One on One with Lynle Ellis of Lynle Ellis Design
November 12th, 2012

“With the recession, people still want their dream space, but now there’s a dollar value attached to it.”
by Jeffrey Steele

When Lynle Ellis was just a girl growing up in Connecticut, she already had the makings of a future interior designer. She was big on drawing layouts, and already had a very distinct idea of what she liked — and didn’t like.

“I started doing floor plans on my own at age 12,” she recalls.

“I looked at House and Garden magazine, and would do little pencil sketches of room layouts. I was big on sunken living rooms, and tower rooms.

“I couldn’t stand the Bermuda green tile I had in my bathroom. I knew from an early age I didn’t want to date a space.”

Years later, her many satisfied clients are delighted Ellis got an early start doing what she loved. She has been an interior designer since 1991, and has had her own design firm, San Diego-based Lynle Ellis Designs, since 1999, when she passed her NCIDQ (National Certification of Interior Design Qualification) exam and became a professional member of ASID.

Had she not become an interior designer, Ellis might have made a great philosopher, psychologist or commentator on human nature and the economy.

She is a shrewdly observant, honest and colorful interpreter of design trends, developments in tile, relationships between designers and their suppliers, and the psychology of consumer spending on home design.

As the housing industry, and by extension tile, continue long recoveries from the Great Recession, TileDealer reached out to Ellis for a candid examination of her interior design philosophies and how tile figures in the creation of beautiful and functional interior spaces.

She doesn’t disappoint, offering an entertaining and insightful dialogue on design trends for 2013, how the Green Movement impacts design, her biggest challenges as a designer, what she does and doesn’t want from tile vendors, and what’s ahead for tile, design and her own business.

TileDealer: Can you describe your design philosophy?

My design philosophy is pretty easy, and goes with my new tagline, “Inspiring interiors that enhance your well being.” Interior design is about creating a space that enhances who you are as a person.

To me, design is not just about designing a pretty space; it’s about creating a space that works for you and your family, so you have more joy and basic organization in your life. There’s a lot of function in my design.

My first question is how my client wants to feel when she re-enters her space. Some people need creativity and inspiration when they return home, others need peace and relaxation, or honestly anything in between.

That’ s what my design gives them, so they function well and get what they need to decompress from their outside world, be inspired, and be ready and refreshed for the next day. The space feels like who you are as a person.

TD: What do you see as the design trends for 2013, upscale or not?

I work all over San Diego County, and do one hour consultations all the way up to full home, remodel or reconstruction design. I see all economic levels, apartments to multimillion dollar homes, and everything in between. Design should be accessible. It’s not just for those who think, “Well, I can afford it.”

I see all walks of life. Here’s where I’m going, trend-wise, and how I design in general. Basically I mix different elements, contemporary with traditional, and balance masculine and feminine in a space. And that’s what the design trends are: it’s masculine-feminine, traditional-contemporary.

Even if I’m designing a traditional home, I will still incorporate a touch of whimsy, something unexpected, which might come in the form of super-modern tile on your fireplace, or a very contemporary lighting fixture. And then I always, always mix textures. That’s super important, and it’s not a trend. You always must have something coarse with something smooth, and something shiny with something dull. It’s the yin-yang of design and what makes a space unique.

A home can look too decorated, too perfect, and that’s where you have to mix it up, bringing a feminine touch into a mostly masculine home or vice versa.

You have to have that something unexpected.

TD: How does the green movement fit into your projects?

What I find with my clients is they will only take it up to a certain level. They’re not willing to sacrifice what they love for green design. They want green design to be something I think about, but it doesn’t have to be law.

There’s one thing I always do green, and that’s paint. I always do low-VOC paints, and luckily the paint companies have listened and now most of their standard paints are low VOC. What I’m doing right now is a project in the planning stages, where the client wanted green countertops. But on their own, they hadn’t found anything they liked. I introduced them to the recycled bottle countertops, and really cool stuff. It’s Vetrazo. It will create a beautiful countertop that color-wise I can pull the rest of the colors from. You have recycled blue, green and amber bottles, and that allows me to pull my color scheme for the cabinetry and the backsplash tile, making it a cohesive whole.

And that’s a big thing for me.

TD: What’s the biggest obstacle you face as a designer?

How honest do you want me to be? (LAUGHS) Truthfully, budget is the bottom line. With the recession, people still want their dream space, but now there’s a dollar value attached to it.

And that makes for a lot of compromising in the space within the design, and a lot of people are not happy with that.

They want what they are in love with, but have a budget for only what they like. What I do to balance that is have them tell me what they love the most, and we’ll work the budget around that. I don’t want people to sacrifice for a number figure. I can still give them a beautiful space around that one item they love.

Maybe it’s a chandelier they’re in love with, and I get in that by using a less expensive sofa manufacturer. That way, the focal point of the space is still the chandelier, and every time they walk in it makes them happy.

TD: What do you need from clients to produce a great design?

Open communication. It’s that simple. When I meet with a client initially, I want them to give me pictures from magazines of rooms they love and rooms they hate. That will give me sort of a vision into their brain. It’s really important they truly communicate with me. If I present them something they don’t like, which I seldom do, I want them to say, “Lynle, this is not working for us.”

So I will present them with different options. But I have to know. I would love to read their mind, but I can’t do that, so it’s as simple as that.

The other thing is trust. They need to trust they hired the best interior design for their needs. They need to trust that they did their homework at the beginning, so if they can’t visualize something, they know they can trust me as their interior designer, who can visualize it and know it’s exactly what they want.

TD: What do you expect from a distributor in terms of capabilities, delivery, and more?

What I’m looking for from them is the most current materials that are out there. I want to know what’s new and upcoming and exciting in tile design.

But I still want to keep my old favorites, the staples. I‘m not always going to design on trend. Because if you do, you end up with a dated design in 10 years. So I’m looking for my staples, [like] my beautiful pillow edged, glossy cream-colored tile. Don’t take it away from me! Because then I’m going to mix in your really on-trend copper or stainless steel liner. I’m really into metal now. It’s a lot easier to replace a liner down the road than it is your entire bathroom tile.

I’ll also do a beautiful natural stone floor mixed with some of those big 18-by 25-inch rectangular porcelain tiles on the walls. Again, the natural stone is timeless, and I’ll run that rectangular tile up the wall, and use the natural stone as an accent. So you have that traditional natural stone with the more contemporary rectangular tile.
With regards to delivery, I like to know estimated time of arrival. I’m trying to make a lot of elements work, a lot of pieces to the puzzle come together, and the field tile is the major component. I want to know when I’m getting my field tile, as well as when I’m getting my accent tile, so continual open communication between my vendors, suppliers and me is so important.

Let me know. If something is delayed, please pick up the phone and call me. If it is delayed, my clients and I need to discuss whether we will re-select, and if we don’t, how that delayed timing will affect the construction schedule.

TD: Would you advise distributors to change in the way they handle payment terms, becoming more flexible on terms, for instance?

I’m going to say no. I expect my clients to pay me upfront. That way, I have the cash in hand before I place any orders. I would not then expect my tile vendors to give me net 30, net 90 or net 120. I wouldn’t ask them to do that when I’m not giving my client those terms. You do need terms in retail, because you are attempting to sell merchandise before you pay bills. But this is different.

I’m an interior designer, and I’m not holding tile in a warehouse. I’m buying for a specific project, so I always pay cash up front.

TD: When is stone better than ceramic?

Stone is better than ceramic based on how high-end your project is going to be. There’s still an expectation in the high-end market that stone is going to be stone, and not something that looks like stone. There is still a stigma about porcelain looking like a natural material.

I understand it’s more durable. But in a multimillion home, the client is not going to expect to see 18-by-18-inch porcelain tile that looks like stone. They’re going to expect to see the real thing. In high-end homes, for floor, people still expect natural stone. But if it’s a family with kids, I’d recommend porcelain tile.

If you’re a mom and dad of three children six months to five years, you don’t want to worry about maintaining your floor. They’re going to draw on it, drop things on it, they’re kids. So the parents don’t want to have to worry about it. It’s the same thing in a home occupied by older people. I would recommend a ceramic or a porcelain tile, because I can guarantee the slip co-efficient.

TD: Do you see the tile industry rebounding, or will that take time?

It directly has to do with where our economy goes as a country. If it slips into another recession, it’s not going to rebound.

People are honestly tired of living on a tight budget. So they are doing more design. I have had more work in the past year than I had in the previous two years. I would say it’s mid-range rather than high-end. People are doing more renovations. Basically people were getting tired of being super-super thrifty. They wanted to feel that joy again that comes from doing some home projects once more. But if we slip into recession again, all bets are off.

TD: What’s ahead for you and Lynle Ellis Designs?

I’m a planner actually. I’m in the process of developing my own form of design show, where we may start with something just on YouTube.

I have a unique take on my design philosophy, and I want to share it with as many people as possible, so they see it’s not as hard as they might think to add joy to their home and their lives. ###


Lynle Hawkins-Struble (identified here as Lynle Ellis to avoid confusion), owner
Lynle Ellis Designs, San Diego

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