Funky works of art, mid-century modern furniture, pops of bold color, Carrie Bradshaw-style closets. These are just some of the characteristics you’ll find in the phenomenal residential spaces from Laura U Interior Design.
At the helm is an ambitious redhead named Laura Umansky, a vivacious designer and mother of two who's called Texas home all her life. Born in Seguin, Umansky attended the University of Texas at Austin and later the University of Houston, where she learned the ins and outs of art and architecture.
After working in both commercial and residential interiors for other Houston companies, Umansky broke out on her own and opened Laura U Interior Design. She grew her one-woman show into a busy company that's been featured in the likes of Architectural Digest, Domino, Veranda, Martha Stewart Living, and Luxe Interiors.
We caught up with Umansky to talk about destiny, the visionaries that inspire her, learning from the past, and what it takes to create highly personal, immensely gorgeous spaces.
On being destined for her career:
"I was always on this path. As a kid, my dad, who was not a trained architect, was always designing and building our family homes. I went through that process with him twice as a kid, and just seeing that made me really interested in it and gave me the confidence to feel like I could do something like that. I would do things like design my own spaces as a kid—I would rearrange my own furniture, draw it out, write out my own plans, and draw elevations of home interiors. I’m sure a lot of kids do this, but I was a little obsessed."
On the evolution of her all-woman design firm:
"When I started, it was just me. I had a little shop called Laura U Collection for about six years. I had my little shop and a small conference room in the back where I was planning to offer design services, but I didn’t have one client when I started. There were some sleepless nights that first year or so, but I got busy enough that I talked my sister into working for me. It was very organic, the way I grew the group. We’re now at 14 people, which is perfect. It hasn’t always been all women; we’ve had plenty of guys working for us. Right now it’s all women, but I think that’s more of a reflection of the industry."
"I was just listening to a podcast called How I Built This, and it was an episode about the women that founded SoulCycle in New York and how they grew it. I find inspiration in entrepreneurial women and people in general that have a vision and work extremely hard to execute that vision. As far as artists that I love, I’d say Carlo Scarpa, a famous Italian architect, and Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect and designer. Some of my favorite women in design are Zaha Hadid and [Houston-based designer] Lauren Rottet."
On the highly personal task of designing someone's home:
"We get to know them really well throughout the entire process because we really delve into their lives. We have a very tight process here just to keep our momentum, because momentum in a project is extremely important to me. I think bad things happen if you don’t talk to your client at least once a week. We cater to our clients. I want their home to look like them. Of course we want to look like we had a hand in it, but I want it to reflect them and what is important to them. We do approach everything with a classically current philosophy. I draw on my education, and I’m such a research nerd—I will read very obscure things and dive into different movements in design and different periods in furniture. I use my education and background, but I bring it into now: making it current, making it fit, making sure it suits someone’s lifestyle. It may not be practical to have a Louis XIV chair in the living room, even though I love it, but we may do a current take on that so it works for the family."
On where to find great pieces:
"We shop all over the place—like a lot of designers, I go to big markets across the country. Locally we shop at places like Longoria for linens, Plush Home, Carl Moore—but they’re closing and I’m so sad about it. We go to Reeves Antiques for funky vintage pieces. I’ll even go to The Guild Shop and poke around and see what they have."
On a favorite project:
"They’re all meaningful. I did one years ago in 2010 that was a very large-scale project in River Oaks, and I still work with that family today. I’ve done about six houses for them. That was maybe the second or third home that we worked together on. It was a historic renovation. They had three young girls, so it was a very fun, whimsical interior mixed with some serious moments because it’s a historic home. That’s still one of my absolute favorites. We’re doing a home for them now in California that’s going to surpass that one, I’m sure."
On sentimental pieces:
"It’s odd, but I’m not really sentimental about my own things. I like to try different ways of living, so we move a lot. I like to design my own spaces every few years just so it’s my project and it’s my thing. There are few things that I do love, but it’d probably be artwork. I don’t get attached to pieces, though. There are things I love, but if they went away I wouldn’t necessarily be sad about it."
On favorite Houston spaces:
On social media:
"I’m on Instagram quite a bit. We use it for our business a lot, and I really love that platform. It’s made for designers since it’s so visual. I also share images from there with our team, so we are constantly sending images to each other. We use it at the outset of a project, but I still get magazines. I think I’m one of the last holdouts for print magazines. I read Architectural Digest, Veranda, Elle Decor, and Fine Art Connoisseur. I also love to read Fast Company, Wired, Forbes, and business magazines, too."
On goals for her company:
"I want to continue creating better, richer, more layered and beautiful interiors. I know that’s probably a given, but I’m constantly thinking about that. I always want to improve on my projects. It can always be better, and you can always learn something from the past. Making it better, more efficient, more beautiful. I don’t see us becoming a 50-person company, but I would love to work all over the United States, like in Colorado and California."