When the work of Jeff Schlarb first caught our attention we immediately decided that we needed to know more about the cutting edge San Francisco based interior designer. As luck would have it, Jeff and his South African wife Tray were to be visiting Cape Town soon and we were thrilled to snag a few minutes of his time during their stay in the Mother City.

When was the moment you realised your true calling/passion in life?
When we began seeing the results of our creativity, when I began to hear consistently how much people loved seeing our work.  That’s when I realised that this was going to be more than a career, but rather my life’s work. I think that everybody deserves to have a job that they love and that they don’t feel anything but joy every morning as they march off to seize the day. And this work truly does ‘get me up’ in the morning, I am excited every day, emotionally rewarded. It is also well worth noting that we have the most wonderful team and clients, that anybody could ask for.

What is it about design and décor that makes you tick?
There is such a sense of satisfaction that I enjoy when we reconcile all of the beauty created on each project. In a multitude of imaginative ways, we breathe life into interiors which will hopefully stand up to time. Do you know what we do? I think at our best, we craft an interior space to be exactly what our client needs, what they need emotionally. Take a living room for instance – some clients want this to project their most artistic self.  That is how they get recharged, that is peaceful to them.  Other clients want to be reminded of their family home, others are perhaps in the suburbs but want to feel more metropolitan and we make a space more edgy which in turn fills them up. Another project might be calming and serene, which is what a family might need to create peace in their otherwise over-scheduled lives. We’re creating experiences that enhance life, an emotional vibration derived through the physical form of our designs.  And I dig it, that makes me tick.


Tell us about the core values of Jeff Schlarb Design Studio and what your clients can expect…
We are committed to the client experience, being artistically extraordinary, providing a smooth, fun! and professional experience. We like to think of ourselves as a contributing part of the ever-evolving design world. We honour chords of the past, by including several historic notes. Of course the art of our studio’s work is how we are measured visually, in 25 years I hope to look at clients’ homes and the photographic memorialisation, grinning ear to ear satisfied and grateful for the memories and results. Lastly, I speak to our team about controlling what we can, aiming for extraordinary, taking care of people; and let the rest take care of itself.

You’re decorating a lounge but you are only allowed to spend money on three key elements – what do you pick?
Easy. Artwork, pair of accent chairs and wallpaper. Can I get more please?

You’ve recently been visiting South Africa, what design trends/significant elements did you pick up on?
My wife Tray Schlarb (Dunlop) is from South Africa, she attended the White House School of Design, and we’ve been visiting for 16 years nearly once a year. I have always admired that no matter what it is, or where we go, no matter the budget, that style matters.  If a Capetonian friend is driving an old car, it’s likely to be a sweet vintage burnt-orange BMW.  Or if it is a new store, the wood trim might be a little rough sawn, or simple, but it is the perfect stain colour. We love going to the fun restaurants up and down Kloof Street, and now the new ones on Bree. I also love to wander around with my buddy Gregor in Woodstock, see what is new and revised from the year before.  I think that South Africans have a love for tasteful, simplicity in their designs. And I of course love that too.

What has been your most exciting project to date, and what did it comprise of?
Ah, hard to pick. One of my recent favourites was for a really killer family who lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto California. She’s Aussie, he is English and they have a fantastic vibrant eye for artwork.  We had to match the big personality of their artwork with equal part subtle design decisions and vibrant design decisions. So that the result is exciting everywhere you look, but not overwhelming if that makes sense. It was a challenge, and it is an interior like no-other. We also just finished a photo shoot of a close friend/client’s house in a neighbourhood called Cole Valley in SF, the kitchen is so yummy I can hardly handle it. Beautiful detailing, stunning marble finishes. Every increment, is to the exact millimetre that we imagined. LOVE IT.


If you weren’t designing and making homes beautiful, where would we find you?
That is a really interesting question, I host a podcast jeffschlarb.com/podcast, where I often ask creative people that same thing. Interesting, I have not really ever considered doing anything else since I was 25, (now 40), as I really really enjoy the tactile nature of having a physical form at the end of the designs we make. But, if I had to guess, I’ll bet that I would be in the creative, entrepreneurial tech world here in the Bay Area.  There is a lot of imagination, design of products and user platform visuals and I’ll bet that my creativity and personality would have fun in that ‘start up’ space. I enjoy making new. But after evaluating that from time to time, I am right where I belong, this glove fits so to speak.

Do you have any design rituals?

Never do the exact same thing twice. Keep evolving.

What is your favourite material to work with?
I guess that would have to be Calcutta Oro Marble. I just love the crispness, the richness, the clean but warm quality that it brings to areas it is applied – coffee tables, kitchen islands, lamp bases.  I am using it for the first time as the window sill of a new project that has trim-less contemporary window to wall trim details. We want to bring back a classic feel through this historic material which is yet another thing I love about marble, classic. But all colours of marble too, not just the whites. Fireplaces, shower curbs, you name it! I’ll apply it.

In your opinion, how has design evolved in the last five years?
There has been a return to more details with interior architecture, also a return to compartmentalising rooms a little more.  We still see the Great Room with the kitchen, family room and informal dining.  But when we experience a home from the front door, moving through each room needs to feel like a reveal.  We don’t want to see the whole home, at the first step.  I have seen this trend back, which I think is fantastic and more elegant.  A similar trend that I see in furnishings, is that we’ll also see more details. Lastly, the craft of furniture matters more as clients want to know the story of who made a piece and where it is from, how it is made, the quality of the materials etc.

And how do you see it changing in the next five years?
I think that the continued appreciation of craft, and the stories that are told by wood workers, metal workers etc. will continue on. We’ll also continue to see brushed brass being used throughout homes, but all the different metal finishes, compiled together in rooms e.g. using brushed brass light fixture and accessories, satin nickel hardware, polished nail-heads. We’ll also see larger patterns and more layers in the next 5 years.


What would your key message be to young designers?
Think big, but learn the craft of building furniture, building a home too. It is easier if you understand what a plumbers job is, if you’re going to propose a tub filler from the ceiling.  You need to understand how a chair is engineered if you’re going to start offering suggestions to customise furniture.  It is awesome to open up a room to create more space, but what really does that look like structurally? and even cost, before you take your clients down an exciting design path.  Practice, cooperate with builders and architects, listen, keep on reiterating.

Good design is:
Designed, revised, designed, revised, designed.  And that last part is important too, there must be a point when you have worked on it long enough, and it is time to move on to the next set of decisions to make.

Photography credit ~ Aubrie Pick and David Duncan Livingston


Visit his website jeffschlarb.com

Follow him on Instagram and Twitter

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