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Christine Lin Embraces the Individual and the Unconventional

Christine Lin Embraces the Individual and the Unconventional

10/24/2021

Christine Lin understands and celebrates the person at the core of every project she and her interior design firm, Form + Field, start. The multi-disciplinary creative and former tech startup product manager states that she isn't interested in creating a look, "I'm interested in the human for whom I'm designing and the experience they will have in that space." That focus on the individual is one tenet of the four that form Christine's design philosophy: individualism, integration, balance, and longevity. Integration speaks to taking a holistic approach and including all physical and cultural context. Balance refers to complementing materiality, color palettes, and other factors to create an inviting space. Lastly, longevity relates to using sustainable materials and designing spaces that clients will love for years to come. We were excited to sit with Christine recently as she elaborated further on those four tenets. We also discussed her transition from tech to interior design, how fully aligning with a client brings about the best and most satisfying projects, and how her home of San Francisco impacts her work. Read below for more.

Christine's Designer Picks


Tell us about the creation of your design studio, Form + Field. Was there a specific moment when you decided to turn your passion for interior design into a career change?

While I've always loved design and studied architecture in college, it never occurred to me that interior design could be a career until I started working on my husband's (then boyfriend's) surf house in Santa Cruz. It was built in the 1970s and needed a full remodel and furnishings. I volunteered to design and manage the entire project because I thought it'd be a fun side project and, honestly, nothing more. At the time, I was a product manager at a tech startup, and the project not only started taking up all of my free time but also started to intrude into my workday because that's how much I loved working on interior design! It didn't feel like a jobI was passionate about every aspect of the process, even the project management. That's the point when I told myself to figure out a way to make this a full-time career. For several months, I worked for friends and friends of friends while holding down my full-time job to make sure I could work for clients and not just myself. Then, in August 2016, I quit tech and never looked back!

What's one interior design trend that you feel is underrated?

I tend to want to do the opposite of what is trending, but a finish that I think is underrated is chrome. It's associated with "builder-grade," but I think chrome can be quite beautiful juxtaposed with warm brown finishes. It all depends on how it's executed!

What other artists, creatives, or mentors inspire you?

I've lately been inspired by the life and work of Carlo Mollino, an Italian polymath and genius from the 20th century. He was an architect, designer, and photographer, among other things, and his Suora Floor Lamp is one of my favorite pieces ever. 

 

You mention your previous successful career in the tech industry—do you feel that qualities you honed during that time still influence your work today?

Absolutely, a hundred percent. As a product manager, my role was to translate customer needs into the product design, which meant I had to really listen to and understand the customer to build a successful product. My goal for any project that I take on is to truly understand the client's needs and personality to translate that into an empathetic and individualized design. I'm not interested in creating a "look," I'm interested in the human for whom I'm designing and the experience they will have in that space.

Also, the interior design industry has evolved and adapted slowly to technology. Still, from the beginning, I thought about making the interior design process as efficient as possible through software and simple communication tools. Only twenty percent of our job is actual design work, so I'd like to think that I have made the other eighty percent as painless as possible, and that will continue to evolve as times change. 

Finally, tech greatly influenced me when it came to creating my company culture. Design firms are notorious for low wages and benefits, long hours, and drama. I wanted to create a culture where employees feel well-compensated, have great benefits and work/life balance, and can openly communicate with me and each other. I'm proud to say that I've always offered healthcare and a 401(k), starting with my very first employee 4 years ago, and I recently implemented a bonus plan so that all employees can share in the firm's success!

You mention your previous successful career in the tech industry—do you feel that qualities you honed during that time still influence your work today?

We love how your studio speaks to its Design Philosophy. Could you break down the four central aspects of it? 

First and foremost, our design philosophy centers around individualism and the human individual, or the brand in the case of a commercial project. We want to understand who the client is on the most fundamental level, including any quirks or unconventional traits, because this is where we first draw inspiration for the design. We love it when clients have a particular passion that can translate well into interiors. 

The second principle, integration, is about working holistically and considering all relevant context for a project. Interior design is often associated with visuals, but an experience is more than sight—you have to consider how things sound, smell, taste, and feel. When we design, we also like to stay attuned to the surrounding environment, the neighborhood, and the architecture. The most successful experiences take all of these factors into account.

Balance is the third principle and relates to designing a room to feel welcoming and comfortable, a place that you want to spend time in. We achieve a balanced design by juxtaposing shapes, heights, materials, color, and other factors.

Finally, we have longevity which means we aim to create timeless environments and select materials that will last a long time. Our industry creates a lot of waste, and this aspect is one of the ways to be more sustainable. We want our clients to have furniture that they never tire of and hold onto as much of it as possible as they move from home to home. We want people to love their kitchens or bathrooms for the life of living in the space and not want an update every 5-10 years. 

We keep all of these principles top of mind for every project. 

You have previously described your design aesthetic as "eclectic modernism." How is that style reflected and showcased in your designs?

The running thread through all of our work is clean lines, function and comfort, and warmth. Pure modernism often conjures up images of cold, sterile spaces, which is often the case with harsh geometry and zero decoration. We have a light hand with decoration, heavily leaning on original artwork, books, and collectibles, and mix in furnishings that aren't purely modernist to provide that warmth and human element.

Your firm employs many talented creatives; what is one piece of advice for someone just getting started in this space to know about cultivating an amazing team?

It's difficult to give only one piece of advice! It's so important to understand who you work best with, what gaps you want to fill, and how you want the company culture to be. I've had to learn the hard way, making many mistakes, but if I'm only able to give one piece of advice, it's this: hire slow, fire fast. 

From connecting with the client to bringing the design to life, what are your favorite moments throughout the design process? 

I love the beginning when I get to know a client, visit the project site, and create the concept. There's so much white space to work with at this point, and I love the process of collaborating on an overall vision for the project. The most satisfying moment is when we present a concept that the client is absolutely in love with—it confirms that we're a good fit and the process will be fun for everyone involved. 

Are there any favorite projects that will always stand out for you? A favorite?

In terms of design, I really don't have a favorite! They're all my babies, and each has something special or unique about it. In general, my favorite projects are the ones where the clients are a hundred percent aligned with us, believe in the vision for the project, and fully trust. Those are always the most fun and fulfilling projects.  


What do you love most about living in San Francisco, and how does it affect your and your studio's work?

The weather. I'm most comfortable when the outside temperature is between 60-70 degrees, so San Francisco's pretty perfect year-round! In all seriousness, the weather and the scenery are amazing in Northern California, and we're lucky to be surrounded by it. However, what I love most about San Francisco that affects our work is the lack of pretentiousness regarding aesthetics. This might sound counterintuitive coming from a designer, but I'm not a "label" person, and for all our projects, we source from a wide range of vendors and price points. It's about finding what is best for the design and not being hung up on provenance or the brand. Sometimes that does mean a lot of high-end pieces, but spaces that don't have a mix often fall flat for me. 

What's one interior design trend that you feel is underrated? 

I tend to want to do the opposite of what is trending, but a finish that I think is underrated is chrome. It's associated with "builder-grade," but I think chrome can be quite beautiful juxtaposed with warm brown finishes. It all depends on how it's executed! 

What other artists, creatives, or mentors inspire you?

I've lately been inspired by the life and work of Carlo Mollino, an Italian polymath and genius from the 20th century. He was an architect, designer, and photographer, among other things, and his Suora Floor Lamp is one of my favorite pieces ever.

What's next for you and Form + Field?

We're excited to be working on more and more art and architecture-forward projects that are highly personalized, and we'd love to do more ambitious work in hospitality once the industry recovers! 

 

Photography provided by Christine Lin