It takes a practiced eye to combine kilim pillows and Persian rugs with modern accents (hello, rose gold ceiling pendant), but this San Francisco interior designer has experience in spades. At 24-years-old Savannah Roberts has already worked in the interior design industry for the better half of a decade, beginning her first internship at just 16. Today she spends her days designing pop-up shops and startup offices (and residences in partnership with Homepolish), while her nights are spent with her fiancé dreaming up ideas for unique restaurants and boutique hotels; she would plan the interiors, he’d work on all aspects of branding.
Read on to learn more about this young lady’s transition to San Francisco and her advice on how to design on a dime—just don’t expect her to spill what she’s planning for the future. She lives by her father’s life advice: Don’t ever let anyone know what you’re going to do next.
Name: Savannah Grace Roberts
Current title/company: Interior Designer and Creator of the blog Grace-Made
Education: Bachelor of Science in Interior Design, Auburn University
You’ve worked in the interior design and architecture industry since you were 16! Tell us about some of your early internship experiences.
At the time that I landed my first interior design internship, I didn’t even have any interest in becoming a professional interior designer. I knew that I would become a designer, but I thought that I’d wind up focusing on graphics. During my very first internship, I worked everyday after school with a few interior designers and several architects at a medium-size commercial firm. After year one, I decided to become an interior designer. During year two, I absorbed everything I could possibly learn. I credit my focus and drive during college to this first internship experience. Because I had already learned so many technical skills before design school, I was able to really concentrate on creativity while other students were still learning drafting software and Photoshop. I feel lucky to have discovered my passion for interior design during high school. It was a serendipitous opportunity, but I think it was all meant to work out this way.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college (the one I still hold today!) was an interior designer position with the flagship office of a large Architectural Design firm. I focus on hospitality and retail interiors, and I have the opportunity to work with incredible local companies and major brands, too. As a bonus, I get to live in San Francisco—which I absolutely love! My job was the result of [another] internship that I completed—this time, during college. Between my third and fourth year of design school, I moved to San Francisco for a summer to work with my “dream firm.” I treated it like a study abroad experience, and I had no idea that I’d fall in love with the city and the firm. At the end of the summer, I was offered a full-time position and invited to return to California after I completed school the following year. I put the offer in my back pocket and continued on with life as usual. About six months later, as graduation approached and I started to really consider the future, I realized there was no better opportunity or place for me to begin my career. I packed my bags, and was working as a full-time designer in San Francisco within two weeks.
Can you describe your day-to-day responsibilities?
Totally! It’s all really client specific, and definitely depends on the phase of design I’m currently working in. Some clients love to see gorgeous hand-sketches, while others can’t understand a design unless it’s presented through computer-generated renderings. I like to do both, and I pretty much work on some form of visual perspective, at some point, every single week. I also spend a lot of time selecting furniture and finishes. This takes up another large chunk of my time, and I think of it as the “fun part.” I also spend time meeting with vendors. I like to chat with the makers of the furniture, flooring, lighting, etc. that I use in my projects and learn about the inspiration and process behind them. All of these things can really add to the concept for a design, so it’s great to understand the people responsible for them.
What has been your favorite project to date? Why?
This past year, I had the pleasure of working with Piperlime, a large online fashion retailer. It was a small and scrappy project, and a whole lot of fun. I worked with a small team within my firm to design a temporary pop-up in the public lobby of the company’s headquarters, in San Francisco. I enjoyed the project for its unique programmatic characteristics. The budget was super small, so I was forced to get creative. I worked with a few of my tried and true furniture vendors, and was able to secure all furniture on a by-loan basis. Piperlime used the furniture during the popup, free of charge, and returned it to the vendors afterwards. I also worked with a few vendors to donate accessories in exchange for social promotion. We executed a gorgeous design, and did it with very little money! The design was one of my proudest accomplishments, thus far.
What’s success? As long as I’m creating things that are meaningful, I’ll feel successful. I’ve learned not to take everything too seriously. Let’s be real, I’m not saving the world – but I’m hoping to make it a better place to live, in some way.
What is the best advice you have for aspiring interior designers? What have you learned through your eight years in the industry about what it takes to become successful?
What’s success? As long as I’m creating things that are meaningful, I’ll feel successful. I’ve learned not to take everything too seriously. Let’s be real, I’m not saving the world—but I’m hoping to make it a better place to live, in some way. Maybe I’m successful, maybe I’m not, but I’m taking it one day at a time and doing what I love. I would tell an aspiring interior designer to take the necessary steps and learn the fundamentals of the trade. For most, this means going to school. For others, a series of internships would be a good place to start. I get a lot of emails from people asking me, “How can I jump into interior design?” It definitely doesn’t happen overnight, but if you want to be an interior designer, I’d suggest one of these paths! Experience is everything. I still learn something new everyday, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
What are some of your career goals moving forward?
I love all sorts of creative disciplines. It’s impossible for me to focus on one. I like working with other types of creatives, and seeing what we can come up with when we put our heads together. The interior designer of the future will be super flexible and a very multidisciplinary individual. My fiancé and I collaborate a lot (he’s a graphic designer/art director), and we dream of working on more and bigger projects together. I’ve always loved boutique hotels. Whenever I visit a new city, I spend time checking out the best one-of-a-kind hotels in the area. Someday, I’d love to design a boutique hotel with my counterpart. I’d handle the interiors, and he’d handle all aspects of branding (from menus to signage to art) but ultimately, we’d create the entire design together! We’d also love to do the same thing for a unique restaurant. I think projects like this are definitely on the horizon!
Now, tell us about your home! Do you rent or own? How did you find your space? How long have you lived there?
I rent! I actually have three other housemates in my co-ed flat. They’re like my family here in California. My friend Ian gets all of the credit for finding our home. I’ve lived there for almost a year, and it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else in the city. However, I’m recently engaged and will soon begin apartment hunting with my future husband. My standards are high for our first place together!
Were there any challenges you faced when designing your bedroom?
Yes! The back wall of my bedroom curves for its entire length. Space planning was challenging, because I wasn’t willing to get rid of any furniture. It all had to fit!
What are your tips for designing on a budget? What items do you recommend saving on? Are there any items worth the splurge?
I’m into DIY and a lot of my furniture is vintage. My mom and I refurbished most of it ourselves. I got my mid-century dining chairs for $40 (yes, $10 apiece!) at an antique store. They were the ugliest things I had ever set eyes on, but you’ve got to look past the ugly and see what something might become. I recommend investing in lighting; lighting is so important to interior spaces! Go ahead and buy that statement chandelier that you’ve had your eye on—just be sure it’s not too trendy and that it will provide the right type of light. Do you love sconces, but don’t feel like hiring an electrician to hardwire? Many companies will custom add a cord and plug—just ask. I’d recommend saving on floor coverings and accessories—like pillows and blankets. They’ll cycle seasonally, so I wouldn’t drop a lot on them.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
She was hardworking, independent, and motivated. She moved to California without knowing a soul on the West Coast. I’d give her a big pat on the back. I’d also tell her to go ahead and get started on her passion projects. I started a blog a couple of years ago, but wish I had done it sooner. I put off the idea for a long time before I made any moves. I love what I do, but it’s those side projects that really keep my energized.
Savannah is The Everygirl…
Describe a perfect weekend in San Francisco.
My perfect weekend definitely involves sunshine and the outdoors. The breathtaking nature is definitely my favorite part about California; anytime the weather is nice, my fiancé and I grab our bikes and ride to the ocean. Some of our favorite shops are in the Sunset, so we like to grab coffee and pop into our favorite shops. After that, we always end up walking down the beach and marveling at the fact that we get to live in such a beautiful place. I feel extremely fortunate.
Drip. I keep it simple most of the time.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Patricia Urquiola. She’s my ultimate design idol. I’d order two cheeseburgers. I imagine her to be so sophisticated, so eating burgers would crack me up!
I wish I knew how to ___.
Give myself a gel manicure. Seriously! It’s my favorite indulgence, but it costs me a small fortune each month.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
”Don’t ever let anyone know what you’re going to do next.” That one is from my Dad. He always encouraged me to be adventurous, follow my dreams, and live spontaneously. I think this is good advice for anyone, but I’ve always loved the unique way that my Dad worded it!
Garment Rack, DIY
Sewing Table, Vintage, found on curb in SF, refurbished by Savannah
Nightstands, Vintage, antique store, refurbished by Savannah
Work Table, Vintage
White chair, Bend Goods
Pendant, Tom Dixon
Gray Shearling Throw, Moore & Giles
White Mongolian Fur chair, Vintage Steelcase, refinished & reupholstered by me
Blue & White Raw Silk Pillow, Totem SF
Bedding, Restoration Hardware Stonewashed Linen Duvet + Shams
Mid-century dining chairs, Vintage, antique store, refurbished by me
Kilim Pillows, Etsy
Drapery, Pottery Barn
Persian Rug, Vintage, Ebay