Designer Crush: Heather Hilliard DesignAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Heather Hilliard stole our hearts at the 2019 San Francisco Decorator showcase with the exquisite living room she designed that effortlessly blended modern and traditional elements. Her work reflects a deep knowledge of classic architecture and art history coupled with a keen sense for balance. A patron of the arts, Hilliard serves on the Modern Art Council and Contemporaries, as well as a Patron Member, of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. At San Francisco’s De Young and Legion of Honor museums, Heather is a Sponsor Member. She is also Patron Member of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Her, she shares what launched her career in design and what continues to inspire her work.
–Can you share more about your background and what inspired you to become a designer? I majored in Art History in college. My first job was working at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the third largest museum and art collection in the country. I toured many art collectors’ homes and always noticed that the houses were very pulled together and beautifully designed. I took an interest in researching architects, designers, periods and styles from the past and present. Going back to school for a Master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design was the next step. Studies in art history combined with design and architecture made me perfectly suited to a career change to interior design.
Prior to starting my own firm, I worked at the venerable design firm, The Wiseman Group. In addition to experiencing the creative aspects of the design process, I really learned how to run a full-service design business. I will be forever thankful for that experience.
-Which other designers or creatives inspired your career the most and why? Hands down, Jean Michel Frank. I continue to be enamored by the designs of Jean Michel Frank, the French designer who was popular in Paris in the 1940s. He is known for minimalist interiors and furniture design made of beautiful materials such as parchment, mica, interesting wood species, and straw marquetry. His designs are clean lined, perfectly edited and timeless.
-How did the SF Decorator Showcase benefit your career? I have done the SF Decorator Showcase 9 times if you can believe it! For me it was a fantastic venue to stretch and try new things while getting great exposure as a designer. I appreciate the opportunity to place a piece I have had my eye on for years or custom design furniture tailored to the room that might not work for a client project.
–Any brands or furniture/decorative artists you are obsessed with right now? Travel usually inspires my furniture interests and obsessions. Recently, last summer, I visited Paris and shopped for 18th century French antiques but also, French Art Deco pieces by Andre Sournay. I fell in love with a contemporary lighting line by the French designer Christophe Come. I also visited Vienna and explored a few decorative arts museums and saw furniture and lighting by Adolf Loos and Joseph Hoffmann and Otto Wagner, all designers of the Viennese Secessionist Movement.
-How have you shifted your business during the pandemic that will remain in your process? When Mayor Breed announced Shelter in Place, I was a little panicked. I wondered how we as a team would be productive and creative while working from home. My husband and I ran out and bought 8 new fast laptops for my team. We spent the entire weekend loading AutoCad, the Adobe Suite and SketchUp on everyone’s new computer. We shifted staff and client meetings to Zoom calls. It is amazing how quickly everyone adapted to this new way of working. I am so thankful for technology and the resilience of my great team. I will be more flexible regarding working remotely, even after we return to life as we knew it.
-Favorite restaurant in San Francisco? There are so many fantastic restaurants in the city, it is difficult to choose among them. One of my favorites is Cotagna in Jackson Square. They have rustic, hearty Tuscan Italian food including roasted and grilled meats and fish over a hardwood fire. Another one is an oldy but a goody – Kokkari in Jackson Square. I love the smell inside and sitting near one of the warm fireplaces in the main room. The meats and fish are simply prepared, grilled with a little olive oil and lemon. My go to for breakfast is Jane on Fillmore for the spicy saucy eggs or toast with almond butter and sliced bananas with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
-Guilty pleasure during pandemic? Chocolate mousse and Netflix! I have tried seven different chocolate mousse recipes and finally landed on perfection in an old recipe from 2015 in Bon Appetit. I have been making a batch every Sunday night for months. I put it in small ramekins and have one every night.
-Favorite design book? There are so many favorite design books, it is difficult to name one. I often reference Interior Design Standards to check dimensions for practical things when working on a project. I love the design book featuring Frances Elkins, one of the twentieth century’s most prominent female designers. Elkins, a California designer completed most of her work in the 1920s-1940s. To quote The New York Times, “Elkins pioneered vibrant interiors, in which solid historical references met effervescent modernist fantasy.”
-If you weren’t a designer, you would be? A documentary filmmaker. My husband and I have been going to The Sundance Film Festival for 12 years. We see at least fifteen films over the course of a week. There is usually an opportunity for Q&As with the director, producer and cast following each screening, and I am fascinated by the filmmaker’s ability to go deep and explore subjects ranging from politics, the environment, media, celebrity, civil rights, etc.
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