Designer Discourse: Laurie Ghielmetti

A Q&A Series with Prominent Designers Circle Members

Laurie Ghielmetti’s design work can easily be described as sophisticated, daring, and at times, whimsical. It is also unique in its artistic components. Her firm, LAURIE GHIELMETTI, specializes in both interior design and art consulting. An avid collector herself, she incorporates art into her designs as a natural element of any space. She has a keen eye for contemporary art and is passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about it. With more than 30 years of experience in the business, Ghielmetti’s full-service firm works with clients throughout the Bay Area, from initial concept to the final installation. Her work has been featured in numerous prominent design publications.

Living Room, San Francisco Condominium. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

I asked her a few questions recently about the tools, inspiration and principles that propel her in the design field.

Ariane Trimuschat: What was your first introduction to design-what drew your interest in the field as a career?
Laurie Ghielmetti: I have always seen design as a natural extension of my passion for contemporary art.  I was fortunate to have as a mentor, my mother’s sister, a designer of note. We began working together in the 1980s, and that experience made me recognize how much I wanted to work in the field and how much there was to learn.  By the end of the decade my aunt guided me towards the start of my own business, a direction that has been life-changing!

AT: What are your key influences? Where do you get your inspiration?
LG: My key influences come from travel and viewing the culture of others, especially how color and architecture drives interior design.  I feel fortunate that inspiration comes readily, as well, from daily life.  Seeing the changes that nature brings and adds with each season and the light and shadows of each day.  We try to use that light to create an additional layer of beauty to each home.

San Francisco Residence. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: Name three design tools you can’t live without.
LG: My ‘tools’ are all relationship-based, the art of collaboration, the discipline of listening, often to discern yearnings left unsaid.  And, the pure joy of working with my colleague of more than two decades, Kelley Matusiak.

AT: If you could design any property in the world, which would you tackle?
LG: In 2005 my firm was hired by the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand.  We started working in collaboration with a Thai architect on two penthouse units in a luxury building under construction.  Almost a year later, on the day of a final presentation to our client, we learned that there had been a military coup and the Prime Minister and several of his deputies were leaving the country. Needless to say, we did not complete the job for him, and I think about our ideas for furnishings those penthouses to this day!

Dining Room, San Francisco Residence. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: What are the first three things you consider when planning the layout of a house?
LG: Always, the topmost considerations in planning a layout are a deep understanding of the needs and lifestyle of the client, the natural light that influences the rooms at different times of the day, and the strength and beauty of a well-curated marriage of art and furniture.

AT: What design element should one focus on and invest in most?
LG: We advise clients on both art and furnishings, and we underline the importance of the strength and endurance of quality pieces no matter what the budget level.  A case in point is a sofa I purchased in the early 1980’s, which was reborn three times through re-upholstering before I moved on with another piece.

Living Room, Carmel, CA. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: What have you learned during this pandemic? How has it affected your business?
LG: The pandemic has taught us many things, not the least of which is to be grateful for the beauty of a moment.  We have learned even more about the strength of relationships and the importance of personal interactions.  And, I believe we will never take for granted again all of the options and choices provided in our daily lives.

AT: Are you seeing any new trends in what your clients are asking for/ prioritizing after the year we’ve had?
LG: The pandemic has given us reason to rethink how and where we work.  The need for private spaces has never had more meaning, even as rooms are being repurposed to provide multiple functions. A fundamental lesson that this pandemic chapter has shown us is that people want to view their home as a source of beauty, comfort and tranquility.  Our industry is responding to this mandate with positivity, helping to create thoughtful and joyous spaces for each person in the house.

Living Room, San Francisco Residence. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: What course of study was most relevant to what you do as an interior designer?
LG: My course of study is unending.  Over the three decades that I have worked as an art advisor and interior designer, I have found that my education continues on a daily basis.  Learning from clients, from the design community, and from the life experiences that come from travel.

Dining Room, San Francisco Residence. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: What is the most impactful interior design lesson you’ve learned in your career?
LG: I have learned that a home is never truly completed, nor should it be.  As life’s chapters unfold, we have the opportunity and actual need for growth and change.  A client who downsized from a larger home understood that not all of the furniture could be used in the transition, but asked that we find space for all of the art pieces collected over time.  In so doing we discovered that in the smaller space, the art was actually more of a focal point and changed the way that all of us looked at the space and the collection.

AT: What keeps you coming back to the San Francisco Fall Show each year? What do you most look forward to at the show?
LG: The Fall Show is made up of countless moments of inspiration. Each year offers the pleasure of the search, the discovering of something meaningful for a client, and the moments of clarity that come from ideas learned from one of the lectures.  One of the great joys of an antiques show is the knowledge that the addition of a single piece that has already had a long life, can add and expand an already beautifully curated space. One of our clients with whom we have a decades-long relationship, is delighted and enthusiastic each year as we find and share our ideas on pieces every year from the show.  The result is an eclectic collection of wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces that represent the quality and diversity of the offerings of The Fall Show.

Living Room, San Francisco Residence. Photograph by Robert Whitworth Creative

AT: What are three things you see shaping the future of design?
LG: As a designer I have learned to embrace the fact that change is constant, and adapting to change is essential.  Clients are so much involved in every decision now and offer the strength of knowledgeable opinions. This more than anything has changed the nature of collaboration and made it a more intensely rewarding process.  In many ways it has helped us share the joy of interior design and art consulting.  As long as that thread holds that spirit together, the future is welcoming.

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.