Designer Spotlight: Elena Calabrese
You began your career in interior design after a decade in the fashion industry. What made you decide to make the switch?
After my husband and I bought and remodeled our first home in Sausalito, an adorable midcentury A-frame, I fell in love with the whole process. I decided when I was pregnant with my son to go back to school for interior design.
How has your background in fashion influenced your interiors style or outlook?
As an accessory designer, my job was to make the collection pop and really tell the story, the icing on the cake, so to speak! I feel like the interior designer on the creative team is the one who makes the theme come alive. It’s the layers of little things—pattern, texture, and different materials—that bring a space to life. I am pretty aware of trends in color, pattern, and styles, which I always like to incorporate into the mix.
When it comes to vintage and antique furniture, what styles or eras are you most drawn to? Are there any specific pieces you’re loving or seeking lately?
Seventies, seventies, seventies! Late midcentury, luxe, kind of funky, kind of classic pieces—with a little rock ‘n’ roll edge. Many favorites of mine are usually Italian from the ‘70s or by Milo Baughman. I have a treasured pair of lucite chairs from Gary Gutterman.
Tell us a little bit about the Bergère chairs you recently revitalized. What’s the history behind these antique chairs, and why did you and your client decide to keep them?
The chairs have been in my client’s family for generations. She grew up in France and Morocco and has lived all over the world. She has moved these heirlooms everywhere with her, which shows me how meaningful they are to her.
What was your inspiration for the redesign of these antique chairs? Tell us how you revitalized them.
I loved the style and scale but we really needed to modernize these antique chairs. We chose to lacquer the wood frames the perfect rusty orange and reupholster them in Schumacher's "Vail Chenille", a large-scale graphic upholstery fabric. This color and pattern combo made a real statement! The chairs' new design allowed us to incorporate them into our client's contemporary interior while still allowing the chairs to shine–history and all.
In general, what're your criteria for deciding to keep, and potentially revitalize, something a client owns?
It really depends on how much they love a piece. If it's really important to them, the style and look of the piece take a back seat and I’ll do the best I can to make them work. My sentimental side can let the aesthetics go if needed, ultimately it's the client's home.
Your interiors feel incredibly livable, yet elevated. What’s your secret for finding the balance?
I think because I am drawn to a combination of order and visual interest, I keep things relatively simple in my designs. I am naturally drawn to simple lines in architecture. That combination along with natural earthy elements creates a casual and less formal place.
You’re a longtime California resident. How has living in the Bay impacted your aesthetic or stylistic perspective?
Living in Northern California, there is an aesthetic that comes with the territory. The outside is usually a big part of the interior. As sophisticated as Marin, SF and wine country clients are, they generally have a love for design that is “unfussy.” The best combo to me is the sophisticated elevated materials and design in combination with earthy finishes, fabrics, etc. I think that “casualness” feels very livable to most.
What’s next for Elena Calabrese Design and Decor?
Hopefully some development and hospitality projects, I have opportunities to grow in that direction. Of course, along with the continuation of building my residential business, I’m dying to do a chic mountain home project!
Potentially product design built around my mother’s brand, Joan Calabrese. She was a children’s dress designer, and the line is still in production. My sister and I would like to develop a home line for kids using her name. Maybe it’s fabrics, rugs, etc., in my spare time!
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