One reason I started this blog was to share all of the cool things that “everyday” women around me were doing. These women never stop experimenting and trying new things. Born/raised in London but a resident of San Francisco for the past 17 years, Alice Larkin recently sparked my attention after I heard about her interior design talent… and wow I was impressed when I saw her work. In this interview she shares her creative evolution over time – as a child, to 3 homes with 3 different looks, all anchored by one design philosophy. Enjoy! – Alicia
You were born into an ultra-creative family. What was that like? How did your parents influence you?
Design was always in the forefront for me. Both of my parents attended art school. My father was a design consultant and mother worked in fashion. As a child, I quickly realized that my parents were different than my friends’ conservative parents. My father bought his clothes at Browns in London. I remember him picking out the craziest combinations… I was so embarrassed! At the time, I wanted my family to be straight-laced like my friends’…which is crazy when I look back because my parents were always dressed to the nines. It took many years for me to properly appreciate that! I had no idea how cool they were.
Now I find myself trying to recreate their vibe. These days my dad owns Hotel Pastis in Saint Tropez. He used a lot of the pieces from our home growing up in there which is so fun. Plus, I love the style of his hotel and it is a huge interior design influence for me.
Not surprisingly, I was the kid who put ribbons in my Keds. Fashion was the only thing I knew how to do. Also, my parents valued fashion most, so they nudged me a bit into that direction. I attended Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. When I arrived, I met a woman who owned a small, super high-end boutique on the Upper East Side called Betsy that sold a lot of Ungaro, Chanel, etc. I worked for Betsy throughout college. After college, I assisted with buying and management of the business until I moved to San Francisco.
When I got to San Francisco, I hoped to do something similar but felt there wasn’t a market for that here, so decided to do styling instead. Luckily, styling opened up my creativity in all sorts of ways. I started doing my home / interior design in addition to women’s fashion. I quickly got addicted to going to the Alameda flea market and buying things on ebay so that I could re-work and re-do them. It was so fun! There is a ton of crossover between interiors and fashion – so it’s really all just about good design.
Tell me about your home.
I’ve moved 6 times in San Francisco in 17 years, but I’ll spare you the first few and focus on the last 3 “grown up” ones.
My first “grown up” house on 21st Avenue was an Edwardian and extremely colorful. I collaborated with my best friend Lisa and her partner Sarah at Johnson Sokol on the interior design. We literally saturated my place in color and print… and I absolutely loved it. The house was glamorous and fun – exactly what I needed to balance out my “mom” life!
In my 2nd home, I blended families with my partner, so we faced the task of combining our diverse pieces together, literally and figuratively. Also, we went from 2 kids to 4! We bought a 6-bedroom “fixer” Craftsman house. From an interior design standpoint, this time I stuck with some color, but eased off of the prints. Most notably, I shifted away from all of the fabric layering. It felt overly formal to me at that point with such a big family. Also, I quickly realized I needed a table that fit 6 people, plus all of my childrens’ friends!
Looking back, in this home I tried to blend formal living with casual living, but I really wasn’t down with completely letting go of formal living. So the décor became eclectic.
We just recently moved into home #3, in Marin. We moved to Marin for better weather, indoor/outdoor living, and a pool. In addition, the home is more open-plan and conducive to family gatherings. When I sold my Edgewood house, I sold most of the furniture with it, so I had a fresh start. Although it wasn’t necessarily a conscious shift, my interior design pov has definitely swung to a more Scandinavian place here. I’m not doing much color, and this home will be much more casual (I moved a few weeks ago so am in the middle of decorating it). I want something more casual because when it’s sunny and hot, I’ve realized I don’t want to sit on velvet! I want to sit on linen. So I bleached all of the walls and started over with this home.
Why Scandinavian now, after so many years of eclectic color and pattern?
I’m not sure! I think creative energy just shifts and moves, and this is one of the shifts. Or maybe it’s because I live for the project, and those projects are done. Now I’m onto a different direction. I just find that at this stage of life I want neutral. That said, I take my art with me everywhere I go, and it has color in it, so that remains a constant throughout.
Let’s shift gears into fashion. Your fashion style is simple and so chic. Tell us about your approach there.
I am a firm believer in high/low. My rule of thumb with fashion is to always be wearing one investment piece that is key / important, and to mix in other complementary pieces that are inexpensive but complementary. I am constantly mixing and matching and playing. When I look in my closet, I have clothes that are 20 years old in there that I bring out and re-do continuously. Having the confidence to put things together – to wear something from Target with something from YSL – is what I respect. My style is casual. I have an everyday uniform. I wear Levis and carry a Birkin that was gifted to me by Betsy (the woman I worked with in NYC). But I wear those with a Gap button down.
Got it. So your design philosophy is about experimentation and high/low. Same goes for home?
Yes! The exact same philosophy extends to home. I start with an anchor item, and then mix in vintage and other complementary pieces. For example, I am looking at this wall now and I have one investment photograph in a vignette placed next to 2 cheap ones. A designer would probably tell me not to do that, but confidence is everything.
Also- I would never do a room without any vintage in it… it would feel soul-less!
Can you share a bit about tools or resources you utilize in your interiors process?
My starting point is the property itself – eg the physical location and the history of the architecture. After that, I always make a Pinterest board. I randomly sort through pins until it becomes clear what direction I’m heading in. It’s an organic process that I don’t overanalyze. For example, I’ll see a couple of anchor pieces from 1st Dibs, pin them, and then find myself building around them in a given room.
There’s just not one person or place though that I’ve found for curation of pieces … pieces come from all over the place. That said, I do troll through Cherish, 1st dibs, and ebay a ton to see what catches my eye. I also go to the Decorators Showcase in SF and pick up a few ideas from there.
Most importantly, I always work in whatever I already own. For example, here in Marin, I lacquered white a few wooden side tables that I already had. If you collect good pieces, you can always find a place for them. As I mentioned, I’ll never have a room that’s all new or all old. I also have this handyman who is an amazing builder. I always have a few custom pieces for me. For example, I love mirrors, and he creates incredible mirrors that have those old vintage spots on them.
Favorite piece(s) and why?
I have a large photograph by my ex-brother-in-law, Eric Cahan, that I’m obsessed with. He took it in the Hamptons, where we spent many summers, so it is meaningful to me. It marks a moment in my life.
I am obsessed with vintage jewelry. I’ve been wearing charms since my 20s… I have a dish with 30 little charms that I switch out every day, including a couple of little locks that were my grandmother’s. Most days I wear 3 necklaces and probably shove 5 onto each. People ask me, “how can you be bothered to do that every single day?” But I find joy in creating this little concoction every day. I love the fact that each charm has its own unique history. Some of them are French, which is also so fun. The hunt to find them is part of the appeal. I guess I like making a mix! I never really make the same bundle …
You mentioned that you are in the process of launching an interior design firm. Details and contact info please?
Over the years, my friends have always come to me for design advice or a second opinion on anything from curtains to kitchen counters. The whole high/low thing for me is really intriguing. In the bay area, there are many talented designers. However, some employ rules that can be unrealistic for budgets, kids, etc. For example, many require you to ONLY put custom and “important”furnishings into a room. While I respect this point of view, it can be unrealistic or restricting for many people – and those are not rules I feel the need to implement given my process.
My hope is to bring great design to the person who might feel that working with a decorator is out of the realm of possibilities for them due to budget or size of project. I love the challenge of incorporating the old with the new, eg the West Elm with the Karl Springer. I love bringing old sofas to life with new fabric and a little taping, giving new meaning to an old wooden table with laquer and a pop of color. Ultimately, I want to help people create beautiful spaces that reflect their personalities and style, while working with individual budgets.
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