This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of The High End magazine. For more information about The High End, click here.

Kriste Michelini goes through “mini marriages” with clients before designing their spaces with an eye toward both purpose and aesthetics.

By Kristen Ordonez

Fulfilling a passion through one’s career is not a priority for everyone, but it was for Kriste Michelini.

Originally from Evanston, Illinois, Michelini first moved to California at age 10. Later in life, after working for 10 years in the tech industry and specializing in business development and sales, Michelini decided to redirect her focus and pursue her passion for interior design. In 2002, she launched her own firm, Kriste Michelini Interiors, in Danville, California.

Michelini’s interest in interior design started out fairly simple through personal home remodels. These remodeling projects were well received by her friends who then encouraged her to pursue this more creative field of designing. Her background in business, Michelini says, definitely helped when it came to starting and running a firm. “My business grew organically and I was able to build a successful design firm, along with having a family.”

Kriste Michelini Interiors specializes in creating classic, contemporary interiors that are “as alluring and welcoming as they are utilitarian,” Michelini states. “Our spaces are well-edited and thoughtfully designed — beautiful, functional and delivered with a smooth, streamlined process.” What is also smooth, albeit extensive, is the interview process and work relationship that she aims to build between her team and clients.

“We meet clients at the studio and we interview them just as they interview my team. It is like a mini marriage.” Her team members utilize design questionnaires to get a sense of their clients’ lifestyle, preferences, entertaining activities, et cetera, as well as online social media tools, from Houzz profiles to Pinterest accounts, to “try to get a good sense of their style and their vision for their home — then we fine tune it and get started,” says Michelini. For her, it is all about the  relationship between designer and client: “It needs to be a great fit and we want to earn our clients’ trust as well as be empowered by them to create beautiful spaces.”

Creating these beautiful spaces takes inspiration, of course, and to find inspiration takes a keen eye and sense of adventure for Michelini, who says travel is a big part of how she stays motivated. “You see more clearly when you get away from your day-to-day life.” On the flip side, though, she also notes how sometimes finding new sources of creativity can be easier than we think. “Inspiration is all around us at home,” she says, “but we are often too busy to look up and take notice.” Also incorporated into her work ethic is taking into account the surrounding area and how our indoor/outdoor lifestyles affect how we live and entertain.

Michelini relies on both her knowledge of business and a helpful mixture of creativity and design tricks when it comes to designing. Her interior work focuses mostly on reinventing spaces to make them “highly functional yet beautiful,” through the use of neutral colors and textures in everything from paint to furniture. To help a room stand out, adding “a piece or two that is unique can really elevate a room,” she says, finding these one-of-a-kind pieces on websites like 1stDibs, Coup d’Etat, Blackman Cruz, and others. Ultimately, Michelini’s goal when designing is to make a space feel fresh, modern and classic, a true representation of her style.

“We meet clients at the studio and we interview them just as they interview my team. It is like a mini marriage.”

Looking back, Michelini does not have a favorite project she has worked on, relating the act of choosing one to the impossible task of choosing a favorite child. “I would say my favorite projects are ground-up, when you can design the shell as well as the furnishings for all the rooms,” admits Michelini. Her favorite rooms, however, tend to be kitchens or great rooms, which are the main hubs of a house. And though she has not gotten the opportunity yet, a dream project for Michelini would be the chance to design a boutique hotel and restaurant.

As with her dream project, Michelini hopes to see different trends emerge in the interior design industry, including a larger use of wood materials in homes, “to create warm, clean, organic spaces that are simple and easy to live with.” Michelini has a few projects on the horizon, mostly ground-up construction projects ranging from a modern farmhouse, a Hamptons-style home and a modern glass house. For herself, she hopes to grow more as a designer and get her hands on a few boutique hotel projects. As for her firm, her aspirations are as classically simple as her style: “That we continue to grow and enjoy the journey. It is important that I continue to foster a group dynamic that is productive, fun and full of trust.”

It was passion that led Michelini to a career in interior design, an industry that allowed her room to embrace her imagination. “I love the creative aspects [of design], and transforming spaces is fun. I pinch myself from time to time [as a reminder] that I get to do this as a professional and get paid to do what I love.” For anyone aiming to find success in this field by starting their own firm, she advises to not only attend show house events, but to also read and learn as much as you can about both design itself and business. “At the end of the day, 80 percent of it is running a business and 20 percent is the actual design work.”

Photography by Thomas Kuoh