Bureau Expert: Lisa Villarreal - Design Bureau

Bureau Expert: Lisa Villarreal

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

photos by Terry Sutherland

Lily Jack founder Lisa Villarreal talks about making the move from furniture importing to manufacturing, avoiding cookie-cutter looks, and the importance of sitting in every chair

You grew up working with your grandfather, Jack, on his European furniture import company. How did his influence shape your love for high-end furniture manufacturing?

It fuels everything; it’s in my blood. I started helping my grandfather when I was in high school; I would fill in for my mom. I still have things of my grandfather’s — sketches, pieces he did 20–30 years ago — that influence everything I do. Lily Jack feels like their legacy. 

As a furniture importer, do you think your grandfather would approve of your move into manufacturing?

My mom and I joke about it all the time; I’m sure granddaddy has rolled over in his grave so many times. He was a manufacturer in his twenties and thirties, but it drove him crazy because it was so difficult. He got out of it and started his importing business in his sixties. Every time we launch a new line, it reminds me of how and why he got out of it. I’ve sort of done the opposite with Lily Jack, but it all comes full circle, for sure.

What is the most important lesson your grandfather taught you about furniture?

What my grandfather instilled in me is that furniture can look beautiful, but it’s got to be comfortable. I am involved in every custom piece to make sure everything’s proportional. I personally sit in every single custom piece, or as many as I possibly can. I’ve worked with so many different developers, and they expect that their vision is going to look beautiful and sit beautifully, and the only way that can be done is to hand-walk it through the process.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

We always have to ask, “What’s the next thing?” We keep making new things, and I think that’s so important. People love the same chair, but at some point, they get tired of it. It’s so important try to push the envelope a little bit.

How do furniture design trends factor into your designs for hotels? What trends are happening now?

I would say designers are using a lot of new materials, a lot of recycled materials. Different types of stones and a lot of metal. When you stay at a hotel, it’s more about the experience, and that experience is changing. I think it’s geared more towards the younger generation—it’s this very new age, and yet it’s a cool and hip atmosphere.

How does a hotel stay on the cutting edge of these trends and keep a look that is both true to their brand, and one that will remain in style for years to come?

I think, as a hotel owner, you have to be open-minded and allow designers to think outside the box, but within reason. Do a funky chair, but do it in a simple fabric. Do a traditional chair, but funk it up with a cool fabric. Do something new so that when the client comes back, they go, “I love the new look.”

Favorite thing about hotels?

That someone else gets to clean to the room, and that every room is different.

What one thing drives you nuts about hospitality design?

The bed and the bedding can be either my most favorite or my least favorite thing. The carpet is the carpet, but when you go into a hotel room, you go there to sleep. It’s all about the bed.

Your dream is to be…

…a boutique hotel owner. I would want to make it so that when someone visits my hotel, they get transported to a different place. I’d want it to be really special. In my dream boutique hotel, I would want people to go in and say, “Wow, I would love to do my bathroom like that.”

What project would you die to get?

Every project I get is a dream. We just got the Bellagio. It’s the second time we’ve done it, and I feel so proud to be a part of that. Maybe for me, to be given the task of designing all the furniture for a five-star hotel.

Or to design that dream boutique hotel of your own?

Yeah, that would obviously be cool.

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