Interior Design / Kitchen & Bath / Mosaics & Decorative Tile / Architect/Designer Interviews

Christopher Grubb

September 6, 2012
Trans

Since starting his firm, Arch-Interiors design group, inc. in 1994, Christopher Grubb has strived to provide his clients with unique high-quality custom designs. Through his education, experience and international travels, Grubb has gained knowledge that is a source of inspiration for his residential and commercial work.

Grubb earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree through a cooperative program with The University of San Francisco and the Academy of Art College. While in school, he received a scholarship to study liberal arts and design at Universitá Cattolica in Milan, Italy.

After graduation, Grubb was recruited by Whisler-Patri in San Francisco, where his clients included Disney, Apple Computer, Bally of Switzerland, Industrial Indemnity and Parco Department Stores of Japan. When the designer relocated to Los Angeles, he started working for ArcForm Design Associates. During his time at the firm, Grubb learned a great deal about the business management side of running a design firm, which was an essential skill that was needed when he set out on his own.

Today Arch-Interiors, which employs six full-time designers, caters to the residential, commercial, medical and hospitality design sectors. Since its inception, the firm has flourished and has been internationally recognized in several countries, including China, England, Germany, New Zealand, Brazil, Russia and Thailand.

In addition to Contemporary Stone & Tile Design and its sister publication, Stone World, Grubb’s designs have been featured in numerous publications, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Contact Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Esquire and Women’s Day Specials Kitchens & Baths. Additionally, Grubb has been covered by ABC, Fox, LXTV/NBC, HGTV, F/X, BBC England, Style Network, E! Entertainment and DIY Network as well as recurring design segments on Martha Stuart Living Radio.

Grubb has frequently shared his experiences as a design expert in forums such as NeoCon West, the Los Angeles Mart, K-BIS Show and Conference, Luxury Kitchen and Bath Collection and Kitchen & Bath West Conference, and was a featured speaker at the Soli tile showroom opening. Moreover, Arch-Interiors has participated in Divine Design for three years — creating spaces for this charity event that is inclusive of the top designers in Los Angeles. The launching of the exclusive and limited run Esquire House Los Angeles invited designers both nationally and internationally to design spaces for the home — with Arch-Interiors completing the private study, which received international coverage. Grubb has also given numerous lecturers at the Decoration & Design Building in New York and the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

Grubb sits on the professional advisory committee for The California Arts Institute, and is a member of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Los Angeles Conservancy, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art. He is a past member of the NeoCon West advisory committee and served as a judge for the Product Achievement Awards of IIDA.

Among his latest endeavors, Grubb has worked with Modern Bathroom in creating unique designs for their bathroom vanities and furnishings — launching his signature series, The C.G. Collection, in 2010 — with one of his designs being nominated for “Product of the Year” in 2011.

Recently, Contemporary Stone & Tile Design had the opportunity to catch up with Grubb and discuss some of his recent experiences using stone and tile in design:

CSTD: What first sparked your interest in design?

Grubb: As far back as I can remember I was drawing buildings in the back of my coloring books and then building things with wooden blocks and Legos. I always knew I wanted to be involved in design and architecture. It didn’t hurt that my grandfather was a contractor, my grandmother had a retail store that I did displays and merchandising for, and my father was an estimator for construction projects. He takes a little credit for my career, since I used to sit in his lap when he would draft. I guess it is true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

CSTD: What were some reasons for starting your own firm?

Grubb: I “accidentally” started my own business while in college. It was exhilarating to be doing what I had studied, but I knew I needed to learn a lot more about the pragmatics of the business as well as marketing. I worked for a commercial firm, then a high-end residential and hospitality firm. The opportunity presented itself to go on my own a few years later with someone who approached me to do some work for his company, and the conversation became, “Did I want my own business?” The answer stuck in my throat because it was my dream, so it was a “yes.” This person was a silent partner in my company for the first six years.

CSTD: What type of work does your firm do?

Grubb: I call us a boutique design firm because we are pretty particular about what projects we take. We want an opportunity to be creative. We do high-end residential, commercial, healthcare, and some retail and hospitality.

CSTD: When you begin a design, how do you go about the material selection process?

Grubb: For me, it’s really about the “canvas” of the project. What is going to be the element that is the background of the entire project? Then, what are the pieces of the project that really make the design come together?

CSTD: Typically, how much do your clients like to be involved in the selection process?

Grubb: It truly depends on the project. Some want every detail of the process, while others trust in my direction and vision, and want to be involved in the “as need to know” aspect.

CSTD: How educated are your clients about stone and tile products that are on the market?

Grubb: Most of our clients have a basic knowledge of products they have seen or an image of something they like. Our responsibility as designers is to introduce and showcase products that they haven’t seen on the market that are unique and appropriate for their project.

CSTD: How do you go about finding new innovative stone and tile products?  

Grubb: Periodicals are always great for inspiration for materials and how they are applied. We have the luxury of an abundance of showrooms and stone yards in Southern California, so visits to them are exciting — especially when they have received a few slabs that they won’t get again and that are so truly unique for a project. Also, all of the new products that are now available after the major trade shows.

CSTD: Do you take a different approach depending on if it is a residential or commercial design? If so, what are some reasons for that?

Grubb: I’m often asked if commercial is easier than residential design. There can be the same emotion occurring in each. The approach I have is the same: To understand what the client wants to have as an expression of their environment and a space they love to be in.

CSTD: For your residential designs, are you finding that many of your clients request stone and/or tile in their living spaces? If so, why do you think that is?

Grubb: Yes, our clients mostly request stone or tile for their spaces. I think it’s based on a history of the materials being used in interior spaces, and that stone is a beautiful natural material and visually stimulating.

CSTD: Describe some of your most positive experiences working with stone and tile.

Grubb: Most of my experiences with using stone and tile are extremely successful. I wouldn’t use them if they weren’t going to provide a very successful result.

CSTD: Were there any experiences using stone and tile that were a learning experience or where something unexpected happened?

Grubb: I’ve only had one experience with a project where the stone was a very light color and showed more traffic wear than the supplier said would happen. It was a lobby area in a law firm, and we used a white marble. It was the only time where a client felt I specified the wrong material. Most of the time, I have to say, that I have not really had something that I looked back on and thought: “I shouldn’t have used that.”

CSTD: What are some current trends you are seeing in design, as it pertains to stone and tile?

Grubb: I don’t subscribe to “trends” anymore. I love that our designs are so individual to the client who wants something to reflect them, but there are some very exciting products that are now on the market.

What they are continuing to do with mosaics is exciting. They now have combinations of metal, stone and glass. They are also getting away from the 1- x 1-inch that has been around for years. The opportunity as designers to use these different materials has just been great. It’s really visually exciting and makes a great statement.

Porcelain wood planking is definitely popular right now. When they first started making it, it looked like the [wood look] was photographed on the material. Now, the technology is amazing. It is a great product that has matured and become usable. It looks so natural, and the graining looks so real.

There are even porcelains that finally look like real stone. It is now to the point that they are so authentic. We are working on a temple in Los Angeles, and we are using porcelain that looks like travertine and limestone in the bathrooms and public spaces. It is amazing how natural it looks — especially for a project like this where they are concerned with maintenance and durability because it is a public setting.

One of the frustrations though that I have with manufacturers is that they will show a great product in a catalog in both honed and gloss. But then when you go to order the product, you learn that not all of the pieces are offered in both finishes. They need to make sure that all components can match.

CSTD: With the growing trend in green building, do you use many green products in your designs, as they pertain to stone and tile?

Grubb: We attempt to make every effort in sustainability in our projects. As consumers are learning more about green products, they also ask us to keep it in mind when we are designing. I would say it’s a 50/50 split of who wants us to be as completely green as possible.

CSTD: Are homeowners or developers willing to spend more for these types of products?

Grubb: The wonderful thing is that manufacturers and suppliers now have so many products that are green, the pricing has come down from where it was a few years ago so it fits more in the client’s budget.

CSTD: What are some projects that you are currently working on?

Grubb: One current project we are working on is a surgical center. It is about the fifth one we are doing. The lobby is going to be all basalt, and the walls are going to be chiseled basalt. There are nine bathrooms, and they will all have stone or glass mosaics on the wall. There also is going to be a backlit onyx reception desk. It is a really exciting project. There are budget constraints, but the client really appreciates what we are doing with stone and tile.

We are also working on a house in Laguna Beach — up in the hills facing the ocean. There is going to be a lot of tile work on the floors and stairs. We are going to use a lot of Carrara marble and a mosaic inset in the bathroom floor. I call it an “area rug.” I love to do a feature like that.

Another great project is on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, [CA]. It is called a breezeway. We found a really great porcelain tile with a wood look.

I am also working on a line of custom vanities. Sometimes, a vanity for a client can hit between $8,000 to $10,000. I am bringing to the market ones that have detail, but can cost about $2,200. It is such a great opportunity for me. There is Carrara marble, Absolute Black granite and beige marble as countertops and stone sinks for options.

CSTD: As a frequent speaker on the lecture circuit, what is some advice you give to designers who are just setting out on their career?

Grubb: If they are still in their studies, I encourage them to do at least two internships to have a diverse experience in the various aspects of interior design. Anything you learn can never be taken away from you. When starting their career, constantly look at new sources in magazines and at trade shows. If there is something that they would like to be involved in on a project, ask their boss (but make sure they truly know how to do it or take a class to be prepared). If one doesn’t speak up, no one knows what they are capable of or their desires and they could become stuck doing the same task ad infinitum. Enthusiasm and drive are admired, infectious and rewarded.  

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