I first saw Lynn K. Leonidas’ interior design work in the portfolio of Lauren Edith Andersen, a talented Oakland-based photographer with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. When I found out that Lynn was based in the East Bay, I had to meet her. We met one afternoon at Actual Café in Oakland, and despite being tremendously busy having just moved into her new studio AND being in the middle of preparations to present at Sunset Magazine’s Celebration Weekend, Lynn was calm, incredibly kind, and focused. I could instantly see how her natural demeanor and extreme intelligence, coupled with her innate talent for design, has made her one of the area’s most sought-after designers. We talked for a good 45 minutes before she humbly mentioned she was the winner of Domino Magazine’s #SoDomino Instagram Challenge, chosen out of over 2,000 submissions. Keep reading to learn more about this amazingly talented woman.
24 East: How did you get into design?
LKL: I grew up around building because my dad is a contractor. He built my childhood home and I grew up helping him out with household projects. He introduced me to using tools at a young age. My mother enjoys drawing, and she gave me my introduction to floor plans and architectural drafting. Interior design wasn’t a path pursued for me by my family, but one I couldn’t resist. My family was at first opposed to my career choice.
24E: Why is that?
LKL: My dad’s experience with working in building was one of high pressure and long hours without the promise of continual contracts. My family wanted me to choose another industry that wasn’t physically draining and offered more financial stability. They were honestly quite afraid of the future after art school. So I went to school first for a degree in Literature. I like stories. I wanted to tell them through houses so once again I couldn’t resist and found myself at art school. I responded well to the Interior Architecture & Design curriculum at Academy of Art, which was more focused on technical practice than other local art schools.
24E: When did you decide to open your own studio?
LKL: A year and a half ago, Domino Magazine held an Instagram competition and the winner was awarded a photo shoot of their home for print publication in their magazine. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I submitted our house and won! The team flew out for a photo shoot and it was published in the Spring 2015 issue. I was working at Bay Area interior design firms, and once the issue was close to release, I was given a moment to assess that the timing and positioning was perfect to strike out on my own.
24E: What is the biggest challenge in your work?
LKL: Everyday is different and presents new challenges since my business is fledgling. I don’t have one regret about starting a business, at least not yet. There is the business side and the creative side. As a project manager at the design firms I previously worked at, I worked behind creative and now the business side isn’t intimidating. As a project manager I know that our tasks can and will get done, and I manage our project objectives into every two weeks so that we don’t get stuck on the minutiae of the day-to-day and at the same time, stay flexible enough for construction schedules. Which can change weekly. Then there is the challenge to remain creative and be aware of when we are not focusing on the integrity of the art. Then there is the new challenge of learning how to oversee and inspire a team, at the same time relating to them. I am thankful I don’t do it alone. I get extra help from consultants and colleagues. San Francisco, especially the East Bay, is full of young creatives making it on their own. The hustle is strong. If I reach out for help, someone in close proximity with experience in a similar solution will reach right back.
24E: Is there a kind of project that you would like to do? And why?
LKL: My dream project is not too far off from what I do for my clients now. I am happy to keep working with the same type of clients who are design-savvy, favor built quality and local fabricators, and who entrust me to navigate their spaces through their daily, constantly-moving lives of work, children, and pets! I appreciate good client relationships, which make the projects a dream. Architecturally, I love working in traditional homes with small room scale and historical details. I like intimacy. My dream residential project includes a floor plan with extra kinds of rooms for things to congregate. Bring on the walk-in pantry, the mudroom, the sun room, and the library!
24E: You recently presented on design trends at Sunset Magazine’s Celebration Weekend in Sonoma. What was that experience like?
LKL: It was both incredible and insane to be part of such a large, well-functioning organized event. The energy was thrilling and I am in awe of the Sunset team for pulling it off so well. The attendees were made up of the magazine readership who were genuinely engaged with the festival and are devoted to the Sunset lifestyle. I presented with Sunset Editor-in-Chief, Irene Edwards, on kitchen and bath design and offered design consultations in partnership with Delta Faucet. It was an honor to be around an audience who was there to learn! Side note: Irene is one talented lady herself — tour her office and learn more about her career path in this exclusive interview.
24E: What advice would you give to someone with aspirations of starting their own design studio?
LKL: There is so much! I value history and persistence. I value friends a lot because I am just someone who needs support. Surround yourself with history, go deep. Try to get at least a glimpse of every aspect of the industry. Find out what the accountant does, what goes into the process of making a website or brand collateral, what a business consultant offers. Our industry is tactile so find out about materials, how the manufacturers fabricate your end product, what they need from you to get there, then what your subcontractors are specialists in. You will be surprised at their crafts! How editors perceive your industry so they can write about it, how your PR team works, what makes your boss tick. All that.
To see more of Lynn’s beautiful work, go here.
Photos by Lauren Edith Andersen
Photo of Lynn by Colin Price