I had unofficially ended The Beautiful Shelter Designer Series a few months ago, only to receive an email from designer Bella Mancini recently, asking if it was too late to participate. Needless to say, there are exceptions to every rule...particularly when you're as talented as Bella. I'm thrilled to reopen the series to share an interview with one of New York Magazine's Top 100 Interior Designers!
Jenna: When did you know you were destined for a career in interior design?
Bella: I was working in fashion advertising and very impulsively quit my job one day. I didn’t see it coming and didn’t have a plan, but I was young and broke and it got me thinking about what I really loved – what made me happiest. I realized I would be a very smart and lucky girl if I figured out a way to turn my favorite hobby into a career. Once I landed an assistant job in an interior design firm I knew that I was finally on the right career path.
Jenna: What was your first big design break?
Bella: My first big break in design was when the very amazing Wendy Goodman included my new firm in her list of Top 100 Interior Designers in NY Magazine. The article came out in 2000, and we’re still getting calls from it. I will never forget her for that – I am not sure we even deserved it at the time, so it truly felt like a gift and big break!
Jenna: Can you tell us about your first job in the design field?
Bella: I worked as an assistant to the very talented Ellen Hamilton who was both a great boss and incredible mentor. I was her design assistant and mostly did paperwork and answered phones. The most important part of my job (to me) was that I learned how to run and ID business. My time there was a fantastic education.
Jenna: What's inspiring you right now?
Bella: I am very inspired by my clients, believe it or not. I talk to them about what they love/don’t love about their home, how they live in it, and really learn WHO lives in it. I find that once they tell their story and tell me how they envision living in their new space I am so inspired that I am able to come up with all sorts of ideas that are right for them, and them alone.
Jenna: Where are your favourite places to shop?
Bella: I love to shop in other cities – even when they carry the same things that my regular haunts in NYC carry. Somehow when it’s merchandised in a way I haven’t seen before it is fresh and inspiring. Los Angeles has been particularly inspiring to me lately. I think because I am from California I am drawn to the relaxed elegance of California design. That chilled out look feels a little forced here in NYC, where tailored looks work for our spaces a little more effortlessly.
Jenna: What is your design philosophy?
Bella: I feel that next to good health, family, and friendship, there is nothing more important than the home. This philosophy is with me in each and every project I take on. As corny as it sounds, I truly believe that I can make my clients lives happier through the beauty of a well designed home.
Jenna: What is your most memorable travel destination?
Bella: For scenery alone I’d say that New Zealand is my most memorable travel destination. I was completely awestruck by the beauty of it – the color, the texture, the varied terrain. I felt more alive hiking there than ever before. It was truly a life-changing trip.
Jenna: What is your favourite hotel?
Bella: The Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, California. My husband and I spent 2 nights there when we were first dating and I’ll never forget the experience. They just get it right and it was all so memorable – from the rooms themselves to nature walks to eating above the clouds in the restaurant it was perfect.
Jenna: What is your preferred room to design in a home?
Bella: I love designing master bedrooms. It’s the one place in a home where husbands usually defer completely to their wives and the one room in the house that no matter what the clients’ style, it ends up being a little bit feminine. It’s also a place where clients get to be a little selfish – it gets to be a refuge from the chaos of the rest of the house (kids, dogs, etc) and we get to use more refined fabrics and a paler selection of color. It’s usually a departure from the rest of the home.
Jenna: What are your "best practices" for accessorizing a room?
Bella: By the end of a project most clients have learned a lot about what they like and don’t like and feel confident picking things up along the way. If I am helping them select things I typically just want to help them to buy things that actually mean something to them. There is nothing weirder to me than a bookshelf full of books that look like they’ve never been opened.
Jenna: What's the biggest design risk you've taken?
Bella: The 10’ chandelier we designed for a client with a small, local vendor we’d never used. We were terrified, but it turned out beautifully and the client loves it so it turned out well in the end.
Jenna: What has been the greatest lesson since opening your business?
Bella: That you should trust your instincts about potential clients. I will never again try to talk anyone into to hiring me, nor will I try to convince someone that my fee structure is fair. It’s sort of like dating: if you have to beg someone to like you and see how great you are then they probably aren’t the one.
Jenna: What's next for you?
Bella: More of the same! I love my staff and what we do and I am incredibly proud of the work we turn out. Oh, and I am off to Paris in a few weeks and hope to come back with a ton of new ideas.
Thank you for this interview, Bella! Be sure to visit her beautiful portfolio at Bella Mancini Design.