San Franscico-based Margo Nathanson discusses her maker pedigree, her very stylish Nana, the trend she currently loves, and how she gets to what her clients really wants.
Photos by Charles E. Davis.
Where are you from?
I grew up in New Jersey, just outside of NYC.
Where do you live now? Who do you live with?
I live in Oakland near Lake Merritt with my partner in crime, Charles E. Davis.
Are you a maker of any kind, and if so what do you make?
I’m always cooking something up in my head! I have a line of leather jewelry and a line of soft goods, Utopia Dry Goods, which are all handmade by me. I’m working on a line of ceramic accessories for the table, counter, and coffee table. My jewelry is also available at Owl N Wood in Oakland and my pillows are sold at SOBU in Oakland.
How did you become an interior designer?
I realized that my love of color, form, architecture, light, shadow, furniture, and tactile materials could all converge into a complete work, and I think I just followed my heart and my gut. I have been with Homepolish for about two years.
Describe your style.
This is always a tough one. As far as my own personal style, I love texture, monochromatic colors, and strong patterns with a tribal and Bauhaus style. I love the way using contrasting materials brings the individual character out in each. Anything that is patterned and creates shadow makes my heart skip a beat. I’m a nerd for Brutalist architecture and design.
If you couldn’t be a designer, what would you be?
An urban planner with an emphasis on housing justice or a dog advocate.
Tell us about the last thing you posted on Instagram.
I posted a photo of my most recent piece of ceramics ready to be fired. It was a second choice as the one I really wanted to post cracked during its drying process. That made me sad, but I’m going to make it over again—and stronger.
What do you always bring with you on a consultation?
I’m pretty simple. My designer bag has three major things: my clipboard stocked with graph paper, my blue painter’s tape, and my Stanley FatMax tape measure, which I always have one eye on because without it I’d be lost! I believe if I’m making a suggestion or recommendation at the consultation, it’s better to measure and see if it’s even possible.
Tell us about your favorite project.
One of my favorite projects was a big, soaring loft in SOMA that I did when I was with the SF design firm LOCZIdesign. The space was very unique and the clients were fantastic. They had just relocated from LA to SF and loved hip hop, cinema, and entertaining. I wanted to create something really special that reflected their fun personalities and lifestyle. They completely trusted me and let me run free with the design. I designed a huge mural of Tamara Dobson, the actress and model from the ‘70s, in the center of the space. In front of her, I put a lounging area with a curved sectional, so they had somewhere near the kitchen for drinks and conversation when they entertain. I used copper, velvet, mirror, glossy black, and mixed in walnut, Mid-Century, and industrial elements. One of my favorite pieces is a Brutalist black credenza inspired by the Australian fabric designer from the ‘60s, Florence Broadhurst. It was truly an eclectic outcome and it was my dream come true.
What is a trend you love right now?
I am really enjoying the current terrazzo trend. The fact that designers are making furniture and decorative object out of it is amazing, because I would never use it as a countertop! There is everything from lamp bases, coffee tables, bowls, and even wallpaper patterns that mimic the material. I have a project right now which we are using a terrazzo-pattern wallpaper in emerald green in a bathroom, and I’m very excited about it!
In your opinion, what is the top piece of interior design career advice?
Listen to your clients, and look at their space. Watch the way they inhabit it. This will inform your design. Consider the style of the architecture, and trust your gut. See if they can be pushed outside the box a little bit, and foster collaboration and excitement!
What do you do to get inspired?
I look at normal, daily life. There are quiet things that occur here that inspire me constantly, like the colors of someone’s clothing or the contrast of nature against architecture.
Who are your design heroes?
Well, there are so many, but let’s start with my Nana. the original mix master. She had modern furniture, antiques, tchotchkes, and was also a huge supporter of the local arts, so she built a wonderful collection of modern art. Her den was my favorite place as a kid; there was the walnut Mid-Century wall unit, crisp brown and white Scandinavian style print sectional, huge antique lamps, and tons of framed art crammed on the wall…It was really warm and inviting. My other heroes are Patricia Urquiola, because of her use of form. Her sense of fun is so well reflected in her work too. There are so many more. Anyone who has the guts to take a risk, design from their heart, and assemble an amazing team that can create something special.
What are your favorite local (vintage or contemporary) home decor spots?
I love SOBU on College Ave in Oakland. They have a well-curated mix of furniture, decorative items, and art from small and local designers and artists, and they get really excited about their inventory! It’s a beautiful space and there’s something for everyone.
If you could only save one item from your home, what would it be?
A really colorful abstract painting from my Nana.
How do you try to figure out what your client really wants?
I talk with them, I look at how they live, and I listen.