Creating Eclectic Spaces with Martha Mulholland
Martha Mulholland is best known for the rich and sophisticated spaces she designs. Every space Martha designs is done with intention. We love her eye for vintage, how she plays with scale, and that her work always feels fresh, yet classic. Martha shared about going from a career in fashion to interiors, what her personal design style is in her home, and why she tries to stay away from trends.
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You own and operate your own interior design firm. Tell us about how you got started.
I started my career as a visual merchandiser for luxury fashion labels, but my passion since childhood has been interiors (and antiques in particular). I moved to Los Angeles with Tom Ford and while I loved designing retail displays and prop styling, the fashion industry wasn’t where I wanted to spend my career. I got a job working for an interior designer who was looking for someone with my background to help her conceive a flagship for a high-end women’s wear label. From that project came the incredible opportunity to design The Apartment by The Line. Once that space opened referrals started coming in and suddenly I had my own firm - it was terrifying and I felt totally unprepared! I had to basically teach myself the un-glamorous, nuts and bolts side of the business the hard way - through trial and error and by taking risks and hoping things would work out in the end (they didn’t always). Six years in and there are still days that I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I think most small business owners feel like that from time to time. There is no road map to running an interior design firm because each project is different and presents unique conditions and challenges!
You do everything from residential and commercial interior design to photo styling. Do you have a favorite?
Residential interiors are definitely my happy place but I love the distinct challenges of designing commercial spaces where things like ADA accessibility, material durability, and multifunctionality are important factors. Photo styling is definitely the thing that comes most naturally since I’ve been “vignetting” from the first day I began working, but I try to incorporate styling into all of my design projects.
How would you define your personal design style in your own home?
Eclectic. I have been collecting (and inheriting) objects that fascinate me since I was a teenager, whether they be 18th century Spanish, 19th century American, 20th century Italian or made yesterday. That is not unusual for designers but the sheer multitude and variety of styles in my collection means I have to be very careful about how I display everything so it doesn’t look like a messy mish-mash. To that end, building rooms based on similar materials and colors is important. I try to keep wood finishes consistent, or stick with a neutral palette and use bold color sparingly with statement art and pillows if there are a lot of pieces in play. When there is too much to look at in a space you end up not seeing anything.
You were born in Kentucky! How did you end up in Los Angeles?
I went to art school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and like many of my peers, made the migration west when I realized I wanted a career in the arts. I adore Chicago but Los Angeles is uniquely set up to foster independent creative pursuits, and there are more opportunities here. That said, I love Chicago and miss the feeling of being in a true urban environment with bustling activity and grand old buildings, so I try to get back there (and home to the South) whenever I can!
What is one thing you love about being a creative?
I love the freedom to pull from so many genres, disciplines and periods that being in a creative industry provides, and the fact that every idea I have or activity I do begins with the pursuit of beauty.
What are the three details of a room you think are the most important?
Balance, scale, statement. I think the most beautiful rooms play with scale in interesting ways yet maintain balance through materials, proportion, and palette, and that every room should be emotionally resonant and evocative in some way.
What trends are you loving right now?
In general, I try to stay away from trends, but I love how eras of history find their way into contemporary tastes with each new design trend that develops. For instance, I’m seeing skirted furniture come back in an un-fussy way, which is cool and interesting.
Aside from design, what are a few ways you love to spend your free time?
Antiquing, exploring, exercising, eating delicious food and drinking unusual wine at all the fabulous new restaurants that are opening up around Los Angeles.
What’s next for you?
Lot’s of construction! Almost all my projects going into 2020 are either ground upbuilds or gut renovations, which is a very different version of design than sourcing fabrics and furniture and styling rooms. Visualizing spaces that don’t exist yet requires a kind of creativity that is less obvious and immediate. While decorating is my first love I think the spaces I’ve designed that are the most beautiful, immersive and rewarding for my clients are the ones that we can influence from the very beginning. You know what they say - “studs to rugs” - well bring it on!
All photos provided by Martha Mulholand