When it comes to luxury designers, Kara Smith is the cream of the crop. Her style is classic and modern and her clients keep coming back for more. The LA-based interior designer has 14 years under her belt with SFA Design, and as the president of company, she has been able to grow the international recognition of this boutique firm. Her ideas are progressive and she’s involved with all aspects of SFA’s design practice. She is the go-to designer for commercial and residential properties, catering to celebrities and other A-List individuals that want the ultimate in luxury design.
Interior design has always been a prevalent aspect of Kara’s life. Her mother was an interior designer, but the real catalyst for her love affair with interiors was travel. Kara says, “I visited many places around the world that exposed me to a large spectrum of different styles, each so extraordinary. Before I became President at SFA Design, I had started a woman’s contemporary collection, called Karanina. In designing fashion, I was very inspired by vintage – honing in on the lifestyle of an era and reinterpreting it to be very current. When I shifted my career into interiors, focusing my efforts on luxury market was a natural profession. The same approach I used when designing fashion was ever so applicable and really works… I love understanding era’s, styles, vintage pieces and really working them in a very modern and new way.”
Kara prefers to work with residential clients. She says, “I love the ability (and challenge) to create a space that speaks to the owners’ personalities and is a true representation of who they are.” With design being an interpretive art, she says it takes an incredible amount of collaboration. Kara works very closely with each client, from inspiration to design vision, from selection to installation. Mood boards and color boards are staples in her design process and helpful in stewarding the process and making sure everyone is still on the same page, throughout each project.
One of my biggest questions for an interior designer is how they draw the line between their own personal style and the taste of the client. “It is definitely a challenge. My approach is always about getting in the mindset of my clients and collaborating to bring life to their vision. However, each interior I craft is a reflection of where I am at in regards to design taste, style, current preferences,” said Kara.
When approaching a new project, she first focuses on getting to know who the client is to gain an understanding on how they truly use space she’ll be working on and what inspires them. She is very visual in planning stages and always collaborative. Her ultimate goal is to create a spectacular space that is also functional. Once she has identified the taste of the client and what they love, the fun begins. She keeps baskets around her office holding different items, a variety of things she can draw bits of inspiration from to help develop mood boards. It helps articulate better her vision for the space. She will pull images from from magazines to the ever fruitful Pinterest. She can capture the client’s inspiration, and develop her interpretation and overall vision for the space. After a round of refining her selections, the design concept takes on a much more concrete form and the hunt for perfect pieces begins.
Her overall design methodology is simple and she has three simple steps that help her achieve continued success:
- Listen to the Client. Listening provides the opportunity to understand their vision or inspiration fully, their style preferences and aesthetic tastes, their lifestyle and how they use the space
- Devil is in the Details. Once she understands a client’s likes, dislikes and personalities, it’s time to turn all that into her own inspiration and conceive a more concrete design vision for the space
- Managing Expectations – Whether it’s between Kara and the client, or the designers and vendors – keeping the doors of communication open is key to developing creative and unique solutions for clients, and ensuring that SFA delivers a luxury design that checks all of their boxes, that they love.
She describes her design style as classically chic with a bit of eclectic and vintage style in a very clean way. A European warm contemporary is one way of putting it and she likes to use neutrals with a pop of color and then throws in a bit of 70’s influence. She likes neutrals, ranging from blush to black, not too many bold colors. It’s all about great patterns, animal prints and metallics, but only in small doses.
She feels a good flow of energy in a space is crucial to high-quality design. She doesn’t focus too much on feng shui guidelines when determining spatial layouts. Instead, she will view the space through a lens of her client’s lifestyle and function of the room. She says, how you arrange furniture is essential in achieving an inviting, functioning space.
The one piece of furniture she says no one should be without is ART! Kara says, “Great art is the key to a finished space. Most of my clients already have incredible art collections that we work with, but I love the challenge of helping a client start or build their collection and discover their personal tastes. It’s especially interesting when a client’s taste in furnishings is the complete opposite of their taste in art – I love to pair traditional interiors with contemporary paintings or place a classical sculpture in a modern room. On a personal level, I am obsessed with discovering new artists and exquisite, affordable art for myself and my clients.”
Kara’s clientele primarily comes through referrals or word of mouth from past clients. “Sometimes, people have been in a home that we did, saw our portfolio online, or saw one of our projects featured in a magazine. And, we are lucky enough to get a lot of repeat business from our clients. Working on both residential and hospitality sides of the spectrum, we have additional exposure to our target clientele through luxury hospitality projects that we execute. That additional crossover between segments definitely helps build our brand awareness.”
SFA Design is active in their business development efforts as well as aggressive with their media outreach.
Kara is a person who absolutely loves her job. The perfect mix of creativity, constant change and business, provides her the opportunity to meet a variety of interesting people that continues to inspire her work. Her taste continues to evolve with each and every client.
Her favorite project was designing for Caroline and Lucian Grainge and feels it is her best work. She says about this project, “Gorgeous work, very different yet current. And as clients, they are what you hope for – very creative and love the finest things. They have a European sensibility with a very modern twist.”
So why should someone hire Kara Smith? Her passion for creating exclusive designs tailored to suit the needs of each client is what it is all about. Each project has her signature style that somehow feels like just what the client envisioned and more. Her ideal client aspires to an ideal design, and has great sense of culture and design with forward taste that cares about every last detail. Of course, having a budget to match makes all the difference. If they show up with a great art collection, then it is the perfect situation. When asked if she has to turn away clients, she says, “Yes, it all depends on the scale and timeline of the project, and what my staff can handle at the time. You need to be honest, and sometimes you know it’s just not going to go well and you need to be careful not to suck your energy.”
Kara has incredible style and my last question to her was inquiring about any plans to write a book. She says she has thought about it because she enjoys writing and loves to articulate her ideas on paper, but finding free time, given her hectic business schedule, is a definite problem. I get the impression, she’ll have a book out at some point in her career. She has the drive and expertise to make it happen.
Kara Smith is one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets and if you’re not on her calendar, you had better book early, she is in high demand. To learn more about Kara, go to http://sfadesign.com/.