Warren sheets, CEO of Warren Sheets Design (WSD), located in San Francisco, CA, established his company in 1992. He works on projects as large as the Fairmont Grand del Mar in San Diego and as small as private residences. CSTD magazine had the opportunity to talk to Warren about how he got started in the business, projects he has worked on and trends he currently sees in the industry.
How did you first develop an interest in interior design?
WS: I was in theatre arts and direction at UCLA when I became aware of staging as a way of establishing one’s environment, of creating a mood, or elevating beauty and experience. And in a lot of ways that still informs how I approach space as an extension of who we are. Eventually I worked for a design studio where I was inspired to really explore interior design as my creative expression. I went on to earn an associate degree in Interior Design at “FIDM”.
What were some of your first design experiences as a professional or as a student?
WS: I was still working at that design studio and one of our clients had always trusted and appreciated my aesthetic. She asked me to help design her home. It was a life-changing experience that taught me several practical lessons in how to translate artistic vision into reality, how to understand what your clients want and how to really push your imagination to come up with creative solutions to challenges that you encounter in any given project.
What were some of the lessons you learned with your first design experience with how to understand what your client wants and how to translate artistic vision into reality? Are these things you are still learning about as you go along?
WS: It’s really about stepping away from your own preconceived notions and seeing the space from the client’s point of view. This is why we always collaborate closely with our clients. And you always learn something new as you go along. But you don’t want to simply follow everything to the letter because that’s not exactly what they’re looking for either. The client is counting on you as a designer to translate their vision. What you do is capture the essence of what they’re looking for and interpret that with your own artistry and skill.
How often does your company use stone in its designs?
WS: I really enjoy working with natural materials so I use stone all the time. Aside from its durability, varieties of stone lend themselves to countless uses in design from serving as interesting details to being a vital focal point.
How would you describe your company’s design philosophy?
WS: WSD is well versed in every kind of design work from ground-up projects to renovations and restorations. But we are mostly recognized for our work with affluent residential and hospitality properties. We earned our reputation from a design philosophy that is rooted in an understanding of true luxury. And by that, I don’t mean extravagance, rather a way of providing our clients with a sense that they are being pampered in their own home, that we cater to the very aspects of their lifestyle that are truly important to them.
What’s a project that you have done with stone and/or tile that you’re proud of?
WS: Among our many projects where stone and tile have played important roles was Fairmont Grand del Mar in San Diego. For this five-star luxury hotel we incorporated a vast amount of stone and tile. For the lobby, we custom designed a checker board-patterned floor using three different kinds of marble and bordered by mosaic tiles. At the center is a water jet intarsia medallion. We supported the space with massive columns and plinths of multi-colored marble, quarried from Italy and hand-carved by a family of Italian artisans whose craft has been passed on from generation to generation. We also designed elaborate details of stone casings and arches.
Another project worth mentioning is a residence in which the swimming pool was designed specifically not as a separate area but as an aesthetically organic part of the entire look. We had created the patio as an outdoor living space where they could sit back and relax any time they wanted, where they could read, play cards, enjoy cocktails, entertain, dine mid-day or in the evenings, or simply gaze up at the stars. The space was designed with the rich colors one finds in the Mediterranean, and touches evocative of French, Spanish and Moorish influences. The swimming pool served as our pièce de résistance, a spectacular statement of Mediterranean splendor. The central, originally-designed medallion at the bottom of the pool is clearly visible through the water even under different lights and is inlaid with Italian hand-made glass mosaic tiles by Bisazza.
How do you go about choosing stone for a project?
WS: We have an extensive roster of sources, manufacturers, artisans and craftsmen around the world who provide us with a wealth of choices. It really depends on the project’s requirements. In one of our many current projects — Fairmont Austin hotel, which opens next year — we work with over 50,000 stone materials meticulously selected for the property from an extensive search through 450 varieties from 60 quarries around the world. My final selections of cubic stones were carved by Athena, the highly respected fourth generation artisans in stone masonry, in Verona and consequently shipped to Austin. We will also be showcasing a breathtaking 24-foot-high bookmatch Italian marble art piece, complemented by several three-dimensional life-sized sculptures of diverse people placed facing it.
With your twenty years of experience, what are some trends you see happening in the design industry recently and moving toward the future?
WS: Technology and materials will always lead the short-term trends. What’s available now — such as 3D printing — in advances in manufacturing is really driving a lot of innovation. More long term, we’re seeing how people are finding it less appealing to have an entire space let alone an entire home with a strict period in mind. While it’s great to have a period as your starting off point, you don’t have to adhere to it exclusively. It’s more aesthetically intriguing to create a look that cohesively mixes of elements from the past and the future.
What advice would you offer to a young designer?
WS: I would advise them to really learn the different crafts in the industry and understand the properties of the material they work with because interior design involves both conceiving the artistic look and making it work in real space. This entails a need for practical knowledge in how to use those materials properly and in the right situations.
Even after twenty years of experience have there been challenges that still come up in projects? Or are you pretty much prepared for everything now?
WS: There will always be fresh challenges in each project. A good designer knows how to look at a space and determine practical solutions while delivering an aesthetically pleasing design.