May 8, 2024

Episode 130

Gulla Jónsdóttir


Known for her sensual, dynamic designs that integrate with their surroundings, the Iceland-born, California-based Gulla Jónsdóttir creates unique spatial experiences that exist at the intersection of organic beauty and function.

Since 2009, when she launched her namesake firm, Atelier Gulla Jónsdóttir, she has spearheaded projects including China’s Macau Roosevelt hotel and the renovation of Hollywood’s Chinese Theater. With the Sandbourne Santa Monica in California and 1 Hotel Crete in Greece on the boards, Jónsdóttir continues to immerse guests in their surroundings with an approach centered on all five senses.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Gulla. Gulla, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Gulla Jónsdóttir: Hi, Stacy. Good to be here. I’m fine, thank you so much. How are you?

SSR: Good, thanks. All right, so we always start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

GJ: I grew up in Reykjavik, Iceland.

SSR: Oh. Were you always creative as a kid?

GJ: I think so. My grandfather was an artist, and I would bother him and draw with him every day, since I was about four years old. Yeah, I was just always drawing something.

SSR: Yeah. How did you childhood growing up in Iceland affect you? Looking back, how do you think it’s influenced your career and how you are as a designer?

GJ: I think it’s influenced in good and bad. Mostly good, of course, because the nature is spectacular and I’m very inspired by nature all the time. We have quite a dramatic nature, with erupting volcanoes, and glaciers, and hot springs, and everything in between. But the sense of architecture, when I was young, was maybe not always so creative or visionary, except for a few buildings. I wanted to do something better on my street. I remember looking out, I’m like, “Hm.” Especially after traveling to Florence with my mom, which really inspired me. I was 12. I’m like, “Okay, this is gorgeous and stunning. I can’t eat or breathe, I just want to live in this art and architecture that Florence has to offer.” Coming back home, looking at the buildings on my street, were like, “Hm, I think I would be interested in this field somehow.”

Palmilla Newport Beach restaurant Gulla Jónsdóttir

Palmilla Cocina y Tequila in Newport Beach, California

SSR: Yeah, amazing. When did you decide to make it a career path? When did you decide you wanted to go to school for it? Because you ended up going to SCI-Arc in LA. How did you ended up getting there?

GJ: I had just graduated with a degree from junior college in mathematics and biology.

SSR: That surprises me.

GJ: I know. I was a complete mathematic nerd.

SSR: I love it.

GJ: Before. Yeah, yeah. Before, honey, not anymore. But I remember, “Okay, let’s try to figure out architecture,” and I was 19, and they didn’t teach architecture in Iceland. Most people went to Denmark or somewhere else. But I was like, “Hm, I don’t like the accent so much, so let’s look at some other schools.” I met a lady who had just graduated from SCI-Arc. I had never been to America but I applied to SCI-Arc in Los Angeles, I got in, called my mother and told her I’m moving to America. Here I go!

SSR: What did she say?

GJ: She was shocked but she’s like, “Huh, I’ve seen the cowboy in the cowboy movies, the dramatic films. Are you sure it’s safe?” Of course, she loves to come visit every year so it’s been a good decision, I guess.

SSR: Yeah. What made you just take that leap? To leave Iceland, which is a very strong, smaller community and to just go halfway across the world, kind of.

GJ: I think you could just blame it on complete fearlessness. It was like, “Okay, sounds good.” The school I’m interested in, I’m sure the country’s beautiful. I had traveled quite a bit as a young teenager or a kid. I don’t know, I didn’t see any obstacles for some reason. Maybe I should have been more careful, but I wasn’t. The school system was great, I loved the school and I loved the teachers. I was very fortunate to have teachers such as Ray Kappe, who actually founded SCI-Arc, and many other fantastic teachers that were on the board.  It was, I don’t know, it was a challenging, beautiful time. California has sunshine and I had no objections there.

SSR: Exactly. You said you traveled a lot as a kid. Where did you travel and was it with your parents?

GJ: Yeah, mostly with my mom to Italy every summer because she took a summer job with a travel agency. I would go spend every summer, from six to 16, in Italy, travel Venice, Florence, Verona. Then I did, don’t laugh, but a quick modeling stint in Paris and Japan when I was 15 or something, 16. I just didn’t think traveling was an issue. I thought everybody was nice and everything was safe, so here we go.

SSR: Okay, that sounds amazing. Your summers sound much better than mine in New Jersey. But that must have been awesome, just to be with your mom and to be traveling like that.

GJ: Yes. I think it opened my eyes to a lot of different things.

SSR: Yeah. Okay, so you went to SCI-Arc. Did it cement your love for architecture and design?

GJ: Absolutely. It was very creative, the school is very creative and we got to do a lot of different things. I was casting models in concrete, working in the wood shop late at night, making beautiful models out of wood. This is before AutoCAD and 3D drawings, so we did everything by hand. I really, really loved it. I think I had really good mentors and teachers, and I think my confidence grew along the years, but it teaches you to think outside the box and I loved that about it. Yeah, after graduation, you get this opportunity as a foreign student, to have a one-year working visa in America. That’s how I was led to my next job, or my first job, which was working for Richard Meier Partners at the Getty Center Museum.

SSR: Wow. What was that like?

GJ: It was so inspiring. It was fantastic. It was the largest project in America at the time, it’s $1 billion project, gorgeous museum. I came in the last four years of the project. It was a 13-year project, all in all. I was part of a fantastic team. I think the office outgrew the size, so even some people were working morning shifts and evening shifts. But I met so many nice, talented people. It was a great learning experience. Although it’s different than my style today, it was this beautiful geometry and everything was … I don’t know if you know this, but the Getty was all made by a 30-inch grid, so each tile was maybe 30 by 30, 15 by 60, so it’s very mathematical. That was good for my old past of mathematics. Now I like to break out of it and do more curvy things. But it was a great foundation, I think.

Because it was peaceful architecture. There was no chaos. Sometimes at SCI-Arc, there was teachers that were more interested in organized chaos, or the morphing worm, or whatever you call it. It was a great school, to work on this project.

SSR: Yeah. How long did you stay there?

GJ: Four years, in total.

SSR: Okay. Were you there when it opened?

GJ: Yes, I was. Yes. Went to all the opening parties. The lady that hired me, she’s still a very good friend of mine and this was so many years ago. Yeah, it was good team.

SSR: Amazing. What was it like to see it actually open and the fanfare around it?

GJ: I think my eyes were just so big with excitement and wow. It was just stunning, it’s gorgeous. Gorgeous project. I still go there every so often, just to have lunch and see the new exhibitions.

SSR: That’s great. After four years, where did you go after that?

GJ: Well then I thought, “Okay, I cannot go back to Iceland,” because there wasn’t anything that scale happening. This has spoiled me to do something bigger in life, I guess. But I took a different career move and became a set designer for Walt Disney Imagineering.

SSR: That must have been fun.

GJ: That was fun. The best thing about it was that they asked me to move to Tokyo for a little bit. I fell in love with Tokyo and Japan. It was a beautiful, beautiful experience. Yeah, it was a nice team. I was there for another four years, working for Walt Disney Imagineering. Completely different, opposite spectrum of the Getty so it was interesting.

The lobby of the Sandbourne Santa Monica set to open this year in California, shown in a rendering

SSR: Yeah. Where that was give mathematical and structured, set design is, as you said, the complete opposite. What kind of sets did you work on?

GJ: I started working in a little bit of their retail and hotels, but then I did some rides, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It’s crazy. Different things and totally different than working on a Getty Center Museum or a Gargosian Gallery in Beverly Hills. But it was fun and I learned my computer skills. It was a great experience.

SSR: Awesome. What made you move back or leave Tokyo?

GJ: I was always there part-time, back and forth, LA and Tokyo. Then, I was introduced to a hospitality designer, a company, Dodd Mitchell Design and I started working there. I always had this fascination with travel and hotels, restaurants, so I ended up working with him and running that company for about nine years, I think.

SSR: Yeah. What was your fascination with hospitality? Was it from your travel? Do you remember some early hospitality experiences that stayed with you?

GJ: Well, the funny thing is my mom reminded me, when I was 12, that year in Florence when I fell in love with architecture, she said, “I forget my nightgown in the hotel.” And she said, “Ah, ah, that means you will come back here.” But I didn’t realize that that story would lead me to actually living and breathing hotels for years to come. But I think I was inspired by having a beautiful experience. And also, after living in Tokyo, those kind of hotels are so magical.

Now actually, I like the people in the business. I really like the people. I love hospitality business. I think we all have a common agenda of making something beautiful and people are hospitable, and they’re friendly and kind. It’s a fun and beautiful industry.

SSR: Yeah. How did you meet Dodd?

GJ: Through a mutual friend that had been working at Disney.

SSR: Okay. He was doing mostly nightclubs and restaurants, right?

GJ: Yeah. Yeah, we did a lot of restaurants like Sushi Roku, Katana, Dolce, the hip restaurants in LA. Then I worked with him on the first hotel project that he got into the office. We did a few hotels together. Yeah, it was always fun. I did a move into Mexico for one of the resorts that we worked on.

SSR: How do you think this expanded your career, expanded your talent and also drew from both previous experiences?

GJ: I think it was just the experience of working with him and the team, and doing something like let’s say more moody or interesting for people to have an evening at a certain place, lighting. Yeah, this set design related, but in an architectural space. Creating experiences was really what we were all about.

SSR: That property, I remember, in Cabo that you created was so beautiful and just built really into the environment. And used all local materials, right?

GJ: Right, yes. Yes, that was a fond memory.

SSR: Yes. Is that when you started to really play with curve? You’re really known for marrying architecture and art, and curves, and forms and nature. Is that where you really started to play with that?

GJ: No, I think it was right after I started my own firm. When I was approaching 40, I was like, “I think it’s now or never. I think I would like to express my own voice more clearly,” and that’s where I became more, I guess as you grow older, a little bit more confident. I was looking back to the nature of Iceland and there’s no straight lines in nature, so why should there be straight lines in the environments that we live in? No straight lines in the human body. I became more explorative of these shapes that I’m fascinated by today.

SSR: Yeah. Now you’re celebrating 15 years soon?

GJ: Can you believe it? This year is 15 years since I started my own studio.

SSR: That’s amazing. Congratulations.

GJ: I think, actually, you named me, what was it called, Wave of the Future. I think that was almost in the first year I started, 2009. Fifteen years later, here we are, Stacy.

SSR: Here with are. It’s come full circle, that’s amazing.

GJ: It’s just been a joy and a pleasure. I have a great team now. Yeah, I’m very grateful, very blessed.

SSR: Looking back, what do you wish you had known about starting a firm that you know now?

GJ: That you need to have a business sense, a little bit of … It’s not enough to be just creative and passionate about what you do, you need to have somebody, which I have, somebody to run the business side of things. Architects in general, we’re just not good at it. Designers. It doesn’t interest us as much as other things, let’s say.

SSR: Yeah. Even with your math background.

GJ: But I look at math now as a creative thing and I play piano. That’s all related somehow, in a different way.

SSR: Yeah. What were the early days like? Did you have a project? Did you just start on your own? Just take the leap and hope things followed, or did you have something to start with?

GJ: It was like taking a leap, and I think it was right in the recession in 2008, ’09. But I think my big break was quite interesting. I rented a studio on a small street in West Hollywood Design, this was called La Peer Drive. It was this little hot loft, but a huge parking lot behind it. My landlord, who became a great client and friend, he said, “Okay, you can rent this space but I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you can only have it for four years and then I have to kick you out. The good news is I have a permit to build a hotel on this land and I’m going to hire you to design this hotel.” That became my first big hotel project under my own name, La Peer Hotel. On the same exact address as I started my firm.

Sandbourne Santa Monica california minimal neutral toned restaurant

A rendering of the restaurant at the forthcoming Sandbourne Santa Monica

SSR: Right. That was a Kimpton property, right?

GJ: Exactly.

SSR: Right. That property was beautiful. You made it an ode to LA, right?

GJ: Yes, and the Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, the West Hollywood Design District, because that’s where we have a global community of high end design, art, fashion, culinary. I wanted everybody to feel at home there, to come hang out there, and they’re guests that are visiting from Italy or whatever else. It became a little home in the Hollywood Hills, like your pied-a-terre for everybody from around the world.

SSR: Yeah. You worked on a bunch of different hotels, from Kimpton, to Auberge, to the one in Macao, that all are helping to redefine what luxury is today. How have you think that’s evolved and how do you approach it today?

GJ: I think people are more looking for that unique experience and I think hotel brands are really wanting to create that. They’re all more sustainable than before, they’re thinking about how to involve local culture and even businesses, and how to create that unique experience for the guests. That’s my passion too, because it’s not really about me. If I’m designing a hotel in Mexico, I want you to feel like, as a guest, that you are in Mexico. Let’s use some local flairs and materials from that region, from the country, be inspired by that nature.

Then when you go to China, you want to be inspired by completely different aspects of that country. I think it’s about having a beautiful memory, creating an experience and through the five senses, because we have five senses. Not just how it looks like, it’s how it feels like.

SSR: How do you make sure you incorporate all five senses? Because I know people always want to, but you really have a knack at it, from the visual, to that feeling that you said. What’s that process like, and how do you ensure that you and your team are touching on all of them?

GJ: I think the inspiration for me first came from a Japanese tea ceremony. That was what inspired my thesis project in school. Then you have this aroma of the tea, you drink the tea, the space is beautiful, and then it’s a really profound experience for all five senses. Then I’ve traveled a lot in Japan, and those hotels, they predict what you want before you know what you want. It always has this beautiful aroma.

For the first time now, we actually hired a biochemist. She is creating a signature scent for our new project called the Sandbourne Hotel, opening in Santa Monica very soon. We are going to install these huge incense jars outside of the hotel entrance, and they’re made gorgeously with bronze and this incense. Before you enter the door, you will smell what you’re going to feel when you come inside.

SSR: That’s cool.

GJ: The smell, the scent has the biggest memory bank in your brain so this is the first thing. Then you come in and you see a video art, you see some textural columns, you’re going to feel different things, you’re going to hear gorgeous music. I just want you to have a transformation of experience from when you leave your car and enter, you’re inside the hotel. Everything has a meaningful experience for you to be transported to this new place.

Esperanza restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California

Esperanza restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California

SSR: What was it like working with her? What did you learn?

GJ: Oh, it’s awesome. She’s like the James Bond of scent. She goes to the Amazon jungle to find a certain wood or a certain rare flower. We’ve been going back and forth. I showed her all my mood boards and textures, and then we talked about scents. She has this laboratory in New York. She sent us four scents the other day and we’re finalizing the one that we all loved. Then she made fun of me, of course. She’s like, “I knew you would like this one.” I’m like, “Why? What do you mean?” She’s like, “Well, it has all the most expensive flowers in it.”

SSR: I get it.

GJ: It’s just a gorgeous hint of some rare flowers and then some wood aspects. I’m very excited about it so it’s going to be a fun thing for us, all of us.

SSR: Yeah. That hotel opens soon, right?

GJ: In June, yes.

SSR: Yeah, that’ll be great. It’s one of the new … There’s been a couple ones in Santa Monica, but it’s going to be great for the area.

GJ: I think so, too. It’s time to revamp Santa Monica to be chic and cool. It’s a gorgeous location by the beach.

SSR: Yeah. That’s exciting. You always get projects in the greatest places. The 1 Hotel Crete is also on the boards, right?

GJ: Oh, yes. Crete is amazing. I love this project. We’re just starting and it’s going to take another three to four years. I’m going there soon for a workshop. I’m happy to go, any time, as often as you want. It’s just stunning landscape, the most amazing team in Athens and here in America. For me, a great synergy to work with the 1 Hotel Group. I’m always inspired by nature and they’re all about nature, so I feel like it’s a perfect marriage with that group. It’s the first time I’ve worked with them. It’s a beautiful occasion and a beautiful project.

SSR: Yeah. Is there one part of the process that you still love the most?

GJ: I think there’s always three. The first time let’s say, going to the site. For example, when I went to Crete, and just exploring the nature and smelling all the herbs in the neighborhood, and being inspired, having lunch and taking my sketchbook, and thinking of the first concepts. That’s something I really cherish and love.

Then it takes four years to complete each project. Then it’s like, in between, when you’re going onto the job site, you’re seeing everything made and I love that. It’s like being in the grit of it.

Then I love the final stages of placing everything. In this case now, having the scent, and the aroma, and everything come together. Yeah, there’s those, it’s like a book. The beginning, the middle and the end.

Esperanza restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California

Esperanza restaurant in Manhattan Beach, California

SSR: Do you ever watch people use your space?

GJ: That’s an interesting question. Yeah, I guess. I don’t really watch but I’m there and I notice. Yes. I think will now. This is a great question. People will be like, “Who is that weird woman watching us all day?”

SSR: You’re just strangely sitting in the corner, watching.

GJ: Yeah, I’m going to do that now.

SSR: I just think it’s interesting to see. You plan it in your head, and reconfigure it multiple times once you draw it out. But does it work, how do people actually use the space? I just find it fascinating.

Has there been one project, probably besides Getty, that has been the most challenging or you learned the most on? I know you learn something on everything. But has there been one that really sticks out in your portfolio?

GJ: I learn from all of them. I don’t know. I loved that Auberge resort, with some public spaces and the restaurant and everything, at Chileno Bay Comal. It was just happy learning curves. I’m a very positive person, Stacy. I can’t think of anything negative.

SSR: Let’s talk about your curves because you do create these beautiful curves throughout your entire project. It’s harder to curve in a box, so how have you been able to really make this your signature and get people on board to play outside the box with you?

GJ: Well, some clients tell me first they get a little bit of a heart attack, then they calm down and then they listen to me again. Then we meet somewhere in the middle, and then they try to get me a ruler for Christmas and that’s it. Then certain clients, they build some of my curves. Then the next project I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do some straight walls,” and then they miss the curves.

It’s a flow. I just think spaces that have a little bit of voluptuousness are more interesting, they feel better somehow. It’s not so many sharp corners or angles. Yeah, it just makes you feel better. You’re like in nature and space is inspired by nature.

SSR: No, they’re beautiful. You always have a way of incorporating them too, in an interesting way. Like the sculpture at Chileno Bay, or at the Macau Roosevelt that we mentioned, you have this beautiful green installation in the ceiling but it isn’t just a box. It has movement to it, it has its own shape. How do you figure out where to put that emphasis, find that moment I guess is the best way to ask?

GJ: Well for example, for the project in Macau, it was the Macau Roosevelt Hotel, it was a resort with 400 rooms. I traveled there, I was looking into what could really inspire me and the client wanted this to be more of a resort, not a casino. My inspiration became the national flower of Macau, which is the lotus flower. I just nerded out on the lotus flower, and the DNA, and the shapes of it, how you can translate the veins of it. Then I also like to think of something, if you look at something very let’s say typical, like a greenery or something, but nobody had done it in the ceiling before. I like to take a normal thing and make it a little bit unique and something that hasn’t been done before. That’s how that ceiling, the green ceiling came about. It was basically just taking some sort of shape of a lotus leaf and translating it into a huge vertical ceiling garden.

SSR: Yeah. Why not? Give it a whirl. I know art is really important to you as well and really implementing different pieces, and artists throughout your work. Do you still have the gallery?

GJ: No, I closed the gallery in COVID times.

SSR: But you had a gallery?

GJ: Yeah, exactly. At the La Peer Hotel, where I started my studio, there was one empty space that happened to be exactly the footprint of my studio when I started. I asked them if I could rent it as a gallery. I just wanted to showcase all my friends and people that I admired in the art world. I love art. I grew up with it, I traveled to many different art fairs around the country or around the world. It was a great thing to have. I was really good at throwing parties, I was not good at selling art. Honestly, this is the whole other business that you need somebody more qualified than I am myself, to sell something. But I enjoyed it very much.

But now, I have a furniture collection, which I show in other galleries. That’s a little bit better for me, I think.

Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood, California

SSR: Talk a little bit about your furniture. What pieces are you creating? What are you hoping to offer the market that’s not already there?

GJ: I’m creating limited edition pieces of functional art. They are chairs and tables, mostly. I started this about 10 years ago. The first piece I did was this curved chair called the Petal Chair. We steam the wood for 17 hours and bend the chair into shape. It’s actually really comfortable, but it also looks like a big flower sculpture in a space.

We made four of them so far. Then I have this one table called the Puzzle Table and we do that in different finishes. For me, it’s fun because a hotel takes four years to see it come into fruition. A piece of furniture, maybe two, three months. For me, it’s an instant gratification of doing something different but still creative, and doing it in beautiful materials. I hope people like it. We’re going to be showing a new piece of furniture at Design Miami in Los Angeles in May.

SSR: Oh, that’s great. I didn’t know they were coming to LA.

GJ: For the first time, they’re coming mid-May this year.

SSR: I’m going to have to look that up. Okay, so let’s talk about your firm, you said you have a great team. How do you think you are as a leader, how would you describe yourself?

GJ: I think I’m friendly. I love my team. I hope they love me back because I adore them to pieces. I have a very international team, they’re all intelligent, and kind, and talented, but they’re also fun. We all get along. We cook dinners together. We have this, twice a year, I make something Icelandic, my Japanese lady, Nozomi, she makes something Japanese. Then Felix from Serbia brings a dish from his country, and Farida from Egypt, she makes … We cook together. I think we’re like a little family. We enjoy our projects, our work day and it’s never a dull moment. I think we have good synergy here actually, quite nice.

SSR: Great. Tell us about your office now.

GJ: I am now in the Hollywood Hills. I was on Robertson in the West Hollywood Design District for several years, and then I felt like I wanted to be in nature. We have this big house-looking atelier studio. The first level is the studio and my private office, and then we have a gallery with some of the furniture pieces that we create, and a meeting room, and a kitchen, and a garden that we all have lunch together, Stacey, at 2:00 PM every day. We’re very Mediterranean here.

SSR: I love it.

GJ: I know. That’s how it is. It’s in an atelier studio house-looking thing in nature. It’s quite peaceful.

SSR: That’s awesome. You live in the house, right?

GJ: Yeah. I live on the top floor.

SSR: Work life balance, you just get to walk downstairs to the office.

GJ: Yes. But that’s too short of a commute. I try to take a hike in the Hills before I walk down the stairs. Ever since the pandemic, the team prefers to have flexible hours so we work in the studio Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and they work from home Thursday, Friday.

SSR: That’s nice. Do you find that works?

GJ: I think it’s a great balance for everybody. Yes, because LA’s quite big, some people drive further than other people. It’s a good thing.

SSR: Awesome. I love it. All right, talk to us about your style and your home because you always have the best outfits. How would you describe your style and how you decorate your own house?

GJ: It’s like the hairdresser’s wife, you don’t get to get your haircut. Yes, I was into my terracotta color phase and I painted the whole house on the inside in that color. We have our art pieces and furniture all around. But you know what, it’s quite romantic, it’s quite warm and it feels good. I don’t think there’s … The house is naturally curved somehow, but it’s built in the 1930s so it’s not a modern curve, it’s more like nautical something. You’ll have to come visit.

Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood, California

SSR: I will.

GJ: It just looks like an artistic atelier. That’s all I can say. It’s cool enough to have dinner parties and it’s cool enough to show furniture and have a meeting.

SSR: Yeah, which is all you need. After 15 years of your own firm, how do you define success? What is success to you these days?

GJ: That’s another very good question, Stacey. I think if you’re content, your team is content, you feel happy and you feel like you’re growing, you’re learning, you’re getting more interesting projects as the years go by, I think that’s a way to success. We’re still striving every day to be better.

Success, I don’t know, how do you judge that? It’s like do you love what you do? I do. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I think it’s a fortunate place to be at.

SSR: Yeah. Has there ever been a piece of advice that one of your mentors has given you that has stuck you? Who have been some of your mentors? You mentioned some.

GJ: There was Richard Meier and the team that worked there. I remember there was this one project manager there, who told me specifically, “You should have studied business after graduation from architecture school.” But I didn’t listen to that, Stacey.

I think I’ve gotten many good advice along the road. Yeah, it just sinks in and they come out naturally.

SSR: Is there a project on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet?

GJ: Yes, many. A museum.

SSR: Oh, you’d be great at a museum.

GJ: I’m a huge fan of art and I would love to do something like that. Art in any shape or form. An Olympic Stadium because my dad was always in sports. I can admire these gorgeous bodies of extraordinary nature being so cool and talented in their field.

SSR: Right. All right, well is there something that people might not know about you?

GJ: I love to dance. I play the piano, and I paint as a form of meditation. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m also the arts chair of the city, West Hollywood Design District. I’m on the board for six years now as a pro bono what do you call it. We have a 75th anniversary of the city this year, which started with an Eames building 75 years ago. You can expect some party invitations coming your way soon.

SSR: That’s exciting.

GJ: But I like to be involved in the city a little bit. It’s the city where I started my studio. I don’t know, I can dance around the world as well, any time.

SSR: Yes, exactly. I know you love to travel, too. Is there a place that you are traveling this year or that you still want to head to?

GJ: Well, I’m going back to Crete for work at the end of May and I absolutely love it there. Then I have some other trips planned to Iceland and Greece this year.

Palmilla Cocina y Tequila in Newport Beach, California

SSR: Great. Do you miss Iceland?

GJ: Yes and no. I miss the people, my friends, my family. I love the nature when I’m there. I prefer it now more in the summer than in the winter. I’ll spend a little bit of time there this summer, a couple of weeks here and there. I’ve become a tourist in my own country sometimes, I like to travel to different regions of the country that I haven’t seen or experienced before.

SSR: That’s great. You’re still very close with your mom too, which I love.

GJ: Of course.

SSR: Okay. Well, I hate to end the podcast, but we always end it with the title of the podcast. What has been your greatest lesson or lessons learned along the way?

GJ: I think I’ll go with my first instinct of what led me to go to America to architecture school. Be fearless. Don’t overthink things, just follow your heart and do the best you can, and work really hard.

SSR: Yeah. Well, it has paid off for you, my dear. We’re so excited to honor you for Women in Design this year so we can’t wait.

GJ: Thank you for that honor. That is wonderful. I will look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas very soon.