January 28, 2024As a kid growing up in California, Sarah Solis’s favorite thing to do was to skip school and go to job sites with her contractor father. “I was the only girl in the wood shop trying to make a chair from scraps,” she remembers. “I was always into building and problem solving.”
After high school, Solis earned degrees in interior design and fine arts, the latter at the Bay Area’s Dominican University. But when a friend who shot fashion campaigns asked her in 2001 to style a shoot with her own eclectic vintage clothing, she discovered a creative endeavor for which she was intuitively gifted.
Solis spent the next decade happily ensconced in the world of glamour, working as a stylist. It was only when she began decorating her first home with her husband, in 2010, that she was reminded of her original calling. “ ‘Oh yeah,’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m a designer — I can do this,’ ” she relays with a laugh.
Since launching her eponymous Malibu-based firm, in 2016, Solis has received residential commissions from Hollywood royalty like actor Jamie Foxx and director Jon Chu, conceived an equestrian estate in Southern California’s Conejo Valley, designed a ski house in Park City, Utah, and imagined other unpretentiously elegant rustic-modern residences up and down the California coast.
One recent project — the decoration of a client’s lofty, glass-walled but characterless home in Los Angeles —provides a particularly strong demonstration of her artistic eye and flair for crafting serene, understatedly stylish spaces.
What the two-story, 4,500-square-foot, four-bedroom contemporary house lacked in personality, it made up for in potential. It had vaulted ceilings, an open floor plan, floor-to-ceiling windows (some overlooking the iconic Hollywood sign) and plenty of wall space for hanging her client’s vibrant collection of artworks by emerging artists. “It was really just a box when we got the project,” Solis recalls. “There was so much opportunity to breathe life into its walls.”
Solis took cues and inspiration for her scheme from her client’s Korean heritage and whimsical artworks, as well as from chic Parisian flats that feel collected and personal. “The homeowner wanted luxurious but not flashy,” she explains, “colorful but calming, with artful elements of color play.”
She began by plastering all the walls in a studio-white shade to create a clean, slightly textured backdrop, then reimagined the central staircase by introducing floating steps and a sculptural oak handrail. She deployed millwork in Claro walnut — a rich-toned wood that exudes rustic modernity — in several spaces, not least the kitchen and the primary bedroom.
“We were definitely channeling both Isamu Noguchi and George Nakashima,” Solis says, referring to the mid-century furniture masters whose sculptural pieces celebrate the natural beauty of wood. “I had to figure out ways to give this new-build roots.”
In the foyer, she created an inviting grouping, selecting a 1970s French oak armchair from Obsolete, an arcing cherrywood floor lamp from about 1950, a custom steel pedestal table and a vintage Moroccan rug discovered on 1stDibs. A colorful painting by the Colombian-born, Brooklyn-based artist María Berrío hangs above a bench with a seat cushion made from a Korean patchwork quilt. “I wanted the entry to feel sophisticated,” Solis says, “but also to be functional.”
Opening from the foyer, the great room features punchy red Ligne Roset armchairs and a custom-made sofa in softly glowing gold velvet, which face off across a cloud-shaped side table by BZIPPY. Nearby, mid-century-modern leather-clad dining chairs surround a clean-lined wood table of Solis’s design. A spherical Apparatus pendant illuminates it all from above.
The formal living room boasts a massive tufted navy sectional by Ligne Roset that begs you to put your feet up, along with Space Copenhagen lounge chairs upholstered in mustard mohair velvet and a colorful semi-figurative painting by the Los Angeles artist Heijin Yoo. Solis often mixes a strong hue like that deep navy with muted shades, to great effect. “I like a singular bold moment instead of having colors compete with each other,” she says. “I find a softer tone enriches the bold.”
The kitchen features a dynamically graphic backsplash and counters crafted from veined Arabescato marble. Leather and walnut counter stools by Martell Woodworks join 1940s French wood stools from Orange Furniture at the walnut-clad island. Overhead, the pair of spare black-metal pendants are prototypes for the designer’s first collection of furniture, which she has named Galerie Solis and will debut later this year.
Perhaps no room underwent more of a transformation than the primary bedroom, which Solis turned into an ethereal sanctuary. In addition to adding a built-in Claro-walnut vanity and bureau, she upholstered the walls in panels of Pierre Frey linen, padded to create texture and volume and divided by wood slats for a tailored look. The handcrafted headboard is covered in the same Pierre Frey fabric.
Vintage globe lamps sit atop integrated Claro-walnut bedside tables. “It was supposed to feel like a safe haven, a truly restorative break from the city,” Solis says. “What’s so cool is that when you open up the drapes, there are incredible views of Los Angeles. When you close them, you feel like you are in a cocoon.”