L.A.-based interior designer Tiffany Howell is on a roll, with clients including Girlfriends creator Mara Brock Akil and NBA star Klay Thompson. She sat down with Effect Magazine to talk about sourcing vintage, the influence of music, and how she found her distinctive voice.
“Every one of my projects has a unique soundtrack,” says Tiffany Howell of Night Palm about the influence of music on her work. “We work closely with our clients to capture the mood of each project and then we compile a playlist which we listen to throughout the design process.”
Howell’s reveal is not surprising, given that her creative life has its genesis in the world of music video production. The designer worked closely with legendary fashion photographer and director Herb Ritts, ultimately heading up his music video production company. “I was exposed to wildly creative directors, photographers and fashion,” she says. “It formed my creative schooling.”
After many years in the industry and forming her own production company, Howell felt the pull towards interiors. “I was writing the treatments for the music videos, set designing and styling the talent and I was also working on some small interior projects on the side,” she explains. After her son was born, Howell did some soul-searching, which led her to make the commitment to interior design and the founding of Night Palm, with her life- and business-partner, William Melton. “He has a good eye,” says Howell of her husband, whose background is also in the music industry. “I am the dreamer and he’s the pragmatic one, who squashes my outlandish dreams when necessary!”
Howell’s new career took off quite quickly, with early commissions emanating from the many creatives she had crossed paths with in the music industry. She also opened a home decor store, Night Palm, populated with one-off furniture and decor finds from all over the globe.
I don’t buy stuff you can’t sit on. That’s just not me.Tiffany Howell, founder of Night Palm
The store, which also served as an early studio, exposed Howell to the intoxicating world of furniture and object. “It also functioned somewhat like a creative hub with creatives from all over LA coming to perform and collaborate,” she says, “but it just got too busy and I really wanted to focus on independent interior projects. We decided to close it and started to focus formally on the design business.”
One of the designer’s first projects was a 1970s-inspired fit-out for Gold-Diggers, a budget-conscious hotel and music venue. Howell and her team transformed a former dive bar into an 11-room boutique hotel with rooms inspired by the former venue’s rich and eclectic history. Howell fleshed out the interiors with a lush combination of vintage and contemporary furniture and object with art by the likes of Jessalyn Brooks (of whom Howell is a loyal fan). The project earned the designer a slew of awards and catapulted Night Palm into the spotlight.
The project was also an aesthetic sign of things to come for Howell, whose work is synonymous with the eclectic layering of art and furniture. “Most of the pieces I select are vintage,” she says. “I just love one-of-a-kind pieces.” Howell sources her vintage collectibles far and wide, often turning to her favorite galleries, flea markets and online resources. Her Miami Paradise project, designed for a furniture-collecting client, evokes the post-modern spirit of Miami with a playful, feminine and sculptural aesthetic defined by reimagined European 70s and 80s vintage pieces in unexpected fabrics. “In addition to the pink and blush tones, the sunset casts the most beautiful peach glow over everything,” she adds.
In her recent project Story 27 with client Mara Brock Akil (the screenwriter and television producer known for her work on Girlfriends, Love Is, and Black Lighting), Howell embraced her client’s request for an office that felt more like a sanctuary than a work environment, echoing the feel of a boutique hotel in the industrial interior. “We started the project during the early days of the pandemic,” says Howell, “when we were all really feeling the need to cocoon.” Howell elected to soften the space in a signature palette of blush tones juxtaposed with flashes of burnt orange and brown and with velvets and leather.
The designer opted for light cream boucle furniture in combination with an inventory of primarily vintage items. The hero piece, a beautiful brass and travertine banquet table surrounded by two Cherner chairs competes for attention with a 1970s, white lacquered dining table from the home of YSL designer Hedi Slimane. “I snapped that one up as soon as I saw it,” says Howell. “I would have bought it for myself had it not fit perfectly in the interior!”
Mara’s desk is a goat leather-wrapped desk in the style of Karl Springer, offset by an organically shaped reception desk designed by Howell herself. “Mara took a risk on me but we connected instantly and now have this amazing relationship,” adds Howell. The pair are currently working on three further projects together, including Akil’s New York apartment and Los Angeles family home.
Most of the pieces I select are vintage. I just love one-of-a-kind pieces.Tiffany Howell, founder of Night Palm
When asked about her decidedly sun blushed interiors, Howell points to an evolving style, soon to be seen in some of her latest work. “I like to think that people are able to identify my work,” she says citing the fact that she has her own distinctive sense of style, “but to also see that none of my projects are the same, given that each are inspired by client and their narrative. I am always respectful of the architecture setting and my clients’ diverse personalities. I never strong-arm a client, even though they rarely interject!”
Her versatile style is noticeable, for example in Beach House, a beachside resort for NBA basketball player Klay Thompson where Howell has taken the brief for “a beach house with lots of blue” and infused a typical beach house with organically shaped furniture and mid-century pieces. It also serves as a testament to Howell’s intimate knowledge of the world of interiors despite not having formally studied design. “I’ve been obsessed with design, architecture and furniture since I was little,” she explains. “If I am passionate about something, I’ll just dive right in. If something resonates, I’ll study it. For example, when I discovered the work of Gae Aulenti, she blew my mind. I feel in love and needed to know everything about her.” Howell lists Aulenti as a firm favorite, with mention of Mario Bellini and Gabriella Crespi in the same breath. If one were to pinpoint a thread in Tiffany Howell’s interiors, it would be her ability to create moody, yet curated spaces that feel resolutely lived-in. It’s due to Howell’s belief in creating experience. “I always want a home to be reflective of my clients,” she concludes. “I don’t buy stuff you can’t sit on. That’s just not me. You need to be able to utilize each room and to feel comfortable.”
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