Designer Crush: Lane McNab Interiors


After graduating from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, Tallahassee, FL native Lane McNab moved West, and she hasn’t looked back since. Based in Berkeley, the founder and principal of Lane McNab Interiors specializes in primary and secondary homes, boutique retail spaces, and large scale projects with a vast knowledge of historical architecture. Learn more in our Q+A below.

How did you get your start in design?

Even though I only started my firm in 2012 and it seems like I hit the ground running, I realized recently my run up to a career in design really started in 2001 when we bought our first home — a Victorian condo in San Francisco. I was fascinated by the detail as well as how the architecture fit
into the history of the city. I began reading and exploring ways to DIY our new condo into a home for us. We had no real money to put into it (except my husband won some money and a giant TV on Rock ‘n’ Roll Jeopardy and we bought a dining table with his winnings that we still use to this day!) so I even went so far as to rent a wet saw with a friend and we taught ourselves to cut tile so I could retile a previously badly done fireplace surround. That got me started thinking about design everywhere I looked. After that I read about design voraciously to learn everything I could — an obsessive habit of mine! Besides all the beautiful coffee table books and design magazines with endlessly gorgeous images, I checked out books on how to create cabinetry layouts, technical books on plumbing and tile as well as things like creating furniture layouts. I didn’t want a career in design — I just loved it and a passionate hobby was born.

In 2005 we bought a home in Oakland and started a family and the nesting instinct kicked in. We remodeled two bathrooms and redid a guest house and I started refinishing furniture. This was all while my singing career was taking off and I was singing leading roles around the Bay Area and
working with the SF Opera Chorus. I remember other singers teasing me for having design books open in my music scores during rehearsals–like a kid with a comic book open during class!

A few years after that with our family growing we sold our home in Oakland and bought a beautiful 1902 brown shingle in Berkeley that was in need of a lot of help. Once again I became fascinated with the historical architecture of my new hometown and particularly my neighborhood, The Elmwood which has a beautiful rich history. This began another foray into upgrading our home. This time however, I approached it as a restoration as we made the necessary upgrades and made it more livable for us. After doing the roof and foundation, we removed tired carpet and refinished floors, undid a bad Tuscan kitchen, created bathrooms with period touches where there had been ’70’s cheap upgrades, and I personally removed textured walls and re-plastered them before experimenting with paint colors, window treatments, etc. I even sewed pillows and shower curtains! And all the while I was hunting antique stores and flea markets furnishing it, and then started a blog to document it all.

When our third child came along in 2010 I realized my true love was design and even though singing had been a rewarding and exciting career, travel and the odd hours of rehearsals and performances just wasn’t working out with motherhood. So I took what I thought might be a temporary leave of absence from singing.

Soon after, the blog started growing and led to my first project from a family friend who even though he had a tight budget, was generous enough to give me carte blanche and pay me for my services. That project (which I shot myself with my old Canon Rebel), got really popular and shared a lot on Houzz and Pinterest. Then The Today Show contacted me and asked if they could feature it in an article on their website, field editors started reaching out, and then things started to take off. I got my first luxury project not long after that and more kitchens and baths started to roll in. I quickly realized a need to rebrand so I shut down my blog, changed the name of the company to Lane McNab Interiors, made some hires and we’ve been going strong ever since!

How did growing up in the South influence your design aesthetic?

Besides having great manners, Southerners have such an appreciation for heirlooms, handing, detail, quality, and history. My great grandmother’s china and silver, my great grandfather’s book collection, my grandmother’s jewelry — my own home is filled with antiques and family heirlooms
and they are some of my most prized possessions! However, some of my aesthetic is a rebellion against the somewhat precious aspects of traditional
southern design, but the basic qualities — a sense of history and authenticity — have always been at the heart of my choices.

You moved to SF to pursue a degree in vocal performance — in what ways has your performance training shaped your career as a designer?

Oh in every way! On a basic level having an operatic career taught me the discipline and work ethic that go into honing a craft. In my heyday I trained my voice about 4-5 hours a day, went to coachings, lessons, rehearsals, studied languages, memorized music, practiced staging, studied acting
etc as well as continuing my education.

Also, the spectacle of opera, in so many ways, mirrors the production of creating a beautiful home. Much like a big reveal for a client, an audience comes in and sees a moving performance that can be deeply affecting and transformative. But what they didn’t see were the months of rehearsals and the numerous teams backstage creating the vision: from the union people moving sets around to the dozens and sometimes over a hundred musicians in the orchestra and chorus as well as make up artists, costume shop sewers, wig artists, set builders, lighting teams, etc. It’s so similar in so many ways to the craziness and amount of managing detail that go into creating a beautiful, fully-realized interior.

And on another level, opera encompasses numerous other art forms in the same way interior design does. In addition to learning to contextualize a high art form like opera into the history and culture of western civilization, I learned so much specifically about so many other disciplines: art history, languages, travel, literature, philosophy, the history of music, and even architecture as well (the opera houses of the world are some of the most amazing buildings that exist!) I have a bachelor of arts, a masters degree and a postgraduate degree but in the design world, much like opera, all the
degrees in the world don’t matter if you can’t perform and deliver.

You live in a 115-year-old house (!!) in Berkeley with your husband and three kids – tell us about its history and how you found it.

I love our old house and even though it doesn’t carry the pedigree of so many homes in Berkeley (it’s not a Julia Morgan, Maybeck, Green and Green, Leola Hall, etc and actually is a bit older than most of the homes around it so it has some Victorian touches on a mostly Craftsman layout — a big no-no!) it still has a wonderful Berkeley feel to it. Berkeley has a special type of house called a Berkeley Brown Shingle that is basically a craftsman but more rambling and as I like to say “professorial.” They have more generous rooms, real entryways, more open floor plans, interesting
nooks and crannies, and often long porches. At some point in its history it was converted to three apartments for students as it’s not too far from campus, but a couple of owners before us began the process of returning it to a single family home and we completed it when we bought it. It needed so much work but had great bones. I wish we had the time and resources to continue to upgrade it now but three kids and running a business have definitely sidetracked that for a while.

What are some design trends you’re currently loving and some you don’t care for?

I love that we are seeing pattern coming back and I’m excited to be working on a few projects right now with a beautiful mix of traditional and modern. That’s really my favorite style. I also am pushing clients hard now to go richer and deeper with color. I’m loving rusty reds, saffron yellows,
and earthy greens or even unusual color combos. I’m ready to move away from all blue and gray but I’ll always love a clean backdrop for setting off a particular statement piece. I’m really inspired by classic Javanese batik patterns right now and found some beautiful pieces recently I’m turning into pillows and hope to use or sell. Also reimagining primitive designs for a high-end look is inspiring some furniture designs coming out of our studio these days. Finally, I’m happy we’re seeing more traditional wood tones coming back. I love mid-century but I’m ready to move away from all clean lines.

What’s your idea of the perfect Sunday from a.m. to p.m.?

I love a lazy Sunday! I can’t ever sleep in but I love to spend two hours with a cup of coffee scrolling through Instagram before anyone wakes up. Then spending family time on a fun outing like a museum or being out in nature. My favorite thing though is to wander and explore little shops or go to the antiques fair and find something that really inspires me.

Lightning round!

First celebrity crush?

I don’t know if it was my first but I adored Johnny Depp around the era of
Edward Scissorhands.

First album you bought?

The Police — Synchronicity. I was 9 or 10!

Favorite book?

I almost majored in Victorian Literature and I love The Mill on the Floss
— George Eliot was a true early feminist!

Go-to coffee order?

Philtered Soul at Philz Coffee served Philz way!

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