Los Angeles Decorator Transforms SoCal Spaces

Gold butt-shaped stools. For clients of Lara Fishman, owner and principal designer at Storm Interiors in Los Angeles, those were considered essential items. “You don’t know what you want until you have it,” says Fishman, who went to great lengths to fulfill the request. “I really try to help my clients do something a little bit out-of-the-box. You try to push them—and that’s why you’re hired.”

She should know. She’s been at the helm of her own firm since 2000, working on a vast variety of projects for homeowners, hoteliers, and commercial clients. “I tend to gravitate towards people that are a little bit off, that are interesting,” she says. “I like to have fairly bold statement pieces in homes. I like to throw things off—a traditional home with really funky artwork or a mid-century piece. I try to encourage clients to administer what I call a ‘smart mix’: it’s not random, it’s well-calculated, but not too contrived.”

Her primary aims are to demystify the design process, make it fun, and match a client’s style with the functionality of their life—a skill that not every designer masters. Many in the field lose sight of who they’re designing for, the space they’re designing in, or get blinded by their own preferences.

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Fishman listens deeply to discern her clients’ tastes, then interprets their desires into their environment. Some clients have no clue what they want; in those cases, conversation and concept boards can help tease it out or hone whatever vague aesthetic sense they do have. Her value as a designer lies in putting together interiors that clients want to be in, but that they never could have created themselves. “I’m responsible for leading them down a road they would otherwise never travel,” she says. “I want the clients to feel like, ‘I would never have done this had it not been for this company.’”

The Charlee Hotel

The Charlee Hotel.

One of her more ambitious projects was The Charlee Hotel in Medellin, Colombia, which opened in 2010. She worked for two years prior on everything from the branding and graphic design to the dishware, relying on Skype and e-mail to communicate when she couldn’t be on-site. “It was very comprehensive. It was very holistic,” she says. That hotel was later rated one of the Top 100 Boutique Hotels by Conde Nast Traveler.

On the more outrageous side of Storm Interiors’ portfolio are the aforementioned gold butt-shaped stools, commissioned by owners of a 16,000 square-foot estate in Beverly Park. Fishman was involved over two-and-a-half years on a 2,500 square-foot addition at that estate. “They’re gilded and made out of resin,” she says of the stools. “They rotate. They’re hydraulic, so they go up and down.” That design project pushed her to create in a way she never had before, and a lot of engineering was involved. She made sure to video-tape the process of the butts being cast and dipped; the mold was made from a real person’s backside. “They’re very realistic,” she says of the finished products.

Fishman came to interior design after “an embarrassing amount of careers,” including teaching French and working in public relations. “I always loved interiors and decorating,” she says. “My grandmother was a collector and my mother always reinterpreted our house in the South.” She stumbled upon the Master’s program in architecture and interior design at UCLA; after attending an open house, she quit her job and enrolled. There, she met Mili Lazcano, with whom she would later establish Storm Interiors. But first, she worked for acclaimed designer Kelly Wearstler for two-and-a-half years, learning the ropes and getting to know vendors. “You can have all the schooling in the world in any subject, but until you actually do it, you’re a novice,” Fishman says.

Storm Interiors

The PR background helped Fishman understand what was required to run a successful business. And she has, landing press in major publications and traveling all over the world to meet her clients’ needs. “My company is completely contingent upon my clients’ success and happiness,” she says.

But what about clients who insist on something even when Fisherman knows it’s wrong? “I would say that happens consistently,” she admits with a laugh. Sometimes the item is inherited, and even though the rest of the room is new, the client wants to keep the same old chandelier. Other times it’s just a matter of differing tastes, like whether or not to use busy wallpaper in a small room. “All you do is give your opinion, explain why, and ultimately it’s the client’s decision. It just is. I don’t own and I don’t live and breathe or work in the space,” she says. “I’m not here to make my clients spend money, either. You really have to pick your battles.”

Storm Interiors

As for her own home? It’s a colorful Spanish colonial that she gutted and added onto seven years ago. You’d think that an occupational hazard of being around all those trendy furnishings would make her want to change things up constantly, but between her business, her family, and a tennis habit, she doesn’t have much time to focus on her own abode. “My bedroom’s a little bit of a mish-mash,” she confesses. “I wouldn’t even want to have my bedroom photographed right now.”

At some future point, she’d like to go minimal: an understated but functional aesthetic. Monochromatic. Simple. It’s understandable, given how much color and texture she’s exposed to on client projects. “That would be a more peaceful option,” she says of her Calvin Klein Home fantasies. “But I’m not there right now. I can’t undertake that.” In other words, don’t expect gold butt-shaped stools to make an appearance in the Fishman family kitchen anytime soon.

All photos courtesy Storm Interiors.