Although designer Cecilie Starin's career has transformed over the years, she has consistently grounded her work in her love for classic silhouettes and global inspirations. First trained as a painter, Starin later worked in fashion design for almost twenty years, traveling across the globe and collecting influences from diverse design capitals like France, Italy, and South Asia, before opening her own eponymous interior design business in San Francisco. Here, Starin talks with Dering Hall about her carefully curated, transitional interiors that balance modernism and personality, and creative changes in San Francisco.
Q. From your perspective, what are the differences between East and West Coast design?
A. When I look at the East Coast magazines, the style out there is so different. Out there everything is ornate. Everything is so much more modern and pared down out here on the West Coast. Less stuff around on the tables. I think that Restoration Hardware has had a profound effect on everyone. It’s a real aesthetic that’s pervasive.
Q. Why do you think the West Coast is more minimalist?
A. The West Coast is still kind of the Wild West. It’s a meritocracy here. You can come from absolutely nowhere and strike it rich. It could be anything, a guy with a taco stand, it doesn’t have to necessarily be tech. It’s not about who you are, who your family is, where you went to school, nothing like that. I think people are freer to experiment over here. That’s been the zeitgeist of California for a long time, but it won’t be that way forever.
Q. What other areas interest you right now, in terms of design?
A. There’s great design coming from all over, like [artist] Donald Judd in Marfa, Texas. I was at Hickory Chair the other day, and I got the new Ray Booth catalog — Booth is partly based in Tennessee. That’s the dark, deep south for California. To me, the interesting thing about what he does is that it’s not super modern, it’s really cleaned-up transitional. I think that’s a great space for design. You can make it a little modern, a little antique. He just strikes the perfect note for today’s spaces. You can be all things. Some of the stuff I see here on the West Coast, it’s like a human doesn’t even live here. It’s so devoid of character, it’s kind of inhuman. Booth blends moving into the future with respecting the past. I think that’s a great spot to be in if you’re trying to sell things. It doesn’t offend anyone too much on any side.
Q. What don’t you like about new, modern styles in California?
A. There’s nothing personal anywhere in a space. Maybe the personal is that it’s impersonal. One of the things I love to do in my work is, I love to travel, I just love to bring global flavor into everything I do. It takes you out of your own head. I don’t like in modern spaces that they don’t bring in any global stuff. The other thing I like to bring in is art. I like to work with people that have real art. I work with some good galleries to purchase, not decorator art, but really great art that the clients can afford. That could be paintings or framed book plates. You can frame a book plate and put a mat on it to make it look new.
Q. How has gentrification by the tech industry affected the design scene in San Francisco?
A. Within the Design Center itself, four floors of six in one of the buildings are now taken by tech. The building’s going to go all tech. Some of the people have had to move out. It’s profoundly affecting the whole design center area. Another thing that’s happening is, the SF Flower Mart in downtown San Francisco is closing. It’s been there forever, it’s this amazing institution. Somebody bought the space, and they’re going to build high-rises. It’s happening.
Q. How are other areas in the city changing creatively?
A. People have to leave these areas, and they’re forced to go to other areas. It’s interesting to see, in parts of the city that are kind of undesirable, there’s so much street art. These people are exploding with creativity. They just have to do it. A few years ago, I worked on a decorative showcase, and I worked with a street artist on the wallpaper. I learned a lot about street art when I did that project. This street artist that I worked with, he explained to me that he’s not a “graffiti” artist — he’s a “street” artist. “Street art” means that it’s sanctioned. Either the owner of the building has allowed you to paint it or they’re paying for it. A lot of cities now have street art. Street art only started in the 70s, it’s a whole new thing that happened.
Street art has affected interiors, like with wallpapers. There are more murals now. I just saw images from Lenny Kravitz’s place in Brazil, and he had dark, floor-to-ceiling leaves painted on the wall. To me, that looked like street art. Tech is creeping into the design space, but that creativity is not going away. It’s going to creep over to some other place, like street art. It’s not going to get squished forever. It will pop up in another way.
Q. What’s your favorite part of being based in San Francisco?
A. I think it’s an incredibly supportive design community. I just visited the Decorator Showcase. I didn’t do the one this year, but I’ve done six in San Francisco and seven in the Bay Area. It’s a beautifully tight-knit, supportive community. A lot of antique dealers are gone now, but it’s still a fabulous community.
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