A conversation with Andrea May

Andrea May Interiors,, La Jolla, CA

Photos: Andrea May Hunter/Gatherer, Bauman Photographers

(1) What is your design philosophy?

I was a writer for 15 years, so I approach a design project as if I'm writing a story. Every detail matters in the telling of this story. It needs to have a distinct voice and a well-defined vocabulary. Editing is key. I want it to be engaging, entertaining, authentic, unpretentious and timeless. My philosophy, I suppose, is not to fill up a space with a lot of stuff, but to really consider the quality, detailing and individual statement of each item so that it enhances the narrative.

(2) What is something people may not know about your firm?

We're passionate about Slow Design. Slow Design is to the home what Slow Food was to the plate. It's about mindfully choosing heirloom quality, hand crafted goods and antique, vintage and "upcycled" pieces with a smaller carbon footprint and a bigger heart and soul. It's inheritable design as opposed to disposable, mass-produced design.

(3) What is your favorite part of a home to design and why?

I would have to say the kitchen, because this is the not just the "heart" of the home; it's the life force. It's where my clients start their days with their families every morning and where they gather with friends in the evening. A lot of living happens here and a great kitchen can foster and reflect that. You can't keep people out of a fantastic, convivial kitchen.

(4) Three design resources you can't live without?

1. I'm always energized and inspired and come away with treasures at flea markets, estate sales, antique, vintage and second-hand stores.

2. I consider travel an indispensable resource. Whenever I travel, I come back with a suitcase or carton full of terrific objects and a head full of new ideas.

3. Companies like the Urban Electric Company and the local craftsmen and custom workrooms that provide beautifully detailed, handcrafted products are vital to of my work and I learn so much from them.

(5) Best design tips you have learned from experience?

1. Well, probably the best design tip I have learned is that it is better to scale down the scope of a project and get better quality than to try to do too much and skimp on quality. "Cheap is cheap," as Helen says in Midnight in Paris.

2. Also, as a native Texan, I would have to say that another great tip I embrace is, "Go big or go home." Generally speaking, when it comes to art, mirrors, chandeliers, ottomans and rugs, bigger usually is better. I hate to see a sofa hanging on to the edge of a rug for dear life or a lonely little painting swimming on a wall of nothingness.

(6) What do you collect?

At times, I'm afraid I might wind up on the next episode of Hoarders, but since you asked, here's a partial list: vintage pagoda chandeliers, Pol Bury engravings, books, vintage bar glasses, mid-century French champagne buckets, vintage brass Virginia Metalcrafters leaves, Italian gilt tables and lamps, Japanese woodcuts, original vintage French textile designs, antique French nature posters, brass owls, fish, birds and other assorted animals and faux bamboo trays. I'm like a magpie, attracted to shiny objects. Is it okay to mention that I will be launching a retail section on my web site soon?

(7) What are your favorite paint colors to use?

My go-to neutrals are Farrow and Ball's Lamproom Gray, Pavilion Gray and Clunch. Recently, I went to a color workshop and saw a mock-up of the new Benjamin Moore Color Stories deck. These are full-spectrum paints using anywhere from five to seven pigments and no black or grey tints. The complexity of these colors is spectacular. I wanted to lick Elderberry Wine CSP-470, it looked so juicy—but I held back. (It is zero-VOC paint, though!)

(8) What are your favorite design books?

I'm a fan of all the classics, like Billy Baldwin Decorates and The House in Good Taste by Elsie de Wolf. I just picked up Katie Ridder's Rooms, which is full of great details, pattern and color. And Bryan Batt's new book, Big, Easy Style makes me smile—and ultimately, isn't that what design should do?

(9) What UECo light do you like to use the most and why?

I'm torn. I'd like to use both the Campion Hanging and the Orpheus, but I haven't had the opportunity yet. Soon, I hope! I'm equally enchanted with each of these fixtures. The fixture I have used the most, however, is the Altamont Wall Large. It's such a chic, simple, versatile fixture that I tend to think of it as my lighting L.B.D.

(10) Your six picks of favorite UECo lights?

Only six?


1. Campion Elegant, graceful and timeless.
2. Parallel I love this sleek fixture in heirloom silver (my favorite finish); it's like a gorgeous piece of classic modern jewelry.
3. Orpheus Where do I start? This fixture has one foot in the past with fantastic beading above its lyre-shaped base, but a modern curved glass shade and a metal mesh inlay to keep it firmly planted in the present.
4. Gwenwood Love this fixture in a clean white painted finish for a little modern pop.
5. Garrison Fantastic scale and the etched glass shade is beautiful.
6. Savvy Graphic and wonderful in every finish (have sampled several), but my favorite is unlacquered brass with heirloom silver reflector.