KARA SMITH, PRESIDENT AND PARTNER, SFA DESIGN
President Kara Smith of SFA Design speaks to Can Faik about current projects, and what’s next for their well-established design studio…
SFA Design is a luxury interior design firm with a portfolio of premier hotels, resorts and spas, exclusive commercial properties, and private residences for the most discerning clients around the world. With offices in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and New York, SFA Design maintains its commitment to offering principal attention and high-end services to every project.
Tell me about your role at SFA Design?
As President and Partner of SFA Design, I lead the creative team in collaborating with our clients to deliver bespoke designs, and making sure that every project’s design objectives are achieved. This includes design review, coordination over the design team, and design development. I try to bring a passion and curiosity for fresh, innovative concepts to each project. Even though I’m intimately involved with SFA’s projects on a day-to-day basis, I also use my experience with entrepreneurship to expand our firm’s portfolio of luxury resorts, boutique hotels, spas, exclusive commercial properties, and private residences.
What five words would you use to describe SFA Design?
Bespoke, sophisticated, tailored, luxury, and unique.
What makes SFA Design different to other design companies?
SFA was founded with the intent of providing exceptional experience, passion, and senior-level design attention to each project. We collaborate with our clients to ensure that each endeavor is meticulously designed to reflect the client’s unique vision. We’re not ‘of-the-moment’. We really understand the effect of being timeless along with value and balance.
How and why did you get into the interior design industry?
I’ve always loved creativity and business, especially how the two intersect. My mother was an interior designer, so I grew up observing how it can be a really rewarding career. Even though interior design wasn’t my initial path (I ran a fashion label and an event-planning company before becoming President and Partner of SFA), I’ve fallen in love with the industry because it allows me to be creative consistently.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
I think hotels are going in a less generic direction when it comes to design. They’re now becoming places to create an experience, or develop a certain lifestyle. I think some of the more iconic properties and hotel brands are now interested in creating moments that are fun and special.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Public spaces are important in that they typically establish the overall atmosphere of the hotel. For instance, with the Viceroy L’Ermitage Hotel, the property is located in iconic Beverly Hills on an exclusive and elegant street, so we were thoughtful with the design, in that we wanted the guest’s experience to start at the very beginning – with the lobby. The entrance is enclosed in architectural panelled walls composed of antique mirror, white bronze metal, and translucent and opaque white-gold glass. Reflective metallic ceilings compliment patterned floor coverings. The glass-top front desk was created from a combination of charcoal grey chagrin leather with accents of polish chrome, copper and brass – all of which are details that create an elegant, luxe atmosphere that global travellers come to expect when they visit the hotel.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does SFA Design stand out from the rest?
One of our goals has been to brand the company as a lifestyle contributor to our clients, crafting and building a look and lifestyle that they are seeking.
Aside from that, our firm’s projects across the globe have exposed our staff to a very discerning clientele whose sensibilities require that we work in a range of styles. We don’t have a signature look. We carefully tailor our design approach to reflect each client’s unique vision and aesthetic.
Let’s talk about Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills Hotel, and what does this stunning project mean to you?
It’s a project I’m very passionate about, and it’s close to my heart. Through the design and renovation process, we developed a collaborative and inspiring work relationship with the owners of the hotel, and the Viceroy brand. We worked closely together to combine colour, textures and curated artwork to deliver a luxury experience with a twist toward modernity.
The intention was to create a sophisticated and timeless design that still felt fresh and iconic. We wanted to pay homage to both the status and the history of the L’Ermitage itself, as well as reflect the upscale luxury of the Viceroy brand that global travellers have come to expect. The design concept seamlessly blends old-Hollywood glamour with contemporary Californian space and light, and modern luxury materials and finishes.
How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
I make it a point to consistently research, source and review new products. I spend a lot of time focusing on general, lifestyle awareness, getting an understanding of where products are going. I think that the biggest thing we can offer our clients is an awareness of what is timeless, sophisticated and design-forward, but not too trendy.
Do you find it easy to source new suppliers or do you work with existing companies on a long-term basis?
We do both. It’s fun to source new products and discover new suppliers with unique products, like I mentioned above. At the same time, there are definitely vendors that we work with on a long-term basis. Having those relationships with vendors is definitely a tool we use to provide value-added solutions for our clients. It helps when we need to negotiate for discounts, want good customer service (for instance fast-lead times, efficient deliveries and installations) and quality assurance.
What do you love about being a designer? Where do you draw your inspiration?
I truly find inspiration everywhere. That includes anything from vintage fashion to travel and other cultures. I also get inspiration from designers across the creative spectrum. For me, it’s not about replicating a technique, but rather using the inspiration to understand a concept of thinking…for example, their use of negative and positive space, or colour story I start by looking for a point of inspiration, something that captures the spirit of the project whether that is a word, a place, a person, an overall vision, and then I build from there. I love referencing previously done concepts in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in terms of methodology.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
We recently unveiled the five luxury penthouses we designed for a new residential development above the W Hotel in Hollywood. You can see images from two of the residences on our website.
What’s next for you?
We’re working on several high-end residential projects with private clients and hotel projects with both renowned and boutique brands.
I also have a couture, lifestyle product line in the works – intricate throw pillows, floor cushions, accessories but it’s still in the early stages.
How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
Modern, clean, fresh, functional and sophisticated.
What does design mean to you?
I really don’t have one lane. I find it enjoyable to be inspired by unique moments and settings, and brining them to life. I think that is one of my greatest strengths. I know how to execute, how to deliver a certain sense of taste and style, and I’m genuinely excited about where my clients want to take their projects.
What would be your dream hotel project?
A chateau in Paris – the city lends itself to a design aesthetic that is classic, romantic, sophisticated and magical.
What colours, textures and furniture pieces do you love the most?
It’s ever-changing, but I like super saturated colours, and strong neutrals. I also like textured fabrics like chenille. Furniture has to be comfortable, not just aesthetically pleasing. I typically like to mix hard and soft materials.
What has been your favourite project to date?
Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Paris in the Fall and Bali for Christmas.