A Chat with San Francisco Designer Geoffrey De Sousa

Known as one of the top interior designers in San Francisco and regularly featured in national design publications, Geoffrey De Sousa brings a mix of tradition, cosmopolitan flair and modernism to his projects. De Sousa Hughes, the 30,000 square foot showroom at the San Francisco Design Center that he co-owns with Erik Hughes, is known for its bespoke collection of furnishings, textiles, lighting and accessories by designers and artists across the United States and Europe. De Sousa served as Designers Circle Chair for the San Francisco Fall Show from 2016-2018 and hosted several fabulous parties in honor of the show’s designer patrons.

Geoffrey De Sousa working from his double parlour

He’s a busy man, but lately, De Sousa, like the rest of us, has been spending a lot more time at home. We chatted by phone, he from his 1874 San Francisco Victorian, with a black facade. “When I renovated it in 2013 it was just me and little dog,” he said. “Then Jose and I got married, he’s an interiors and architecture photographer and has his office downstairs. The pandemic has informed us as to how we are living here, how we use the space. I had been debating turning the second parlour into a dining room; it makes us think about what’s comfortable.” The double parlour is currently a living room and is where De Sousa gravitates to for work, and a moment of quiet and calm. His morning staff meetings happen there. “Because Jose is a photographer, he has lots of tripods. I set up right there and we have staff meetings every morning with the iPhone on tripods.” Right off the bat, I was thinking, how can we get people into our showroom? I called a friend who is a Realtor who recommended the company Matterport. They did a 3D tour of showroom to put on our website, it’s fantastic.

Diana the Warrior, prepared for the pandemic

The most interesting piece in the living room was bought from former San Francisco antiques dealer, Ed Hardy “a 19th century bust of Diana the warrior 3 ½ ft x 2 feet that sits on a pedestal in the bay window in the living room,” shares De Sousa. “I’ve had it forever. People stop in front of the house constantly to talk about it. It is one of the finest pieces I bought from Ed when I moved to San Francisco. About 2 weeks into the quarantine, I turned it around to face the street and put a black mask on her. It has become very instagrammable.”

De Sousa’s wall of family photographs

For De Sousa, home has to have a sense of history. “It has to be about you, your trips, your family, the things that bring memories, a small piece of glass, an amazing photograph, having those pieces interspaced within your interiors, that juxtaposition and the ability to combine those things in a house gives it soul.” He says. “I have a wall that is 60 photographs dating from the mid the 1800s of my family memories; all different sizes, I have my great, great grandfather and grandmother. I have an amazing photo of my great grandmother at a wedding when she first came to America in 1917. My mother’s side has been in Boston since 1632. Walking by the wall and seeing these people everyday makes my house a home.”

Communication was the biggest change De Sousa encountered from the new virtual workday. “At first everyone went into shock mode and then had to get the projects rolling. How we deliver to clients is different, but people are now used to it, they are adapting pretty well,” he says, “There are people spending a lot of time in their homes and looking at things a little differently. They want the spaces to be usable and comfortable. Each client is so individual. I am really fortunate to have a wide array of clients with very different aesthetics.” De Sousa is seeing a change in attitude and in how clients are using their homes. “I don’t see people asking for home offices right now,” he says, “but I do see people coming to me saying that they are using some rooms more often now than before–using rooms for the first time–using their outdoor spaces more now, not just on the weekends. I also see people who left the city and went to their second homes and they are now really looking at how they use those homes and how they can make them equally usable. People are thinking about nesting, comfort, and entertaining again.”

With no social engagements due to the lockdown, De Sousa anticipated having lots of free time, “I always wanted to learn to needlepoint; I opened the box and never touched it. I bought a Georgian dollhouse for my nieces, but have not started it. Once we started our meetings in the mornings, the day gets away. I’ve taken on three large projects during the pandemic!

‘Passagem do Tempo’ Designer Vignette by Geoffrey De Sousa Interior Design at the 2015 San Francisco Fall Show. Custom wallpaper by de Gournay.
Photo by Drew Altizer Photography

In 2015, De Sousa was among the three designers invited to participate in the inaugural return of the Designer Vignettes for the Grand Entry Hall of the Fall Show. Taking on the theme “Time After Time”, De Sousa called his vignette ‘Passagem do Tempo’ (Passage of Time), paying homage to the mid-20th century Brazilian furniture designer Joaquim Tenreiro and his language of organic simplicity. It was surrounded by the sculptural Araucaria forest hand painted on silk by de Gournay. I asked him about a favourite show memory. “Really and truly”, he confessed, “the Preview Gala is one of the ultimate parties of San Francisco every year. When you are all wrapped up in your business and life, to be able to stand with your contemporaries, talk about business, see clients, catch up. You know everyone is going to be there. It kicks off the holiday season. It’s always an upbeat feeling. That will be missed the most in this year.”

But with the isolation, there is an upside: “Jose and I are relative newlyweds so this time we have had and with my dog has been really lovely. We spend a lot of time together, watching a great movie–we watched Hamilton the other night–it’s been great. And we’ve been reaching out to friends on Zoom that I probably would not be talking to so much otherwise.”

Truly a silver lining.

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat