Finding Sanctuary with Interior Designer Lisa Kahn

General / People / Places / September 14, 2022

Lisa Kahn is the founder and visionary behind Finding Sanctuary by Lisa Kahn Designs. Raised by an accomplished interior designer who frequently involved me in projects, she was surrounded by creativity from an early age. She opened her firm in 2000 and in 2022 transformed it into a purpose-driven brand and enterprise that reflects my mission to harness the power of design for wellbeing and refuge. A+A recently interviewed her via email:

Your design philosophy?

We specialize in creating sanctuary spaces that inspire harmony, inner strength and calm. I believe that creating peace around us helps us find a sense of peace and spaciousness inside us. Well-designed environments can provide meaningful surroundings where we can reconnect with what matters most, and we can nurture not only ourselves, but those we love as well.

Your clientele?

Our clients span the globe, with projects ranging from residential to commercial interiors—all with the underlying goal of creating personalized sanctuaries with the zeitgeist of wellness.  We have had the honor of working on some of the most elite residences of the Port Royal neighborhood in Naples, Florida, while also coordinating projects in Munich, Montana, Vermont, North Carolina and New York City to name just a few.

Your ideal assignment?

A seaside sanctuary in Big Sur, California. I fell in love with northern California when I first visited years ago. It has every element of sanctuary to me – mountains, forests, cliffs and the vast ocean. Something inside me shifted as I drove down that gorgeous highway and when I spotted the private gates leading to cliff-side homes, my heart leapt in my chest. I have been hoping to work on one ever since. 

Your design intent?

My design philosophy of creating sanctuary is at the heart of my design intent. Ideally, I’d love to share my understanding of what sanctuary is (as a space of peace and inspiration) and how we can each harness the inherent energy and power of the built environment to elevate our experience of living in the world. My deepest intent is to spread this message globally. I really believe there is an answer in the message of sanctuary that can solve some of the struggles we face as human beings today. 

How does the environment drive your design?

We honor the unwavering beauty and innate energy of Mother Nature in our work as we grasp her power as a healing force in our lives. We pull colors, textures and shapes through the spaces we design to blur the lines between what is inside and what is outside. Biophilia, as the seeking of human beings to connect with nature and life, is also a foundational part of our philosophical approach to the work that we do. 

Given that our mission as a design firm is to create spaces that enable our clients to experience wellbeing on every level, nature is a force that reconnects us with what is truly meaningful. We are astutely focused on what each client shares with us as their aspirational goals for their project. They frequently express the longing for spaces that are warm, inclusive and nurturing. We believe that integrating the natural world throughout the environments we create ensures our ability to deliver those qualities to them.

Additionally, we factor in the particular geographic region of each client as to how we integrate our biophilic choices. For example, our Vermont farmhouse will have unique influences of nature quite different from a Florida coastal home.

We recently completed a residential project we call Lantern Lane located in the exclusive Port Royal enclave of Naples, Florida. This spectacular estate sits abreast of a majestic lake that influences the entire spirit of this home. Designed with doors along the length of the back of the home, spilling out onto sprawling outdoor spaces, the lake is invited to join the indoor rooms as a veritable member of the family. The great room opens directly onto the lake and at sunrise, water birds pause and perch, motionless, drying their wings after a morning swim and honoring the start of a fresh day.  

Our design selections ranged from a soothing blue-green palette that reflects the lake and sky, to native Florida wood, specifically pecky cypress, which has pockets of darker wood shaped by fungi, creating a wonderful texture when applied to the study ceiling. We designed a fireplace in tabby shell stucco for the lanai which is a sophisticated nod to the tropical paradise that is Naples. Our fabric selections from companies like Lee Jofa and Osborne & Little captured nature’s color palette and designs, as did the Philip Jeffries’ woven wallpapers and the Hickory Chair and Palecek furniture featured throughout. Finally, custom, artisan creations like the dining chandelier and sconces from Louise Gaskill made with pieces of vintage Murano glass, were added to layer in elements that are lovingly handmade. 

Your approach to scale and proportion?

I am always looking to fit the human form into the spaces that we design. This calls for a particular proportion and scale, one where we don’t end up feeling lost in a vast room or slightly claustrophobic as we enter a smaller space. When we work with spaces that have high ceilings, we will treat those ceilings in ways that honor the volume of space but bring that ceiling down into the realm where the person walking through that space can experience a sense of belonging and warmth. We often do this by applying details, moldings, paint colors or finishes, raffia or wood. When we work with smaller spaces, we layer them with interest and texture (think wallpaper, draped fabric, and/or artwork) and then add elements like mirror to help the energy bounce through the space and open it up to the person spending time there. We have to feel comfortable in a space for it to be a sanctuary where we can relax and get back to a place of centeredness and harmony. 

Your material palette? Natural materials are always my favorite. I love all kinds of wood, natural grass shades, raffia, bark and grasscloth wallpapers, natural fiber fabrics, thick wool rugs, antiqued mirror, leathered quartzite countertops, live edge benches and tables, and live plants and trees. I love specialty finishes as well like capiz, penshell and mother-of-pearl. I also love bubbled, seeded glass in cabinet and entry doors. I often use woven rattan, bamboo and water hyacinth furniture. I use natural mineral and crystal specimens and love artisans like Aviva Stanoff and Kathyrn McCoy that incorporate them into lighting and accessories. I reach for materials that serve the goal of blurring the line between inside and outside. The effect is calming, healing and grounding.

For more, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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