Lucille Buell, a St. Helena native with a deep love of the Napa Valley, said she is thrilled to have recently returned to the area that inspires her work.
An interior designer with her own firm, Buell’s path to success was eclectic — unlike the signature clean lines and tailored style for which she has become known.
A pre-med major while in college at Vanderbilt University, Buell graduated with a bachelor of science degree and accepted a job in the genetics department of UCSF’s cancer center. Disenchanted by the lack of work-life balance in the lives of the doctors she observed, she changed directions and spent the next year and half working in the wealth management sector of the finance industry.
Despite spending her free time decorating, redecorating and poring over design magazines, Buell said she didn’t think it was possible to do interior design full-time.
She credits then-boyfriend, now-husband Justin Buell for encouraging her to pursue what she loves. Buell traded her job in finance for interior design classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and an unpaid internship with Cheryl DuCote Interior Architecture and Design.
The internship evolved into a paying position that Buell described as “an incredible learning opportunity.” Thanks to the large amount of work the firm had, Buell said she got a chance to really “own” her projects and build her confidence.
The downside to working for DuCote, she admitted, was that the projects could be a bit unfulfilling because she had to adhere to her boss’s aesthetic rather than her own.
“I describe my style as well-edited, calm, casually elegant, classic modern,” the designer said.
A few years into her career, Buell joined designer Caitlin Moran. “We were doing great work,” she recalled, “work I was really proud of.” But her time there was cut short by the economic downturn of 2008, which led Moran to let go of her staff.
After that, Buell said she was surprised by the fact that she was able to remain busy. “I looked for another job, but no one was hiring,” she said. Instead, she began accepting the requests of people she knew to help them with their design projects.
“The work required me to get a resale license and set up my business,” she said, noting that was how Lucille Buell Interior Design got started.
Originally based in San Francisco, the designer has worked on projects from Atlanta, Ga., to Sun Valley, Idaho, but has always concentrated on the Bay Area.
Buell said home designs are “deeply personal and reflect so much about the individuals that live there.” Keeping this in mind, she said her intention when working is to create a design that “uniquely reflects the character and aesthetic of the client, creating a more meaningful connection with their home.”
To achieve this, Buell said she conducts initial meetings in a client’s home so she can get a sense of their space. She also has them complete a questionnaire and flip through images of interiors in order to help define their individual style.
For clients in search of a more customized look, Buell designs the furnishings herself.
“It is immensely gratifying to create something that reflects the architecture so fittingly, that is specifically scaled to the client’s size and is something so uniquely theirs,” she said.
Buell, who brings the pieces to life with various upholsterers, woodworkers, metal workers and vendors from the Bay Area, described the process as one of her favorite things.
Having recently returned with her husband and young daughter to her hometown of St. Helena, Buell said she has come to realize just how much of her aesthetic is rooted in the Napa Valley.
“The spirit of this area is a dichotomy of casual elegance and approachable sophistication,” she said, adding that people in the valley are welcoming, respectful of their beautiful surroundings and love to entertain.
She also noted being drawn to the color palette that surrounded her during her upbringing: soft lavenders and blues, gray-greens, and clay, dirt and stone hues.
Having recently completed a project for Colleen and Jon-Mark Chappellet in St. Helena, the designer is already busy with three other homes in San Francisco and Marin.
Looking ahead, Buell said she would “like to bring even more beauty, culture and intrigue to this community” by eventually opening her own design showroom with furnishings from all over the world.
Until then, her services can be rendered for $80 an hour plus a 20 percent markup on interiors.