January 21, 2024In many ways, Heidi Caillier did not seem destined to become an interior designer.
She did not grow up in a home with inherited furniture and art — in fact, she lived in numerous houses in eight different states before finishing high school. Nor, as a kid, did she choose redecorating her bedroom over playing with her friends.
“But in my twenties, I was always the roommate who brought the wicker lamp home from Pier 1 Imports and the one who cared about how my surroundings looked,” the 1stDibs 50 member tells Introspective.
Before charting a course in interiors and settling down in the Pacific Northwest, she earned a masters in public health, lived and worked in Africa, taught scuba diving in Australia and studied yoga in India. In between all those, she waited tables and tended bar.
Then, around 2014, to scratch her love-of-design itch, she began writing a blog — remember those? — while working at a restaurant in San Francisco.
She quickly realized that simply writing about interiors didn’t quite relieve the itch, and that creating them actually might be the salve. So, she began doing just that.
After a few stints working with other designers, in 2016 she decided it was time to develop a clientele of her own. For a few years, she took every job that came her way and dutifully followed her clients’ direction.
It wasn’t until she took a step back to focus on her own point of view and decide exactly what distinguished her work that Caillier’s distinctive talent for mixing periods, styles, patterns, textures and colors surfaced.
“When I stopped doing what I thought people expected of me and started doing what I wanted to do, it all clicked,” she writes in the introduction to her recently published Rizzoli monograph, Memories of Home.
So much has clicked in the past few years that Caillier had a surplus of projects to choose from for the book. Those she chose, she feels, especially reflect her ability to accommodate clients’ desires and stay true to her style.
“I never present ideas to the client that I don’t love,” Caillier says. “I will often show two options: the one I really, really want to do and the one they actually might prefer. Even if I want to push something to a certain point, I’m aware that it may be going too far for the client and am prepared to rein it in. Clients have to actually live in their houses, and they have to love them.”
That push and pull is a common theme not only in Caillier’s relationships with her clients but also in the spaces she designs. She loves creating tension in a room: a shapely armchair paired with a boxy sofa or a Thonet seat partnered with an early-American armoire. She builds tension as well with her deft use of pattern, color and texture.
Clients living in Kentfield, a town north of San Francisco, in a home with a view of Mount Tamalpais, put her superpowers to the test. The couple wanted an English countryside vibe yet preferred to keep things neutral and use very little pattern. “Those things do not go together,” Caillier says good-humoredly. Layering patterns and florals are among the key elements of British decorating, so the designer had her work cut out for her.
“My solution was to use patterns relatively infrequently but in ways that would have great impact,” she says.
In the living room, she lay an antique Tuareg rug from Mehraban, placing atop it a pair of deep recessed-arm sofas upholstered in a relatively neutral floral. The soft palette blends with the walls and curtains but still imbues the room with a distinctly English flavor.
The same can be said of the adjacent dining room, for which Caillier selected a contemporary Apparatus chandelier, a Swedish cabinet and rush-back dining chairs that recall the rattan chairs of the living room.
For the powder room, she picked a pair of complementary Michael S. Smith botanical prints for the walls and sink skirt, creating a focal point amid the flowers with an Italian mid-century brass mirror from Bureau of Interior Affairs.
A similar challenge was posed by a contemporary house in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, where the owners diverged in their opinions for the interior’s design. She loves Danish modern; he is more of a traditionalist.
The designer nimbly stitched the two together using that tension she holds dear. She deployed classical design elements — coffered wall panels and a traditional mantel and trim — but kept the room current by painting them in a muddy clay (red would have made it strictly traditional).
In the living room, a contemporary painting by Andy Fletcher hangs between two scalloped-brass sconces from Nickey Kehoe, and in the dining room, the 1960s look of a round contemporary table by BDDW and vintage walnut Erik Buch armchairs is tempered by teal-painted trim on the 21st-century credenza nearby.
Caillier has a particular penchant for plaids. The pattern shows up in the most refreshing ways in each of her projects, giving rooms a dash of charm and the coziness the designer sees as her higher calling.
Upholstering mid-century dining chairs in navy plaid with scalloped skirts in a room papered in a feminine de Gournay wallcovering takes guts. So does mixing an oversize plaid-upholstered divan with a floral chintz on a clean-lined sofa. But in a late-18th-century home in Bedford, New York, it all seems right at home.
Caillier is fearless underfoot, too. In the Seward Park home, a soft brown-and-cream plaid rug stretches from wall-to-wall in a playroom fitted out with florals and figurative wallpaper — all of it in the muddy tones that the designer believes go together beautifully.
So how did this designer, with her peripatetic past and expansive interests, develop her unique sensibility? “My life has been a bit unconventional, it’s true, but all of my unusual, disconnected experiences have fed my imagination. That’s where inspiration comes from,” she writes in Memories of Home. “You don’t have to have memories of a storybook house to create one.”