Designer Q&A: Steven Miller

Designer Q&A: Steven Miller

May 23, 2007

We recently had the pleasure of meeting designer Steven Miller at the San Francisco Decorator Showcase. We loved the dining room he created so much, we decided to take a look at some of his other work.

As small-space dwellers, we especially appreciated his creative use of Lucite in various homes. Flipping through his portfolio, the soothing color palettes instantly made us feel more relaxed (and envious of his clients!).

Despite a hectic schedule that includes running his San Francisco design studio and preparing to open a new one in New York, Miller made time for AT:SF, participating in our first-ever Designer Q&A:

Q: How did you get started in interior design?
A: As a youngster, when my mother tired of me lounging around watching reruns of "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Sanford and Son," she'd tell me to go ride my bike. "Get outside," she'd say but I was destined for interiors… I would ride until I spotted someone moving into my suburban Chicago neighborhood and present myself as the perfect one to help them arrange their furniture and style their bookshelves. Eventually they'd ask if I had a family and send me home for dinner. My early work was all done pro bono.

Q: How would you describe your design philosophy?
A: My work is eclectic, inventive, livable and site-appropriate. I shun "period" rooms (except in museums and Merchant Ivory films) and thematic or staged environments.

Q: What inspires your work?
A: Everything… jewelry, handbags, machinery, books, fashion, technology. But more than anything: travel.

Q: How does living in SF influence your design?
A: I am influenced by the natural beauty, the history and character of its inhabitants. I also feel that the so-called "the San Francisco Agenda," and the colorful, even eccentric, character of people who call this city home present an opportunity (not always capitalized upon by the design community) to "switch it up" and do something new. I am inspired by this opportunity.

Q: Are there other designers whose work influences you?
A: No… Just kidding… Of course. Pierre Chareau is a big one… Carlo Molino, Gary Hutton, Rei Kawakubo, Lowey, Dexler… I think it is hard not to be influenced by just about everyone if you are a person that looks.

Q: At last year's Decorator Showcase, you created a desk with Lucite legs and a nailhead-studded cream leather top. And this year, your Showcase room featured a Lucite pedestal. Although it's a great material when trying to avoid visual clutter, what are some tips and pitfalls when it comes to decorating with Lucite?
A: I am very interested in the reflection and refraction of light, and Lucite does this in a very beautiful way without adding the green color that glass imparts. I don't particularly like Lucite and glass together, hence the leather top I used for the showcase. Like anything, it is best used judiciously… for a little glint of light or for its transparent qualities but can definitely be overdone. One should avoid using it in impractical situations. It scratches and is a bitch to keep clean (no Windex) so it should be avoided in places that it will get touched a lot.

Q: Since you appeared on HGTV's "Double Take" — the program that shows viewers how to recreate a designer room for less money — are there ways people can incorporate your signature style on a smaller budget, in a smaller space?
A: Have fun with it, use materials in interesting ways, paint furniture with glossy paint and show off collections of things. Don't be afraid to pair high- and low-cost objects.

Q: In cramped quarters, what are some key design tips that people should keep in mind — and what are some myths about decorating that are out there? (For example, in a small room, should you paint the moulding to match the walls so they sort of disappear, and will this make the space seem bigger?)
A: Small spaces don't get bigger with a coat of paint — they get bigger when you knock out walls. If you can't do that then embrace the space… let it be the chicest small room ever. One way to make it feel less cramped is to create reflection, but ill-used mirrors can have the funhouse effect. I've used back-painted glass to essentially extend the boundaries of small rooms.

Q: Any rules for bringing color in a space? You mentioned in a recent House & Garden article that people should avoid creating "an angry fruit salad"?
A: Too much color can be overwhelming. In a room it's important to create visual space and places to rest the eye.

Q: What are some of your favorite pieces of furniture that you designed?
A: The Lucite/ Paneled Screen, the "Stay" Table and of course the Corian Bombe Cabinet.

Q: What was the impetus for opening a NY location as well?
A: I've done projects in New York for years and would like to do more. I also lived there for a brief time and thrive on the energy and creativity of the city. Working in both SF and NY is an ideal for me — it's a challenge and a joy.

Q: Finally, what are some of your favorite, budget-friendly resources in SF?
A: The paint store for starters… painting is very effective on a budget. I think we have some great resale shops, like Past Perfect, Swallowtail.

Thanks so much to Steven Miller! And don't forget: His Showcase dining room can be seen until Monday, when the event ends.

Images: Steven Miller Design Studio

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