By Joseph Lucier
Operating from a brilliant light filled atelier in the San Francisco design district, Nicole Hollis imbues her designs with the sleek sophistication of a knowing and seasoned practitioner. Whether gathering inspiration from the vineyards of the Napa valley or the tropical breezes of the Hawaiian islands, Nicole seamlessly blends the alchemy of site and design. I had the recent chance to catch up with Nicole in her brimming studio to discuss her tireless pursuit of inspired collaboration with her designers and clients and the inspiration she draws from her good fortune to live with her family in the former Pacific Heights home of Julia Morgan.
Joseph Lucier: When did you know that interior design would be your creative path?
Nicole Hollis: I was 12 years old and visited friends’ houses in Palm Beach. These beautiful interiors inspired me and I knew from that moment that I wanted to create unique spaces for people to live in.
JL: You came out of Howard Backen’s office to establish your own interior design firm. What did you learn while working with Howard?
NH: Howard can simplify the complex for any client with great charm. The flow of his residential spaces are inspiring and he is always thinking about the context of his architecture.
JL: In the Napa Valley, seasoned locals say you have elevated the time honored Backen look. What do you love about working in the wine country?
NH: We continue to be inspired by Howard’s architecture and interpret the interiors through another lens. Wine country mixes awe-inspiring terrain with pioneering attitudes. Napa Valley continues to integrate old with new in every aspect. This makes it one of the most interesting places to design.
JL: Your husband, Lewis Heathcote, is your business partner. What surprised you about him when you two developed a professional relationship?
NH: He and I have been working together for fifteen years so our working relationship has been evolutionary. My biggest surprise is how well we continue to bounce new ideas off each other.
JL: What type of culture have you developed in your office?
NH: We focus on a culture of “we” not “I”, so it’s collaborative and supportive working environment with clients, architects, contractors, artists, and craftspeople.
JL: Who is you perfect client?
NH: We’ve had a lot of really great clients that can give us a sense of what they think they’d like and then grant us the time and space to elevate that concept into something they couldn’t have imagined.
JL: Do you have a creative routine or process?
NH: I do and I don’t. My process is to keep breaking up the process so I can see everything from different angles and continue to be surprised.
JL: You recently collaborated with Brooks Walker on a Tiburon home. [click for feature] What was your experience like working together?
NH: The house is beautiful and stands as a testament to working with Brooks and his team. He truly understands how to listen to clients, collaborate with other parties and that the best idea always wins.
JL: You and your family are fortunate to live in Julia Morgan’s old home on Divisadero Street. Does her spirit inspire you?
NH: Yes I think about her a lot. I cannot begin to imagine the hurdles she had to overcome in the early 20th century as a woman in design. I think of her coming home and ruminating over her projects and how I sit in the same spot, inspired by her
JL: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
NH: The natural world is of great inspiration to me. I’m also constantly drawn to fashion design.
JL: Who are your design idols?
NH: Jil Sander, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, and Ilse Crawford
JL: Favorite weekend getaway?
NH: We were married in Big Sur and it continues to pull us in.
JL: When were you the happiest?
NH: My two children honestly have excellent senses of humor so there isn’t a week that goes by that we’re not belly laughing with them. That’s hard to top.
Many thanks to Nichole Hollis, Katherine Nelson, and Avery Carmassi for working with me on this feature!