A Different Path with Pamela Shamshiri

In 2020, designer Pamela Shamshiri led the renovation of E/S co-founder Franck Nataf’s new home: The Ledgewood Residence. Friends to this day, they recently sat down to discuss her multifaceted design background, an evolving body of narrative-driven work, and that fateful Hollywood Hills collaboration—now featured in Shamshiri’s beautiful new book, Interiors.

Image credit
Principal portrait: Amanda Demme. Project photography: Stephen Kent Johnson, Styling: Michael Reynolds

From the beginning

What were some formative experiences that sparked your interest in design and pursuing a career in this industry?

Pamela Shamshiri: My dad was a designer, and he had a furniture showroom in Tehran. Every day after school we would go there and basically play house. It was six stories. One floor was all kitchens, one was living rooms, dining rooms, and so forth. My brother Ramin and I were immersed in this world that he had created there. Our parents also liked to entertain, so there was always food and music and people in our house. We were just exposed to so many different cultures and a lot of design.

How did your background in production design inform your philosophy on more “narrative driven” architecture and interior design?

PS: It was such a great education. I think it encouraged me to take a really holistic approach. Any medium can contribute to a narrative; everything from cutlery to hair and makeup. The set up at both Commune and the Studio has been to translate that concept to design. We make sure it's all about the experience and having a holistic point of view where everything is considered. It all tells a story.

“We make sure it's all about the experience and having a holistic point of view where everything is considered. It all tells a story.”

Pamela Shamshiri
Studio Shamshiri

Franck Nataf: You really pay attention to those details. It's in every decision process, the question: What is this house about? I know firsthand that when people walk into my house (The Ledgewood Residence), they can definitely see the story.

PS: That makes me smile because I love when things have a sense of place—you know where you are. That it's tied to that neighborhood in Los Angeles in the time that the building was made. It honors the architecture and then, hopefully with the interiors, reflects the owners themselves. But that the building really feels of the place, I think that's important. To honor the past and the present.

FN: What's great is that your spaces are all so different. There's not a “Pam Shamshiri” look. You tend to be super flexible based on the project.

PS: I think it would be weird to sign up for a certain look. You have to be pretty comfortable not knowing exactly what you're going to get with us. Because of that, we get a lot of creative people willing to do something they haven't seen before.

FN: I always say, if you're going to hire a designer, especially someone as talented as Pam, trust them. You're hiring a professional for a reason. You did push me a little bit. The color of the house, for example. I would never have decided on that, or even thought of it. But I see it now. It's so unexpected, and that's what I love about it.

You were one of the original co-founders of Commune Design in 2004. How did your tenure there shape your approach to Studio Shamshiri?

PS: It still does. I really enjoyed my partners and being part of a collective. All four of us had our own rules that were really dear to us. We had a strong set of values and clear messaging that guided us at Commune, and we stuck by them all the way through. They're still doing great work, and I'm very proud to have been there at the beginning. But I think that we're due for a pivot and a new set of values. I hope to arrive at those with this studio. The last six years were really about craftsmanship and process; honing those things and getting very efficient with them. We've achieved quality and a level of work—we reinvent the wheel every time—but now I want to find our next set of values. That was my New Year's resolution.

“We've achieved quality and a level of work—we reinvent the wheel every time—but now I want to find our next set of values.”

Pamela Shamshiri
Studio Shamshiri

What role does design work play in driving cultural conversations around subjects like environmentalism and sustainability? Do you think those will become increasingly prioritized in the future?

PS: We have to make it cool to not have a lawn. We have to make it cool to not use plastic because it doesn't look good. You have to think about what you consume and what you put out there. I think if you're in the style industry you can have an influence, and so you might as well do something good with that. There's a lot more we can do, and we have to. We have to make it the norm and fashionable, but there's no reason to give up design in the process. It's just another challenge.

FN: Are your clients generally receptive to those considerations?

PS: Some of our clients come to us for that. We start with a code of ethics and a goal. Right now, we have two clients that are environmentalists and we learn so much from them. It pushes us to research further and get behind things that we really believe in.

I was lucky enough to work with Rick Ridgeway from Patagonia, and he’s really big on repairability. It's been challenging, for example, to find a refrigerator company that will just repair a refrigerator. With the Patagonia jacket—the company will buy it, repair it and give it back to you. He really got me thinking. We need to be doing the same thing with appliances. Or with lights. That was a wonderful thing that came out of those meetings, but there's still so much more we could do.

FN: I think it's also a discussion to have with the client. Informing them and stressing the importance of things like sustainability and circularity. Look at wood floors, for example. There's a direct connection to the environment, to nature. How they forest it, how they select the wood. If clients get particular about how it looks—they don't want too many knots or this certain color—it can result in a lot of waste. 

We love these imperfections because that's what wood, what nature, really is. You don't want anything to be perfect. We have this discussion frequently with our clients. If the designers, the tastemakers, embrace that natural variation and say, “This is what we want”, it trickles down. If that’s made clear in a design meeting, then when it goes to the factory, we don't have to throw this stuff away. We can use all of it.

PS: It starts there. We have to lead the way in showing that imperfection is okay.

“You have to think about what you consume and what you put out there. I think if you're in the style industry you can have an influence, and so you might as well do something good with that.”

Pamela Shamshiri
Studio Shamshiri

Tell us about your new book, Interiors. What inspired you to write it, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

PS: It's a document of the first six years of our work at the studio, my brother [Ramin Shamshiri] and I. I think it's important to look back and document your work and take stock of it. We all wrote on the first Commune book and I really enjoyed that process. I was insistent on writing about each project because I think it closes the loop for me.

Writing these stories, I realized how much I love my clients and what an engaged process we have. I feel like we are genuinely making an impact at a time when they're facing a big change. They're empty nesting, or moving to a new country, or switching jobs. Whatever the reason is—we’re at these pivotal moments. I'd never have thought it’s as personal as it is, but then writing the book, I realized that design really contributes to and enriches one's life so much.

FN: Any big project is an emotional time. Things often don’t go as planned. It’s very personal and you have to help people navigate all of it. I really respect that part of the designer’s job. And even though it was stressful at times, working with you was delightful. Your team was amazing. You created this cozy oasis for me and I love every corner of it. It means a lot to know that everything was thought out and precisely tailored to me. It makes you feel very special.

PS: That makes me so happy. You always imagine how someone's going to live in a space. And then when it happens, it's very satisfying.

Interiors is really a celebration of that whole process; the collaboration at the office and all the things we go through that feel unique to us. I was very fortunate to have [co-writer] Mayer Rus. Working with him on this book was a wonderful, cathartic experience. Ultimately, I hope that readers take away that you can honor the past and allow for the future all at once. That every design should serve life. Life first.

What was the single greatest piece of advice you’ve ever been given—Either personally or professionally?

PS: My dad would always drive the most roundabout ways to get somewhere. We would never drive the same route twice in the car. It would make us crazy. I’d ask, “Why do we have to go through the mountains?” or whatever it was, and he would say: “Never go the same way twice because you don’t know what you’re going to see.” He taught me to take a different path and learn from it. Another thing he'd say: “If you’re really excited about something and your heart is leaping, but you’re also really uncomfortable—go right into the center of it. That’s where you’re supposed to be.”

Studio Shamshiri’s richly layered, narrative-driven interiors are a tour de force of contemporary design, balancing a deep respect for the past with a profound appreciation for the rhythms and rituals of modern life. Under the direction of Pamela Shamshiri, the firm has garnered a loyal following among design-savvy celebrities, creative entrepreneurs, and aficionados of high design across the globe. This book, the firm’s first monograph, offers a master class in design that nourishes the soul as well as the eye.

“Writing the stories of our Studio’s narrative-driven projects with my dear friend, Mayer Rus, was a cathartic and rewarding process. Equal to design and architecture, the book is also about family and creating spaces where families can grow and find shelter for respite.”

– Pamela Shamshiri, Design Principal.