Interview with Laura Brophy of Newport Beach Interior Design Firm - Laura Brophy InteriorsBy Marissa Meltzer
How Flooring Contributes to Interior Design
Newport Beach-based interior designer Laura Brophy of Laura Brophy Interiors has worked with Unique Hardwood flooring for years. We talked to her about how she became interested in interior design, her design philosophy, how she selects the best flooring for her clients, and why she likes working with Unique Hardwood’s engineered hardwood flooring.
Laura is a wonderfully warm and creative person who is a joy to work with. Her work has been featured in numerous design publications. We can highly recommend her interior design services. Visit her website to see more of Laura’s beautiful interior design work.
How did you get into interior design?
Initially, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer – my father was on the board of Woodbury University which was really focused on fashion and so we would go to fashion shows – and I grew up just loving the fashion world. I worked at Nordstrom as a buyer for Dolce and Gabbana, but one day I walked into a high-end upholstery shop, and I really connected with the owner who offered me a job and became my mentor!
After a short time, I realized that interior design was something I was really interested in. I think it came from watching clients bring in furniture and pieces that had meaning to them… something that their grandparents or parents might have owned, and then seeing how these old, often worn-out pieces could be completely reinvented – into something beautiful!
I became fascinated by transformation… how you take something old and reinvent it. There’s inherent creativity behind this process. My mentor suggested design school, and by then, I was hooked. Interior design and fashion are completely intertwined. I now recognize that my personality is much more suited to the design industry.
I was a senior designer at Restoration Hardware when one of my clients asked me to work with them on their home. I was nervous about taking the job and going out on my own – but in retrospect, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I feel very privileged to work with my wonderful clients to help them create spaces that they truly love.
You mention “immersive sensory experiences” on your website – how does flooring choice contribute to these experiences?
The flooring choice often dictates the overall feeling of a room. For example, wood flooring can make a room feel warm, while stone flooring might make a room feel a lot cooler. A lot of clients love modern design – but they don’t want it to feel cold. Adding a beautiful European oak wood floor to a modern space warms everything up and adds a lot of character.
Another thing not a lot of people consider is the room’s acoustics. Wood flooring is porous and absorbs more sound than tile or stone. Sound greatly contributes to a room’s sensory experience – so it’s an important consideration.
One of the most important parts of our process is getting to know our clients at the beginning. We listen and try to understand how they like to live… and how they envision using the spaces in their home. We explore how a room will be used before we suggest finishes – because different finishes can completely change the direction of the house.
What’s your process for designing your clients’ spaces?
We always start with the environment – where the home is situated. If they’re by the beach, we’d love to pick up on the coastal feel and the sunset, for example. Next, we look at the architecture – this is hugely important because the architectural style will often dictate the home’s identity. Thirdly, we look at each individual room and consider the focal points and the lighting. We assess which plumbing and appliances are going to be necessary. And we talk to our clients about how they will use the space.
The materials we plan to use are always part of our initial discussions. When we put together the design packet, that’s when we start to introduce samples and swatches. We love to get our clients excited in the beginning, so we will often show them the materials we’re considering to give them an idea of our direction. For example, with flooring, I’ve got a set of samples from Unique Hardwood showing the different finishes – and I love seeing my clients get excited about what’s to come.
Sometimes clients come to us having seen flooring on another project they want to use. They also might want to work with a particular board width – and we’re happy to incorporate that into our overall design.
At the risk of repeating myself, one of the most important parts of the process is to study the room – how will it be used? How is it going to flow? How are people going to feel in this room? How do we add sparkle? How do we make it feel intimate? Or how do we make it accommodate enough chairs for Thanksgiving? We want people to enter this room and fall in love with the whole package – not just one element. That’s why we work so hard to harmonize the space as a whole.
What do you consider when you’re choosing wood flooring?
One of the first things we think about is the width of the planks. We take the style of the home into account, and often that dictates the type of flooring we’ll use – for example, if the home is mid-century, then we’ll probably use a narrower board. We’re also working on a few Mediterranean projects – and for this updated “new Mediterranean” style, we’re using wider planks.
We also consider whether we want to work with a light or dark finish – and how this will work with the rest of the finishes throughout the home. We consider maintenance, too… the darker the floor, the more dust, and dog hair you’re likely to see. Budget is another huge consideration. But if we think that a particular flooring will greatly impact the resulting design, we can often find other areas in the job to cut costs so the client can have those beautiful wide plank floors.
One of the things I love about Unique Hardwood flooring is that they finish their boards with an organic oil finish rather than synthetic polyurethane. Our mission is modern organic living – so we’re not a big proponent of polyurethane because VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released into the indoor air we breathe when a polyurethane finish is selected. Hard wax oil treats the wood from the inside out rather than sitting in a plastic layer on top. This results in a natural wood surface without obscuring the beautiful characteristics of the wood.
Why do you like working with engineered hardwood?
We only use engineered hardwood! I wouldn’t even consider using solid hardwood because we’re by the ocean. There’s just too much moisture in the air and I don’t want my clients to have to deal with flooring that cups or warps from changes in humidity.
Should flooring contrast with the space or blend in?
It depends on the project and the client. If we’re looking to create a more subdued look, we’ll often do a tonal, monochromatic design – like an outfit that’s all white – white jeans, white t-shirt, and tennis shoes. But sometimes we’re looking to create drama and then we’ll go for a high-contrast design that really stimulates.
Herringbone, chevron, or traditional?
I love it all! I actually love mixing designs. I might do a herringbone in the office and then classic boards in other spaces – or I’ll use a different direction to transition between spaces. I’ve also done European style where we use different widths in the same room. That adds interest and looks fabulous.
How do you make a space appear larger?
There are lots of things you can do including installing wider plank flooring. If we’re working with a narrow room, we run the boards length ways which elongates the space. We also install window treatments that go right up to the ceiling, we play with spatial relationships between furniture items, the colors, and even how your eye moves through the space. It’s interesting – a room without furniture feels smaller than a room with furniture!
What are some of your favorite design elements to increase the feeling of luxury in a space?
As I mentioned before, I really love wood flooring for its ability to add warmth to a space. And often, warmth is luxury. Anything that makes you feel happier and more at home is a great addition. But it’s really important to install the right wood flooring! When we’re creating a beautiful space, it’s so important that we get the shell right… I always advise my clients not to cut corners on the basic elements of the room because they really can make or break that space.
I’ve worked on projects with relatively new flooring that we have to pull up because the client just doesn’t like it – sometimes it’s cheap imitation or a board that’s too narrow – so we have to pull it all up and start again. That can be expensive!
We often help our clients get more creative with their furnishings, so they’ve got more budget to spend elsewhere. When you think about paying a craftsman to install your flooring, it’s important you don’t skimp on the quality because you won’t be happy with the end result. And often, when you think about the price difference between a beautiful European oak wood floor and a cheap imitation, it’s usually a really small amount when compared to the overall budget.
What do you like about working with European white oak?
I really think that European oak is just a beautiful product – and I only recently learned that it’s not just a marketing term. It’s actually a superior product! Wood is warm and organic – both features I love to include in my designs.
And, I love the overall feeling of European oak – it’s got such beautiful warm tones. I have found that American oak generally has redder undertones. Unique Hardwood owner Wendy taught me that European oak trees actually grow taller than American oaks — so that’s how they’re able to supply wider boards in longer lengths. She also taught me how to spot non-European wood flooring because the knots are often filled with a darker putty – but European oak flooring uses a tonal filler that blends much better with the color of the wood and results in a more uniform product.
Why do you keep coming back to Unique Hardwood?
It’s so lovely to have good partners. We surround ourselves with businesses we want to support and people we love working with.
Being able to go into a space like Unique Hardwood is so important – they have beautiful large format samples of all of their finishes. These make it easy for our clients to visualize how everything will work together. Unique Hardwood also has so many great options – which means that every client doesn’t have to have the same floor… there are several different finishes that I love working with.
The amazing five-star service that Wendy gives to all of our clients is incredibly important – that’s what we’re all about. We want to ensure that our clients feel great about each stage of the design process. I love bringing our clients into the beautiful Unique Hardwood showroom which is so conveniently located in SOCO.
Unique Hardwood in SOCO
Visit our SOCO, Costa Mesa showroom, to find out more about our beautiful engineered European oak wood flooring. We’ve been in the wood flooring business for more than 20 years and would be happy to help educate you about all the nuances of wood flooring.
We invite you to come in and browse our full collection. We’d love to introduce you to our different flooring collections and help you select the right one for your project. We look forward to helping you soon.
Images contained in this article are provided by Laura Brophy Interiors and Unique Hardwood. Original photography by Hugo Landa Garcia and Ari Moshayedi.