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Behind the Design: Holly Hollenbeck of HSH Interiors

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For Holly Hollenbeck, the key to running a successful business is finding a balance between life at work and life at home. Mornings for this San Francisco-based interior designer begin with getting her children (ages 5, 8, and 11) out the door for school before tackling her inbox and the day’s design work. “If I can find time at the end of the day to read a book in a hot bath for a bit, I’m happy,” says Hollenbeck, who founded her own design firm, HSH Interiors in 2002. “Designing is one of the few times in life where I’m in the flow and I don’t sense time passing at all,” she says. “I can look up and discover hours have gone by without my noticing.”

Whether she’s taking on a high-end remodeling project or designing custom furnishings for a historic Mill Valley home, Hollenbeck’s design work is inspired by the colors and patterns of up and coming fashion designers and results in sophisticated interiors each with an individual style. As she puts it, “The most successful design is one that looks like the designer was never there because its such an embodiment of the client’s style, but maybe just a bit more chic!”

 

Why do you design?

I find interior design work to be engaging on many levels.  I love working with tactile physical materials, whether it be concrete, metal, wood, ceramic tile, leather, fur, wool or linen.  I also enjoy getting to know my clients personally and designing a home that will the be perfect fit for their lifestyle.  And, at the end of the day, you can actually see and touch your work product, which is becoming increasingly rare in many jobs these days.

What is the most memorable space you’ve ever been in? 

I find it difficult to choose just one.  But I guess I’d say the Pantheon in Rome. A Roman temple to the pagan gods completed around AD 125, the harmony, detail and architectural precision of the Pantheon is impressive.  The coffered dome with its oculus is breathtaking.  Standing under it was one of those moments where I was stunned by the beauty humanity can create.

I love working with tactile physical materials, whether it be concrete, metal, wood, ceramic tile, leather, fur, wool or linen

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Can you talk about your favorite project to date? What made it the best?

My favorite project to date is a custom new construction home in Mill Valley that I have been working on for several years.  It has been a privilege to be on the project since its inception and to design it alongside the architect and owners.  It has truly been a team project from the start.   The home is on a large ridge-top property with panoramic views.  The architecture is linear and contemporary with floor to ceiling glass, concrete floors and walls clad in vertical blackened sugi ban wood and horizontal clear cedar.  My clients are worldly, eclectic and work in the music industry so the interior is very rock-and-roll boho chic.  Almost all the lighting and furniture are either vintage pieces or custom.  The interiors create fun contrast with the architecture that captures the complexity and individuality of my clients and their lives.

What is your favorite city for design? What shops or museums do you visit?

I love Paris (who doesn’t?)! Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine is my favorite museum in Paris. The museum is dedicated to the history of French architecture and displays full-size historical architectural installations as well as fabulous scale models representing eras from the Renaissance to Le Corbusier and beyond. The Musée de Cluny (the National Museum of the Middle Ages) is housed in a stone walled medieval structure that resembles a castle. What a pleasure to see art and artifacts in a building of the same era. It’s like stepping back in time. The Musée Jacquemart-André is another favorite. The museum is in the mansion of Edouard André, a banking heir, and Nélie Jacquemart, a well-known painter, who collected art during the 19th century on their travels to Rome, Cairo, Istanbul, and the Far East. Seeing museum worthy art in what was a one time a private home is such a pleasure. And of course, shopping at Marche Aux Puces is a must.

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What are you favorite meeting spots in SF? 

I live in the Nopa neighborhood of San Francisco, which I adore.  I fell in love with the area during an architecture tour way back when I was in design school.  It’s now an up and coming part of San Francisco and has such fantastic energy, diversity and lovely old mansions with well-preserved architecture from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. One of my favorite neighborhood spots is The Mill on Divisadero.  They do literally mill their own flour and bake their own bread to create yummy thick toast with homemade toppings and they serve Four Barrel Coffee.  I’m a member of The Battery, which is a stylish spot to meet friends or clients and the member events are always a blast.

I live in the Nopa neighborhood of San Francisco, which I adore.  I fell in love with the area during an architecture tour way back when I was in design school.

Share your favorite Pinterest board.

Oh, it’s so hard to choose just one.  I think HSH Interiors’ Rooms We Love board which is a diverse collection of amazing rooms from all eras and all styles, all of which are inspiring in their own ways.

 

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Complete the sentence “When I design I feel…..”

Focused.  Designing is one of the few times in life where I’m in the flow and I don’t sense time passing at all.  I can look up and discover hours have gone by without my noticing.

What is your morning routine?

I have three children ages 11, 8 and 5.  So the first order of the day is working with my husband to get my children up, fed and dressed and out the door to school on time.  It’s a bit chaotic as I’m also trying to get myself ready for work at the same time and I’m not a sweats kind of girl.  I dress for work every day.  Once my children are off at school, I turn to email and my design work for the day.

Designing is one of the few times in life where I’m in the flow and I don’t sense time passing at all.  I can look up and discover hours have gone by without my noticing.
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What is one thing you do every day, for YOU?

Hum…is there such a thing when you are a full-time working mother of 3 young children?  If I can find time at the end of the day to read a book in a hot bath for a bit, I’m happy.

How would you describe your personal style? 

I love fashion and feel its a great influence on my interior design work. Color, pattern and edgy looks from up and coming designers inspire me.

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What tips do you have for staying organized at home?

With three children and six pets, home organization is paramount to me.  Everything has its place in our home.   I am not a fan of a chaotic environment (despite all the children and pets I chose to have!).  We are big fans of routine and everyone pitching in, so our children make their beds every morning and we have taught them to pick up after themselves.  I never go to bed without cleaning the kitchen and running the dishwasher.  I’m also lucky to have a helpful husband and a full-time nanny without whom I could not survive.

What’s always in your bag? 

My iPhone.  I’d be lost without it.

Who are your role models?

Kelly Wearstler is one of my role models as she has taken her design acumen far beyond interior design into fashion and jewelry design. There is a consistent look and feel and texture to everything she designs, its clearly all from the same artistic mind.  Kelly has both the talent and the business smarts!

I love fashion and feel its a great influence on my interior design work. Color, pattern and edgy looks from up and coming designers inspire me.

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Do you have any business mantras or inspiring quotes that keep you going?

“You can have it fast, cheap or good, pick two.” has been a useful work mantra.   A friend who used to work in advertising told me her firm used to say this to their clients.  It is as true for interior design as it is for advertising.  I find this saying helpful when I need to explain to clients how the design and remodeling process works and usually, particularly for the large scale remodels I generally work on, the experience is neither fast nor cheap!

How would you define running a successful business? 

If I could find some sort of balance of work and home life, and perhaps time to run and go to yoga, I would consider that success.  I have yet to quite find that balance as I tend to be bad at saying no to work.

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What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Never blend in.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned working in the interior design business?

In 14 years in the business, I have learned a lot of lessons.  One of them is that the most successful design is one that looks like the designer was never there because its such an embodiment of the client’s style, but maybe just a bit more chic!

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