Graphic designer turned exquisite interior designer Nikki Chu orchestrates some of the most transcendent, cutting edge, fashion-infused spaces – sleek, fearless, and multifaceted – just like the woman herself.
interview / ariene bethea
You’ve been practically designing your whole life; tell us about your work as a graphic designer and how it has influenced your interior design work. I can honestly say that I owe my success to my background as a graphic designer. I learned the core fundamentals of balance and proportions. Graphic design taught me how to place art and repeat patterns in design. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator every day to design. These skills have set me apart in literally everything I do as a designer.
What has been your most rewarding project to date? To date, the Xen Lounge. It’s a bar and lounge in the valley owned by Duane Martin. I had the opportunity to design it from the ground up. It allowed me to create an atmosphere for people to feel good, relax and enjoy the space. It makes me proud to see this popular spot being used for just that. My home line gives me that same feeling of pride. All my life I’ve dreamed of a line and here it is.
How were you able to create a brand that translates from fashion to interior design? What are the key elements? I’m an artist and I’ve always been into fashion. I used it as a way to express my personal style. A designer’s home is a reflection of his or her fashion sense. They go hand-in-hand, so it’s not difficult to translate. The evolution of moving from fashion into interior design was having the right opportunity present itself.
What has been the public response from your work on Girlfriend Invention? It has been really great; people love the show! It’s four experts – interior design, beauty, fashion and mind/body/spirit – who come together to change the life of one lucky woman. It mirrors “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”.
Tell us about the Imax Collection and what inspired it? My collection was inspired by my love for fashion. From my studded shoes to the quilting and chain on my Chanel bag, I’ve combined these very elements into the home collection. I also take my inspiration from vintage silhouettes. I exaggerate them and turn them into modern heirlooms.
Would you consider your own show on HGTV? Of course I’d considered it!
Explain to us how important timing has been in your career. Timing and being prepared is everything. I always have pictures of my work on my phone. I keep my website updated with recent projects, I keep business cards on hand and stay current. You don’t want to miss opportunities because you weren’t prepared. Preparation meets opportunities.
What is the best part of your day? Waking up and being able to work from home, create, light a candle, and have running water as my soundtrack.
If you could design a line for any retailer or designer, who would it be? It would be a home section in Macy’s – luxury at an affordable price. There is a market for bringing fashion-inspired home accessories into the home. Young people want super cool homes like Kimora Lee Simmons and Alexander Wang.
What has been the greatest risk you’ve taken thus far as an interior designer? It would have to be my work on Girlfriend Intervention. I go in blind with just some ideas from the clients’ Pinterest board. I have no other interaction and have to execute their vision and hope they love it. Thankfully my attention to detail pays off and they love it every time.
Many would agree that you were lucky to discover your passion at an early age, what advice would you give to a 30-something who has just discovered his or her passion? You have to stick to it. A lot of people expect to see results immediately, but it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at something. Give it a good 5-10 years to see the true results. You have to have patience – just because one door closes, don’t give up. Stick to your instincts.
There aren’t many women of color in interior design shelter magazines or who have a home line. Who has inspired you? What advice can you share with new and experienced designers who look like you, about developing a brand and product line? My brand inspiration is Martha Stewart. She has such diversity in her brand and product selections. No one else in space has done it like her, successfully marrying lifestyle and home.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. I can’t do things because I’m designing. You have to choose what is important. Success is a choice. Believe in what you are doing and be passionate about it and so will everyone else.With branding, there are lots of steps involved. You have to find a company that supports your vision and your dreams. Building a home line requires multiple license deals in rugs, home décor, pillows, bedding, lighting as well as manufacturers to expand your brand. Build a brand first and find companies that want to invest in you. Partner with large companies. You have to be successful in what you do first. Maintaining a brand’s integrity is also important.
What is the greatest sacrifice in building a brand? While you are building your brand, it is not paying you. In the meantime, you have to do other things to pay your bills. If you have to take 2 or 3 jobs to build your brand, do it. It doesn’t happen overnight. Try to get a job in the space of what you’re interested in – this way you are at least doing what inspires you the most.
What would be your favorite childhood TV show to set design? The Jetsons, super modern and cool.
What private brands do you design for? Z Gallerie, Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware.
Tell us why creating affordable pieces is so important to you at this point in your career. With the popularity of Pinterest and DIY home shows, interior design has become more accessible than ever. Having a stylish home shouldn’t just be for the rich. I am passionate about the home being a place for inspiration, a place to rejuvenate your soul. And if you want it to look like your favorite fashion designer’s style, you should be able to afford it.
This interview was conducted fall 2014.