Women in Business: Lisa Lorino, Founder, LJLdesigns

04/29/2015 05:06 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

Lisa Lorino is the founder of LJLdesigns, a San Francisco-based interior design firm. She began her career at the famed Rockwell Group in New York City where, in her words, she was first exposed to the "crème de le crème of interior design." In 2000, Lisa moved to San Francisco to work for BraytonHughes. While there, Lisa rapidly rose up in the ranks to become the youngest Vice President at the firm.

In 2004, Lisa founded her own firm, LJLdesign, based on numerous client requests for her to do their personal homes. Lisa's outgoing personality, passion for design, and incredible work ethic resulted in many new clients for LJLdesigns while maintaining her role as a leader of design at BraytonHughes.

In 2010, Lisa collaborated with Discovery Home on a 13,000 sq. ft. residential renovation in Beverly Hills for Alex Von Furstenberg and segued her business to residential design full time. She has spent the last five years creating stunning designs in some of the most exclusive communities in the world with a clientele that includes prominent developers, entrepreneurs, and Hollywood celebrities.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am the only daughter of Italian immigrants and grew up in New Jersey. Through my upbringing, I was fortunate to have a lot of varying life experiences that has made me the designer and business person that I am today. My parents worked hard for everything and instilled their work ethic and dreams in me from a young age. Tradition was important to my family and we often went back to South Italy, where my father was from. When I was twelve we went to Rome. I fell in love with the architecture. After this trip, my parents gave me the blueprints to the house that they built together and I became obsessed with laying out spaces. My mother is from an artistic Southern family and grew up on a farm in Tennessee. When I would go to visit that side of the family, my Aunt, who was a notable artist, taught me how to paint and watercolor. All of these experiences kept me very grounded and gave me an appreciation for the simpler things in life.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at LJLdesigns?
Fresh out of college, I started my career at The Rockwell Group. I was fortunate to work with some of the most creative people in the industry. Every day I was in awe of my surroundings and made sure to absorb every moment. Looking back, I was a living sponge. I learned that anything can be designed and someone can always build it. I believe that the foundation of my design creativity started at the Rockwell Group. My experience at this firm opened many doors for my career.

After leaving the Rockwell Group, I then moved to California in 2000. It was the height of the boom and technology was just starting to be integrated into design. I started working at EDG and was able to work with Eric Engstrom before his passing. (He was truly eccentric and I have many fond memories of working with him.) Working for a boutique firm was a wonderful experience, it felt like a family. Everyone knew one another and there did not seem to be a separation between the principles and designers.

Finally, I spent the next ten years at BraytonHughes Design Studio. I honed my design skills and learned about how the industry works. BraytonHughes is very organized and pays the utmost attention to each detail. Their work is timeless and classic, something I continue to strive to accomplish in all my work.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LJLdesigns?
Some of the highlights as a designer have a lot to do with the design journey. Every time I start a project, I get butterflies in my stomach - it's like following in love. Sitting down with the architect and homeowner in the beginning stages, where anything is possible, and everyone is excited. It is such an incredible feeling. Seeing a project come to fruition and being able to walk through something that once was an idea and a drawing is breath-taking. I feel blessed to get to experience that over and over again. Additionally, there are some highlights that not all designers are able to experience but I have been blessed with; meeting exceptional business leaders, working with some great celebrities, being able to fly in private jets, meeting some great new friends and seeing a lot of the country & world while traveling with clients.

Being a small firm, I work with many young design professionals. Many of whom are gaining experience and desire to grow their portfolios with both large and small firms. Working with them, watching them grow into more skilled designers, and then supporting them as they move on - it can be difficult. It is bitter sweet to see them come into their own and move onto their next journey. Another challenge that I come across, is finding the time, or making the time for business development. It is always something that I think about. So far word-of-mouth has worked well for me, but there have been moments where I was not sure where my next project was going to come from. That can be scary.

What advice can you offer women who want to follow a similar career path?
Stay current. This does NOT mean be trendy, if you are, you won't last. Timeless will always win over trendy. Read every magazine, design blog, beautiful coffee table book you can get your hands on - and travel! Share all your resources with other designers and don't be afraid to ask other designers their opinion or creative criticism. One of my biggest pet peeves is when designers aren't collaborative or play the blame game. Lastly - don't give up, dream big and be emotional. I don't remember where I read this quote; it has always stuck with me and I believe that they are wise words. - "Great design should move you and surprise you. You should feel it and have an immediate attraction." -

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Early in my career and before working at BraytonHughes Design Studios, work life balance seemed like a myth, like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. As I grew confident about my designs and under the direction of great mentors at BraytonHughes Design, I learned how to maintain a good balance. Initially, when I started my own firm, I lost my balance by becoming overzealous but regained it once learning the appropriate workload that my firm can handle while observing my core value of being hands on with all of our clients. Today, I focus on having fewer projects so that I can be hands on and put out quality design.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Speaking only from my experience, my biggest issue in the workplace has been having children. The design industry is very deadline oriented. This, in turn, motivated me to move from working for a firm to starting my own business. In my situation, my partner and I both worked in high stress, deadline orientated industries which forced us to rely on a nanny during the work day. While I felt rewarded at work, I also felt devastated coming home to see my daughter grow up without me. The choice for me became clear - start a practice of my own. In doing so, I was able to create a lifestyle where I was in control of my schedule and have since only taken on projects that work for me and my growing family. Family, friends and health are incredibly important to me. Maintaining a work/life balance is hard and I am still learning.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring has made a significant positive impact on my life, both professionally and personally. I have been blessed to have many professionals mentor me in my career so far. While both David Rockwell and Eric Engstrom deserve mention for all of the support and mentoring that they gave me over the years, I feel as though Joel Villalon, from BraytonHughes Design really took mentoring me to the next step. Joel was the first lead architect that I worked with at BraytonHughes Design. He really took me under his wing and deepened my understanding of the design process. I believe that by him doing this, we sharpened each other's skills. Joel also taught me a lot about work life balance. One of the things that he really emphasized was applying the same dedication and discipline to your family and personal life as you do your work. This lesson really stuck with me and for that I and my family are grateful.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
When it comes to female leaders, I am fortunate that from a young age I didn't have to look far. While I am familiar with and have worked for many female business leaders, actresses, and thought leaders, without thinking twice - my mother is the person that I most admire. I understand that it might seem cliche because all girls look up to their mother but, my mother has an inspiring and unique story. In the terms of world leaders or being famous, she wasn't. She was a leader by her example, work ethic and heart.

My mother came from meager and humble beginnings, but that never got in the way or let it limit her potential. She graduated at the top of her high school class then moved to DC and worked at the white house. After that she went on to model in New York and eventually met and married my father. Currently, she still works at a law firm in New Jersey. When she is not at work, her list of things to do seem to never end. She is always in her garden, re-decorating the home, tackling things in the office and always cooking for her family and friends.

My mother was ever encouraging. From a young age, she always impressed on me that I can do anything that I put my head and heart into. The world was my oyster. Watching her success showed me that anything is possible. She is smart, resourceful, compassionate, and the most loving person I know. She inspires me; my work ethic comes from her.

What are your hopes for the future of LJLdesigns?
My hopes for the future of LJLdesigns are simple - to continue to grow, design, and create. Additionally, it is important that I have a personal relationship with each and every client - that is what sets LJLdesigns apart.