Are you a designer? Join our Trade program
House Call

Noz Nozawa’s Design Style Is Iris Apfel-meets-Maison Margiela

Words by Morgan Goldberg
a living room filled with furniture and a rug

Photo by Christopher Stark

In 2020, Architectural Digest named Noz Nozawa one of nine rising stars taking the design world by storm—and it’s clear why.

The San Francisco-based marketing manager-turned-interior designer has an eclectic, colorful style that stands out in a sea of beige-on-beige spaces. Even her more neutral projects, like the Japanese-inspired California treehouse recently featured in AD, feel vibrant and full of life.

It makes sense, then, that Nozawa cites Iris Apfel and Maison Margiela as the fashion icons that inspire her bold aesthetic. Each of her rooms’ quirks have a story and every daring shape services the space as a whole. Take a peek into Nozawa’s mix-and-match genius, from the architectural era that currently inspires her to the underrated material she’s obsessed with.

a kitchen with green cabinets and stools

Photo by Colin Price

What architectural era is inspiring you right now? I love the opulence and optimism of turn-of-the-century architecture. The history of travel and the exchange of art and craft across cultures can be a politically fraught topic, but toward the end of the 19th century, so many cultures were on the same page about being inspired by, if not directly borrowing motifs and materials from, one another across Europe and Asia.

What’s your biggest architectural pet peeve? Narrow hallways where the doors open INTO the hallway. (Speaking for my own home too!)

If your design style was a fashion icon, who would it be? Iris Apfel and Maison Margiela are two inspirations for my all-over-the-place personal style. Iris is a free bird of high-low self-expression. I've long-admired her career—she was a celebrated interior decorator and textiles designer before becoming our most beloved fashion auntie—and how her style is a celebration of her travels and her story.

Margiela, from its original leadership to the house's creativity under John Galliano, is the epitome of the silhouette as a statement. I own several of the iconic Tabi boots (also an homage to my Japanese ancestry) and even something as simple as their denim jeans with weird cuts in the thighs inspire me to think about how playing with volume and proportion can transform an ensemble's mood.

What’s your signature design move? There is a soul and a humanity to hand-painted wallpapers and murals that you just can't get with machine-printed material. They’re often customized to the lighting conditions, location of windows and doors, and any other nuances specific to a room, so that you can have what is basically a commissioned work of art in your own home, directly on your walls and ceilings. The feeling of magic, and of personalized attention, is so special to me and to our clients who get to experience this.

a child's bedroom with two beds, a desk, and stuffed animals
a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Photo by Colin Price

Photo by David Patterson and Emily Minton Redfield

What are you dying for a client to request? A bathroom entirely made of stone—marble, onyx, Amazonite—even the front of the cabinets!

What’s the most underrated material that you love? Granite is the hardy, durable, stain-resistant, wildly visual stone that never quits. Even as it falls out of the spotlight to its marble and quartzite peers, I adore the way that granite has such variation in its base colors, veins, and speckles. It doesn't pretend to be super high-end or limited availability. And it looks great polished and honed.

My kitchen in Tahoe has a granite counter that I picked because it is neither white, gray, or black—it's all of them. AND there are burgundy flecks and iridescent speckles throughout. Granite is more special when it's highly variable. I'm ready for it to make a comeback.

What’s your best small space design trick? Invest in a fabulous rug that fills the room. Small spaces mean smaller rugs, which means smaller dollars for maximum impact.

What piece always anchors a space? Floor lamps fit so well in corners of rooms that, whether it's a reading lamp or an arc that brings light into the center of a seating arrangement, they can anchor the perimeter of a space while also making as minimal or as mega a statement as its style provides.

a kitchen with a center island with stools
a bathroom with a large black bathtub next to a window

Photo by Christopher Stark

Photo by Christopher Stark

What are your go-to finishing touches in a room? Something with a face, something funny, and something that feels like a splurge.

What do you always buy vintage? Before built-in closets, adding storage in your house meant adding furniture, so there’s always great credenzas (or sideboards) available across so many architectural styles. Since these pieces weren't being handled often, many of them are in great shape. And as they aren't in wildly high demand, they are often being sold at great prices. So it's a win-win. I love to take a dining room credenza and retrofit it to serve as a media console in a family room.

What’s the number one item on your wishlist? A Christian Liaigre plaster chandelier.

What design trend needs to be retired?…And what should make a comeback? Copycat furniture sold at lower prices should be retired, while I’d like to bring back sofas with tall backs. I’m presently frustrated with how few options there are amidst a sea of low-back sofas!

a living room filled with furniture and a fire place

Photo by Colin Price

What hotel represents ultimate luxury to you? Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, Scotland. I don't require a hotel with the best spa treatments, a pool, or a world-class presidential suite with tons of space. To me, luxury is being completely transported to another world when you arrive, with excellent service and food. My husband and I stayed at Prestonfield House, which was once a private family estate, over Christmas one year, and we felt like we were in another century. The spaces were exceptional and inspiring and the grounds featured peacocks and cows.

What’s next for you? My first super-traditional project in New York City, and more videos where I talk about design!

Want personalized design advice from Noz Nozawa? Book a consultation.