Designer Crush: Laura U Interior Design

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Houston’s Laura Umansky founded in 2006, but the natural creator has been dreaming up interiors from a young age. Taking inspiration from her environment and calling upon her formal architectural education, Umansky assesses every project holistically to form a cohesive design that brings each home’s innate beauty to light while maximizing its functionality. Learn more in our Q+A below.

How did you get your start in design?

Looking back on it, I had about a 10 year journey to get from college to the founding of my design firm. I studied Art at the University of Texas in Austin. I focused on sculptural ceramics and photography, which I loved. Digital photography hadn’t come into the curriculum at that point, so I was working with film. You move a lot slower with film than with the digital medium, and I spent a lot of time in the dark room, honing my eye for composition.. I got really good at finding the right visual balance from the outset. It sounds like a big jump from photography to design, but I had a passion for interiors from a young age.

So after undergrad, I worked for a commercial interior designer and we worked really closely together designing interiors for car dealerships. Since it was just the two of us, it was very immersive and hands-on. But I knew after that, I didn’t want to work in commercial design. I went back to school to earn my Master of Architecture degree at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design at the University of Houston.

Studying architecture was incredibly formative for me and has deeply influenced my approach to interiors. In my last year of grad school, I was given the opportunity to work with Resort Design Group designing resort homes in Cabo San Lucas. Designing luxury residences in Mexico was an absolute dream. I was there for 2.5 years and I then started my own luxury residential firm, Laura U, shortly afterwards. 

What’s your process for getting to know a new client?

It takes time to cultivate the client relationship. The foundation begins whenever they reach out to the firm for that first consultation. It could be email or a phone call. All clients start out with a vision of what they want their home to look like. Whether that vision is crystal clear or a little fuzzy, we want to get what’s in their brain into ours. We start with the big picture, asking very broad, sweeping questions: Where do you like to travel? What is your favorite food? What kind of music do you listen to? Then we go into: What colors do you hate? What patterns do you want us to avoid? We move from this general lifestyle line of questioning into more specific ones concerning pattern, color, and preferred style. We spend time with them in their current homes, exploring what they love and what they don’t love, what works and what could be improved. Over the course of the project (which could take 7 months to 2 years) we spend a lot of time together distilling their tastes. We meet in person, we email, we text, we collaborate on socials…there is a lot of communication involved.

How does Texas style differ from California style in terms of interiors?

The Texas environment is completely different. And I mean that the way we live is dictated by our environment. California is very much focused on uniting the interior and exterior, with a focus on the indoor/outdoor lifestyle. Where I live in Houston, it is hot and humid. During the summer it’s almost unbearable to be outdoors. So Texas interiors are a little more formal and focused inward. In terms of style, California is relaxed, yet extremely refined and sophisticated. Very modern and casual. Their décor and furnishings are more organic in their shapes and materials – an earthier, softer aesthetic that feels coastal, serene, desert-like. Texas is also relaxed, but there is a more traditional approach. Most of our clients request formal living spaces, like music rooms and dining rooms, and we get more relaxed in intimate spaces, like the bedrooms and play areas. It all goes back to the environment and landscape. We don’t have mountains and coastline and hiking, so that natural element wouldn’t be a natural fit in our interiors. It would feel forced.  Texas leans more classic Southern.

Who are some of your biggest professional influences and why?

Carlo Scarpa, an Italian architect, has had a major impact on my view of design. His work is detailed and tectonic. He exposed joinery and mechanisms that normally would be hidden, and that has had a big influence on me and my work. In the design space, I love Rose Tarlow. I read The Private House early in my career and her language and the way she romanticizes design had an impact on me. The way she writes sounds like her aesthetic: clear, romantic, and warm. Her outlook is embodied in everything she does in a genuine, authentic way. I tend to have a very romantic view of the world, so she has been a big influence throughout my career.

Who’s your dream celebrity client and what would you create for them?

Stanley Kubrick. I would redesign the Overlook Hotel from the film The Shining. The Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King to write the book, is in Estes Park, CO. and I love the CO landscape. That would be the one commercial project I’d take on!

Describe your perfect vacation.

I spend the month of July in Snowmass and Aspen nearly every year, and I love every moment of it. I really do like to work, so this was a working vacation. Michael and I would work outdoors on the patio in the mornings against the wooded landscape of mountains and rolling hills. It’s inspiring. In the afternoons, we’d pick up our girls from camp and go for a hike. It’s perfect weather, around 65-70 during the day. For Houstonians, this is summer paradise!

Lightning round!

First album you ever bought?

The first album my mom bought for me (which she claims I requested) was a 45 EP: The Steve Miller Band’s Abracadabra. The first album I ever bought for myself was either Pearl Jam’s Ten or Nirvana’s Nevermind. I was very much a ‘90s kid.

Favorite ice cream flavor?

Mint chocolate chip or coconut sorbet.

Tattoos: yay or nay?

My 17 year old self, “YAY,” but my adult self “NAY!”

Go-to karaoke song?

I’m not the best singer, so I have to say a group rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Everyone gets involved and it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing! It’s a crowd-pleaser.


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