We asked Interior Designer Erin Loftin Serventi to share her inspiration, career path, advices, and special style board for us. Please inspect this style board which is imaged above.
Name: Erin Loftin Serventi
Location: Watsonville, California
Profession: Interior Design
Style Board: Download PDF
Links: Website, Instagram, Houzz, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn
Who's Erin, could you introduce yourself to us?
As a kid, I regularly wanted to rearrange my bedroom and I owe a huge 'thank you' to my mom and dad who would make it happen; they ignited this passion for design that I'm lucky enough to call my job to this day. After the years of heavy lifting, my mom suggested I might want to sketch out these changes ahead of time, so I could show them what I wanted. She bought me my first pad of graph paper around the same time that my grandfather was bringing over articles on architectural design (a happy coincidence?). My attention quickly shifted from my own bedroom to residential floorplans.
At 12 years old, I was sketching up all kinds of floorplan ideas for houses that I might want to live in someday. I was convinced I wanted to be an Architect until I was applying to colleges during my senior year of high school. I was so intimidated by the requirements beyond an undergraduate degree without the certainty that I'd ever get to do what I really wanted to do - residential floorplans. I found the perfect fit at Chico State, one of the top Construction Management programs in the nation, with an emphasis in Architecture. They also had an Interior Design program, and I could run on the track team. I was all in!
After graduating from Chico State, I accepted a job as a Project Engineer for a custom home builder and began working on the new construction of a 34,000 square foot home in Carmel, CA. Upon completion, our project team moved on to remodeling a 10,000 square foot residence in Pebble Beach, CA. I was working with the project team to manage the construction and material procurement on these projects, and I desperately wanted to be on the design side. On nights and weekends I would draft floorplans and prepare 3D renderings for other Interior Designers to use in their client presentations, while studying for my state Interior Design exam. When I passed the state exam, I continued working full time in project management and focused on growing my 'side hustle' in design until I eventually landed a position as a full time Interior Designer for a Design/Build company in Silicon Valley.
When the opportunity arose to live and work in Santa Cruz County, I happily followed the offer right back to my hometown of Watsonville, CA. I had the pleasure of working as an Interior Designer for a Design/Build company in Aptos, CA for a couple of years before launching E.L. Designs. Each experience and project team has been instrumental in my growth and knowledge of the industry, and I will forever be grateful for the support and encouragement they have given and continue to give me.
Do you think your background as a project engineer is still reflected in your current aesthetic direction?
Yes, significantly! The job site experience I gained working as a project engineer influences how I view/see space. I am always considering the structural components of the spaces we're working in, when we're discussing making changes and moving walls. The majority of the time, when we're making changes to one space, it's a ripple effect that impacts adjacent spaces and it's really important to be mindful about how remodeling changes from new flooring, to paint, to moving walls affects the space/room as a whole because it not only impacts the overall aesthetic, but the project budget and schedule as well.
Who were your personal inspirations in architecture and design when you were starting out? Did these sources of inspiration change?
In the beginning of my career (and still to this day!), I have always admired and greatly respected Kerrie Kelly of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento; she was the designer who offered me my first internship, and I'm lucky enough to call her friend today. Her passion for the industry, her amazing eye for every detail, and the way she layers in color, pattern, and texture to create the perfect space, in my opinion, is unparalleled.
Early in my career, I really liked the work of Mexican Architect, Ricardo Legorreta because I loved the simplicity and function of his spaces and his use of bold color. Today, I'm a huge fan of Howard Backen and William Wurster. I love the scale and proportion, integration of nature, and axial planning/layout in Howard Backen's work, and I admire the iconic California Ranch style defined by William Wurster.
So, how did you develop your tastes and gain confidence in your design position?
Hard work! Early in my career, I was always eager to learn from other design professionals, I was willing to take any job opportunity to work for other designers, I asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes, and did (and still do!) a lot of reading and research. Anytime someone suggested I read something or learn about a certain style or designer, I made it my priority to teach myself what I didn't learn in school, and found opportunities to learn other skill sets from classes, jobs, online tutorials, and other professionals.
The more I learned, the harder I worked, and the more experience I gained, the more confidence I gained. I also made mistakes - nothing detrimental, but what I found was the best learning opportunity in each 'mistake'. It's ok if you don't know everything, it's ok if you forget something, but it's even better when you don't make the same mistake multiple times, and you accept responsibility for your oversight. I believe the more mistakes you make, the more you learn and grow, and when you learn from your mistakes, your confidence increases two-fold.
Your talent to completely transform old houses and give them a new life is outstanding. White is your superpower color, isn't it? What's your process for deciding which colors work together to achieve a certain effect? Is it a formula, or a feeling?
That's a funny question - white can be a transformative color because it brightens a space dramatically, but I'd say my superpower color is actually a soft neutral - with paint it's usually Kelly Moore Snip of Tannin or Kelly Moore Zanzibar (designer tip here - Zanzibar is an old color, that's no longer on their color chips, but if you ask for it by name, they'll be able to make it for you!). We have both of these colors in our home and they look great in most light with most furniture and other color schemes. You'll also see I love to incorporate blues - I'm a huge fan of navy blue and indigo, and I love contrast. I look for opportunities to create harmony with the overall space, and then look for areas we can bring in accents that will pop (that's the contrast). I don't like overly busy spaces, so I generally play with only a couple patterns in similar colors, and focus on key elements that excite the homeowner, and make those the focal points of the spaces.
Each space is different and each homeowner is different, so I don't use any type of formula - I'm a very intuitive person and I design spaces based on what my clients are looking for and how they want to feel in it. So, it's very much a feeling for me.
I would like to hear about your approach to interior design. What are some of your favorite sources for finding furniture, decor, and lighting?
I source items and furniture from a lot of places, depending on what my clients' needs, style, budget, and schedule. Personally, I like to mix and match from a lot of different stores and retailers. I love Pottery Barn sofas and sectionals, Restoration Hardware lighting and bedding, Dura Supreme cabinets, Belwith-Keeler hardware, Jaunty Rugs and Fibreworks rugs, and Fireclay Tile. Those are my 'go-to' retailers. I'm also a big Crate and Barrel fan, and recently discovered White on White, which I'm looking forward to incorporating into my designs!
I love to wander into local shops in my area as well, and discover new home decor and furniture stores when my husband and I travel - poor guy, anytime I see something that has home decor in the window, I make him go in with me - it just gets my wheels turning and love to see what has inspired other people and how they pair items.
In our home, decor is personal. I only like to use items that have sentimental value, I'm not a big shopper, and I don't like to buy something just for the sake of having it on a shelf. I like our decor to be functional, meaningful, and beautiful. I recognize that's not the case for everyone, but for us in our home, less is more.
Can you share a project that was challenging, but ultimately led to a good result?
This Classic California Ranch was very challenging, but was probably one of my favorite projects. It was built in 1940 and had undergone a couple remodels before the current owner purchased it. The previous remodels either weren't permitted, or weren't documented because there were a lot of surprises during construction that we didn't anticipate. The space we call 'The Gallery' which is the brick area off the kitchen that looks out to the patio, was where the kitchen had been, and when demo was done and the layers of flooring were removed, we learned that the window wall to the backyard wasn't on a foundation, but was just sitting on the patio and it turned out the brick had been under the layers of flooring - it seems the previous owner had enclosed part of the outdoor patio and put the kitchen there! The blessing in disguise here, was that we removed each brick, cleaned them up, and reinstalled them as the 'new' floor for the gallery! The tricky components to this project were how to keep the character of the house, but also update the space, how to make the kitchen feel larger even though it's narrow, how to create a cohesive space while working with some of the original elements (like the brick), and design cabinetry that complemented the taper on the edges of the kitchen ceiling.
What's your advice to those who are just planning to remodel their kitchen?
My best advice is to plan ahead! Don't rush through the design or selection process just because you want it done. Hire a designer and contractor you enjoy being around and trust because you will most likely spend at least the next 6-9 months with them! Select your appliances early on in the process because your cabinet layout is designed around them, and ask about what storage accessories are available to be built in to your cabinets! There are so many options and you want to make sure you get what will work best for you!