Jeff Schlarb, Classic Contemporary Design

Jeff Schlarb’s designs are not shy. He describes his design sensibility as ‘classic contemporary’, but one look at his creations, filled with bold color combinations, geometric shapes and whimsical objects, and you realize that this is not a design sense that can be labeled.

Russian Hill Living/Dining Room: Wallpaper- Trove Indi -birds in pink. Sofa- Custom from Jeff Schlarb Design. Floor lamp: Acquired through 1st dibs. Tiffany contemporary Floor Lamp powder Silk, antiqued Brass, Silvered Glass. Rug: Custom with Tai Ping. Bunny Rocking Chair: Acquired through 1st dibs.  Rulla Leather & Brass Rocking Chair by Mario Milana Handcrafted in Italy. Photography by Aubrie Pick

It’s no wonder his firm, Jeff Schlarb Design Studio has been tapped four times for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, as well as the Modernism Week Palm Springs Showhouse, and has been featured often in major design publications. Schlarb has been a member of the Fall Show Designers Circle for years and in 2016 designed the Author’s Alcove where book signings take place at the show. “I love the show,” he says. “I am always inspired by the Designer Vignettes in the Entry Hall, and I love the dealers-especially the exceptional art dealers”

Bed: Custom bed design by Jeff Schlarb Design. Fabric: KOHR, ITALY/ KV056883 BRITNEY/ KOOO22- DEEP WATERS. Wing Chairs: Longwave High Back Armchair by Diesel with Moroso. Fabric: Holland and Sherry/Aria Burgundy, cotton velvet/DE11511. Photography by Aubrie Pick

We chatted by phone recently about the design industry as the pandemic turns a corner with vaccinations heading into 2021. He is seeing an interesting shift in clients’ perspectives, a more adventurous and exciting response; his team has doubled since the pandemic started. “People used to go out to events and parties and when they came home, they would want it to be peaceful. But since life is so boring right now, they want more,” he explains. “What we may have done on a small scale in a powder room before, we are now doing in the family room or den. The discussions we have are that the home is now 100% delivering all the excitement. How many times have you been to a restaurant and thought “this is so cool!” but wouldn’t want my home like this.” But now that we can’t go to restaurants, we do want to bring that energy home. People are willing to take chances on bold design in the larger rooms.”

Healdsburg Dining Room Wallpaper: Porter Teleo, hand painted. Chairs: Fleecer Dining Chair by Caste. Photography by Aubrie Pick

“I see a lot of value in the furniture, the feel,” says Schlarb. “When you come home and it feels put together, recharging, that is so satisfying. We’re exploring what I would call ‘new antiques’– furniture that has a forever feel but with designers and fabricators that are today. With a staying power, fresh and alive with lasting power and always with an artistic bend to it. I love our portfolio because it looks like us delivering for our clients. There is a common thread; these are all homes that are reflective of our clients and we’ve partnered to make it something exceptional. “Every project is different, and I think that is so exciting. If you look at our interior finishes, kitchens and bathrooms, it’s always rooted in the classics. Though when we get to furniture and fixtures, we use more patterns, more wallpaper and we just let loose.”

Leather Wing Chair- from 1st dibs. “Lou Read” Leather and Reinforced Polyurethane Armchair by P. Starck for Driade / Philippe Starck (Designer), Driade (Manufacturer) Chandelier: CASTLE 18-03 BY JASON MILLER/ Black, Bronze and Smoked Glass. Photography by Aubrie Pick

He admits he has no rules as far as what styles and eras can be mixed in a room. “ I’m more concerned with the shape of each piece and how they look next to each other,” he shares. “It’s about finding just the right thing for the right space.” For Schlarb, timeless, lasting décor, is achieved when the combination of the furniture feels all collected. “If you have a 1970s piece with a Holly Hunt sofa, put them together so it doesn’t feel like an era. Be keenly aware of what is being produced and over produced. The ‘Pinterestation’ of design is a problem” he says. “They deliver the most liked picture–and people buy. Don’t select the highest common denominator, the favorite flavor of the moment. You should not be able to pick the era of a room–it should be collective. “ he explains.

Wallpaper: Philip Jeffries. Serenity Chandelier: Entler. Studio Coffee Table: Vintage Acquired by Chairish: Brass ram heads/ 1970s. Sofa: Custom Jeff Schlarb Design. Art: Angela Blem from Liz Lidgett Gallery. Photography by Aubrie Pick

Schlarb sees the single most important element of a room as scale. “It’s the only thing that is a must,” he says. “I don’t want to make decisions in isolation. I like to make a decision on everything all at once and see it all together, I call it incremental design. We want to know how it will present itself, how will it be focused. Will it be organic? We have a project in L.A. right now, and most of what we are doing is to add layers: drawers, handles, details on an island, miniscule details that make it layered. I’m compelled to make sure we do lots of curves, even if it’s a structured living room. The back of a sofa, arms of a chair, oval dining table. The structure of most rooms is so hard. It needs to be softened.”

BAR- Certified Mahogany hardwood, forged iron base, double ultra- suede lined drawers, inside has a custom blue lacquer paint for a thrill when opened. Hand crafted and carved with signature carved knot design pulls. Photography by Aubrie Pick

Wood carved snake door pulls to an armoire. Snakes Cabinet in Black Finish Birchwood
and Bronze Snakes, Paris, France. Photography by Aubrie Pick

Inspiration comes from many sources for Schlarb, including the last project he’s worked on, as well as travel, Instagram, the marble from a visit to the stone yard, “it’s always coming at me from every direction,” he shares. “What we’re always trying to decide is “is that killer, or not good at all? It’s either deadly killer or not. That’s where the magic is.”

Russian Hill Library: A custom library with a secret hidden door. We custom matched the colors to be the same blue for the cabinetry, walls, trim, drapery, and tassel trim on the leading-edge drapery panels. Brass hand tieback for a little humor. Lamp shade- House of Hackney. Photography by Aubrie Pick

As we enter a new world, coming out of an intense year, there are two things Schlarb depends on from his clients: trust and engagement. “They have to really want to do what they have hired us for,” he says. “ Right now, their home is all encompassing, their hobby is their home, they don’t have anything going on outside the home.” As far as tools of the trade go, 3D renderings are a game changer. We do 3D maps, photo realism renderings, VR. With that same technology we send photo realism of rooms. There are some learning curves, it’s all a brave new world. I feel like we are on the leading edge of it. It takes time to do a rendering, it’s a ton of work, but you get a decision faster because they can see it clearly. But the result is that some people want to see more options–for the most part it’s specific changes to this and that,” he explains. He would like to see that process improve and become easier to create and edit renderings. “Our work is so custom,” he says “Every line is drawn, color applied, it takes time. The ordering process also takes a long time—”the documentation process takes forever,” he says. “I would like to see a way to streamline and make it more efficient. If each manufacturer had an easy way to select what you need.”

This primary bathroom rendering for our client’s lakehouse in Geneva Switzerland showcases the unique architecture of Huf Haus, the high end pre-fab company building this home. The walls are covered in a white lilac marble and a water monopoly tub (in a custom Farrow & Ball Inchyra Blue) rest on a black herringbone floor.

Now, well into 2021, his design studio has a full plate of projects, including an 8,000 square foot house on the shores of Lake Geneva. “It’s the most high-quality factory made, pre-fab house, built in Germany. It takes 2-3 weeks to construct it on site. “It is the most fascinating project; we’ll be installing in summer 2022.”

Schlarb has a solid outlook on design and is introspective when it comes to the secret to his success. “It’s not enough to be a great curator of cool things,” he says. “Being able to listen to our clients, to collaborate with them and go on a skillful journey alongside them is the key. I love working with our team, to continue my growth, and to mentor designers. I have learned to curate a team who listens to clients and that creates the transference of ideas, trust and ensures the best outcome.”

By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat

Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, SOJOURNEST, where she focuses on all things home and travel and on Instagram at @arianetrim.