Monday, September 26, 2011

Brilliant California design firm, dazzling designers: Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design and Decoration

Come and meet Julie Massucco Kleiner and Melissa Warner, and sit down with me for a chat with these glamorous young designers. Learn their secret design tips, be inspired by the range of their work, and learn the details of their fabulously successful design firm. I discussed their practical ideas, and we reveal the details of their fresh and happy aesthetic.

Melissa Warner, left, and company co-founder Julie Massucco Kleiner.

Julie Massucco and Melissa Warner made their debut with the vivid Guest Bedroom at the 2008 San Francisco Decorator Showcase. With their partner, Carrie Miller, they started Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design and Decoration in 2008.

Since then, the engaging and hard-working designers have made a big splash—with interiors featured on the cover of House Beautiful, and clients around the country.

I admire the freshness of their work. Their interiors look modern and contemporary—but the rooms are anchored in a sense of tradition, grace, comfort and lightness.

There’s no pretension in the work. Best of all, they’re not pushing a ‘California’ look.
And this design firm has avoided having a ‘signature’ style. Each project has its own logic, approach, personality, color choices, and textures.

Come and meet Julie and Melissa, and see beautiful images of their new work.

“We try to create rooms that strike a balance between being well thought out and detailed, with a mix of color, textures, and furniture styles. Yet they are approachable at the same time, and they always have a pattern that pops. It’s all in the details: We love embellishing upholstery, window treatments, and soft goods with custom details.”—Melissa Warner

Julie Massucco Kleiner

Join us for my interview with Julie Massucco Kleiner and Melissa Warner

DDS: Wonderful to see you, Julie and Melissa. Your work is so fresh and client-friendly. I’m impressed with the polish of your work. The rooms always look so happy.
Thank you! We are fortunate to have past and current clients who appreciate a bright and clean look with lots of details that ensure polish. We tend to attract young couples and families, and so even though we do use lighter colors (and sometimes even white), we have to create homes that are flop-on-sofa livable, since there are kids, dogs.
Comfort is key for our clients, yet we don’t like to do sloppy and oversized. Tailoring to the size of the house, and finishing details (hemstitching, tape trims on edges, neat Roman shades, etc) keep the look fresh for us and give our rooms personality.

MW: People are always so surprised that children live in most of the houses that we work on because the interiors are so tailored. Luckily, there are many great kid-friendly and durable materials on the market so we’re able to keep our client’s homes comfortable and durable, without sacrificing style. One of our favorite fabrics for a dining area is faux leather, which is very resilient, and completely wipeable for spills—we’d be lost without it.

DDS: How do you achieve this very fresh and new look—without interiors looking the slightest bit trendy?
MW: We love mixing classic pieces with a hint of the unexpected. Using a base of clean and classic furniture, mixed with a few funkier pieces, makes the room exciting and fresh without being predictable. Pops of color—yellow, orange, acid green, lilac—used in unconventional ways create a lighthearted space. At the beginning of the design process, clients sometimes ask if the house will feel too serious or fancy once it is all done, but we assure them that we always infuse a playful element into each space that makes it inviting and warm.
JMK: It’s that mix of several styles of furniture and/or fabric that keep things lively and unpredictable. We emphasize to our clients that while they may love all the pieces from a certain designer, we never want to use too many from that one source. That would be boring and look dated quickly, and it would also look like the showroom. One thing that keeps our work fresh (especially given the fact that we work in Southern California and Seattle where there is an abundance of mid-century architecture) is to not just let the architecture drive the furnishings, but find a blend of pieces that speak to the scale of the space, the function, the client’s personality, time, location, purpose, goals.

DDS: You’ve been working all over the country, with clients in Miami and Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, all climates and different light. You’ve formulated a professional approach a plan of action, a way of working on design.
We have a very clear and defined plan of attack and organizational focus. We first walk the site. No matter where it is, it’s crucial for us to see it in person. We take copious notes and snapshots, as well as doing a detailed and perfect site measure. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have a set of pre-existing plans (which we verify measurements of if the job is going to be long distance), and then we draw furniture layouts, elevations and any other sketches that are helpful to either our team or our client. Next step is a must for us—we do an itemized shopping list—everything from cabinet pulls to the artwork, and sometimes this step involves putting a budget number to each item. This really is a helpful working document for us, and clients love it—no surprises at the end of day with the budget! After the drawings and list are in hand, we shop. We shop locally depending on where the job is. We use our tried and true workrooms we can rely on to create the best quality work. Often it means flying our seamstress to the job. Once the shopping and design items are underway, we have a fabulously organized office manager who keeps our schedules on track until installation. We meet frequently to update and watch every detail.
For long-distance installations, we have our kits (everything from a steamer to felt furniture pads, to touch up pens). We source accessories and finishing details locally during the installation.

MW: Clients love the itemized shopping list, and it helps everyone stay on the same page with the budget and general project progress. We think it’s important to look at the big picture first, so we can get an understanding of the entire scope, before diving into the details.

DDS: How did your aesthetic develop?
Our hometowns definitely have had an effect on our aesthetic. Julie’s from Vermont and I’m from Los Angeles where the culture is very relaxed and vibrant. I grew up going to Palm Springs for family vacations, and now find myself loving mixing in vintage and mid century pieces into my designs. Now when I go there with my family, I sneak off and hit the vintage stores. It’s become a family event—a couple of Thanksgivings ago, my mom came with me shopping in downtown Palm Springs where I found a pair of Dorothy Draper chests (which I had to buy on the spot!) that I use as my bedside tables. And my dad came with me to the modernism show in Palm Springs to scour the booths for treasures. My parents now have their first vintage piece. It’s a Curtis Jere raindrops mirror I found at a consignment store for a steal when I re-did their bedroom recently.

JMK: Growing up in New England (Vermont year round and Maine in the summers) definitely had an effect on my aesthetic. I tend toward breezy fabrics. I adore any type of linen—chunky for upholstery, sheer for windows and everything in between. I like to design comfortable interiors that can be sand, grass and bathing suit friendly! Living in Florence while in college nurtured my love of classical architectural and decorative elements—pediments, paneling, molding, gilding that all make appearances on custom furniture and cabinetry and even hardware.

DDS: What’s the first thing you do with a new client?
It’s essential to really talk to our clients, find out how they live. It’s useful to discuss photos or design blogs that they either like or dislike. Visuals, no matter how few, really can tell a lot about what the client is hoping to achieve. With the clients’ saved magazine pages and product shots and perhaps a design file, we can take the conversation away from the abstract (words like ‘romantic’ can be very ambiguous) and see precisely what the client loves.

MW: We always tell clients that showing us photos of what they don’t like, helps us as much as images of what they do like. Clients have a particular aversion to a specific color, type of pattern, furnishing style, or textiles, so it’s important for us to know their dislikes as well as their likes. 

DDS: How do you get the best information from your clients? Your designs are very custom-crafted.
Design concepts are presented to clients by room, giving them a cohesive and detailed plan of furnishings, fabrics, and window and floor coverings. When we’re buying a piece of furniture from a showroom, we show our clients an image of the piece along with finish samples and/or fabrics. Many of our pieces are custom designed, so our clients have to have faith and trust in us. Often there isn’t a photo of the piece, since we’re designing it and making it from scratch. Sketches and finish/fabric samples paint a picture of the finished product but they still have to use their imagination.

JMK: Some clients prefer to know every last detail and are very detail-oriented, so we ensure that they are seeing things like the pitch of the chair back while it’s being made at our upholsterer. For others, it’s one or two large presentations at the get-go of the job with fabrics, furniture, colors, and window covering styles and then we’re off. Usually there are a few specific areas (master bedrooms are of passionate interest for women, and it’s usually the study for the men) where our client might want to be a little more hands on. If there are vintage pieces or antiques, we take a client on a pre-planned and carefully mapped-out shopping day to find one-of-a -kind pieces. Other clients would rather have their hair pulled out than go scouring the flea market with us! 

DDS: You each have more than a decade of experience in the design field—and design degrees—and yet it feels as if you were an overnight sensation. Suddenly you were on the cover of House Beautiful and splashed over twelve pages, and then published in a Brazilian design publication, Traditional Home, San Francisco magazine.
We definitely put our time in with various firms on jobs around the country. I started at a large New York architectural firm, and learned fundamentals of space planning and organization that have been useful. My residential design career, which followed, is definitely my L-O-V-E. I believe in doing what you love and success will follow.
We are really so lucky that magazine editors like you have noticed our work, it seemed like one thing led to another after running into you during our first SF Decorator Showcase. Blogs like THE STYLE SALONISTE have been a huge part of getting our name out there. We’ve never advertised. We are amazed at the great publicity. We are often asked for the name of our publicist. We don’t have one.

MW: We feel very lucky that our work has been embraced and noticed. We both have such a passion for interior design and a respect for the design community, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it! Julie and I both worked our way up in the design field starting with internships and eventually more senior design positions at various firms. We’ve had our hands in all aspects/levels of the design process, and I think that this, along with our design education, has made us appreciate all aspects of the design process, and helps us be efficient in working with clients, showrooms, and workrooms.

DDS: You’ve launched MWM A La Carte.
On our website (see below) we offer customized cameo pillows and some large-scale print pillows that work with our cameos in our signature hues like oranges, turquoises, yellows, tempered by white and of course pale grey. Our designs have our signature details such as grosgrain ribbon flanges. We decided to offer them online, to the general public. There are instructions for taking a great profile shot if you’re ordering a cameo, and we make the pillows the same way we do for clients with luxurious fill and at a nice size-not skimpy.
We’re dipping our toes into the world of product design. We’ll add ottomans, consoles, chairs. Stay tuned.

DDS: Inspirations?
Fashion color palettes and details. Interiors and fashion are often in synch with colors, shapes, details, silhouettes, concepts. I just started a job in San Francisco and it’s a completely blank palette. I am gravitating towards “fall” colors—rich, saturated hues of yellow, teal and olive green… feels like fall and is probably linked back to something I saw last time I was clothes shopping!

The number of magazines I get and actually read is astonishing, though I do have a lot of time on airplanes to read them these days. I also look at my old stacks of House Beautiful and Domino magazines. Very inspiring.

MW: I go to the design center or out shopping at showrooms or vintage stores, and my mind starts racing with ideas. Sometimes one small detail or fabric can end up inspiring an entire room or house. Shopping one day I found a gorgeous Suzani fabric from Donghia that ended up inspiring the entire layout and color scheme of a living room I recently completed in Beverly Hills. The pattern and color were striking so oriented the chairs so their backs, which are upholstered in the Suzani, are the first things you see when you walk into the room.

DDS: Favorite designers?
David Hicks, and also the amazing Mark Hampton. Their work still looks current, and I often use a Hicks-esque pattern (Stark carpet has some of my favorites) or details Mark Hampton would have used. I think of him when I’m using brass things-lamps, cabinet hardware.
MW: I love the softness in Suzanne Kasler’s work, and I admire Miles Redd’s bold use of color on walls. One of my all time favorites in Frances Elkins—her work is so understated, balanced, timeless and elegant.

Melissa Warner

DDS: What’s next?
We’re starting a number of projects with clients whose first homes we’ve already done, and now we’ll work on a new home, or vacation home. We also just opened a new studio in West Hollywood. We now have a street presence, and we’ve been having a lot of fun decorating the space. We saw this space and we knew it was meant to be because the molding on the walls was in the shape of the cartouche of our logo.
JMK: We are working on some great jobs all over the West Coast. I am currently trying to start up a Designer Showcase fundraiser house here in Seattle. The city has been without for quite a few years and I am making it my mission to drum up interest.

DDS: Julie and Melissa, I wish you continued success, fabulous clients, and much happiness. Thank you.

“My clients are becoming more open-minded about using unconventional materials in unpredictable ways: a glazed linen coffee table or an upholstered leather side table.”—Julie Massucco

Julie Massucco Kleiner
Julie refined her interior design skills for a decade at several high-end residential and commercial firms in Manhattan and San Francisco before co-founding MWM in 2008. Frequent travel abroad continues to exert a major influence in Julie’s work. Julie is currently working on projects in Seattle, San Francisco and Sun Valley in addition to spending time with her husband and 1-year-old son Ben.

Melissa Warner
While working for two renowned San Francisco design firms she produced numerous high profile residential projects in New York, Miami and San Francisco, before co-founding MWM in 2008. Melissa now resides in Los Angeles, and is currently working on projects in Montecito, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as planning her upcoming wedding.

All photos courtesy Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design and Decoration, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. Published here with permission.

Massucco Warner Miller
Interior Design and Decoration
Los Angeles – San Francisco – Seattle

7952 ½ W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

3253 Steiner Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

Monday, September 19, 2011

New French Design at Its Best: Shape Shifting

Top Paris Designer Jean-Louis Deniot Creates Dazzling Décor at Artcurial in Paris. An exclusive first look. 

French AD invited the top twelve French designers to dream up interiors to showcase art for this months’ exhibit at Artcurial, the prestigious auction house on the Champs Elysees. 

Here’s the exclusive look at Jean-Louis Deniot’s suite of rooms, selected as one of the top designs of this show, September 12-22 2011.
His vision is a grand sweep of French design history, updated, re-invented. Its chic confidence will inspire trends for years to come. 

Paris-based interior designer/architect Jean-Louis Deniot is one of the most popular and searched talents presented on THE STYLE SALONISTE. See two earlier posts here and here. 

I mentioned in the recent story that Jean-Louis would be creating this vignette at Artcurial, a distinct honor. Here are glorious photos taken earlier this week by Xavier Bejot. You’re seeing them here first. The show closes September 22. Jump on a plane now.

Among the eleven distinguished designers in the Artcurial exhibit are Roxanne Rodriguez, Olivia Putman (daughter of the great Andree Putman), Joseph Dirand, India Mahdavi, Tristan Auer, and Francois-Joseph Graf.

“I dreamed of a design that is reminiscent of all that is galactic: solar, orbital, the Milky Way, craters, minerals, energies, nebulae, and constellations while evoking infinity, dreams, poetic contemplation.” — Jean-Louis Deniot

The concept and inspiration for the Artcurial exhibit, according to AD editor-in-chief Marie Kalt is today’s growing passion and craze for contemporary art and developing art collections.

“Showcasing art is now a very important and essential part of the work of interior designers,” said Kalt. Designers are often involved in selecting art, designing special displays, and organizing and planning interiors for growing collections.

“Placing art well is at the heart of planning and design for interior decorators,” said Kalt. “We selected twelve leading designers to conceive spaces using iconic art works, thematic collections, and collaborations with artists. Each designer has a special field of expertise and passion.”
JEAN-LOUIS DENIOT’S CONCEPT: This is ephemeral decor to inspire emotion, and provoke a reaction from the viewer, said Jean-Louis.

“It’s a modern palace on the scale of a Parisian apartment,” said the designer. “I’m creating a relationship between proportion and composition and introducing contrasts such as mineral and mechanical, free-form and geometric, suppleness and brutalism.”

Works of art, design, remarkable antiques, extraordinary embroideries, all create a menagerie of a exceptional craftsmanship and rare objects that are simultaneously futuristic and vintage.


Folding lacquered screens designed exclusively by Jean-Louis Deniot for the Artcurial Designer Showcase. These screens have been designed in a constructivist manner, playing with the idea of silhouettes, geometric forms, and the contrast between the asymmetrical openings and the two lacquered colors. The set of four screens was created to compose an octagonal entry hall.

Four Plaster Free-Standing Lamps designed by Jean-Louis Deniot for the Artcurial Designer Showcase. These plaster freestanding lamps were designed to emphasize the octagonal entry and to add a grand, monumental effect to the space, making a strong statement. Jean-Louis Deniot was inspired by the idea of brutalism an futurism as well as taking reference from Giacometti and Jouves to bring a naturalist, free form element to the pieces.

Vestibule Wall Paneling designed by Jean-Louis Deniot for the Artcurial Designer Showcase. The wall paneling, including color palette, was designed in a ‘Mondrian’ manner by Jean-Louis Deniot. All the panels are raised to add a sense of substance and volume with a curve at the top, creating a large cove crown.

Wall-to-wall carpet designed by Jean-Louis Deniot and manufactured by Codimat for this showcase. The matching carpet was specifically manufactured to play with dimensions, to mix up the vertical and the horizontal and to add a sense of coziness to the space.

Chandelier ‘Gravitations N°385’, in bronze with engraved glass Wings by Hervé Van Der Straeten.

Center table by Ado Chale, on loan from Galerie Yves Gastou. This unique table by Ado Chale was chosen for its interesting bronze top, which references the moon’s surface.

Crystals from Jean-Louis Deniot’s Private Collection.

Large custom made silk window screen designed by Jean-Louis Deniot with embroidery by Jean-François Lesage. The design of this silk window screen represents an abstract landscape view and is embroidered with wool tweed, silver and bronze thread, glass sequins, and linen.

Mirror designed exclusively by Jean-Louis Deniot for the Artcurial Designer Showcase. This custom-made 12-foot mirror is comprised of distressed mirror, featuring shades of distressed bronze and silver and is framed with a large, bright brass border. Designed to add a ‘feminine touch’ to the space, the mirror also boasts twenty ornate bronze ‘stars’ on the surface to add a poetic and precious element.

Curule Stools from the Jean-Louis Deniot for Collection Pierre furniture line. These two stools are upholstered in fabric by Pierre Frey and embroidered by Jean-François Lesage using bronze nail heads and brass sequins and based on Jean-Louis Deniot’s astrology signs: Virgo and Scorpio.

Large Sculpture ‘Les Ailes’ by Stahly, on loan from Galerie Yves Gastou. This sculpture has been selected for its free form shape which contrasts with the geometric panels.

Wall Art ‘Untitled’ (2006) by Gerwald Rockenschaub, on loan from Gallery Thaddeus Ropac. This piece of art work represents a dream island and is comprised of black lacquered Lucite and stainless steel.


Custom Made Door Casings. Manufactured in hammered and distressed brass to add a rough but precious dimension to the space.

Wall Upholstery Fabric. Featuring an agate/onyx motif and selected by Jean-Louis Deniot to add an organic effect to the space. It goes all the way up the ceiling covering the added crown molding to create an architectural effect.

17th Century Marble Busts on Marble Stands, on loan from Gallery Steinitz. Busts were selected to add a sense of history to the space.

Ceiling Lighting by Ombre Portée. Lights have been placed on a temporary floating ceiling to give a sense of grace and movement.

Console by Mathilde Pénicaud for 3eme Rue Galerie. This specially commissioned console reflects the art theme and gives a strong conceptual interest to the space.

17th Century French Mirror, on loan from Gallery Steinitz, Paris. This mirror completes the ‘precious’ theme and reflects a very personal collection.

The Artcurial/AD Interieurs 2011 exhibit is at Artcurial, 7 rond-point des Champs-Elysees, until September 22.

Note: it’s in the 8th Arrondissement, and close to the Franklin Roosevelt METRO station.

I hope you can catch it. Otherwise, watch for special issues of French AD coming soon.
For more information, for Francophones:

All photography by Xavier Bejot, Paris:

Monday, September 12, 2011

New San Francisco Museum Photography Exhibit: An exclusive look at Romantic never-seen Views of Paris in the Fifties. Dreamy.

Stunningly beautiful newly discovered photography by San Francisco artist Benjamen Chinn reveals classic Paris scenes, historic squares, and captured candid reveries.

For Francophiles like me they are heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Come for a visit and see a long-forgotten collection of historic images of eternal Paris. Makes me want to time travel.

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951
New Photography Exhibition Illustrates Parisian Street Life

Long-forgotten master photographer Benjamen Chinn (1921–2009), equipped with two large-format cameras—four-by-five Linhof view camera and a Rolleiflex—traveled to Paris to photograph Parisian street life from 1950 through 1951. His innate sense of form and composition was acquired over many years of creating intimate portraits of everyday life in San Francisco's Chinatown.

He was fortunate, indeed. In Paris Chinn studied sculpture with Alberto Giacometti at the Académie Julian, took painting classes at Fernand Léger's school, and studied geography and philosophy at the Paris-Sorbonne University. This was, of course, at a time when Paris was still the major art and culture center, an essential and desired stop for anyone with artistic aspirations and a sense of romance.

In Paris, Chinn photographed 'capture-the-monent' subjects, including families, musicians, children, students, shopkeepers, workers, and daily Parisian life. Without the use of a darkroom, he developed the photographic negatives, but he never printed or saw any of the images until after he returned to San Francisco.

The Photographer:
I must admit I had never heard of Benjamen Chinn, nor had I seen his Cartier-Bresson-level work, which came to light upon his recent death.

Benjamen Chinn was born on Commercial Street in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1921. Chinn's interest in photography started when he was ten years old. His older brother, John, taught him how to develop and print photographs in the family basement, which they had converted into a darkroom.

Later, during World War II, Chinn used his photography skills as an aerial and public-relations photographer for the U.S. Army Air Corps based at Hickam Field, Honolulu, Hawaii.

After the war, Chinn returned to San Francisco and enrolled in a new, fine art photography program at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, where Ansel Adams and Minor White trained the next generation of fine-art photographers. Lecturers included Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, and Dorothea Lange.

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951 is an enduring photographic record by a gifted and important chronicler of urban-street life at home and abroad. This exhibition of a robust and charming Paris of the past reveals the artist's profound sensitivity and technical skill.

Essential Details:

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951 is on view in San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 3, Boarding Area F, from September 2, 2011 through December 1, 2011. The exhibition is located post-security and is only accessible to passengers ticketed for travel through Terminal 3. There is no charge to view the exhibition.

SFO Museum:

SFO Museum was established by the Airport Commission in 1980 for the purposes of humanizing the Airport environment, providing visibility for the unique cultural life of San Francisco, and providing educational services for the traveling public. The Museum has the distinction of being the only accredited museum in an airport. Today, SFO Museum features approximately twenty galleries throughout the Airport terminals displaying a rotating schedule of art, history, science, and cultural exhibitions, as well as the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, a permanent collection dedicated to the history of commercial aviation. For more information, please visit


All photos courtesy of The Benjamen Chinn Photographic Archive with express permission granted by The SFO Museum.