When celebrity designer Nadia Geller isn’t creating new interiors, she’s welcoming customers into her shop on the urban frontier.

By Roger Grody

Nadia Geller — you may know her from “While You Were Out” and “Trading Spaces” on cable TV — has operated her interior design business from Los Angeles’ burgeoning Arts District since 2013.

That area, a collection of crumbling warehouses and factories, is experiencing an incredible renaissance as celebrity chefs, trendy designers and high-tech startups crowd into distinctive old structures as hip loft residences soar above.

After moving her rapidly growing practice to larger digs around the corner, the designer dedicated her original Arts District space to a home furnishings boutique that combines the charm of a Parisian flea market with the approachability of a friend’s living room. The 39-year-old designer, who favors an eclectic, comfortable approach, is known for creating spaces that reflect the personalities of her clients.

When did you first become interested in interior design?

When I was eight, I was already drawing floor plans, so I felt like I had a pretty good foundation when I made my career choice. I studied graphic design before eventually switching to interior design, but didn’t have the funds to complete my education. At 23, living in New York, I applied for a job at ABC Carpet & Home [the huge Big Apple showroom], and my hand-stitched résumé got me noticed. I ended up getting hired and was quickly promoted to Visual Manager, overseeing four floors of vignettes. I was given almost complete creative control, and began seeing my work on TV and in magazines.

Speaking of TV, tell us how you ended up as a “celebrity designer.”

I got a call from a casting director, back when reality programming was just beginning. Apparently I had exactly what they needed for the show “While You Were Out,” an experience that actually made me a
better designer. On each episode we had just $1,000 to spend in two days, so now when I have a short, pressure-packed deadline or tight budget, I have the confidence to know I’ll get it done. I’m not sure I’d want to do it now, however. The perks of being on-air talent are nice, but you have to expose so much of your personal life and my children wouldn’t have a voice to say “yea” or “nay.”

How would you describe your approach to interior design?

I like rooms that feel comfortable and welcoming, not fussy … places where you can sit and have a glass of wine with friends without worrying about everything being perfect. I also believe everything we put in our environment needs a sense of purpose. The bohemian movement really defines something I’ve been in touch with for a long time. You might call my style “collected and comfortable,” and I’m as happy putting a new fabric on an old chair as an old fabric on a new chair. Craft is important to me … where something is made, how it’s made and knowing how its production affects our world.

What materials or products are you currently obsessed with?

I’m really into natural stone right now, on walls and tabletops. I’m also into old, reclaimed wood and I’ve been on the wallpaper bandwagon for 20 years. There’s something so warm and inviting when there’s a texture on the wall … I’ve always been drawn to adding different textures that the light can play off.

When designing a residential interior, how do you get to know the client?

It entails a lot of hanging out at their house. I need to know how they start their day, how they move through their home and how they entertain. We ask tons of questions. We also want to know what they don’t like, which is just as important as what they do like. A lot of designing, I’ve realized, is knowing what doesn’t work.

Who in the design world do you currently find particularly inspiring?

Milan-based architect/designer Patricia Urquiola has a contemporary vision and eye for color I respect, and I love that she’s a strong woman with a family and her own business. She’s very inspiring to me, and her work always makes you feel like you’re on vacation.

What was the motivation for opening your store, Nadia Geller Designs Market?

Our firm is currently working on 15 large projects, so it’s easy to get lost in paperwork and a showroom helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. If I buy a sofa for a particular project and it just doesn’t work, I can sell it in my shop, where I’m constantly recycling the merchandise. The Market gets me out of my spreadsheet hell and gives me time to be creative.

How did you end up being a pioneer in the Arts District, and what kind of shopping experience do you offer your customers?

Because downtown L.A. is centrally located, it’s convenient for clients, but it’s also good for my soul. I feel creative in the Arts District and love the energy it brings me. It reminds me of Williamsburg [Brooklyn], the beacon of hipster gentrification, where I used to live. I see us as kind of that secret shop people might discover after having brunch in the neighborhood, a hidden treasure box around the corner. As a community gathering place, we host book signings, seminars and workshops on everything from planting succulents to building holiday gingerbread houses. Some customers want to chat while others don’t want to be bothered, and my staff accommodates them all.

Does your own home reflect what you suggest for your commercial clients?

We live in a classic 1930s cottage and, like my professional work, it’s interior is eclectic and comfortable. My husband likes Danish modern, so there are some of those pieces around, but usually when we discuss design decisions, he just nods … he’s learned!

To learn more about Nadia Geller Designs Studio & Market, visit nadiageller.com.