you can mimic their colors and shapes inside. You can do similar flooring. There is a fairly new outdoor tile that looks just like wood—it’s gorgeous. There are many ways to make the connection seem visually seamless. Using your doors and windows to frame the outside environment, increases it’s importance to the interior design.”

stacey lapuk

What Do You Mean by Barefoot Elegance?

“Something that is really beautiful and sophisticated, but easy. Authentic and empowering. A room that has depth to it. It’s not a room where everything has the same look, like a safe catalog store.  Having depth in a design allows you to discover the layers of the space, holds your interest and feels comfortable. Barefoot Elegance is a beautifully designed home on a beach, which you can dress up for a formal party.”

What’s Your Favorite Style of Interior Design?

“That’s one of the reasons I love my work. I can work with all styles, and even create new ones. Each project has to be livable and it has to reflect the client. It has to reflect parts of the client that they didn’t even know existed. I have the ability to sense what would best suit a client. There’s a great deal of trust involved, as many times the client may not know what is perfect for them until they see it completed. I recently designed an oversized rug for a wonderful client and it was hand-loomed in Tibet. There were three colors in wool and one color in silk. We ordered a strike-off to be sure the colors and design were absolutely perfect. I explained to the client that by making the rug so large, it would encompass all areas of the room making the room actually feel larger, and more cohesive. The design would mimic the shape of the hills in the view. Though she wasn’t absolutely clear about how the rug would look and feel when done, upon installation it felt like home to them. The rug feels elegant and beautiful; the room flows to the outside hills and the energy, the shapes, colors and textures coexist as a whole environment. If a home feels great and functions properly, it’s a success.”

stacey lapuk

Some of Your Clients Request Biophilic Design—What is Biophilic Design?

“It’s creating the energies of the natural outside environment, inside. Biophilic design strives to fulfill our innate desire to connect with nature and natural systems in the built environment, including our home. We as designers, have a new framework with which to design, one that is based on research that identifies specific design patterns that have measurable, positive impacts on multiple facets of our lives. Done correctly, Biophilic design is inspirational, restorative, healthy and so much more. It nurtures a love of place.”

How Do Your Clients Choose an Interior Designer?

“Most of my clients come through referrals. I love doing show houses, and they’re a wonderful way to showcase work, but I’ve never been able to track specifically how they may have directed client to me. As well, they’re incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Being a professional American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) member has brought me referrals. Many of my clients appreciate my 30 years of experience, and therefore the ability to offer a fixed fee wherever possible. Knowing the cost, rather than a clock-watching hourly rate, along with discounts on custom furnishing purchases, is very attractive to many people. Most important is meeting one another to see if the chemistry is right; that the proper type of relationship can be formed easily. One where communication and understanding are comfortable and clear. Not everyone is the right client for me, just as I may not be the right designer for everyone.”

Are You Targeting a New Group of Clients?

“I have wonderful clients right now. They tend to be couples, or couples with children. Most of them are buying their second, “forever” home. They know the feeling they’re after and trust I will create for them the result they want, even if they’re not quite sure themselves, what that will look like. In addition, I’ve found that a certain group of clients have become one of my favorites—singles, especially single men, including those recently divorced. They’re very busy, and are used to someone else taking care of their home’s design. They don’t have the time or knowledge, they don’t want to waste money, and they don’t want to end up with an embarrassment. Many feel as if the floor was dropped out from under them. They need a place to live and know it needs to be a bit more than a leather sofa and a big-screen TV to make their guests, and new girlfriends, feel comfortable. I’m able to simply get-it-done for them. They can walk into their new home and feel they now have an anchor that reflects them personally, and from where they can move comfortably, into this new phase of their lives.”

Is the Interior Design Industry Changing?

“Oh yes. The industry, especially in San Francisco, was hit quite hard. So many show rooms, including those that have been around thirty-plus years are gone. Technology companies are moving into the Design Center’s neighborhood and buildings. It’s taking a lot of effort to maintain the integrity, and communicate the importance, of the art of design in our communities when landlords are seeing more profit leasing to these tech companies, thereby pushing out our design showrooms. I also see many younger clients requesting modern design from their young designers. This seems to be interpreted into very simple and cold design; a home lacking depth, soul and individual personality. Many spaces look the same, as if pulled from a catalog. I sat on the advisory board for one of the design schools in the Bay Area, and it was interesting how many on the board wanted to implement more computer skills, while others, including myself, saw more value in teaching art—color, composition and drawing in particular. It’s still very possible to design a contemporary, clean-lined space that has depth, and personality. It simply takes a bit more thought, education and care.”

Stacey Lapuk, ASID

Stacey Lapuk, ASID is celebrating her 30th year with her firm. Named “One of America’s Ten Designers To Watch” by Design Times Magazine, one of the “Top 100 Interior Designer in North America” by Blink Art Resources, and the winner of multiple national design awards.  Her goal is simple: To co-create with her clients the home of their dreams with responsive and comprehensive solutions, and timeless, beautiful results.

Her full service firm attracts clients desiring the finest workmanship, materials and custom design. Facets of work include partnering with architects on new construction, remodels, kitchen design and bath design, color consultation, custom furniture, flooring, area carpets, wall and window treatments, lighting design, art procurement and antique acquisition.

Service areas include but are not limited to Marin County, San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, Ross, Kentfield, Belvedere, Tiburon, San Rafael, and Pacific Heights.