2021 Design Awards: Emerging Designer, Michael Hilal


“Interior design is just in my blood,” says San Francisco-based designer Michael Hilal, grandson to the owner of an upholstery shop where his family often worked. He says jokingly, “I actually credit my mother for inspiring the California Coastal design movement, because she had been doing the white slip-covered look over antique furniture for years.” A California native, Hilal’s aesthetic has and continues to be shaped by the region’s innate connection with nature. “California design for me means spaces, whether they be modern or traditional, that are connected to the outdoors,” he notes. “When I approach a project, I want to see natural stone, wood grains and patina on everything and a lot of handmade finishes.”

Photo by Darren Bradley.

After working for years at several high-profile tech companies, Hilal could not silence his true creative calling. He fearlessly opened his own firm and since has completed several projects across the state without pause. “I’ve designed everything from Victorian flats to lofty start-up office spaces to Stinson Beach houses, and each of them caters to a very different aesthetic. But it’s an inherently California aesthetic, which is a little more laid-back and imperfect, as juxtaposed with, say, the polished exactitude of New York design,” he notes. Most recently, he was working on a mid-century modern home with designer Julie Crosby in Encinitas when the pandemic hit, and that required a pivot to remote planning and purchasing. “Much of the Italian mid-century furniture orders placed right before the lockdown in March were canceled,” he notes of the challenging time. “We ended
up having to make roughly 25 percent of the furniture, and shopped locally for the rest of the project. I learned about myself as a designer, what my limitations are and that there are so many good resources in California that allow designers to shop local.”

Photo by Prescott Horn.

Hilal’s incessant drive coupled with his keen focus and knowledge for design have quickly pushed his work to the forefront. “Ultimately, I want a space to feel unassuming, chic and useful,” he says. “If it’s just meant to be a beautiful unused room in a home, then ultimately didn’t I fail as a designer?”

Photo by Darren Bradley.

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