The Los Angeles–based interior designer and showroom impresario behind Lucas Studio and Harbinger opens up about collected style, personal preferences and the power of quirk.
Joe, you are one of our longest-standing clients. Do you remember how we met and started working together?
Oh, wow. Yes, it’s been ages—I want to say 2005 or 2006? I think I had seen an ad you guys were running at the time. The collection was obviously much smaller then, but I fell in love instantly. I started reaching out for product for clients, got to know Dave and Michael and the crew locally, and my orders just kept growing. A lot has changed since then, obviously, but I loved how our relationship was always so easy. Everything was pretty and easy and quick and well-priced for the quality. And I really liked the fact that your lights were, and still are, made in the US.
You’ve always been a designer’s designer, too, so we had some clients and friends in common from the beginning.
Exactly. I’m really good friends with Amanda Nisbet. When her Urban Electric collection was coming out, I had recently opened Harbinger, my original showroom, which is really tiny in this cute little courtyard called Almont Yard. It has a little garden, and we ended up hosting Amanda’s Los Angeles release party here. So that is when the love affair officially took off.
Ok, enough about us. Let’s talk about you and your work. Give us a little overview of the Lucas Studio process. How do you approach a space or project? What's the first thing you do?
When I'm working with design clients, my process depends on the house and the client, taking in the overall vibe of the house and then going off that. A lot of the times it's one piece that catches my eye and it starts flying from there. Sometimes it's finding that rug that is really going to define the space, and we build everything off of that. Sometimes it's the light fixture, which depends a lot on the room—if it's a really specific, large-scale room that needs something really decorative, for instance, then it might call for a massive lantern or cool, funky chandelier in a crazy color. Or it’s an era or aesthetic, going a little more modern, or mid-century, or traditional, and then we start filling in with our favorite things, whether those products are from Harbinger or not.
How often is the thing that sets it all into motion something pre-existing in the client’s collection versus something you introduce and get a reaction to?
Usually we don't show a client little things at the beginning. We try to do an entire presentation—though every once in awhile, if it's something that we're nervous about or a really big thing that’s either expensive or an important antique we might show it and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ Because we all know that if you start to show too many single items in the beginning and the client doesn't know how it’ll all play together in the end, it almost confuses them more. So I typically feel it's more beneficial to show the whole story all at once, then nit-pick little pieces.
You're really working with people who want to start from scratch or do everything over then?
Some clients we have are just sort of decorating—a little bit here and a few pieces there. But we tend to prefer either ground-up projects or whole house re-do.
Is there one item you need in every room? Or one color or design element that's essential to every Joe Lucas space?
Great lighting is very important, as is great carpet. Also, fun art. It doesn't have to be the most expensive piece of art or a huge thing, but it should be something that is cool and has a story. The biggest thing for the way we work is this: Everything has to be comfortable and livable. We want our spaces to really be somewhere that you feel like you can live in and move into easily, and not just treat like a showpiece or a gallery. There are beautiful rooms out there that look like that, but it's also nice to be able to sit back and kick up your feet and have a drink.
Which is where the layered precision your projects are known for really comes into play, right?
Absolutely. A room, a space, a house needs to feel like it's always been there, but also that it can continue to evolve, I can imagine.
How many cues do you take from the architecture and the space itself and how much do you let what you put in be the cues that define how it can grow from there?
You certainly can't ignore the architecture. If it's a Spanish-Mediterranean style house, I'm not going to make it all mid-century. And the same thing with a really modern house—it's not going to be filled with a bunch of brown furniture and Gothic-style chairs. But there are bits and pieces of disparate elements that you can mix in.You definitely have to pay attention to the architecture, but I think there are ways you can manipulate it and make it all sort of blend together.
So interesting that you have a showroom but create spaces that are decidedly unshowroom-like...
Yes and no. I think of myself as more of a curator, someone who mixes a lot of styles together to achieve a unique and original look. The layered look you mentioned that I'm known for comes into play. I'm definitely not a minimalist. But certain clients like things a little bit cleaner and more spare, and if you’re going to have it that way, each piece needs to be important. Again, not crazy important or expensive, but with enough story and interest to make it count. I mean, if you're only having about six or seven pieces in one room, they gotta be good pieces.
Most designers have a finishing tradition—something they add or pull away at the last minute. What’s yours?
There's definitely always a little shot of color that rounds the whole thing out—usually some element of blue or green for us but it’ll be a pop of something unexpected. We love something a little quirky. A little off. And it can come through in pattern or accessories, too. The point is that it feels collected. There’s no soul in a room that feels brand new, even when it is.