Behind the Design: Cecily Mendell


How do you turn a career in banking into a career running a full blown interior design business? Just ask Cecily Mendell, of Cecy J Interiors, who took advice she received in the banking world and channeled it into a business mantra to help power her way through the world of interiors. “An old boss in banking gave me the most simple, and still the best, piece of advice- be scrappy.” Now, the San Francisco based designer says, she is reminded of this advice every time she’s faced with a challenge- which, let’s be honest, is pretty often in the design world. “You have to go out and find your success, or create it out of a seemingly impossible situation,” says Cecily.

Here, Cecily Mendell shares more on running a successful business, her favorite places for design discoveries, and how she stays zen.



Why do you design?

I always enjoyed design but in my head, I wanted it to be practical and approachable. I became a designer to figure out how to make spaces beautiful, but usable, at the same time.

What is the most memorable space you’ve ever been in? What did it look like, how did it smell, how did it feel?

I know it might sound trite but the Sistine Chapel. I was blown away by the intricacy of the design and the time and effort it took to create something so beautiful. Life is rushed now and craftsmanship is so secondary to production that I really appreciate something so special.

What questions do you ask a client before beginning a project?

I don’t really ask that many questions as much as I listen to what they are telling me and pull out the things that are most important about how they want to live. I find I learn so much more about what I want to do on a project by listening to my client’s design philosophy rather than asking them a lot of set questions.


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

My favorite project was a farmhouse we did in Woodside, CA. They are such an amazing family, and so appreciative, and we took such a relaxed approach to the entire project. It just felt good to know we were creating a home for them.

What are your favorite cities for design? What shops or museums do you visit in each?

LA. It is an easy city and I think people there are doing some incredibly creative things. I always go to Harbinger,  and Lawson Fenning when I am there. No matter where I am though, I am always going to design stores and checking out the local design elements. It is such a good way to learn about a place.

What was the first thing you ever bought for your own home? How did you feel when you bought it?

Art. It was so exciting to finally have a place that was my own that I could buy things I loved for.

Share your favorite Pinterest board (one of your own, preferably).

This is my Shut the Front Door Pinterest board which I love.

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

Totally inspired.

Cecyj-Interiors-Cecily-MendellWhat is your morning routine?

Drink a glass of lemon water, wake my kids up and get them off to school, check email and then start client meetings or working on projects.

How do you relieve stress and stay calm?

Yoga and wine.

What is one thing you do every day, for YOU?

I take a really long, hot shower.

How would you describe your personal style? How is your “off-duty” style different (or similar) to how you dress for work?

I think my style is pretty interchangeable – there isn’t a big difference in how I dress for work and the rest of my life. I like to mix emerging and established designers. I would say I am pretty casual but definitely throw in some unexpected looks every once in awhile.

What tips do you have for staying organized at home?

Before bed and every morning make sure everything is put away. I clean up after each “shift change” and put things back where they are supposed to be so that mess doesn’t pile up.


What’s always in your bag?

Legos, tape measure, lip gloss.

Who are your role models?

Wallace Neff, an architect from Southern California who is widely regarded as developing the region’s distinct “California” style.

Cecyj-Interiors-Cecily-MendellDo you have any business mantras or inspiring quotes that keep you going? 

Be scrappy.

How would you define “running a successful business”? 

Always feeling happy to come to work and having a team around who still want to work with you.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My old boss in banking gave me the most simple, and still the best, piece of advice. “Be scrappy”. This has stuck with me and served me well. Opportunities don’t just come your way. The most successful people aren’t always the most educated or intelligent ones. They are the ones who are willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work. You have to go out and find your success, or create it out of a seemingly impossible situation. Anytime I face a challenge, I think about that advice and I figure out a way to make it work.

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

It is a really small industry. Be kind and be humble.