Designers to Watch

An L.A.-based Designer Who Found Her Calling Thanks to George Clooney and Anna Kendrick

Portrait of Stefani Stein
Stefani Stein decided to pursue a career in interior design after seeing the 2009 movie Up In the Air, which made her realize she didn’t want to regret not following her dream. Top: The main bedroom in a Brentwood home includes a sitting area that Stein outfitted with such pieces as a Lawson-Fenning Moro table in a custom finish and a green armchair with a Konekt embroidered pillow. The artworks hanging behind the sofa are, from top, The Studio, 1964, by Daniel S. Vogel, from Valley House Gallery & Sculpture Garden; and Abstract Geometric in Blue and White, 1970s, by Karen James, from RoGallery. Photo by Dan Arnold

Do you remember the 2009 movie Up in the Air, in which George Clooney and Anna Kendrick play “career transition specialists,” basically meaning they fire people for a living? Designer Stefani Stein not only remembers it, she switched careers because of it. 

“There’s this scene where one of the guys they fired falls apart,” she recalls. “He says, ‘I always wanted to be a chef, my life’s passed me by, I never got to open my restaurant, and now you’re firing me.’ ” 

Determined to not let that happen to her, Stein quit her job as an account manager for a tech company and went back to school for interior design, an early love. “My parents really encouraged me to go into business,” she says. “But I never vibed with that corporate world. When I walked out of that movie, I told my then boyfriend, now husband, ‘That’s not going to be me.’ ”

Returning to her passion, Stein completed UCLA Extension’s architecture and interior design program and worked for several L.A.- based designers, including Kristen Buckingham and Caitlin Scanlon, before opening her eponymous firm about six years ago.

 “I felt I had maxed out on what I was going to glean from where I was,” she says. “I interviewed at a couple of other places but realized I could make at least the same amount of money if I did my own thing.” She took the plunge and started designing interiors, deploying a relaxed yet refined aesthetic that she personalizes to the particular client and tailors to the specific space. 

With a steady stream of clients — a substantial number of whom work in entertainment — Stein recently made yet another leap, launching her wallpaper and custom furniture brand August Abode. “I was feeling inundated with the project-management side of design, and I was looking for a creative outlet,” she explains. “That’s how it started, and somehow it became another job.”

We talked with Stein about her multiple pursuits and why working with clients is such a satisfying part of her business.

Stefani Stein modern farmhouse living room
In an airy, modern farmhouse-style home in L.A.’s Silverlake neighborhood, Stein placed a pair of Guillerme et Chambron Repos lounge chairs from Hollywood at Home in front of the bay window and topped a Martin and Brockett Arcade console with a vintage Ron Rezek table lamp. Photo by Tessa Neustadt

Since you design pieces for August Abode, do you look to certain furniture designers for inspiration?

I’m constantly inspired by the creativity, ingenuity and materials used by the likes of Gabriella Crespi, Guillerme et Chambron, Gio Ponti, Milo BaughmanCharlotte PerriandJean Royère, Otto Schultz, Pierre Chapo and Vico Magistretti.

Tell us about making your own furniture line.

I’ve always made custom furniture for my clients. I design pieces and have them fabricated in local L.A. workrooms that make private-label furniture. I’m in awe of the craftsmanship. They’re artisans, and some have skills that have been passed down for generations. It’s on another level, compared with pieces made in bulk at an overseas factory.

Brentwood living room
This Brentwood living room is furnished with a pair of Lawson-Fenning Huxley sofas and two vintage Up&Up travertine coffee tables. Photo by Dan Arnold

What else inspires you?

Two of my favorite sources of inspiration are nature and gardens. We have the Huntington Botanical Gardens and Ganna Walska Lotusland not far from Los Angeles, which are just incredible. When we travel, I have a list of all the gardens we need to see — my husband is a really good sport about it. He literally gets dragged to gardens all over the world.

Do you have any favorite artists?

I love Alex Prager’s photography and hope to have some of her works in my home someday.

Franklin Hills breakfast nook
Stein outfitted the breakfast nook of a home in L.A.’s Franklin Hills neighborhood with 1950s iron-and-rush garden chairs from Hollywood at Home and an August Abode dining table. Photo by Jenna Peffley 

What about architects?

Living and designing in Los Angeles, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the incredible works of Paul R. Williams, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra.

Did any interior designers influence you, especially when you were starting out?

I think some of my favorite interior designers from the past are masters of the mix, like Albert Hadley, Billy Baldwin and Michael Taylor

Century City living room
This living room in a Century City home features a vintage Raku pottery vase on the mirrored cube table. Photo by Jenna Peffley 

How do you interpret that mix?

I rely heavily on vintage and antique pieces to bring a level of character and patina to a room. If you look at vintage tables, each one has had a different life and is going to be slightly varied because of that. There’s an inherent story in the life the piece had before you found it. 

Do you have a design tip you’d like to share?

Mohair works on everything. It’s resilient, luxurious, cleanable and cozy. I love it on something rustic, but I also love it with something glamorous or traditional or modern. I’m currently recovering my vintage Magistretti Maralunga sofa in mohair because my dogs completely ruined the leather. Mohair is versatile, and it stands up to dogs and kids.

Venice Beach office
This office in Venice Beach features a vintage Turkish rug and an August Abode Porter desk topped with an Anglepoise lamp. Photo by Dan Arnold

What sets your firm apart?

I have an intake process where I ask clients a lot of questions. Some of them might seem weird and not relevant, like “If your home were to have a theme song, what would it be?” I’m trying to find out how people want to feel in a space, whether it’s energized, calm or dramatic. The materials and furnishings vary project to project based on the unique attributes of each client.

Speaking of clients, a very nice piece was just written about the home you designed for one of the stars of Orange Is the New Black and her wife.

I worked with Samira Wiley and Lauren Morelli on their home, and they were such a joy. I didn’t have to stay in a certain style or box — with them, there was no box. I feel so grateful for repeat clients like them, who are both wonderful people and great to work with. The design gets more interesting each time, because there’s a level of trust already there.

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