Take Ten with Linda Sullivan

An interior designer with over 25 years of industry experience and a knack for forging intuitive relationships with her clients, it's no wonder that Linda Sullivan has established herself as a go-to designer for Silicon Valley's tech elite. At her namesake Menlo Park firm, Sullivan Design Studio, Linda believes in the value of hiring technically-trained designers and approaching each project with customized solutions. We've sat down with the Bay Area native and mother of two to gain insight into her upcoming projects and what constitutes good design. 

After building your technical skillset at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, IA (Interior Architects), Legacy Partners and Studio O+a, you decided to strike out on your own. How did your past experiences shape your own firm?
Linda Sullivan: I was fortunate to land a job at SOM right out of design school, and as the youngest in the Interiors Department, I feel it shaped me for life. My first project was the historic renovation of the Palace Hotel where I was exposed not only to great
design, but was involved with such creative teams that included: architects, engineers, graphic designers and interior designers. The following two design firms, (IA and Legacy Partners) taught me the technical and building code skills I still use today. Followed by the 7 years at Studio O+a which shaped the technical & management sides learning the art of fast AutoCAD drafting and putting together my own construction document sets, and running multi-million dollar projects for Williams Sonoma and Levi’s. One of the last projects I worked on at Studio O+a, was a co-project with Gensler. At the end of the project, Gensler offered me a generous position as a senior designer, but I knew that in my heart I wanted to start a new phase in my life, thus the beginning of my own studio.

When a client steps into a Sullivan Design Studio space, how do you want them to feel?
LS: My team and I strive to create spaces for our clients that feel warm, comfortable, but not pretentious. Good design always has the client in mind every step of the way as the experience is theirs, not ours. It is our job to bridge architecture + design, integrating a flawless execution between the trades and striving for an outcome that feels relaxed, comfortable and effortless. 

As an interior designer based in the Peninsula with big-name tech clients, how does technology impact your design? Any notable tech-savvy solutions you've used that you'd like to share?
LS: Besides doing the standard AutoCAD drawings, we offer Google sketch-up models for clients who would like to see their spaces in 3D or are having a difficult time understanding what the end design will look like. Probably the most useful has been sharing Google Documents with our clients so that new information can be shared with all parties, including the Architect, General Contractor and his subs. And of course, Drop Box is the norm with sharing drawings with architects and clients. Some of the designers in our office like using project management tools such as Asana or Evernote to keep their projects on target.

How does your design approach vary when working on commercial projects?
LS: All of our projects have crucial deadlines, but commercial projects are the most deadline-driven, as there are typically a lot of cost implications if projects are not completed on time. We pride ourselves in our documentation and meeting minutes, but in commercial design it’s important to stay ahead of all of the key players: architect, general contractor, construction manager, and client. We are problem solvers by trade, but when issues arise, we have to be even quicker than normal to come up with a solution that works for all. (And still stay within budget.)

Can you tell us a little bit about an upcoming project that you're proud of?
LS: A lot of our projects are pretty interesting, but the one that comes to mind is a 10,000 square-foot new construction home in Atherton. Our clients are from England and wanted to incorporate some English décor into their architectural design. For example, in their basement, we’ve incorporated a bar that resembles an English pub, including a tin metallic ceiling. One of the bathrooms is reminiscent of a subway station, including a waterjet emblem in the shape of the Liverpool football crest in the shower wall tile. We can’t wait to see this project completed!

What's the strangest request you've ever gotten from a client?
LS: Hmm, my clients won’t be reading this, right? The strangest request we recently received was for a project where the clients wanted a “secret room” accessible only through a “secret bookcase” from their formal library. Your guess is as good as ours…..

What's your favorite part of the design process?
LS: I think all phases of design has its highlights, but I would say the space planning and the conceptual process are probably the most fun. This is when we are first getting to know our clients and learning about their likes and dislikes. We’ve been known to have a loud and boisterous conference room, but we think the design process should be fun!  

Linda Sullivan is the Principal and Founder of Sullivan Design Studio, a full-service interior design firm based in Menlo Park, CA. For more information on Sullivan Design Studio, please visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram for a look into their design process and upcoming projects.