The Mother-Daughter Design duo Catherine and Justine Macfee, of Catherine Macfee Interior Design, are taking the Bay Area design scene by storm.
Their aesthetic approach is often described by many of the top shelter
outlets as "Modern Organic Luxe" due to their pairing of
classic elements with salvaged materials and pops of modern color and textures.
Catherine began the firm in 1989, then launched her product line Rubicon
Collection in Truckee. Now with offices in both Truckee and Lafayette, the firm
executes projects in Tahoe, Wine Country and throughout the Bay Area. Justine
joined the ranks in 2009 after design school and is now a partner, designing
projects including Chalkboard in Healdsburg.
1. Where do you currently live in CA and what's special about how you've designed your personal space?
CM: I have a home in Lafayette and a live/work design Studio
in Truckee. I spend a lot of time on Hwy 80 between the two
locations. My personal spaces are a collection of my favorite things that
I have collected over the years. I have a passion for traveling and I
make a point to bring back a little/big something from everywhere I go.
It could be a rock or a shell from a beach or a soulful antique or a textile
that spoke to me at that moment in time. That said…as you can imagine my
personal spaces are very eclectic and filled with memories.
JM: I moved to Tahoe from San Francisco about 5 years ago to
run our Tahoe design studio. I live in Squaw Valley in a great little spot that
overlooks the mountain. My space is very eclectic with a combination of
furniture from my various houses over the years in San Francisco and treasures
I have been collecting from our retail stores. My goal this coming year is to
more formally design my personal space...until then, clients come first!
2. What's your dream design project? Who would it be for (dead or alive)?
CM: My dream design project is to design every interior and
lifestyle detail of an exclusive boutique hotel, owned by someone like Diane
Keaton. When traveling, I appreciate it when a space is well appointed and
my every need has been thought through and provided. It doesn’t necessarily
have to be fancy but the experience is mindful.
JM: A bohemian luxury resort in Courchevel, for Auntie Mame.
3. In real life, what's your favorite design project you've completed to date?
CM: I have been lucky to have worked on many diverse
projects in my career from a large home in Sea Cliff, an apartment at the Ritz
Carlton in San Francisco to a mountain lodge in Squaw to boutique
restaurants in Healdsburg, East Bay and San Francisco. One of my favorite
projects to date is a small beach home on 26 acre in the Bolinas hills over
looking the Lagoon and Stinson Beach. I have worked with the owner on her
Lake Tahoe home and she is a well traveled artist with an extremely good eye
for the unusual. It was truly a collaborative project that pushed us both to a
different level aesthetically. Her favorite saying was, “If I have
seen it before I don’t want it.” Thinking outside the box was mandatory
and wine was definitely involved to help push the boundaries of design details.
JM: One of the most rewarding has been for a client who is
very particular with every design detail and has incredible taste. She has
pushed my design awareness to the next level in terms of detailing from
construction to furnishings. She was going to have it the way she wanted it,
and it was my job to figure out how to make that happen.
4. You've been gifted a fabulously furnished dream home but can only bring one item from your current space. What would it be?
CM: I have a collection of small bowls that I have collected
over the years from every trip I have been on. They are different shapes,
colors, old and new. The collection is priceless to me.
JM: If it was designed by my Mother... my toothbrush.
5. What's your creative process when designing a space?
CM: I spend time up front understanding what the client is
visualizing and the end use of their spaces. From there, I have to see the
personality of the finished space in my mind's eye. Once the personality
is established it is easy to fill in the blanks with selections and develop as
we specify each item.
JM: My first impression of a space is the most important
part I have found. I listen to the needs of the client and the space, then
quickly process what needs to happen with the design. Over the time line of the
project some concepts may change, but I have found the most successful projects
are the ones that stay in keeping with the "first impression ideas"
and those are carried out to the end.
I love collaborating with the builder, an artist or the trade on the project.
Working with that trade expert to think through the details and not try to
force a design into a space if the space will not allow it is one of my
favorite parts of design. Those collaborations are where some of the most
creative ideas can form.
6. Where do you score prized interior design items? Any shopping tips?
CM: Prized items can be found everywhere. It’s funny what
inspires you at a time and place. A tip would be to try and look at items
differently. Can a favorite objet be made into a lamp or a table?
JM: Having retails stores in the past (Catherine Macfee Home
in Orinda and Rubicon Collection in Lake Tahoe) we have been fortunate to take
many trips for buying all over the world. The best tip my mother taught me is
you have to LOVE it. Don't buy anything you don't want to live with in your own
7. Ever had an epic DIY disaster?
CM: Not really “epic” but what comes to mind is an event
that happened early in my career when a strong minded client insisted on having
13 dining chairs around a large round table that would only accommodate 12
guests, in a dining room that was too small for a larger table. I knew
that it wasn’t going to work but gave in to his insistent nature and sold him
his “baker dozen” chair… I own one chair now that reminds me of not
sticking to my guns on what I know, and it has never happened again.
JM: As a designer, I feel like we are presented with
potential disasters everyday, since there are so many moving parts that go into
designing a home. The idea is to stay on top of things so they don't turn into
disasters. If something does go wrong, freak out for a second, then find a
8. What new design trend are you excited to integrate into your next project?
CM: As with current fashion, there are no “design rules” in
designing a space. We are only limited by our creativity. The trick
is balance. A space that has balance in color, scale, texture and
authenticity works. Study Bohemian Style as an example
JM: Adventurous wall treatments!
9. Lightning round!
Beach or mountains?
CM: Tough one… Mountain
Twitter or Facebook?
Instagram or Pinterest?
Architectural Digest or Wallpaper?
CM: Architectural Digest
JM: Architectural Digest
Should you spend money on a fabulous bathroom or kitchen?
Would you rather shop new or vintage?
Great view or perfect pool?
SF or LA?
10. What's one tip you wish someone had told you when first starting out in the design world?
CM: The business of Design is a business that takes far more
than great taste. I am lucky to have learned that early and that I have
the ability to use both sides of my brain.
JM: Your clients can teach you just as much as you can teach
Fun Facts about Catherine!
1. I have a passion for sailing. When I was in school I was on a sailing
race team on the Bay.
2. My favorite color is Red. I feel passion, fire, spunk and drama when I
3. My favorite country I have traveled to is Italy. I love everything
4. I could easily live on Lake Como forever! (With a boat of course!)
5. I love living in small unique spaces with only things I truly love around
Fun Facts about Justine!
1. I just collaborated with Wildfox clothing line and designed a Gypsy style
campsite on the bank of the Truckee River for their Spring 2015 look book and
2. My first concert was when my parents took us to see Jerry Garcia at The
Fillmore. We had to opportunity to meet him after the show where I proceeded to
tell him my favorite song of his was "Teddy Bears Picnic".
3. The only other job outside of interior design I have had was working for our
families other business as a dealer of new Chris Craft boats. When I was 18,
right out of high school, I was selling boats that cost more than my college
4. I reference a weird amount of obscure movies lines around the office on the