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Masters of the Plan

A Design Firm That Does It All

Homeowners from the West Coast to the far reaches of Tokyo seeking the extraordinary, unorthodox, distinguished and unquestionably the most resplendent home design, seek The Design Collaborative, Inc. in San Francisco, Calif. Winner of awards for both the 1993 Professional Builder magazine's Best in American Remodeling and 1997 Food & Wine magazine's Kitchen Design, this full-service firm is reaching new heights in custom home design.

Owned and operated since 1991 by interior designer Michele Murfin, The Design Collaborative, Inc. acts as the liaison between homeowners and architects to reconstruct simple floor plans into architectural wonders. Murfin and her team of professionally trained designers collaborate with homeowners to develop a master plan for the interior and exterior components of the home and floor plan layout, and even stay until the last brick is laid to assist with furniture and drapery selections. We interviewed Murfin to gain an understanding of why people come from all corners of the world to hire her team to fashion their dream home.

family.com: Who are your clients?
MM: Most are people who are retiring to the Central Coast or those involved in high-pressure jobs. We also work with many doctors and lawyers, designing doctor's offices, law firms and even some restaurants. Most of our clients don't live in the area and are too busy working to do too much material selections on their own.

family.com: Describe the services your company offers its clients.
MM: We work with the architect to come up with the entire floor plan for a home. Usually the homes are between 3,500 and 20,000 square feet. We work together to develop the best overall layout for the client's needs.

family.com: Specifically, what selections are made by your team of designers?
MM: Our team will talk the client through each individual room, in detail, finding out how they will live in each room and their needs for things, such as storage. From there, we do all of the detailed drawings using CAD software for the interior: cabinetry, tile layouts, fireplaces, etc. We also select all of the materials needed to finish the job – including the exterior finishes – if the architect requests us to do so.

family.com: How lengthy is the process of custom home design?
MM: We usually work with the client for a year before the ground breaks to develop all the drawings and specifications. Construction lasts anywhere from one to two years, depending on the size of the home, and we are out on the job site through the entire thing. After the construction is done, we move on to window treatments and furniture. Some clients we work with for many years.

family.com: What do you consider you company's specialty?
MM: Coming up with innovative ideas. I try to stay on the cutting edge and do a lot of research for new materials. I also feel we are excellent listeners. Our clients feel they get exactly what they need as well as the style they want. Of course, the kitchen design is our greatest asset.

family.com: Does your team spend most of their time designing the kitchen?
MM: The kitchen is usually the hub of the house. In the last decade people have been entertaining at home more and will continue to do so in the future. They are looking for a room they can hang out with their family or entertain in but also not feel left out if they have to work in the kitchen. My background in kitchen design for a European cabinetry company gave me an incredible basis for organization techniques and style that I use in my own designs.

family.com: What role do you play in every project?
MM: Basically, I am the lead designer. We do everything on the job, including a lot of hand-holding. Most of our clients are building their end-all dream/retirement home and they want it to be perfect. Construction can be a very stressful situation, and we try to make it as enjoyable for the client as possible.

family.com: What do you feel has made you so successful?
MM: I love what I do, and I feel this reflects in my attitude with the client. I am a good listener for their needs and wants, and try my hardest to make them happy in the end. I try to keep up with the latest in appliances, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry and counters to give my clients the best advice possible in their selections.

family.com: How did you grow your business from the beginning to what it is today?
MM: I began by doing only kitchen and bath design. As my clients got to know me, they would ask me to do more in their house. It just kept building and building from there. Now we do everything. Once you establish a relationship with your designer and you "click" with one another, it's hard to switch over to someone else to do the rest of the house. After several asked me to finish out their houses, I decided to grow the business into a full-service design firm. As for commercial projects, most of those are clients we designed homes for.

family.com: Where do you get your inspiration?
MM: Finding new products and craftsmen that are willing to try new things. We are fortunate enough to have many extremely talented artisans in the San Francisco area. I am constantly attending conferences and shows to keep up with changing trends.

family.com: What are some of the hot new products for interiors?
MM: Concrete seems to be hanging in there in many new ways. Not only for flooring and countertops but also for tiles that look old and worn. I'm always looking for new hardwoods to use. Lately, we've been using many sustainable exotic woods from South America for both flooring and cabinetry/furniture. Of course, the appliance industry is always trying to come up with ways to make our hectic lives easier.

family.com: What design styles are most popular now?
MM: I think design style has a lot to do with the location of the property you are working on. We are finding that many of our clients want a very European look these days. Since San Francisco is the fastest-growing county in the wine industry and our hills are very reminiscent of Tuscany and Provence, you will see many structures that reflect that. I also tend to do many modern homes. I love to do the modern homes because this is where we can use our imagination to its fullest.

For more information, contact The Design Collaborative, Inc., 1110 California Blvd., #C, San Luis Obispo, Calif., 93401, or call (805) 781-3550.

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