Designer to Watch: Susan Manrao

Julia Millay Walsh

When we first met designer Susan Manrao and learned about her impressive career in the design industry, we felt a major pang of lifestyle envy. Now the principal of a Los Angeles-based design firm and creative studio, Susan Manrao Design, the bona fide creative has worked for more than a decade as a creative director and interior designer for global luxury and lifestyle brands like W Hotels and The St. Regis. These days, she tackles any design, branding, and lifestyle consulting that comes her way, as well as traditional interior design. Talk about a cool gig.

We recently sat down with Manrao to get to know her a little better. Read on and prepare to want to quit your job.

Domaine: What made you want to become designer?

Susan Manrao: My parents bought me a dollhouse, but couldn't afford the furniture. My mum would take me to the library, and we would get books on decorative arts to take home and build our own furniture. I would use old jewellery to make lamps and even built a Ming dynasty-style daybed for one of the rooms out of balsa wood and marble. Looking back, design is always something I loved and wanted to do.

D: How did you end up launching your own firm?

SM: The company I worked for moved from New York to Virginia(!) right when the recession hit. Being out of a job in a terrible economy, I started freelancing and fast forward five years, and I have my own design studio -- it goes to show that blessings do come in disguise!

D: Describe your design aesthetic.

SM: My style is eclectic meets indie-luxury. I love sourcing unique craftsman and artists who are doing rare, unusual techniques and creating one-of-a-kind furnishings and installations for my clients' spaces. It is a more avant garde version of luxury, focusing on the singularity of the object, rather than simply a brand or expensive material.  Each piece has a special story as to how it was made and/or how I found it.

D: Name a few things you love.

SM: I love the work of architect Paul Rudolph and Kama rugs by G.T Design pop culture.

D: What projects are you currently working on?

SM: I just launched my showroom in West Hollywood. Creative Registry is dedicated to one-of-a-kind home products and commissions. I love doing product development and working with creative, talented people to bring ideas to fruition. It has given me the opportunity to create product lines with two different artists, which I will be launching in the fall.

We also just celebrated the launch of Suite 100, which is a Beverly Hills Centennial travel program that will take place through December 2014 at five luxury hotels.  The Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau enlisted me as project director for this once-in-a-lifetime, multi-sensory experience for guests.

I also have a new residential project in New York, where the building was originally a part of the theological seminary near the Highline. It was built in the 1800s, and we are restoring it, while integrating some unique, modern details.

D: What side projects or hobbies are you excited about?

SM: I make these collage books, by colour, of all kinds of pieces of imagery from magazines or other printed material that I find beautiful. Sometimes I link them to emotions like "warmth" or draw or sketch on them. I like expressing things through colour and form that aren't actually mean to be anything.

D: What's inspiring you right now?

SM: Axel Vervoordt, Sleep No More in NY, Alexander McQueen and Instagram!

D: What are awards or accolades are you proud of?

SM: I had one of my photographs shown in an exhibition on fine art photography for the Museum of Contemporary Art. The design I did for the W Hotel San Francisco guestrooms garnered several awards for the hotel, for which I am very proud.

D: What's on your wish list lately?
v1 Visionaire, $350, VisionaireThe latest issue of Visionaire. This issue's theme is "Forever" featuring 10 works by contemporary artists and fashion photographers engraved into metal "pages". Every issue reminds me that you have to shift the lens through which you see the world every so often.
v2 Crystal Clear Bulb by Lee Brom, $212, LightologyLee Broom's faceted light bulb is the epitome of chic. Suddenly a simple light bulb looks like something from Baccarat.
v3 Cloudy Mountainscape III by Elise Wehle, $150, Paper ThoughtElise Wehle is my favourite new artist right now. She combines collage, painted and paper cutting, or even stitching onto her work. Each one is so unique and different; it feels otherworldly without being contrived.
v4 Maison Martin Margiela Snow Globe, $280, A+RThis oversized "snowglobe" by Maison Martin Margiela is the perfect desk accessory. I love how it has glitter instead of snow inside -- can you imagine if it snowed glitter?
v6 Facebook Like Stamp, $16, Harvard5fThe new office accessory: your own Facebook "Like" stamp.
Photographs: Courtesy of Susan Manrao Design and David Zaitz Photography (Creative Registry)

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