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Attention to detail and a natural ability to know what works in an interior space is what compelled Alexis Manfer to choose interior design as a career and start her own company, Alexis Manfer,Inc.. I have a chat with her from her home in Orange County.
Q: How did you start your design career?
AM: From a very young age, I always found myself playing with textures and colors - being artistic. I remember when I was around eleven years old, my mom was renovating our house and she let me work on my own bathroom. I was picking out wallpaper and tiles and when I put it all together my mom was really impressed! She was like “Wow! You have a talent for this.” So, early on I was drawn to art and interior design.
While I was studying art history as an undergrad at USC, I studied in Spain for a summer and I fell in love with all the Gaudi architecture there. Everything he did was really impressive and unique. I remember thinking, what about interior design as a career because it’s a good way to bring all kinds of art together.
I went back to college for my senior year and I ended up interning for Kelly Wearstler. I absolutely loved it and I decided that I wanted to pursue interior design as a career. I applied to the Interior Architecture Graduate Program at UCLA. After I graduated from that, I moved to New York City and worked for two really big interior designers. Then, I was ready to start my own firm, Alexis Manfer, Inc. 6 years ago.
Q: Do you have a favorite travel destination?
AM: For its interior design and architecture, I really fell in love with Prague. I was just blown away by how unusual and medieval and creative Prague was. So, that one stands out in my mind.
Q: Do you ever apply what you’ve seen abroad in your work?
AM: Definitely! I’ve lived in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and I’ve also traveled quite a bit. I think it’s great to get out and see what styles are trending, the different aesthetics and what’s going on all over the world. Sometimes you tend to get caught up where you’re living. I live in Orange County in a beach town so you see a lot of pastels and blues. Sometimes it’s great to get away to somewhere like Prague that is so different to where you’re living.
Q: Where do you find the beautiful artwork that you source for your clients?
AM: A lot of the time I go to New York City. I also go up to LA often and I just go browsing around in some of my favorite design stores and see what’s out there. When you’re just getting out and seeing what’s new, that’s really a great way to find new artwork.
Q: What do you love most about living in Orange County?
AM: The weather is amazing and my family is here! But I’ve also found incredible clients here and met some great people. It’s a pleasant life, a pleasant culture. There are areas with unique little boutiques that have things you wouldn’t find in other places. There is a charm and a kind of special design culture here that you wouldn’t find in other major cities because it’s got that small-town arts and crafts feel. And then the beach, obviously!
Q: You’ve worked under some very impressive names, so was there a defining moment in your early career when you thought to yourself “That’s it, I’ve arrived!”
AM: When I first moved to New York City, it was difficult getting a job. I did a lot of networking and it took a while to land my first interior design job. It was for a designer named Juan Pablo Molyneux and he does incredible large-scale projects. I was up against a lot of competition and I felt like I had worked really hard to get a great job and I remember feeling really satisfied when I landed that first job. And when I moved to California and started my company years later, it was also a very exciting moment because I’ve always envisioned having my own company.
Q: Which materials are you working with that you’re loving at the moment?
AM: There are a lot of hand painted ceramic tiles and there’s such a variety now that you can find some really cool stuff at every price point. And then it’s always amazing going to the stone yards and seeing all the natural variations and the colors in all the different stones.
I just love the abundance of material selection that’s out there now. It’s really incredible that people can have their own unique look. There isn’t one material everyone has to use and you don’t have to sacrifice style because there are so many options.
I always try to create interiors that are completely unique to each client. I really listen to my clients before we get started: the way that they live, their lifestyle, their children, what their favorite colors are, what inspires them.
I don’t have one style that I do. I try to think broader to create something that is sustainable and will last; a style that someone will love long term instead of just what’s the current trend.
Q: Tell me about your own style. What does your house look like?
AM: My own style is crisp and clean and bold. I like to have a neutral color as a base palette but then add some bold pieces in there as well.
Q: Do you have an ideal project that you would love to do right now?
.AM: I think every client and project is honestly so unique and subtle in its own way. Most of my clients come to me and they have an idea or inspiration of what they want but they have a hard time putting it together. That comes naturally for me. I just love being able to work on different styles and various scale projects for clients.
I also love it when we do a complete gut renovation on the whole house and we change every square inch, from the flooring to the walls, to the layout, to the kitchen hardware, the cabinets. Or we’re able to work with contractors and architects on placing lighting and outlets, having that attention to detail where you’re able to, from the get-go, make sure that everything is functional and in place. That’s always exciting and fun when we can design a project from the ground up and have it be cohesive and really pay attention to all the detail.
Some people hire me to come in and do furniture and wall colors and accessories and on those projects, it’s great to be able to show people, here is what’s going to help this room function best. I really pay a lot of attention to space planning and functionality and making sure that everything is in proportion and proper scale.
That’s the benefit of working with an interior designer; you know that it’s going to properly fit the space and have that visual appeal.
- Alexis Manfer
Q: Which part of a project do you find most rewarding?
AM: It’s wonderful when the client comes to you with an idea that they’re excited about and then guiding them to make that a reality. I love to see how excited they get when we’re all done and it’s better than they had imagined. That’s the most incredible part, when the client is thrilled with the outcome and they love their interior.
Q: What would you say makes you completely unique as a designer?
AM: I spend time finding details and paying attention to the smallest things. A kitchen could have a simple design, but if you pay attention to the detail such as getting unusual knobs or hinges that no one else has, or picking out a cool faucet that you’ve never seen in anyone else’s house, that’s what makes a space unique. I search high and low to find the little details to make all interior spaces extra special.
Casey DeBois is no stranger to New York City. Her company’s name, DeBois Design, has been associated with the interiors of many of the city’s most exciting young start-up companies. I chat with this talented designer in her New York home office about travels, textiles and all of the things that inspire her.
Q: Tell me about your company.
CDB: I worked for a few design firms – a small boutique interior design firm, an architecture firm, and I was also doing some projects on the side. I used to do projects for friends and I’ve done several of my own spaces. And got to the point where I wanted to do this on my own and I had enough projects to pull the venture off.
And I did it, I think because it’s always more interesting working for yourself than working for someone else. When I was out of school, working for designers, I would give my input but in the end, it was their vision, the principal designers. So, it was nice just to have the freedom on my own to do my own thing.
Q: Was it scary for you initially to go off and do your own thing?
CDB: Yeah, it was definitely scary but it was good to be scared. It’s not something I would have done when I was younger. I actually had a different career in finance for a bit and I think that was helpful in going off and starting my own business.
Q: Do you have a preference between corporate and residential projects?
CDB: It’s interesting - I started with residential projects. But, I feel that they balance each other out because they’re so different. Residential projects might be a little bit longer in timing and a lot of the commercial spaces are a bit more fast-paced. So, it’s nice to balance it out. Right now, I’m at 75% residential projects and 25% commercial. But it varies - sometimes it’s 50/50.
Q: What’s your favorite project that you’ve done up to date?
CDB: I have favorite parts of certain projects. I’ll start doing the installation and think: “this room is my favorite!” and then they evolve – you know? I couldn’t choose just one!
Q: What would be your ideal project?
CDB: Personally, I’ve been looking for a vacation home. I want to make it more about the outdoors than a vacation home. I’ve also always wanted to do a coastal retreat, like a boutique hotel. Or a small restaurant, a small outdoor space. I think that would be really interesting.
Q: What’s a favorite travel destination?
CDB: I love variety when I travel. There are places I would love to go to twice but I tend to like to go to different locations every time.
Most of our daytrips revolve around design! Any time I go away, even locally if it’s Rhode Island or up the Hudson, I’m always dragging our friends to vintage or furniture stores. And I’m always coming back with lots of stuff for clients and myself.
Just recently, I was in Cuba. And we’re looking to plan a trip to Morocco. And it’s funny because Morocco, with the heat and it’s summer – obviously, it might not work. So, I thought about Peru. And my husband was like: “Why are you choosing Peru?” But for me, it’s about the textiles that I want to come back with!
Q: How would you describe your own personal style?
CDB: I can’t classify it as one thing or another because it’s more of an eclectic mix of things. It’s mixing pieces together for a collected, curated, but still classic, look, which I feel is more timeless.
And I really enjoy pieces that just have good design. So, if I find a piece, like a vintage chair that is beautiful and I appreciate the design of it, I will snatch it up. But it doesn’t matter if it’s mid-century or regency or more traditional.
In my home – it’s a bunch of pieces that make me happy. For the most part, they’re from travels. Even looking in my office right now – I have Hawaiian fabric that I’ve bought on a trip to Hawaii and re-upholstered onto the chairs in my office. It’s all things that speak to me. It’s this collection of happy things.
Q: What is the one thing in a room that you think makes all the difference?
CDB: I can’t stress enough the importance of scale. Scale is such a huge element the design of a space. Some New York City apartments are super small and people will often put furniture that doesn’t fit the scale in the space. Or a really big space and they have a small 8x10 rug.
Q: What would you say are the must-have elements in a room?
CDB: A wall finish. Paint or wall paper is always something interesting and something that can make a big difference within a space. Rugs and lighting are huge elements that are sometimes overlooked. And artwork too. Artwork is a huge contributor to a space.
I think the furniture part is the easier part.
Q: Where would you source artwork from?
CDB: I often work with Uprise Art which is a collective of up-and-coming artists. I also frame anything from textiles to photographs that clients have taken.
And then I have like a whole stable of artists that I buy from often, like Jenny Prinn. I also do custom pieces, because art is such a personal thing.
You have to know the client before going in. And for a custom piece, you need someone who appreciates art because they have to respect the way that artist works.
Q: How does New York influence you as a designer?
CDB: There’s so much inspiration, just in the architecture alone. New buildings, old building – it’s always inspiring.
Q: What makes you unique as a designer?
CDB: What I do is very personal. I’m helping create a space that a client is going to spend a lot of time in – and that thought and the whole process can be stressful for the client. I think my clients appreciate my calm and relaxed demeanor and know that we are partners in the process.
Going into someone’s home and seeing their space and making these decisions is on a very intimate level, where you really get to know each other.
Q: Did you ever really get nervous about something not working out?
CDB: It can be a nerve-wracking job but, in my head, I know I can fix whatever might go wrong and it’s going to be fine. I know what I’m doing and I’m confident in that. It would be silly to say that nothing can go wrong, but there’s always a solution. The light that we waited six months for, came and it broke… it could happen. But we’re going to fix it. I might be a little bit stressed but I try not to show it on the outside. For the most part, I think I’m very relaxed and calm and it’s really helped me throughout my career.