Interior designer April Sheldon has been sharing her talent and expertise with her clients since the 1990s. Before April embarks on a single sketch, she listens to her clients talk about how they live, and observes the things that make them both happy and comfortable. Her knowledge and love of architecture inform a respect for a home’s structural bones, which are taken into account when helping her clients express their personal styles.
“Interior design is not about walking through showrooms picking out pretty things,” says April. “To be successful, you must be able to balance all the details—small and large—with structural realities, personal taste, and actual budgets. And at the end of the day, it’s the communication between client, designer, architect, and contractor that can make a project soar.”
We had the opportunity to sit down with April to discuss her process, career influences and what she considers to be her ideal project.
We understand you studied photography, what made you decide to move into the field of interior design?
Yes, I got my first degree in fine art photography. I loved making art, but my work was very process oriented so I spent a lot of time in the darkroom. It was very isolating and I missed being around people. From the time I was a child I loved helping my mother decorate our home. When I was six years old I told my parents that I didn’t want any toys for Christmas, what I really wanted was pink shag carpeting for my bedroom. I gave up Barbie for carpet! I guess it was always in my blood. When I heard that UCLA had started an accredited program in Environmental and Interior Design, I took the leap.
What is your process like when you approach new clients / projects?
I start with spending time talking about all the hopes and desires my client’s have. I avoid discussions of their dislikes as I usually find most of them to be based on prejudices that can be overcome with the right solutions. Once I get a feeling for who the client is, I develop the concepts and schemes for the project, pull a selection of materials and ideas and we have a big launch presentation. I find that people can pretty quickly realize a direction once they can see and touch it. From then it’s a series of refinements and developments until we have the perfect custom fit.
Have there been any notable influences on your career?
Oh, so many. I studied art history and the history of architecture, so I have great respect for the collective past in those fields. I find a lot of inspiration in the art world. For instance, I saw a Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective a few months ago, and while I have never been drawn to her imagary, I discovered that she had an amazing sense of color. Her palettes are subtle and unexpected. I am working off some of her paintings for a current project. I love the work of Tony Duquette and his whimsical genius. And when I first saw images of Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre in Paris, it was an awakening for me. The mix of industrial with old world elegance is as current and powerful now as it was when it was built in the late 20’s.
What brought you to the Bay Area? How does living here affect your design process?
My husband and I had a home in Silver Lake in Los Angeles over looking the reservoir and I had been working downtown for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. In the late 90’s after a couple of bad earthquakes and the Rodney King and O.J. trials, the city just didn’t have a good vibe. We had both lived in San Francisco in separate pasts, and in truth we were just ready to change it up. My husband had purchased a building near South Park that had housed his graphic design firm so it seemed to be a good place to land. At first I found the design scene, or at least the clients, more conservative than what I had experienced in Los Angeles so that was an adjustment. But that has changed over the years. I guess at first I had to dial it back a bit, but now am very happy with the design opportunities. San Francisco has really blossomed in that way.
What would you consider to be your ideal project?
That’s always a hard one to answer because there are several versions of “ideal” for me. Really what it comes down to is the opportunity to work with clients that get it, or are at least open minded and willing to take a leap of faith. I would love to have a project where I didn’t have to work around the “no’s”. I feel my clients get a little short changed when they can’t take a risk. I am pretty adept at turning the “no’s” into a positive result, but there is always a bit of sadness over what I know could have been.
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
I am just putting the final touches on a project that I have been working on for four years, a modern vineyard estate on 26 acres in St. Helena. It’s a high end speculation project built for the luxury market and intended to sell as a turn-key…sign the papers, call the caterers and have a party that night. Every thing is ready to go. I have been involved in every aspect of the design from interior and exterior materials to furnishings, art selection, even fitting the house with the finest bedding and stocking the three kitchens with every tool you’ll ever need.
I’m also working on a ground up contemporary home in Big Sur that is a replacement for a home my clients lost in the Big Sur fire two years ago. It’s been really fun and gratifying to create a new home that embraces the memories they had of the old house, but making it so much better.
If you were to give your younger self advice in regards to a career in design, what would it be?
To be more free and let loose. I think when you’re young you feel the need to make everyone happy. Then you look back and say why didn’t I just go for it?