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Meet the Minds Behind Restaurant Design – Nicole Hollis

May 30, 2014

San Francisco-based NICOLEHOLLIS Interior Design specializes in high-end residential, hospitality, and luxury interiors. Instilling a sense of glamour and imagination into its work, NICOLEHOLLIS is known for incorporating found objects, repurposed materials, and unique furniture and accessories in projects like Hall Winery, St. Helena Visitor Center in California; Calafia Café and Market a Go-Go in Palo Alto, California; and JCB Tasting Room in Healdsburg, California. Here, designer and founder Nicole Hollis discusses nature as inspiration, a move from fashion retail to hotel design, and choosing comfort over all.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?

Oddly, yes—for as long as I can remember I was arranging shapes and sculpting light. I had a difficult time in school being dyslexic and was always isolated to the back of the room creating art projects such costumes or sets for plays or decorating the classroom. I was always lost in my own world, which was extremely visual and full of imagery. At first I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer and had photos of all the fashion designers and models on my walls. I grew up in Jupiter, Florida but my parents had friends in Palm Beach who had a house that was decorated beautifully. That opened my eyes to interior design and architecture and I knew I had found my path.

What are some of your first memories of design?

My parents are from New Jersey and we would drive back to visit family often and they'd bring me to Manhattan where the vast skyline and bold interiors woke up my senses. I remember the first time they brought me to MOMA where I wondered why a lamp (Tiffany), a chair (Le Corbusier), and a toaster (Raymond Loewy) were sitting in a museum. That was an eye opener.

                                       Hall Winery St. Helena Visitor Center (Photo by Mark Adams)

Did where you grew up influence your career path?
When I was 6 my father moved our family from the reassuringly suburban Palm Beach Gardens to an isolated plot on the edge of the Everglades close to his jet engine plant. We were immersed into the natural world; a sensual explosion of textures, colors, and nature I'd never seen before. We had a lot of animals and there were a lot of birds and bugs, which were always a fascination and where I still draw inspiration. We schooled in town, we holidayed in Jersey, we partied on Palm Beach Island, and we grew up in the wilds of Florida. These starkly different environments taught me that inspiration can come from anywhere.

                                                 Hall Winery St. Helena Visitor Center (Photo by Mark Adams)

Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?

I moved to New York when I was out of high school and initially worked in fashion retail when I was accepted in to the interior design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. My big break was getting a job working for an architecture firm designing retail showrooms and stores. I was lucky to work with such talented designers and architects while attending school and it gave me some real world work experience which helped me figure out that the key to working in design was not just talent but hard work and the ability to listen and adapt. After five years I moved to San Francisco and worked for W Design Group | Starwood Hotels as a design coordinator. I had never worked in hotels before but they fact that I came from fashion was attractive to them as they were starting a new brand. I worked on the design of the public areas, bars, restaurants, and lobbies and also developed the W music and styled the floral and accessories and art program and worked on the retail and catalog program, which taught me to be flexible and wear many hats in design.

Why and how did you start your own firm?
I was about to turn 30 and had told my boyfriend (now husband) that I always thought I would have my own firm when I turned 30. He said why don't you? So I did! We incorporated that day and my firm was born!

                                                           Hall Winery St. Helena Visitor Center (Photo by Mark Adams)

Can you discuss some of your recent projects?

Other than a range of high-end residential projects, we are working on several hotels in Seattle, Carmel, and Miami; a market, tasting room, restaurant, and two wineries in Napa Valley. We just recently completed Hall Winery also in Napa Valley, which has a fantastic modern art collection and terrific views.

                                                             Hotel Triton (Photo by Anthony Quesada)

Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?
Hall Winery posed many challenges. Some were self-imposed, like creating a 43-foot-long log table that we were told could not be made—but we did it.

What are you looking forward to at your office?
Collaboration. You should be willing to listen to anyone and everyone, to be inspired by random thoughts and I thoroughly enjoy working with artists and architects who are willing to push boundaries in the pursuit of perfection. Although at some point, the greatest skill is to make a decision.

What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
Technology. I find our industry is a little behind in the technology, innovation, and programs used to manage and design projects.

What is the most important thing to remember when designing a restaurant—both in terms of branding and interiors?
Comfort and delight. People want to be comfortable as if they were gathering around a dimly lit dining table in their friend’s beautifully designed home. I prefer imperfection and texture and patina over slick and rigid anytime.

                                                              Hotel Triton (Photo by Anthony Quesada)

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?
Ilse Crawford. She is always in pursuit of how environments "feel" and how they can enrich our lives for the better.

What would be your dream project and why?

Aman Resorts. Need I say more?

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
There's not a dinner table big enough, nor a menu long enough for me to answer that. So long as my grandmother was sitting between Diana Vreeland and Tom Ford.

Where would you eat and what would you be having?
We would dine at a small private adhoc dining room in a wine cellar in the côté sud
by candlelight eating fresh oysters and fish just caught from the sea on an open flame grill.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
If I weren't a designer I would be the lead singer in a girl punk-rock band.

hdtalks: the interviews

During HD Expo 2014, Hospitality Design’s Michael Adams sat down with HBA’s Michael Bedner to talk about his half-century in the hospitality design industry. View the video.



Produced by: Emerald Expositions
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