Born and raised in Los Angeles, Natasha Baradaran is an interior designer and furniture maker who launched her own firm back in 2000. On this week’s DnA, we spoke with Baradaran in the context of a discussion about so-called “zombie urbanism,” namely, the urban impact of the growing trend for investors to park money in — but rarely occupy — residential real estate in global cities.
She spoke of a designing interiors for foreign clients for houses that are not their primary residence, and how that changed the dynamic with her clients. She also talked of how some overseas clients wind up enjoying their L.A. homes so much they become more permanent.
But DnA also wanted to know more about what drives her aesthetic as a designer — both her interiors and her new furniture line inspired by the facets of jewels that she launched in 2014.
Read below for the conversation.
DnA: In a very short space of time you have built a very successful firm, and you have some very high-powered clients that fit into this story of global finance starting to shape our cities.
Natasha Baradaran: Yes, we have several different clients from all different parts of the world. We’ve done many different projects for one client from the U.K. and another is a Chinese client who we did a condo project here in Century City; and then also a Russian client here in Beverly Hills.
DnA: And are these the kinds of clients for whom the project you’re designing for the first home? Or is it the second or third or fourth or fifth?
NB: It’s normally not their first home; it’s either their second, third, fourth or fifth depending on the client, and as such their expectations are different than our clients that are based out of Los Angeles.
DnA: And what are those expectations?
NB: Well, it kind of depends on the client. For our British client, initially when he came here, he bought a home in Montecito and it was two acres of beachfront for polo playing three weeks out of the year. So that’s very different than someone who is thinking about a home that is their primary residence as a family home. And our working relationship was different because of that.
DnA: Did it mean you didn’t see so much of him or get the chance to talk about the nitty gritty details of daily life?
NB: Absolutely. He gave me a general idea of how he would be entertaining, how he used the home and what materials from California meant something to him. He didn’t want it to look like his home in Knightsbridge, for example. And from that I ran with it. He wasn’t here all the time. We may have corresponded via email, but it was really about my vision of what I thought he wanted.
DnA: Did you feel comfortable with that role?
NB: Initially it was difficult because he was one of my first clients that I did this for.
But you know, after our second or third visit, I saw that he really liked the direction I was going in, that it was fine. And I really tried to stay true to what he asked me to do and therefore the final product was right on; he was very happy.
And in fact, even though this was built and designed for just three weeks out of the year, he ended up spending more time here, and from that he became a client and I did his offices in Santa Monica and I’m doing his offices in the U.K. now. So it turned into something very different.
DnA: You say that he was you or one of your first clients. Have you noticed a kind of a rise in just the sheer number of these kind of clients who are these sort of international investors in property.
NB: I think so. I think what’s different here as opposed to what’s happening in New York and in London is that a lot of people beyond wanting an investment property want a piece of the Californian lifestyle– that is different than finding something in Manhattan.
And as a result of that they want Californian materials or what they see on T.V. And so that’s different. It’s about the pool, it’s about entertaining it’s about you know the view of the Hollywood Hills. It’s more than what the basics are that make you comfortable every day.
Now having said that, I also had a Russian client for whom we designed the ultimate bachelor pad, and he was here sporadically. But after he decided to get married he moved to Monte Carlo and now he never comes here. He still owns this residence, but it’s not something that he really goes to frequently. It is a vacant home and every so often we are asked to refurbish certain items in the house, and it is kind of like a ghost town– but it’s there. It was a wonderful investment when he bought it, I’m sure that it’s gone up triple in value since that time and he’s able to say that he has a beautiful home all decorated and completed in Beverly Hills.
DnA: Can you give us a little taste of what the ultimate bachelor pad included?
NB: This ultimate bachelor pad was the ultimate bachelor pad for this person. He was very particular about wanting bold colors and entertaining areas in all different parts of the house, so it wasn’t just an exterior entertaining area. Then he had three different pools along the property and a bar in the swimming pool.
The usual bachelor stuff, just at a much more exaggerated level, which is more is more and more is better.
DnA: Now you said you had a Chinese client for whom you designed a condo in Century City.
NB: Yes, it’s in The Century building; that’s where you have a lot of foreigners buying second homes or third homes there, and for me it was very interesting how that client came to me. I do some work for the entertainment world, and I have a well known actress client who she found out about, and because she wanted to have a piece of that client or wanted to emulate the lifestyle of the client, she hired me. I’m sure she looked at my website, but that was a very important point for her.
DnA: You also have clients for whom you work on projects overseas, presumably in other alpha locations. Is it the same story but just different location?
NB: I started working in this business twenty years ago, and when I first started working on international projects, it was about how can we give an interesting flair or design aesthetic that is a little bit different than, let’s say, what’s available in Tokyo.
But as my business has been developing, and as I’ve grown with this city, I’ve noticed that it’s more about how can we infuse this California lifestyle, this comfortable living with the artistry here, in other parts of the world? And that’s a really major change in my opinion. I was recently asked to do a project in Lake Como. And one of the reasons that they asked me to do it was that they loved vintage Italian art and furniture. There are several designers who can do that for them in Milan. But why they came to me is that they wanted that California casual comfort combined with what is indigenous to that area, and I think that is on the rise when I see what is available in the international design market.
DnA: Generally speaking, what do you think your clients come to you for?
NB: I think people are coming to me because they want an edited look, and they want my perspective. They want a tastemaker to help them guide what it is that they personally love, but at the same time expose them to all these different elements of luxury that they themselves may not have access to. That maybe through art, it may be through vintage pieces, it may be through custom pieces, and giving them a way of seeing their home as something in which they’re collecting — as opposed to a hotel that has a comfortable sofa and a comfortable bed, and it has a functioning pop-up television unit. That’s not why people are coming to me.
I do many different styles and I never want to do the same thing over and over again, but this is a common aspect in all of the interiors that I really wanted to like the client and for the design to be about the things that are important to them.
DnA: Now your own space that we’re in your office it both feels very domestic and comfortable and features pale wall colors and accessories. In its own way it’s minimal, in that you’ve got fifty shades of white.
NB: Normally I don’t have fifty shades of white. This is a work space, and we are dealing with boards and fabrics, and I like art and I like color, and so I’ve chosen for this space for it to be very clean — about the light and about texture with pops of different things that are important to me. What I love about this space is that it’s my space.
DnA: Tell us about a project that you think sums up your work?
NB: I don’t have a project that I think really sums me up. I’m so lucky that I am doing so many different kinds of things. I did an Asian contemporary home in Montecito. I am doing a Bohemian residence for someone in the Palisades, and I just finished a project for a director in the Hollywood Hills which is all about Art Deco and futurism mixed with contemporary lines.
My furniture line is more about me as an individual, not me interpreting all these other people. So if somebody wants to see what I’m about, I think that that is a good indicator.
It’s inspired by the jewels and the facets of jewels, but you also see my love of fashion in it, and you see my interest in 1950s and 60s Italian furniture, and those are my passions.
DnA: Now in the twenty years you’ve been in business the business has changed for interior designers, and one of the ways it’s changed is Pinterest. How does a designer function in this new age?
NB: I think we have to embrace it. I think it’s unrealistic to think that if you put your head in the sand it’s going to go away. Technology is only going to become more relevant in our lives, and as a designer I’m trying to understand it and use it to my advantage. There will be clients who will think that they can be designers now that they have boards on Pinterest, and because they have access to the Internet. But the kind of client that we are attractive to realizes that those may just be starting points, and we can use that as a resource, but what we offer them is so much more than that.
And as as a result I myself I’m going on Pinterest and pinning boards for people to come and see what they can get and what I’m about. I’m very involved in Facebook and social media; three or four years ago, I didn’t even know what that was. So I think it’s very important to evolve with these changes.
DnA: Has the California look changed or does it always have the same characteristics?
NB: I think the California look is very individual. I think that it has evolved since the days of shabby chic, and there are many different designers who have their perspective just as there are many different artists throughout the city who are bringing something very different to our landscape. And I think that the connecting thread among all these things is just trying to be innovative; trying to have your own voice and not trying to be New York or London or Paris, but to really try and see, with this climate and the artistry here, what we’re trying to say as Angelenos.
Hear the full DnA segment on ‘zombie urbanism’ in L.A., below.