Designer Crush: Michelle Salz-Smith of Studio Surface


Since 2009, Del Mar-based design firm Studio Surface has focused on curating balanced interiors with the quintessential laid-back California edge. With a passion for unique materials, artistry and creating custom pieces, each space feels classic yet one of a kind. We had the opportunity to speak with founder and principal designer Michelle Salz-Smith about her firm’s approach and what helps her remain inspired.

Photo by Becca Batista

Which other designers or creatives inspired your career the most? The French architect and designer Charlotte Perriand for her elegant minimalism. She created this exceptional harmony by blurring the lines between functionality, art and the organic environment. 

Joseph Dirand for his composition. His designs are artful and historic, but they don’t feel stuck in any one era. He achieves that intuitive mix of modern and classic with textures, antiques and art and has the ability to create spaces with history that don’t feel one-ounce retro. Also Richard Neutra for his melding of interiors and landscape. 

Photo by Jenni Corti

-How would you describe your approach to design? I employ a worldly application, so each project is not so insular to Southern California. My projects can seemingly live anywhere because each is inspired by other places and attitudes from my own experience —whether that’s Europe, the deep South, or the Midwest. 

-What do you think the future home looks like? I think we’re going to start to move away from wide open floor plans, especially after the last year. It’s intuitive for people to crave their own quarters to retire to. The kitchen, for example, doesn’t need to open to the family room. 

There’s a big emphasis on sustainability and nostalgia. It’s about slow design. Not the fast approach. Clients are obtaining pieces to savor with provenance and sentimental value. We’ve always favored patina over gloss.  

-Any brands or furniture/decorative artists you are obsessed with?  Garde in Summerland. The founder Scotti is fluent in design and chickens. Blackman Cruz in LA; Kneedler Fauchère; ModernHaus for vintage ( In San Diego, John Kingsmill of Kingsmill Fine Plasters (;  Pat’s Glass in Point Loma;  The father -and-son behind Fine Finish Factory in Escondido.

Photo by Jenni Corti

-How have you shifted your business during the pandemic, that will remain a part of your process?  With international clients, we’ve always excelled at technology. In the last year we have certainly used more video when meeting and presenting, but nothing compares to a live happy hour with clients.

Photo by Jenni Corti


-Favorite Southern California showroom?  Una Malan in the historic courtyards of La Cienega Design Quarter. It’s a sanctuary. 

-Guilty pleasure during the pandemic? More animals. We’ve added a third dog and six more chickens to our already massive brood.  And we’re bringing back old-school family recipes. Never underestimate the power of a Midwestern casserole.  

-Favorite design book? Houses: Atelier AM by Michael Misczynski and Alexandra Misczynski, Rizzoli  

-If you weren’t a designer, you would be? A rancher. Or running an animal sanctuary. There’d be baby pigs everywhere. 

More news: