When Michael Friedes was a kid, he convinced his parents to move out of their New York City apartment so he could design a space for them from scratch. It should be no surprise then that decades after that initial dive into interior style, Friedes is an award-winning designer with over 20 years of experience. After graduating from New York University, Friedes worked for brands including Giorgio Armani, and designing home furnishings for Ralph Lauren Home. Friedes also became the Design Director at Pottery Barn Kids, where he gained invaluable experience designing furnishings such as lighting accessories, beds, chairs, tables and storage.
By Michelle Konstantinovsky on 07/30/17 at 4:05 pm
1. Your aesthetic “blends the cosmopolitan sophistication of New York with the relaxed graciousness of California” — what does that mean to you and how do you execute that blend in real life?
I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan which definitely has its own vibe. My parents were very elegant and I was exposed to a savvy city lifestyle from an early age. When I moved to the Bay Area 15 years ago, I was really drawn to the relaxed, casual vibe and easy living. There is a sense of integrating the indoors with the outdoors, which I think leads to a more laid-back and relaxed lifestyle and look. My interiors definitely reflect that, and we always create spaces that are meant for enjoying and comfortable living, while still maintaining a certain order of crisp, clean lines and layers of art and textures.
2. As a kid, you convinced your parents to move from their New York City apartment so you could design a space for your family from a fresh canvas; tell us the story in more detail — how old were you and how did that all play out?
It sounds crazy, but I was 14 years old. They were toying with the idea of moving and I convinced them it would be a great idea. I am the baby of the family, and at that point it was just my parents and me, so we moved to a smaller apartment, which I think helped sell the idea.
3. You’ve worked for brands including Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren Home — how did your time at those iconic labels influence your work today?
It’s funny, years ago I applied for a merchandising position at Ralph Lauren while I was still at Armani, and I remember I used some Armani fabrics in my presentation. Their feedback was that I was very talented but my presentation had too much of a European flair for their American sportswear look. Working at Armani for five years in my twenties definitely influenced my love of fine fabrics, clean lines and the idea of tonal colors including the introduction of “greige” (where grey and beige happily intersect). Years later when I did work with Ralph Lauren I got exposed to the concept of total lifestyle design. No one does it like Ralph Lauren.
4. What were the biggest lessons you learned during your time as the design director at Pottery Barn Kids?
My favorite part of working with Pottery Barn Kids was going to the factories overseas and getting immersed in the prototype process. It really does take a village to make products and it speaks to my love of details.
5. Why the move to the Bay Area?
I never thought I was going to leave New York City. But you never know where life is going to take you. I was ready for a change and loved the idea living in such a beautiful area.
6. You’ve worked on projects all over the country — what are some of your favorite locations and why?
I recently completed a project in Sonoma that was such a pleasure to work on. I just love wine country, so I don’t really need an excuse to have to go there. Years ago, I did a very formal floor-thru co-op on Fifth Avenue that utilized my love of art and fine furniture. It really comes down to the diversity of each project more than the actual location. Although with that being said, I am still waiting for the Hawaii project to come knocking on my door!
7. Which musical album or artist has inspired you most and why?
Wow, that is the hardest question for sure. I am obsessed with music and play all different types of music all the time. I tend to get obsessed with a song and then play it so many times in a row until I can’t listen to it anymore. My favorite hits include; “Foolin’” by Dionne Bromfield, “That’s Alright with Me” by Andreya Triana and “Love is in the Air” by John Paul Young.
8. Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate! Reformed chocoholic here.
9. Action or comedy?
10. Sun and sand or skis and snow?
Sun and sand for sure.
11. Sleep in or start early?
My friends are cracking up with this one for sure. Definitely sleep in – I’m not a morning person at all.
12. Beyonce or Rihanna?
Hmm, tough one. But going to have to go with Queen B.
‘I love curating livable spaces infused with unexpected layers of color and texture to achieve an inviting sense of warmth.’ -Michael Friedes.
by New York Spaces
NYS: What are you known for as an interior designer?
Michael Friedes: I love curating livable spaces infused with unexpected layers of color and texture to achieve an inviting sense of warmth. I personalize these spaces with pieces from a homeowner’s collection, curated art, and vintage finds that remind me of their aesthetic. By focusing on designs that are honest to a homeowner’s personality, I find that clients inspire me to design beyond their own ideas that they wouldn’t have imagined.
NYS: What drew you to the field of interior design?
Michael Friedes: From a very young age, design has always been a driving force in my life. As a child, I managed to convince my parents to move to a new apartment so that I would have a blank canvas to decorate. I really wanted to have a say in what our home looked like because I have always believed that where you live is your most personal, intimate, and sacred space. Great design impacts your sense of being, and I love transforming my client’s spaces and creating that feeling for them. I didn’t choose design; it chose me.
NYW: How did transferring from the East Coast to the West Coast affect your design sensibilities?
Michael Friedes: Growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I developed a classic East Coast design sensibility of tailored and refined interiors. New York City is more formal way of living compared to California, and I love the character and bones of the older homes I grew up in. After moving to the West Coast, I started gravitating towards a fresher, more relaxed aesthetic with clean lines and organic elements. My recent project in Noe Valley reflects the ethos of organic textures, keen attention to detail, and bringing the outdoors in. My clients appreciate that after living and designing homes on both coasts, my aesthetic blends polished New York sophistication with a relaxed California vibe—the best of both worlds!
NYS: What has been one of your favorite projects to date and why?
Michael Friedes: One of my favorite projects to work on was a beautiful family home in Orinda, California, and I loved solving their challenging living room while still creating a sophisticated space. The homeowners wanted a multifunctional space for relaxing, entertaining, watching sports, and dining together as a family. To complicate matters further, the husband wanted a big screen TV, while his wife did not want a visible television anywhere in the room. To conquer this issue, I designed a new fireplace wall, and within the new concrete façade housed the large screen TV concealed under a motorized panel. There are also state-of-the-art mini-speakers hidden throughout the room so the room serves as a full home theater for movie watching. I incorporated the homeowner’s beautiful baby grand piano, a stunning chaise that does double duty as a loveseat for when they are entertaining and also a great comfy spot to read or watch TV on. In the corner by the tree is a round glass table and two chairs in front of the window that act as a great spot to sit with a cup of coffee, or play games and do puzzles (a big activity for this family).
The other key piece to successfully creating a multifunctional space is having flexible and plentiful seating for all different kinds of entertaining. In this particular space, I layered the room with ottomans for extra seating and many complimentary pull-up chairs for larger gatherings. The swivel chair is key as it can face the television, sofa or piano. The large custom sofa easily accommodates three to four people or serves as the perfect spot for a nap. Everything is professionally stain-treated, enabling the homeowners to serve appetizers or snacks on the coffee table before dinner is served. All proof that function and design can successfully co-exist.
NYS: If you have a blank canvas, what comes first? Furniture, lighting, art?
Michael Friedes: For me, it totally varies by project. I don’t subscribe to any one formula. I think about how and where I’m going to find the inspiration for the project or room. It can be anything from a beautiful fabric or rug that catches my eye, or a piece of art from the homeowner’s personal collection. Other times, the inspiration comes from how I want the space to function or what kind of emotion I want to exude. For the room I designed at the Children’s Support League showcase house, I was inspired by the space’s challenging shape. I upholstered the wall and used soft buttery greys, yellows and creams as the color palette to unify the angles and create a cozy, relaxing retreat.
NYS: What are some of your go-to sources?
Michael Friedes: Kravet and Duralee are my go-to sources for textiles. I love their mix of styles and wide range of color assortments. I can always find the perfect fabric to add a pop of color to any space.
Bernhardt is one of my favorite places to shop for furniture. You can’t go wrong with high-quality pieces with timeless appeal. I’m especially drawn to their design sensibility as it echoes the clean lines and tailored look that I like to incorporate in a home.
For most of my kitchen renovations, I use Cambria for solid surfaces and counters since their materials perfectly fuse beauty with function. They do such a beautiful job of mixing patterns and colors within the material so very few people realize that it is not natural stone.
NYS: What would a dream project of yours consist of and where would it be located?
Michael Friedes: As a native New Yorker, I’ve found that you can take the boy out of New York City, but you can’t take New York City out of the boy. Realizing this, my plan is to open an office in Manhattan within the next year. This would also bring me closer to my dream of totally redesigning a prewar apartment with all of the original detailing on the Upper East Side and reimagining it with a modern twist. I would infuse the space with gorgeous contemporary art mixed with a relaxed California vibe for today’s living.
NYS: Who or what has been an incredible influence in your career?
Michael Friedes: My father Harry has been an unbelievable influence in my life, particularly with my foray into design. As a talented and successful menswear textile designer, he had a sharp eye for detail and a firm grasp on the nuances of color and texture. His refined sense of fashion and design influenced my aesthetic from an early age, and I’m a firm believer that the key to successful design is in the details.
NYS: What are you working on now?
Michael Friedes: I’m currently working on a total redesign of a client’s vacation home in Sonoma, California which has been a lot of fun. It’s a young family with tons of energy, and this is the third home that I have designed for them. The home is meant for entertaining both intimate gatherings and large events. I’ve been filling the home with a lot of organic materials and special touches that reflect the family’s dynamic and spirited personality. I’m using local handmade glazed tiles from Fireclay Tile to introduce an artisanal element to the home. Olives and pomegranate trees are prominent on the property, and I wanted to bring the outdoors in by giving each bedroom a certain theme. Each bedroom has its own personality, such as the olive room and the pomegranate room. It’s going to be stunning when it’s completed!
With over 20 years of experience, Michael Friedes is a nationally recognized, award-winning designer of timeless and refined interiors. His unmatched aesthetic blends the cosmopolitan sophistication of New York with the relaxed graciousness of California. The confluence of these two inspirations results in vividly authentic and inviting spaces that are punctuated by distinct colors, intriguing textures, curated art, and sharp details.
At a very young age, Michael knew he was destined to be in the world of design. As a child, he successfully convinced his parents to move from their New York City apartment so he could design a space that was a fresh canvas. At that moment, an interior designer was born.
After graduating from New York University, Michael honed his craft by working with highly reputable brands such as Giorgio Armani, and designing home furnishings for Ralph Lauren Home. Afterwards, Michael became the Design Director at Pottery Barn Kids, where he gained invaluable experience designing furnishings such as lighting accessories, beds, chairs, tables, and storage.
Fueled by this lifelong passion for interiors and equipped with a strong background in product design, Michael launched his own design firm in Manhattan. After several successful years in New York, Michael relocated his practice to the Bay Area in 2009. His distinct design philosophy enables each client to go outside their comfort zone to achieve imaginative yet functional designs. Along with his talented team of designers, Michael has worked with clients on projects in the most coveted locations across the country. His work has been recognized in esteemed publications including Architectural Digest, Metropolitan Home and The San Francisco Chronicle. Michael is a winner of the 2011 Baldwin Hardware Design Competition, and Best of Houzz winner in 2017 and 2016. He is also a proud member of the American Society of Interior Design (ASID).
Express Yourself: 5 East Bay Kitchens Speak Volumes About Their Owners
It Takes a Village
Cindy Flinn and Andy Nadler bought their 1904 Piedmont house for its potential, and their small L-shaped kitchen was in dire need of living up to that potential. With some modest upgrades, the family lived with the cumbersome space for a decade. “I wasn’t in any hurry,” explains Flinn. “I was more concerned about getting the job done right.”
It wasn’t until Flinn began renovating rental properties that she had the confidence to tackle her own kitchen improvement. When she was ready, she called in Oakland architect Grier Graff, AIA, to completely reshape the kitchen — into a functional rectangle. As the project began, Flinn asked everyone who walked in her front door for an opinion. She steered away from copying her previous rental designs and set out for a vibrant new look. During this time, Flinn became fast friends with fellow mom and Oakland-based architect Rebecca Schnier, AIA. Flinn and Schnier pored over the drawings as their daughters played in the other room. “Rebecca gave me great ideas,” says Flinn, “as well as the confidence to speak up when things weren’t as I wanted them to be.”
In the end, the kitchen took about a year and a half to complete, but Flinn — who doubled as the contractor, hiring her favorite subcontractors from projects past — encouraged the slow pace so she could consult with her trusted pals, including Walnut Creek–based kitchen designer Pam Sherman over each detail. “I credit Graff Architects for the general picture and my friends for making the kitchen sing.”
Such details include windows on three walls allowing all-day sun, honed Carrera marble counters, custom cabinets by Matt Longden of San Ramon, a fireplace with a slate surround for cool days, a beech dining table from Room & Board matched with celadon chairs from Knoll that play off the lemony green walls chosen by color consultant Lois Wachner-Soloman, and a colorful window bench inspired by yet another friend’s beach house that has become the most sought-after seat in the joint.
Other touches that add up to some of Flinn’s favorite aspects are the frosted glass on the upper cabinets and the limited number of upper cabinets. “Rebecca suggested I allow space for art, and I’m so happy we did,” says Flinn, showing off the paintings created by her now-adult daughter, Molly.
Interior designer Michael Friedes, inspired by the open and airy design of the kitchen, styled it to complement the fresh feeling that pervades the space. “This was definitely a team effort,” says Flinn, “and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”
The “Maxwellton” collection for Baldwin designed by Michael Friedes (Image: courtesy of Michael Friedes)
I love designing custom pieces for clients. More often than not it is the small details that really make the difference, and decorative hardware on a piece of furniture can have a very big impact. Knobs and pulls are the jewelry on casegoods. Generally we choose from the millions of selections provided to us, generally designed for kitchen and bath cabinets. But once in a while, when the budget allows, we may also get the opportunity to design special pulls and knobs for a piece and have them cast in a small quantity.
Conceptual sketches for “Maxwellton” collection (Drawings: by Michael Friedes)
But how exciting is it to know that the hardware you designed will also be on hundreds of thousands of dressers, armoires and side boards, as well as kitchen and bath cabinets? One such lucky interior designer is my friend and colleague Michael Friedes who beat out countless talented designers and took home the grand prize at Baldwin’s national hardware design competition. Designers from around the country were asked to create an original line of luxury kitchen and bath hardware to win their very own Baldwin collection. Michael was one of the two finalists and was chosen as the winner at the International Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas last week. Designs by both Michael and the other finalist, New York designer Kathryn Scott, were on display at the show, and attendees voted on their favorite design.
Collections by Michael Friedes and Kathryn Scott (Image: courtesy of Michael Friedes)
The happy winner with his collection at the KBIS (Photo: courtesy of Michael Friedes)
Michael’s inspiration came from jewelry of the 1930s, especially chain link necklaces and bracelets, the kinds of pieces that combine both modern and traditional designs and also have masculine as well as feminine qualities. This does not come as a surprise to me considering that Michael’s father Harry Friedes was a prominent menswear textile designer who was known for his elegance and display of sartorial splendor. I have first-hand knowledge that the apple has not fallen far from the tree, and I am certain that the “Maxwellton” collection will be not only a stunning but also very popular addition to Baldwin’s cabinet hardware collection.
Bracelets the were the inspiration for the hardware collection (Photo: courtesy of Michael Friedes)
The collection will soon be available around the country. The pieces are so fab, who knows, there may be a even a waiting list. Congratulations to the multi-talented Michael Friedes!
Despite a childhood that included devising his own window treatments, creating vignettes in his room and even going so far as to persuade his parents to move just so they could redecorate, Michael Friedes’ first chosen profession was not interior design. “I always thought of design as a love,” he said, “not a career.”
After graduating from New York University, Friedes worked in the film industry and then at Giorgio Armani in sales and merchandising. In 1991, he bought an apartment in his native New York. His friends were so impressed with his decor, they solicited his opinion for their homes. He soon had a side business that turned into his own design practice.
In 2002, Friedes moved to San Francisco to take a job with Pottery Barn. After less than a year, he returned to his love: interior design. These days, in addition to client projects, he’s enjoying product design and developing an art catalog.
According to Friedes, design is 50 percent creativity and envisioning. The other 50 percent? “It’s psychology – trying to read people,” he said. “At the core, people know what they like. You just have to pull it out of them.”
The Friedes cheat sheet
The big picture: “I once had a client who got really nervous after her living room was painted. I explained to her that it was just the first step of the process. There was still the window treatments, rug, furniture, artwork and accessories. I equated it to dressing for a big event; it is not just about the dress, but also your hair, shoes and jewelry. After the room was complete, she called to tell me how much she loved the room – especially the paint color!”
Eco-chic: “A big new look is what I call ‘eco-chic.’ Eco-chic is furniture that is mostly made of reclaimed woods with burnished metal accents. The pieces are designed with such clean lines. Some have industrial wheels or hardware, as well as cerused finishes on the woods, that make them so unique and interesting. It offers a whole new twist on modernism, and the end result is a warm and textural look that can slip into most interiors effortlessly.”
Dining-room double duty: “Dining rooms are no longer just for eating. I like to put this under-utilized room to work. Place a computer armoire in there and use it as your home office. I love the Cyril from Ikea for only $199. I do all kinds of projects on my dining table – from art projects with the kids to photo sorting. I have a friend who transforms his dining table into a pingpong table with a kit available at Perpetual Kid. How fun!” (ikea.com, perpetualkid.com)
Color my world: “As a colorist, I look at the nuances of a color and how it will play into an overall design scheme and feel of a space. Some of my favorites are what I call ‘color without color’ – such as subtle variations of sea foam, khaki, honey and gray. A few that I love to work with are Benjamin Moore’s Mellowed Ivory, Sag Harbor Gray, Prescott Green, Mushroom Cap and Desert Tan.”
The layered look: “I am always talking with my clients about layering their rooms. I love to mix in different woods, finishes and materials. It immediately gives a design character and adds a texture to a room that makes it interesting. Mix in dark and light woods, stone, glass and metal, as they all play off each other when executed with a fine hand.”
“Talk of the Town” by Michael Friedes Design in 2010 (Photo: ES Creation)
For all my local readers and those planning to visit San Francisco mid November here is a chance to win additional tickets for San Francisco’s most over-the-top and not to be missed design event DIFFA’s Dining by Design on November 16th. SFLuxe is raffling off two additional tickets for attendees of the Table Hop & Taste event. Check out my preview of the event, and follow instructions on the bottom to sign up for the raffle.