San Francisco Round Table: The State of the Design Industry


Our very own Mary Jo Bowling, Senior Editor of California Home + Design, moderated a panel hosted by San Francisco design firm Green Couch discussing current trends and the state of the design industry. Alongside her were Jeff Schlarb, principal at Green Couch; Stephen Sutro, principal at Sutro Architects; Jay Jeffers, principal at Jeffers Design Group, and Erik Hughes, co-founder of showroom De Sousa Hughes.

Sutro is known for his work expanding older homes to make them compatible with contemporary patterns of family life. He emphasized the importance of the balance between design and life. “We all have a collective understanding of how families like to live today, but there are subtle differences across varying lifestyles,” he said. “We try to design specifically to each, with enough flexibility for broad appeal and long-term functionality.”

Hughes delved even deeper into the client’s psyche. “People are interested in unique items but also want them quickly,” he said, “so it is important to educate consumers as to why certain things take the time that they do.” This appreciation for the unique is what inspired Jeffers to expand his brand into a retail store and open Cavalier. “So many great boutiques I loved had closed,” he said. “We wanted to create a place where our team and the design community could source inspired pieces.”

Mary Jo addressed how the evolution of technology helps dictate the direction of design and encourages the evolution of brands. She mentioned that the digital age has swept through all industries – publishing included. There was a time when designers and architects were originally focused on being included in print. “What has really changed,” she said, “is that designers are now very open to being published on our website,”

“Consumers have gravitated towards the use of technology because it is providing greater access [to] niche items and transparency surrounding the types of artisanal products that used to be only available to the trade,” added Hughes.

Despite the tech-savvy improvements that make creating easier, it is essential to take a step back and remember that technology is just one outlet that enables us to discover new designs. “Don’t let online offerings make you complacent about all the possibilities that exist in design,” Sutro said. “We don’t want our clients to confine themselves to just the images they are able to find [online].” This realization humbles technology and reminds us that we are the artists and that art can take many forms yet to be imagined.

When asked what the best part of the industry is, Hughes said it is the people. “As a showroom, we are trying to find solutions for the designers who enhance what we do. It is the ideas, creativity and passion of the people we react to.”

Cheers to that! View the entire panel discussion below.

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