Q&A With Laura Martin Bovard
Casaza: How did you get your start?
Laura Martin Bovard: Where to begin the story? There were multiple people in my life who saw something in me that I couldn’t see — for lack of wisdom and life exposure — I heard it often enough by enough people… It’s never any one thing. In my case, the stars aligned, and that’s how I got my start.
I was 24 and in a tailspin, not knowing what to do with my life; a freshly-graduated English major from Cal working in the high-end restaurant industry in San Francisco. I didn’t know interior design was a profession at the time! The first introduction was through the mother of a friend of mine. She showed me how to create beauty, in food, and in interiors, in literature, and travel. She talked about and exposed me to fashion, taste, all of the things that, as a daughter of an enlisted navy man with six siblings and no money or access to culture — I hadn’t known any of that existed.
My therapist at the time saw how lit up I became when I talked about decorating my apartment, and she suggested design school. Even a waiter where I was working got sick of hearing me talk about interior design and said, “When are you going to stop talking and do something about it?” All I could think of was how to pay off my student loans, so I had stayed in the restaurant industry, turned it into a career. But that woke me up.
I went back to school at UC Berkeley Extension in Design. Soon after I graduated, I started my own design firm.
Now I can see the gift in that time of my life because today I use what I learned in terms of what works well in a restaurant in my designs for restaurants. I’ve been able to merge my passions for food and beauty and gathering community into restaurant design. I think that’s why my commercial designs work so well — because the restaurants feel like home.
C: How would you describe your style?
LMB: A warm and welcoming approach to modern, which means something along the lines of global chic, but really it’s local chic: handmade, artisan-crafted, locally sourced, layers that tell a story.
C: Where do you get new ideas and inspiration?
LMB: I pay attention to what lights me up. The other day, I was flying back from New York. I saw this pattern in the water, out the window of the plane, that I thought was so beautiful. I took a picture; I thought, it might make a gorgeous tapestry, or maybe I’m going to design a rug that looks like this!
I pay a lot of attention to nature. I’m also a little bourgeois. I’m feminine, I like bling, gold/gilt, subtle amounts of glam woven in to keep things from being too monotone.
I do old, textured, new, organic, gilded… I love a good high-low mashup.
C: Favorite room in the house?
LMB: I’m a fan of living rooms because I like to make them less stuffy and fancy than they used to be. I want people to use their whole house. Living rooms have traditionally been visitors’ rooms and I want people to feel comfortable there — I want them to want to hang out in all of the rooms, to live in their whole house.
C: Design rule you don’t subscribe to?
LMB: That all of your architectural finishes have to match; the idea that if you have an oil-rubbed bronze chandelier in the kitchen, you can’t use any chrome. I disagree. As long as it feels good, and looks great, that’s all that I care about — not how my design follows a rule. Another rule I break is not mixing different periods. I love to incorporate modern elements in a Tudor home, for example. I probably would never use floral and lace in my designs, those are too Victorian for my taste. Although some florals are getting pretty great these days — never say never!
C: Recent project that inspired you?
LMB: Recently we completed a project, a whole house design for a client who handed us the keys to his home and left us to create magic for him. That was a career highlight! It was so inspiring because we were so completely trusted.
We literally took a little bit of direction from someone who believed in our work — and it turned out better than we ever could have imagined. His trust gave us such creative freedom; our only parameters were deadline and budget.
The results were wonderful! The project moved more smoothly than most as we didn’t have to slow down in our process to educate the client on our ideas, didn’t have to pause for the client to mull over each decision. And yet the design really was HIM — because we listened deeply up front. We spent a lot of time in conversation with him, learning about how he wanted his home to feel. That is our thing, what makes us special, our LMB Interiors “X factor.” I consider myself a channel, a conduit for the desires and vision of each client.
Because of my obsession with personal growth and understanding people, I am able to see or feel how the space should look in the end, before I select even one fabric.
I can see what the space wants to become, to best serve who that person is becoming. If clients truly allow me to do that, the process and the results are always amazing.
C: Favorite texture/pattern/color?
LMB: I’m very into natural materials that create organic textures and layers. I’m a little overly obsessed with black, but now my new black is a specific shade of Benjamin Moore blue. I painted a wall in our offices in it. I love it mixed with black — it’s almost a navy but it’s a little more marine than that, a little black underneath, but also a little more of a jewel tone blue.
This love of blue-and-black is not just a trend for me. I had a feathered roach clip for my hair in 8th grade that was black and blue. I love those colors and tones mixed together!
C: What is “good design” to you?
LMB: Quality layers, thoughtfully curated to create a space that is classic and timeless and elegant, but still very warm and approachable.
C: Pack your bag! You’re moving into a famous home. Whose is it?
LMB: Dianne Keaton’s new Pinterest house? Or the castle in Enchanted April! Because it was all about gathering for pleasure and celebration of life. I want life to be that way 24/7 and not just for one enchanted April: the beauty, escape, people coming together to celebrate a life that is gorgeous and down-to-earth and laid back.
C: What’s your rule when entertaining?
LMB: My rule is to engage in very high levels of self-care when entertaining. People aren’t coming for the party; they are coming for what happens at the party, which is connection. Unless the host is feeling lit up from the inside out, you won’t have a good party.
I used to throw those kind of shooting-for-perfection parties. But now I know better. When I am feeling playful and relaxed, the food comes together more effortlessly. When I am resourced, I am channeling being a beautymaker and community builder.
That’s all you need – after that it all comes together, it’s fun! It’s like creating a beautiful painting versus paint-by-numbers. You can feel the creativity, spontaneity, and pleasure in the end product.
Perfectionism is a disease that I’ve been healing from for years! Trying to be perfect is the enemy of perfection. The solution is in the problem!
C: Best advice for DIYers?
LMB: Take your time. Ask for help. Aim for quality.
C: Best advice for those hiring a pro?
LMB: Hire well and then trust them. Do your research, get references, ask to speak with past clients, and maybe even vendors. Spend some time being thoughtful about it and then once you choose, let go and trust them to do the job you hired them for.
This is the hard truth: if you know that you are an indecisive person, you may expect to pay twice as much in design fees, because your need for multiple rounds interrupts the creative flow for your designer and adds time to the process.
C: What is one design trend are you most excited about this season?
LMB: I have been talking for a while now about this whole textured/global chic/down-to-earth design. My firm has been practicing this for 10-to-12 years or more, and I am definitely seeing a huge trend toward more of this. The proliferation of artisans, cottage industries, more makers, emphasis on local sourcing, crafts fairs, handmade candles, soaps, pottery, and art. All of this handmade stuff, this aesthetic, is making its way back into our environments. Textures that appear in nature are showing up big time, like with handwoven textiles and layers of neutral textures.
C: How do you take your coffee?
LMB: 2 drops of stevia, 1 tsp of lion’s mane, and heavy coconut cream. Made in a Chemex with Sweet Maria’s beans — which are roasted locally in West Oakland. Even my coffee is curated!