Designer Spotlight: Rachel Madden of Rachel Madden Interiors – Marin County, CA
How did you get where you are today?
I guess like anyone who is passionate about their work – lots of hard work, long hours, a few things that went wrong, and thankfully, a few more things that went right! I’m from California, and after graduating with a degree in interior design, I landed a great job in NYC at an architecture + interiors firm that focused on both high-end residential, retail and restaurants. I spent 4 years absorbing the ins and outs of the design business, and then the sky fell in 2008. My job was cut and my meals went from meat and 3 vegetables to rice and beans! I was determined to stay in NY, but there were no jobs, so I started my own interior design business. I didn’t know it at the time, however, that period really set in motion numerous events which led me to where I am today for which I am incredibly grateful. There’s a saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, and it couldn’t have been more true for me.
Unlike many designers, there was never any career change for me. Ever since I was 13, I have a memory burnt into my mind of a living room of…let’s call her “Aunt X” (name withheld for my protection!). I remember sitting in that dark, fifty shades of brown room and thinking something was missing. I realized the impact my surroundings had on me and their ability to enhance or diminish experiences and connections with people. So ever since then, it’s been a burning passion to use design to enhance my own and my clients’ surroundings.
“Interior design is never just about style and beauty – it’s also about making a home function so you can live your best life.”
Rachel Madden Interiors is known for mixing classic elements with contemporary lines and natural materials to create distinctive spaces that are understated, yet elegant. What are the colors, textures and materials you like to use to achieve this look and feel?
I like to use neutrals with hints of soft, muted colors. I layer in textures and pattern to create visual interest and incorporate natural materials to make things feel more grounded, which in turn balances out the light and airy softness of the color palate. In a great room that I designed recently, you can find hemp, teak, oak, stone, rattan, abaca, mohair, silk, linen and raffia. All of these natural materials make the space feel alive and give it amazing texture.
Who are your favorite local vendors, shops and people of the trade?
My favorites in Marin are Summer House
and Ruby Living
. In San Francisco, I like Palecek
, Cisco Home
, Holland And Sherry
, Fireclay Tile
, Ann Sacks
, Walker Zanger
, Serena and Lily
, Caitlin Wilson
, St. Frank
How do you design for today’s modern family?
Young families nowadays are less traditional and prefer casual and comfortable to refined and embellished. In part, this is a cultural shift, and also due to the change in how homes are now laid out. With the growing trend of open concept homes, the formal living and dining rooms have become obsolete in many cases. The great room has become the place where we live our everyday lives, as well as the place we entertain our guests and ourselves. These spaces need to be functional and livable, but elegant and beautiful as well.
Not every project is the same and there is no one size approach that fits all. It’s important to define success with the client from their perspective. I’ve seen too many designers get stuck in their own head and lose sight of what’s important to the client, with disastrous consequences. I think most clients know internally what they like and dislike, and using my experience of dealing with hundreds of vendors, I translate that into the design. At the heart of my approach is answering the question “How can I enrich your lives through design?”. To do this, I understand what types of lives they live and what’s important to them. Maybe it’s a busy extracurricular schedule that inspires a well thought out mud room to collect soccer shoes and backpacks. Perhaps a client’s goal is to have the kids spend more time on homework, so we design an inspiring homework area. Or maybe, mom wants more conversation, so we design the living room furniture layout so it inspires connection. Interior design is never just about style and beauty – it’s also about making a home function so you can live your best life.
What are some of your tricks for designing gender neutral rooms?
I like to keep the color palate neutral and use a few splashes of color both genders can agree on. These are usually earthy colors like blues, yellows, and greens. I like to juxtapose clean lined furniture for him with an elegant pillow fabric for her. When there is a fabric with a high sheen, for example, I make sure it’s a gender neutral color and that the pattern is not too ornate and curvy. Balance is key here. Overall, I avoid frilly details and embellishments, use clean lines in furniture and patterns, and choose structural looking plants over feminine flower arrangements.
How does designing make you feel?
It makes me feel lucky and incredibly grateful. When we are all young, we have dreams of what we want to do based off what we love, and then college and paying bills happens and lots of us find ourselves in careers that are not fulfilling. My feeling is your career should be an extension of who you are as a person and allow you to express yourself in whatever way that fulfills you. For me, it’s so satisfying, creatively, to design something in your mind and then make it a reality in the world. To see how design sparks joy in others and how it’s able to enhance a family’s life is the best part of it all. I love checking back in with my clients and seeing the pride they now have in their home and hearing about how it’s helped them connect, entertain and feel more organized.
“A beautiful, thoughtfully designed space is an underestimated force in our lives and plays a large part in how we think, feel and do.”
What’s your business mantra?
“What is done in love is done well.”. This is my personal mantra.
And the message I want to get across to my clients: Bring the ambience home. Great ambience shouldn’t just be reserved for restaurants and holidays. A beautiful, thoughtfully designed space is an underestimated force in our lives and plays a large part in how we think, feel and do.
Who did your website design…it’s so airy and beautiful!
Website Design by A Branding Co. (Alyssa Rosenheck)
Your portfolio is stunning…who are your go-to photographers and what tips do they give you to make the most out of your photoshoots?
Why thank you! So I use Helynn Ospina and David Livingston. Helynn advised that I bring in lots of flowers and plants so we would have lots of options to play with. This was a great suggestion. She was very meticulous and made sure every last detail was as it should be. David advised me to get many different accessories for the shoot. As many designers know, what looks good in person sometimes needs finessing for the camera. David does a great job helping style for the photo.
You also have quite the eye for social media…how much time do you allocate to social media, email/newsletter marketing and content marketing?
I spend about 30 minutes a day in total on social media. I like to think of it as a window into my firm and how we think. When I post a photo, I like to talk about the thought involved in creating that particular space. It gives people a look into our methodology and an understanding that there is a thoughtfulness and intention behind our designs and we are not just picking pretty things that go together.
Why did you join Ivy?
I joined Ivy because I needed a resource to maximize my time and be more efficient. As designers, we wear so many hats and juggle so many things. We get to design about 20% of the time, but the other 80% is spent running our business and managing projects. I was ready for an upgrade that would help streamline my processes and give me more time to do what I love, the designing!
What have you learned from the Ivy Designer Network?
I have learned so much. We have designers in this network that have 20+ years of experience and their knowledge is invaluable. People are asking questions daily and each thread gets about 20-100 responses. Thread topics have included discussing vendors, best billing practices, contracts, best business podcasts and books to read, installation issues, challenges with contractors, and more. The community and coaching going on in this group is reason enough to join Ivy.
How does Ivy help streamline your day-to-day workflow as an interior designer?
It allows me to create a digital presentation for my clients that can be approved, by item, and then paid right there. It allows for the whole process of client approval and payment to move much quicker and I love that.
“We get to design about 20% of the time, but the other 80% is spent running our business and managing projects.”
What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?
The proposal, line items, grouping of items, and pay feature. Invaluable!