This industry influencer is particularly special to me. When she was Senior Designer at Waldo’s Designs, she hired me at my first job in the design world. I came in, a flea market fiend pulling at my sleeves to hide the paint on my arms, and she gave me a shot. Her enthusiasm and passion were contagious. She explained woods, finishes, famous furniture designers, and scale. She taught me about why different fabrics should be used for different applications, and the brilliance of small details that can make a room.
Since then, she has launched her own firm. She hit the ground running, and has been on fire ever since. She’s been busy designing hot restaurants and homes for celebrities including actors, models, and media moguls. When I spoke with her, she had 8 projects across the country, and her client roster was only growing. She also recently participated in LCDQ Legends 2016 and created a featured window display for Maine Design.
Her design choices are elegant in a cool, “I’m not trying to be chic, but I can’t help it” way. Most importantly, her passion shines through in her projects, creating spaces that clients can truly be excited about.
Read on to learn more about Nicole Gordon, what she loves about having her own firm, things she finds inspiring, and an important lesson she’s learned along the way.
RR: How would you describe your personal style?
Nicole: That’s supposedly easy… I’m a mix of traditional, but I don’t see it as traditional. I like warm interiors. Mostly my style is dependent on the architecture of the house. If it’s a Mediterranean style house, you can’t really put vintage 70s furniture into it. You have to respect the architecture of it. I really feel like that is what drives all of my spaces. Location and architecture.
RR: What is the first thing you notice when you enter a space?
Nicole: I look for light. Is there natural light? Are there windows? Or is it a dark space?
RR: What have you been working on?
Nicole: An apartment at the Edition Hotel in Miami, 2 homes in Bel Air, a George Washington Smith home in Montecito, an 8000 sq ft new build in Montecito, and 2 homes in Westwood.
RR: How has your style evolved since you got started in design?
Nicole: Now I have a broader understanding of what’s out there and what is possible, so I’d say my style is more sophisticated. My experiences, travel, and all of the jobs I’ve done have impacted my style. I’ve been exposed to so many different spaces and have grown from a lot of people I’ve collaborated with—clients, architects, and vendors. I’m learning all the time about materials, new details, and things that are possible.
RR: How did you start working in interior design? Have you ever had a job outside of design?
Nicole: I have a degree in psychology. Before becoming a designer, I worked at a children’s hospital and school for four years. It was a painful and difficult job. I was always really upset and realized I didn’t have the constitution for it. I went and met with a career counselor. I took some tests, and they told me the job I was #1 best suited for was interior designer. My mom is an interior designer, so I grew up around it. I interned for a while, then moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Extension’s Interior Design program.
RR: Does your degree in Psychology help you as a designer?
Nicole: 100%! As a designer, you are working with people and balancing all day—vendors, clients, and friends. You’re dealing with so many different personalities. My degree was a good foundation for that.
RR: What is your biggest source of inspiration?
Nicole: Travel. Just going to different cities, countries, restaurants, and hotels. I think traveling is the best education on so many levels, for anything in life. To learn how different cultures live, to see different architecture, materials. I went to Japan last year, to Tokyo, and that was my year highlight. My goal is a new city or country every year (that I haven’t been to before.)
RR: What is your dream trip?
Nicole: Axel Vervoordt’s castle in Belgium. I worship him; that would be awesome.
RR: What is your favorite part about having your own company?
Nicole: I love the freedom. I have the autonomy to source things at my own pace; I can go shop for 2 hours and not worry about it. I love my clients and I love building relationships with them. I love treating my clients to great finds. I just bought a Murakami sculpture for my client Jared Eng (Just Jared.) It was a total find, and he is so excited to put it in his house, and I’m really excited about it, too.
I love finding good things. You know… when you find that great chair? (RR: YES!) You feel like you’ve won the lottery. When you happen to find that vintage piece or that art piece that is so coveted, and you actually find it for a good price—that’s so rewarding. And that you’re able to treat the client with that, that feels really good.
I also love that I am able to create my own inventory. It’s really fun being able to curate and collect, and to know that you can buy a fabulous piece, and you might not have the place for it now, but you’ll find the right home for it soon. I love that feeling.
RR: What is your dream piece?
Nicole: FANTASY is more the word. Something from Anish Kapoor.
RR: What is your favorite piece in your own home?
Nicole: That’s a good question. A photograph by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. It’s an angel in a subway, and it’s beautiful. There are lots of things that I like, but I love that, and I bought it for myself, and that is amazing, too—it makes me feel proud.
RR: Do you have any tips for someone starting a project?
Nicole: Do a plan. Determine what your goals are and decide on a budget. If it’s a project for yourself, be realistic about what you can or are willing to spend.
RR: Have you done any DIY projects?
Nicole: At Cadet, I created a salon wall of Carlo Mollino prints. I bought a Mollino book and cut out pages then framed and matted them myself. It turned out great.
RR: Do you have any design disaster stories?
Nicole: When I was working at Michael Smith, I found this mirror in the auction catalog at Christies for $60k. I had it air shipped. Well, I hadn’t converted metric to inches, and it didn’t fit in the space. I lost thousands of dollars on shipping alone. It was a BIG lesson. Now I always check dimensions and measurements a minimum of three times. I never trust photos for scale. I always physically look at the tape measurer. It was 15 years ago, but it still feels like yesterday.
Nicole’s firm, Nicole Gordon Studio, is based in Santa Monica, CA.