Sense of Place: Designer Caitlin Flemming shares the inspiration behind her new book
San Francisco-based interior designer and author Caitlin Flemming has dedicated years to both creating and chronicling artful spaces. She has pursued ever-expanding horizons, from building her successful blog, Sacramento Street, to cultivating her superb interior design practice, to writing her best-selling book, Travel Home, with her wonderful mother, Julie Goebel.
While Travel Home is a gorgeous paean to the many ways our adventures inform our aesthetic, Caitlin and Julie’s new book, Sense of Place: Design Inspired by Where We Live, explores how our immediate surroundings imbue our home life with meaning and beauty. As observed in the introduction to the book, “When a living space evokes a sense of place, it can create a more grounded, rooted, and meaningful experience for the residents—a feeling of authenticity, belonging, connection, and comfort that we all want to replicate in our homes.” We couldn’t agree more, and here, she speaks with Alisa Carroll about bringing those qualities to her book.
Caitlin at home in the Typewriter Wrap Skirt in Citrine; reviewing proofs for Sense of Place. Photos by Stephanie Russo.
Would you share the inspiration for Sense of Place?
At home during COVID, we started to value all the small things in life so much more. And we were starting to discover different places in the Presidio around our house—different trails, the gardens in the homes around where we lived. And we thought, what about people who are inspired by where they live, instead of where they travel? And that's where Sense of Place came from—it’s twenty-one designers and the stories of how their homes have been influenced by where they live.
"In San Francisco, where we live, streets were silent but for the sound of birds in trees. Our only outlet was to go on walks, and our reverence for the natural areas around the city grew."
- Sense of Place
You interview a range of wonderful creatives, from Malene Birger in Mallorca to Nate Berkus in New York. Would you share a visit that was particularly inspiring?
All of the people we were able to meet and spend time with were inspiring. I don't think there was a single home where I didn't gain inspiration. When we got to go to Penny Morrison's house in Wales and spent three days with her, it was one of those pinch me moments. I am utterly obsessed with her textiles and use them probably in every one of my projects. Just the way that she mixes patterns, and creates her patterns, have had such an impact on my projects and design aesthetic.
Would you share a bit about that visit? What was her presence like?
We showed up and she welcomed us wearing a beautiful tunic. She made every meal, and we were in the kitchen with her while she was cooking. It was truly magical to see how she pairs things, how she collects, how it doesn't have to always be perfect. And I just love that about the UK and Europe in general—nothing has to be pristine.
And along with their interiors, what influenced me was the designers’ presence. They're not attached to their phone when they're talking with you. They truly care about sitting at a table and getting to know you. Each person that we shot had a beautiful spread for lunch, and we just sat and talked and it wasn't rushed. When you have a pause like that, it recharges everybody.
Caitlin on the waves in the Cashmere Trouser
How did your own state of being change when you went on a particular journey?
A very interesting journey was one we started in Maine. We rented a car in Boston, drove up to Maine, and then we went all the way down the east coast to DC. We drove to each home, and from Maine, to Hudson, to Connecticut, to Montauk, and finally, Virginia. It inspired a new love affair for our country—it made us all appreciate the beauty of the country that we live in, which sometimes gets overlooked.
We were pulling over in Connecticut and I was thinking, “What are all these picket fences with beautiful yards?” It was May so it was beautiful: the flowers were blooming and we had impeccable weather. That was pretty magical. So that heavily influenced all of us—the beauty, and really appreciating what we have.
May I ask the obvious question--how do you feel your sense of place has defined your own home?
When did we move to California? 2004. My gosh, it's almost been 20 years. And before that Portland, Oregon and Mexico City. I've always loved this part of the country. I mean, we're so incredibly lucky. And I think the thing that always strikes me is whenever I'm gone for a long period of time, when I get off the plane, I take a deep breath and can smell the eucalyptus and the sea air. This is when I know I'm home—there's nothing quite like it. When we were away in Great Britain for sixteen days, I couldn't wait to come home and smell the air. Even though we were by the sea in East Sussex, it just didn't have the same scent.
My husband makes fun of me because when it's really windy and we have our bedroom window open at night I say I can hear the waves crash, and he's like “There's no way you can hear the waves crash, we're an eight minute walk to the beach.” But I swear I can hear it and it puts me to sleep. I just love being close to the ocean, and maybe that's why we have so much blue in our house.
What a lovely thread to draw though, that you've extracted the color of the ocean into your home. How does that present itself? In the wallpaper or fabric, or…?
I have a collection of transferware and Delft china pieces that I've collected on my travels. These two pieces of transferware are from my mother’s outing with Penny Morrison. They are beautiful because they're usually darker blue, but the two that my mom found are more muted, so they go better in my house. And then most of my textiles are in blues--blues and browns.
You feature Lan and her lovely California wine country home in Sense of Place. How did you and Lan originally meet?
Jessie Black, who had a shop at the time on Sacramento, introduced us when she had Lan’s collection. That's so long ago. It was at an event when I met Lan and we totally hit it off, and we've collaborated on so many different things since.
Lan at home in wine country.
"Spending time here has helped me regenerate myself. I can go into the garden and get my hands dirty, and this has been healing and helpful for my creative spirit."
- Lan, Sense of Place
What do you feel is the shared sensibility?
I think Lan and I have a very similar perspective when it comes to how I design my spaces and how she designs her clothing lines. I view quality over quantity, and I have always loved Lan’s pieces because they're so enduring and timeless. And I feel no matter what trend is happening, I can always pair one of her jackets with, you know, the latest floral top, or they always layer so perfectly with whatever knit I'm embracing.
They're also the best travel clothes. I live in her wide leg cashmere trousers, which she has to make custom for me because I'm so tall! They're like the work horse in my closet. I think I brought them on every single trip for Sense of Place because on shoot day I love having a pocket for my cell phone or chapstick, and those trousers have the perfect pocket—you can't tell that you have a phone in there! I also love them because I can wear them with tennis shoes, or I can dress them up at night with a cute flat or heel. I feel like they're these timeless pieces that I'll have forever in my closet.
I love the thought that Lan is also in the ether of Sense of Place because you were wearing her clothes while you were making the book. She always honors and evokes the true spirit of a space—you enter her shops and there are candles and Santa Maria Novella incense and beautiful crystal objects...
Yeah, it feels like a curation of her home in her stores, which makes it even more unique and special because she’s just such a lovely being to be around. I feel lucky to call her a friend.