Designer Crush: James Veal and Christine Stucker of Stewart-Schafer

1. How did you both meet and what inspired the decision to launch Stewart-Schafer?

James and I met at a mutual friend’s barbeque in New York and we began dating shortly after. After discovering our shared passion for art, architecture, and design, we decided to merge our unique talents and start a design firm. We saw a gap in the market and initially focused on retail spaces, as most of our competitors worked exclusively on residential projects. With my background in furniture making, art, and design, combined with James’ eye for curation and strong business acumen, we realized that together we could have a significant impact on both retail and residential design. 

2. Why the decision to open an office in Los Angeles? 

Several of the retail brands we have worked with are based on the West Coast, including Johnny Was and Loho Bridal. We offer a very interesting perspective on design in Los Angeles, bringing our contemporary Brooklyn edge to the West Coast. We’re currently working on several residential projects in Los Angeles and Orange County, and felt that it was time to be a bi-coastal design firm.  

3. Christine, your work was discovered by John Varvatos and your work there led you to become visual director for Betsey Johnson. How did these two experiences influence your current approach to design?

While working in-house at both companies, I gained a great deal of insight into how conceptual design is viewed from a client’s perspective. Back then, projects were mocked up onto concept boards and the client had to visualize how things would look in a space. We would often present ideas to clients who have a hard time seeing the impact that great design can have on a space, so it would be our job to help them understand the benefits. At Stewart-Schafer we guide our clients to understanding the impact of great design by creating very detailed renderings of spaces. They don’t have to imagine what the results will look like, but instead can see it in 3-D.

4. James, you’re an experienced photographer and you’ve worked with industry leaders like Mario Testino; how does photography influence your design work? 

I have a heightened awareness of lighting and viewing angles of space due to my extensive background in photography. Lighting can be one of the most underestimated resources in design, but it is a big part of our design focus. Most designers consider light in their projects, but it is only when you truly understand the depths of shadow, reflection, color, and its effects on surface and perception that you can utilize its full impact in a project. During various design phases of a project, I’m able to mentally place cameras throughout a space to refine a concept or schematic idea, perfecting multiple key viewing angles.

5. How does California style differ from New York style?

While New York interiors tend to gravitate more toward monochromatic and gray color schemes, California style is a bit more laid back, colorful, and infused with natural elements and textures. The weather also has a big impact on California design, and we love being able to bring the outdoors in for our residential projects there. Designers usually have more space to work with in California compared to New York where every inch counts.

6. You’ve designed retail spaces for some of the top fashion and accessories brands in the world like H&M, Fred Segal, Bloomingdales, and more — how do you brainstorm fresh ideas for some of these iconic brands? 

When taking on a new retail project, we spend a lot of time researching the brand and thinking about the direction they want to go in. Our design ideas come from so many different sources, whether it is inspiration derived from our world travels, a movie set that strikes an idea, or even music that we listen to. We go to museums all over the world, as art is a major source of inspiration for us.

7. Who’s your dream celebrity client and why?

Thom Browne. Though we have already worked with him on his Dover Street Market store, Thom is our dream celebrity client. He has a very specific aesthetic, knows what he wants, and we are big fans of his elegant style. He is truly a pleasure to work with.

8. What’s your go-to source of inspiration when you’re feeling creatively blocked? 

We often turn to books and museums for a burst of inspiration if we’re feeling a creative slump. Our favorite museums to explore are the MOMA in New York and the Tate Museum in London. We have an extensive collection of Domus books and A+U magazines that we love to browse to ignite our creative spark.  

9. If you could switch places with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?

James: I would love to switch places with Elon Musk. He is a true visionary and creative genius, and I would like to experience the mindset of someone like him for a day.

Christine: I would like to be a musician for a day and get to experience the rush of performing in front of a large audience.

10. Describe your idea of a perfect Sunday.  

Our ideal Sunday starts with sleeping in, going for a walk with our baby and two dogs, followed by brunch with friends and checking out some furniture shops or galleries. We love to end the day with a leisurely walk on the beach and cooking dinner together at home. There’s nothing like starting the week with fresh air and quality time with loved ones.

Lightning round!

11. Sweet or savory?

Christine: Savory.

James: Savory.

12. Homebody or life of the party?

Christine: Homebody.

James: Homebody.

13. Rock or hip hop?

Christine: Classic rock for sure.

James:Rock.

11. Bold and bright or soft and subtle?

Christine: Soft and subtle. 

James: Soft and subtle.

12. New or vintage?

Christine: Both

James: New