Lauren Nelson is a designer, first and foremost.
Make no mistake about it, the San Anselmo-based interiors aficionado has built a career out of making clever and considered design decisions.
It wouldn't come without added pressure then, the task of transforming a rather forgettable law office into a newly minted studio space.
"I had been searching for an office close to home for quite some time, but not having much luck with a space bright or open enough — I didn’t want to settle," the designer explains.
"Natural light is a huge priority for me, not only for our line of work but also for our emotional wellbeing."
After close to a year of searching, Nelson finally found her hidden gem. What once stood as a law practice for close to four decades — 35 years to be exact — is now the sun-soaked embodiment of one designer's hard work. It's here where Nelson and her tight team curate, collaborate, and make magic happen for their dedicated clientele.
"We tore down the wall that divided the main space so that you can now see straight through, from the front of the space down to the enormous back windows," she explains. "That change gave us more of the expansive, bright open space I had been looking for all along."
Step inside Nelson's San Anselmo address — complete with a utility kitchen, separate workroom, and custom signage — and it's hard to imagine the space as anything less. A wall-spanning neutral oak desk and mid-century inspired swivel chairs (sourced via IKEA) decorate an otherwise minimal office fit-out, while layered vintage and CB2 rugs and blush vintage chairs — sourced via Chairish — prompt a collective "ooooh" from anyone who visits.
"We wanted our studio space to not only reflect our style for visitors, but also be a place that we feel inspired," explains the designer. "It was fun to design this space because we very much so did it as a team, it was like having another client project on our plates, only we got to design for ourselves. You know how that goes — it’s almost harder when you have so many options at your fingertips."
Nelson cleverly combines her institutional knowledge with inspiring practicality. Rolls upon rolls of lush velvet and sinuous linens lean neatly in the adjacent work room, while upholstered chairs — in various shades of eggplant — surround the table. Swatches and tufts of assorted textures and textiles in muted tones peep out of rattan storage baskets, each neatly organized and easy to reference, should inspiration strike.
The accomplished designer admits that when it comes to dealbreakers, reinstating balance, minimizing clutter, and making the most of that natural light sit at the very top of her priority list.
"We got to design custom workstations which ensured we were getting exactly what we wanted, without having to compromise on what the marketplace offered," explains Nelson. "We drew inspiration from our own personal styles, erring on the side of less is more. We didn’t want to overdecorate and wanted to keep a fairly clean, minimal aesthetic, to help encourage flow and creativity, opting for a more timeless, neutral backdrop."
Adhering to an understated color palette of muted burgundy and blush, Nelson and her team have created a dreamy retreat. A place to work, research, and collaborate. The studio serves as a clean, curated, and thoughtful space that many could only dream of. Nelson drew from the efficiency of Scandinavian design, peppering her work space with vintage mid-century furniture and a show-stopping stone countertop and splash. Soft, neutral oak tables can be rearranged and reimagined like chic puzzle pieces, while the layered floor coverings ensure Nelson's dog, Henry, is never without somewhere cozy to curl up for a mid-afternoon snooze.
"We always start our design process with spacial layout," Nelson explains. "Deciding what the flow will be, where the work stations work best, how many we’ll need, and where should the kitchen go? Because the space lends itself to a long linear workstation, we determined fairly quickly that a custom desk was the best way to make use of that wall," she adds. "It was just a matter of designing it."
Naturally, the designer looked local, turning to carpenter Josh Wafer to create the lengthy table that anchors the room, a piece that echoes the very fundamentals of Nelson's own design ethos.
"Once we determined our spacial needs — we set out to establish the aesthetic. We pin favorite images from different magazines or scroll through Pinterest.
This helps to determine the different finishes and color palette." A palette of muted gray-blues, like Benjamin Moore's Anchor Gray, pale pinks, and aubergine complement the natural oak, while brassy finishes and a whole lot of marble add a little luxe to a very modern workplace.
"It happened organically in that in came from a familiar aesthetic," the designer explains. "This is our style — it didn't present itself through the lens of a client. This feels natural to us and we were really able to make it our own with the efforts of the whole team."
When it comes to particular proud moments though, Nelson admits the custom Fox Marble kitchen counter, complete with custom shelving by Wafer, are without a doubt her favorite splurge.
Turquoise blue fronts and skinny black hardware pares back all that drama, while ceramics sourced during trips to Japan sit neatly among accessible finds from Target's Magnolia by Hearth & Hand line.
That beautiful blend of custom craft, local makers, and bargain finds is a process Nelson has learnt to refine all too well. As for any parting words of wisdom from an industry insider? This designer remains refreshingly pragmatic.
"Whether it's a bold paint color, special wallpaper, or a statement light fixture — you can make it feel like your own by splurging on one key item, particularly if you're on a budget."
"Design is a process and a puzzle," Nelson explains. "It’s hard to see things in a vacuum — spaces must be considered as a whole. If you’re missing one piece of the puzzle, the design may not work. So have patience and understand that the best design comes to life once all of the elements are present."