June 17, 2024
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Designer Heidi Caillier.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

Heidi Caillier wasn’t sure her first book would sell many copies. Though the North Tacoma, Wash.-based interior designer’s traditional-with-a-twist style was gaining fans online, she never imagined it would translate into success – or recognition.

Then, shortly after the release of Memories of Home (Rizzoli) last September, Caillier realized she might be wrong. She was in Brooklyn for a photoshoot for one of her projects when she passed a woman on a crosswalk who blurted that she loved her work.

“It was so lovely and validating,” Caillier says. “It’s hard to know if what you’re doing is good or being accepted. But I finally thought, ‘Wow, I’m on the right path here.’ ”

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Less than a decade into her design career, clients across North America are asking for a “Heidi House.” Her rooms are the kind you want to curl up in. With her love of wallpaper, unexpected modern-traditional pairings and palette of smokey pastels and earth tones, Caillier has created a signature style that’s somehow both fresh and timeless. In the foreword to Caillier’s book, designer Amber Lewis, founder of the popular online shop Amber Interiors, writes that every time she sees one of Caillier’s projects, she wonders: “Is this new? Or has it been there forever?”

The right path for Caillier involved taking detours and developing a strong sense of direction. “We always had a comfortable home, but I didn’t grow up in a world where interior design was a thing,” she says. Caillier remembers moving every two to three years: Her father was an army man who later became a Baptist minister. By the time she finished high school, Caillier had lived in eight different states. Her travel continued later in life: After studying international public health, Caillier worked in a small medical clinic in Gambia, studied yoga in India and worked as a scuba instructor in Australia. “I was approaching my life by trying to turn hobbies into a career,” she says. “But nothing stuck.”

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For her own bedroom, Caillier employed a mono-print approach.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

After settling in San Francisco, Caillier indulged another hobby, decorating, by starting a blog called “The Rustic Modernist” (“Oh, it’s no longer online,” she says with a laugh. “The writing would be very cringe.”) The blog led to short stints at two design firms and the showroom at the San Francisco Design Center. This helped her gain experience and perspective. She began to work as a designer in her own right in 2015, when she was pregnant with twins and living in the Seattle area. At first, Caillier gave clients what they wanted: white walls, trendy rugs and catalogue furniture. Eventually, inspired by the Pacific Northwest light and climate, she began developing her own formula of mixed floral prints, moodier colours, and graphic lines and shapes. “I had to take a step back and stretch my comfort level to learn my own taste and get others to trust me,” she says.

Now, Heidi Caillier Design has six employees, all fully remote, and 15 to 20 projects on the go at any given time, with coast-spanning locations from Southern California to Rhode Island. Caillier finds herself flying to job sites every other week and has a growing list of celebrity clients, though she declines to name names yet.

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A contemporary-lined sofa with traditional, leafy chintz upholstery.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

Though designers at her level often showcase glossy perfection on their social-media feeds, Caillier prefers to keep it real, sharing her challenges and frustrations. It’s tough to keep up with the constant need for content, she says. And people can be demanding and rude if she won’t share a paint colour or fabric name. Recently, she posted an Instagram story about a vendor who said the custom leather chairs she designed couldn’t be fabricated. After Caillier’s perseverance – and 10 hours spent troubleshooting – she got the chairs she envisioned.

“I think it’s important to remove the veil because most people perceive design as pillow fluffing or picking out a pretty sofa,” she says. “In reality, this is a very hard job that involves many technical details and constant anxiety.”

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For clients in Berkeley Hills, Calif., an heirloom porcelain chandelier and modern rush-backed chairs.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

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An example of Caillier’s unexpected colour pairings.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

At the peak of her success, Caillier has chosen to speak out about social issues, from gun control to abortion. “When Uvalde happened, that just put me over the edge,” she says of the 2022 Texas shooting where 19 students and two teachers were fatally shot. “It’s baffling and enraging that someone could choose having a gun versus keeping a kid safe.”

Though her posts result in some combative replies, Caillier feels it’s important to use her platform for something meaningful. “You have to reach a point where you don’t care if you lose followers or clients,” she says. “At this point, it feels like I can’t not say anything.”

Caillier has come too far along this path to turn back now. And she’s more motivated than ever to keep growing in her craft and creating spaces in which to make memories – for her young sons, for her clients and for anyone else who loves design. “There’s so much going on in the world, it feels so negative, so to have a place that holds and can nurture you, it’s really important.”

Design Advice: How to master the mix and fill your spaces with personality

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Grasscloth walls and an indigo batik print on a vintage Togo sofa.Haris Kenjar/Supplied

Embrace the quirk “I love a little bit of weirdness in an interior,” Caillier says. “I work with a stylist named Mieke ten Have, who says, ‘Every room needs an anchovy,’ and it’s true. How boring to walk into a room that’s just pretty or perfect! You have to bring in something that fusses it up, whether it’s a weird piece of art or a funky light fixture.”

Think about the envelope “Furnishings alone can’t make a room,” Caillier writes in her book. “Architectural elements like wood paneling, millwork and wallpaper are necessary, especially in large-scale, new houses, which can lack character.”

Walk away from trends Caillier believes it’s important to trust your instinct and ask yourself what you’ll want to live with not just now, but in the future. “I’m not super driven by trends, just picking things I love,” she says.

Snap up great vintage pieces “I always want a house to feel like it was decorated with a mix of family heirlooms and inherited furniture,” she writes, adding that vintage accents lend authenticity. But don’t wait too long when you spot something special, she advises: “Once they’re sold, they’re gone forever.”

Put furniture in the bathroom Caillier often will design a vanity to feel like a piece of furniture, with delicate legs, she writes. “A vanity that extends to the floor with a toe-kick isn’t always necessary, especially in a guest bath that doesn’t require much storage.”

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