How this designer created a “joyful maximalist” jewelry store

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Once you walk through the door, there’s plenty of advice floating around on style, project management, budget and everything in between, but how do you get the job in the first place? We ask designers to raise the curtain and tell us how they landed a project, step by step. Here, designer based in the Bay Area Noz Nozawa from Noz Design explains how a pandemic obsession led her to tackle the wildly exuberant design of Fiat Lux, a new jewelry store and piercing studio in San Francisco’s Fillmore district.

What is the backstory of this project?
I love jewelry. I always did, but it definitely became a pandemic coping mechanism – while I was stuck at home in 2020, especially in the first half of the year during shelter-in-place, I was spending a lot of time online to admire things. There was a jewelry store in the Mission District of San Francisco called Fiat Lux that I had heard a lot about. As soon as things started to reopen, I stepped in and connected with Married [McCarthy], the owner. She asked me what I do for a living, came across my Instagram account and realized, “This is the designer I want for my Fillmore Street store.”

She was opening a new location?
Incredible decision making by a very badass business owner: “We are going to open a new site during a pandemic!”

What are your typical projects and how often do you undertake these kinds of special projects?
Our typical project is residential. On the commercial and non-residential side of our set of projects, I’m very picky. I used to design offices, but I never liked it the way I like residential. Now we do things like that on a selective basis – we want to work where the client owns the business, because that makes it a meaningful project for us as a design team. Working on the next Starbucks doesn’t interest me. This is Marie’s second Fiat Lux, and in a brand new part of town that isn’t used to having piercing and tattoo parlors, so that was really exciting.

We’re also working on a really fabulous restaurant coming up – a new restaurant in North Beach San Francisco – and [it’s] the same over there, where we’re really lucky to partner with two female business owners. We pay special attention to honoring the story of how a company was founded and what it wants the customer experience to be. When all the stars align on what the customer expects from us, what they expect from their business, and the type of business, it’s truly amazing.

In Fiat Lux’s new Fillmore Street store in San Francisco, Nozawa translated the owner’s demand for “cheerful maximalism” into a colorful and lively interior.Aubrie Pick Photography

What did Marie want for space?
She wanted cheerful maximalism. The joy piece was this being a celebration, an expansion, a new market for them. Fillmore Street is a bustling part of San Francisco’s commercial district. Marie described the original Fiat Lux, which has been around the Mission for over 10 years, as this badass, punk rock, youthful store; she wanted the Fillmore Street store to be the posh rich aunt.

How did you land on this vision specifically?
I knew I wanted to design the store in a way that celebrates some of the jewelry designs. We wanted the animals to be part of it, and I immediately thought of this wallpaper from Voutsa. Based on that and the colorway, which was kind of a dusty rose mauve, I was like, that’s the anchor for the rest of the space. Color vision came by finding complements.

I did most of the design myself which is crazy because normally the team is really a part of it [process], but I squatted and attacked this design for an entire night, and the next morning I was like, “I think I’ve got it.” I explored 40 different options before coming across complementary colors for the rest of the walls, alongside the wallpaper and crown molding.

I also like the idea that wallpaper isn’t just wallpaper – there’s [had to be] something weird about it. What if we buy very expensive wallpaper and I screw it up? We have had [artist] Caroline LizarragaThe team comes in. They invented this concept, which consists of pouring golden resin on the wall. We also hired Caroline to paint a bandy-bandy snake on the floor. There’s just a lot of heritage in jewelry when it comes to the snake pattern. We painted a sapphire in her head as a nod to antique jewelry, like queen victoriawhen she married Prince Alberthis engagement ring for her was an emerald-headed serpent ring.

What store items are your favorites?
It’s so hard! The first thing is the black and white sofa in the back of the store, which is a small area where people are waiting for both their [piercing] procedure and appointments of private purchases. I basically bought this sofa during the pandemic. I’m obsessed – I needed this, it’s so beautiful – but my house is full of chairs, so I needed to find a home for this. I’m glad he went somewhere I visit all the time.

The other thing I’m pretty proud of—I came up with this crazy idea because we needed a [jewelry] Case. The store is actually quite large and the jewelry they sell is tiny, so we needed a way to make the case feel full. I designed this octagonal jewelry box, then painted it burgundy with walnut trim, then there’s a hundred feet underneath. That’s an exaggeration, but there are definitely at least 12 or 16 legs—that’s a lot of legs. Everything is my favorite, but it’s something I’m particularly proud of. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an octagonal jewelry box before.

How this designer created a jewelry store

Nozawa called on decorator Caroline Lizarraga to pour gold resin on the interior walls.Aubrie Pick Photography

What is your typical first interaction with a customer?
We’ve been very lucky that it’s always been incoming interest, pretty much. It’s largely people who find us online, [seeing] our work on Instagram or on Houzz. We send an email with a little questionnaire, and then if we think it might be suitable, we make a quick phone call just to share a bit about how we work, what our rates are, ask questions, [and see] if they have any questions. If after the phone call I feel like it’s mutually exciting, it might just be a good fit, so I go out and do an in-person consultation, on-site if possible. All three of our [current] projects in New York happened during the pandemic so this all had to happen over Zoom and video chat where the walkthrough is a video and I’m taking screenshots of the video footage in order to capture some details.

What do you usually wear when meeting a client for the first time?
Generally speaking, I’m laid back on clothes, then pretty maxed out on accessories. I often wear a ton of jewelry. My 22 ear piercings, they never come out. They are basically installations. Lots of earrings, lots of necklaces, and then whatever I felt like wearing that day, usually jeans and some sort of bulky top. And then shoes that kill, because I’m good at shoes. So I’m a queen of accessories and then the rest is like, who cares?

How do you present the design concept to clients?
We do everything digitally for the most part – a combination of SketchUp, Revit, Photoshop – and then present things on screen. During the pandemic, it was Zoom screen sharing. We partly use Miro, which is a whiteboard [site]. We skip the moodboard phase. I can’t stand mood boards; I don’t like, “Oh, here’s a PowerPoint slide that has a sample of a fabric.” We try to do everything in context, so we jump right into more scale drawings and illustrations. In the second round, we show up with samples so everyone can physically smell and touch as much as possible.

What do you bring to a site visit?
Always my phone, a notepad and a pencil. Plus, a laser tape measure, a regular tape measure, and a box cutter—crews never have a box cutter on them! That’s it. But the best way to take notes is to take pictures of everything and look at my pictures later.

How do you refuse a client who is not suitable for you?
Many potential clients who come to us have never worked with an interior designer before. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to really shape their experience with interior design as an industry, so I take that very seriously. Whenever it doesn’t fit, we try to tell them why and do it in a way that preserves everyone’s dignity. Often it’s just a matter of geography – I don’t like to drive. We try to give a lot of attention to each of our clients, which inevitably means that we can only undertake a limited number of projects at a time. Likewise, if it’s just a matter of scope, the way we try to explain it is, “Your budget is a perfectly reasonable budget, but it doesn’t match the type of work that we do best, which includes a more value mix of antique and vintage-focused options and partnering with independent manufacturers and designers to create something custom for you.” I want people to understand, and I don’t want them to feel blindsided and rejected.

Are you looking for potential customers on Google?
Sure. Who doesn’t? We google them just to figure out who they are and [for] data about their work, where they are and if they have family. If it is possible to find their face, we try to do so. The design, especially for residences, is incredibly intimate, so you treat the first phone conversation with a certain curiosity, like online dating.

Homepage Image: Interior of Fiat Lux Jewelry and Piercing Studio in San Francisco’s Fillmore District | Aubrie Pick Photography

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