Nicole Hollis, designer of the Ruti boutique, has developed a portfolio of beautiful commercial, restaurant, retail, and residential interiors since beginning her eponymous firm in San Francisco less than a decade ago.
Do you have a particular design philosophy? How would you describe it?
I am motivated by experimentation and exploration in materials: a mixture of opposites such as manufacturing and craft, high- and low-tech, traditional and contemporary. Materials are brought together in unusual and often contradictory ways. I also use materials that beg to be touched such as leather, stone, raw steel, natural cotton, and smooth plaster.
You have a range of both residential and commercial clients. How selective are you with the clients that you work with?
I’m very selective. I avoid taking projects that do not excite or challenge my creativity. I would be doing the client a disservice if I took the project but didn’t feel passionately about it.
Do you have a particular approach to dialogue with a client in the project’s early stages to understand what they want in the project?
Before starting the schematic design process, I have several meetings and discussions with the client. I do not have any particular list or questionnaire for clients to fill out; I think the best way to understand the needs of the client is just to listen.
In your current work, is there a particular material that you enjoy incorporating? Why?
I like to incorporate natural wood into my projects, typically reclaimed. It brings a warm, natural feeling to any environment.
What are the major challenges facing designers today?
Designers today have to contend with the design-it-yourself lifestyle and the battle against cheaply manufactured furnishings typically not made to last. Clients need to be educated on the value of working with interior designers and what they have to offer in terms of superior standards in quality and craftsmanship.
What advice would you give to design students or those starting out in the field?
Pay your dues. I started out as an intern in an architecture office making blueprints (that is how old I am!), running errands, and
drafting. You have to work long and hard to learn the ropes and you should be willing to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
Do you have a mentor? Who is it, and how has he or she influenced your life and career?
The architect Howard Backen of Napa Valley, California, has been a great mentor in my career. He taught me to remain focused on the end result and gave me the trust and support to start my own studio.
What would be your dream project?
I would love to work on an eco-resort; a perfect combination of luxury and sustainability. Preferably somewhere exotic so I can travel more!
What interior space—anywhere in the world, designed by anyone—inspires you? Why?
John Pawson’s Baron House in Sweden. The simplicity of materials, use of light, and minimal aesthetic are timeless. I love the way the landscape comes into the interiors and informs the environment.