With 42,000 followers on Instagram and counting, Amber Lewis may be L.A.’s most influential “It” interior designer. Here, the master of mixed prints and laid-back living—who opened her first brick-and-mortar studio in Woodland Hills this month—shares what it’s like to be a social media star, why pink is the perfect color, and her favorite local haunts.
You’ve said that you fell in love with design as a child. Did you grow up here in Los Angeles?
I did. I was born in Hawaii but moved back when I was really young, and up until fifth grade we lived out in Woodland Hills. Then my family moved to the beach and I lived there until I graduated high school.
When you started working, it was as an assistant in a Malibu firm. Some of those beachfront houses—you can guess what the view is like, but most of us are left to wonder what’s inside. You must have seen some incredible homes.
Growing up in an area like that you can get sort of jaded because you see your fair share of beauty. My dad is a builder, so he built really beautiful homes, and we were able to live in them as well. But when I got a job working for the firm in Malibu, it was great because we were building everything from houses on the sand to houses up in the canyon, and I got to see how both worked. Malibu is one of those places where there is every breed of person. You have people who are extremely wealthy and have second homes and then you have the people who have been there forever, and even though it’s such a beautiful place everyone is down to earth.
Is there a particular house either from your childhood or that job that’s stayed with you?
The house I grew up in before we moved to Malibu. My dad remodeled the whole thing. I remember being up on the roof when we were putting up a second story and being so into it. I wanted to know everything and walked around with my own tool bags. I was eight or nine and thought it was so cool.
Did you get a say in that remodel?
Well, I got a say in the color of my room. My mom and I painted swatches on the wall. We had to choose a tone of pink—of course I wanted pink—and we went back and forth between two colors. I can remember them up on the wall.
Do you still like pink?
Um, yes. I have a problem. Thankfully I have a husband who understands pink is a neutral.
You launched Amber Interiors in 2010, but the studio is brand new. This must feel like a big moment.
It does! I was working out of my house and it was working, but every room was covered in pillows and furniture and there were deliveries—it was chaotic. I wanted a place where I could really be creative. And it’s nice to have an excuse to get dressed and go somewhere. Taking my daughter to school doesn’t count because I can still wear sweatpants. Now I’m putting some effort in. Some days I even go so far as to wear mascara. It’s a big deal.
You have more than 40,000 followers on Instagram. What’s up with that?
It’s amazing, but it makes me easily accessible in people’s eyes. People think because I have this social following that I’m fair game to be either mocked or mimicked or blatantly ripped off. So that has opened my eyes. It’s also just a weird position to be in. I’ve been somewhere and then later gotten a comment like “I saw you today,” which is a little weird because, it’s like, why did you not say hi to me? I talk about it with my husband often. It’s good for business and there are a lot of really supportive, sweet people out there who root for every thing that you do. That part is nice.
Does sharing come naturally to you?
It does and it doesn’t. When I started my blog four years ago I struggled a lot. Do I talk about my kid and do I go into details? I eventually warmed up to it but in the beginning I wanted to keep some things private. As it has grown, I’ve become less perfect and private.
How does it feel to see your work pop up on inspiration boards across the Web?
This morning I was on Apartment Therapy, and that’s something that four years ago I would have dreamed about. I still get a rush, I can’t lie.But it doesn’t go to my head. I’m very humbled by it. I can’t believe I’m able to do what I love and make a living.
Your aesthetic is so quintessentially L.A.—and that’s not easy to pin down. How do you describe your taste?
It’s laid back and comfortable. I try not to design anything that’s too precious. I’m not going to pick a coffee table that you couldn’t put some sandy feet on. My design is for family and comfort. I live that way. I accredit that to the environment I grew up in. My mom was a crazy hippie. We would have scarves on lamps—but really nice lamps.
You work on a lot of remodels. What local architecture history do you wish never happened?
Oh man! Well everything is inspired by something, right? Art Deco isn’t my cup of tea but there are elements of it I’m drawn to. I’m not into the overly gaudy interpretation of Tuscan style. Sometimes I’ll drive around and see these cute little bungalows torn to shreds with columns in the front. I wish that look was eradicated.
What do you want to see more of in Los Angeles?
Really cute stores featuring local artisans. I just wish there was not such a need for a car. We recently took my daughter to the Natural History Museum and got on the train from North Hollywood and it was not easy. But L.A. is an awesome place to be right now. I love the Valley. When we moved out here from Santa Monica I was like, what are we doing? Now there’s a bunch of cute restaurants and it’s starting to turn around. If I can help make the Valley cool, I’d be happy to put my face on that.
Your designs usually include calming neutrals, natural fabrics, mixed prints, and pops of color. What’s your secret to tying it all together?
This may seem crazy, but it makes sense to me: I go into a space with a million different fabrics and things and throw it all on the floor. Whatever doesn’t gel, we take out. Whatever does, we leave. We build on that. Don’t be afraid to mix things so long as the tone is the same.
For someone who isn’t starting from scratch, what one item can quickly transform a room?
Pillows. It’s why I’ve gone into the business of pillows. They change the whole space. If you have a sofa that’s just tired and sad you can make it look better. Pillows are like accessories on an outfit.
What’s your favorite L.A. place to shop?
I was just at the General Store in Venice and its such a great little boutique. I walked away with rings for my fingers and little key chains that were cute and leather coasters. If you’re in the market for furniture or bigger ticket items, go to Nicky Kehoe. They have the vibe down.