Bicoastal Interior Design Firm Caters to the Elite

When you think “luxury” in terms of interior design, what comes to mind? For Los Angeles-based designer Kara Smith, it’s soft, rich fabrics that wear well. It’s mohair, velvet, cashmere, and silk. It’s great art and custom furniture made with high attention to detail. It’s wood with unique finishes like lacquer. It’s goatskin.

Smith has been specializing in luxury design for 14 years, ever since she joined forces with Sue Firestone to create Smith Firestone Associates (SFA) Design, a firm with an elite clientele that includes high-end hotels, Fortune 500 companies, and entertainment A-listers. The duo has offices in New York, Santa Barbara, and L.A.

“Expectations are certainly higher,” says Smith of her clients. Furnishings don’t just have to look good; they must be functional and make the space evoke a certain feeling. The challenge “to enhance the feel and the lifestyle within the space” is the kind of challenge she relishes. Luxury design allows her to be more creative and to have more access to unique products and one-of-a-kind pieces. No detail–right down to the location of outlets–is overlooked in the process. 

L'ermitage Beverly Hills

L’ermitage Beverly Hills

You don’t have to know any movie stars to see how Smith works her magic. Just check out the recent renovation of Viceroy L’ermitage in Beverly Hills, a project Smith describes as “the ultimate in luxury, sophistication, and unique design appealing to a well-traveled, well-cultured, sophisticated clientele.” Onyx marble, Italian linens, sumptuously upholstered furniture, and textured walls speak to the opulence guests expect from such classy digs. SFA’s hospitality portfolio also includes the Four Seasons in Los Angeles and the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando.

Also: How to Add Color and Texture to Your Home

Smith was also essential to the design of the flagship boutique of Eric Buterbaugh, a famous florist venturing into perfumes. The space, which includes a private garden and its own art gallery, features a posh combination of brass and wood fixtures, sparkly chandeliers, and plush pink chairs. “We got a chance to create a luxurious retail environment that was suited to the high-end clientele that wanted something that was fun and quirky but felt like chic luxury,” says Smith.

Eric Buterbaugh Boutique

Eric Buterbaugh Boutique

How do you replicate these exquisitely sophisticated looks on a more humble income? It’s not as difficult as it might seem.

“Whatever your budget is, I would buy less and focus on maximizing what you can spend by buying really nice quality,” Smith says. She advises in investing in a good mattress, quality sheets, and interesting art that speaks to you. Smith likes Lawson-Fenning for vintage finds, furniture, well-priced art, and cool lighting. Rolling Greens is where she goes for succulents and plants, which can make any house more homey. Finally (and, perhaps, the most fun) is Big Daddy’s, an antique and vintage shop. “They also curate and make custom pieces. It’s got a really interesting take on industrial looks. It’s a great place for finding a unique piece,” Smith says.

Just because you don’t make bank like a millionaire doesn’t mean you can’t live like one.

Photos: @sfadesign on Instagram.