After working as an art director and visual artist, Alexandra Rae found her true calling as an interior designer. She opened her eponymous firm in 2006 and hasn’t looked back, developing spaces that are eclectic, layered, and colorful, but that always stay true to classic forms. Based in Southern California, she designs homes throughout the United States.

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Alexandra Rae
Alexandra Rae. Photo: Public 311 Design.

What made you passionate about interior design? How did you get your start in the field?

My mother was an exceptionally creative entertainer and decorator. My love of both comes from her. I also grew up in a historically registered Victorian home, which my parents remodeled for the better part of my life. I guess it’s no surprise that when I pivoted from my first career as an art director, it was to something involving architecture and design. 

What do you find most compelling about Chairish?

The endless inspiration! I often source art and accessories for one project and find architectural inspiration for another. It might come in a salvaged column or even a furniture piece that sparks a vision. There is nothing like looking at beautiful things to inspire one’s creativity!

Photo: Eric Roth

How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?

I’m not fond of waste, so I love using things already here on Earth. But my true love of vintage comes from growing up surrounded by art and antiques. It gave me an appreciation for the history, artistry, and craft of hand in these things. I also come from a family of artists, so I see the maker’s work in everything. It breaks my heart when people pass on adopting a finely crafted Empire credenza just because the marble top has a stain. To me, that is part of its beauty, its story. A beautiful vintage piece has depth and intrigue that a new piece can’t achieve. It adds a soulful richness to the space.

What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?

I love this vintage gilded Rococo wall mirror; this pair of Louis XVI-style mahogany commode chests; and these framed 19th-century painting prints of exotic fruit.

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room?

Art. Art always makes a space sing, sometimes loudly, sometimes softly. I love the way art invites people into a room. Art can be pretty, controversial, or pedigreed. It can be all of these or none of these. It just has to be something you love and love enough to look at daily. I tell my clients don’t worry about how it is perceived by others or if it’s in style. Your taste in art is as personal as your taste in food. Would you eat something just because your friends do? Hopefully not.

Alexandra Rae
Photo: Madeline Tolle

Do you have any go-to color palettes and color combos?

I’m known for colorful spaces, so I have many favorite combos. They are usually a triadic variation of three complementary colors. I love a deep French blue grasscloth, a claret red leather chair, and a golden tan sofa. In a light blue room, I add touches of pale pink flowers and lots of gold accents, always tempering the warm with the cool and vice versa. I go for high contrast when I do a more neutral room. I love warm white walls with dark wood furniture. I’ll add a bold rug and then pepper the room with my favorite neutral: greenery. 

What advice do you have for first-time clients about making their spaces truly personal? 

First, I tell them, “If you love it, it will work.” Second, “Believe in ‘love at first sight,’ and don’t second guess yourself!” If you’re patient enough to buy things you love, they will work well together, no matter the style. Even if you move and totally redecorate, those things will work. The things we fill our homes with should also reflect our personalities. Don’t struggle with psychoanalysis on this one. Unless you’re a total bore, you have many sides to your personality. Your home should, too! We have our fancy sides, our casual sides, our goofy sides, our polite sides. That’s what makes humans interesting. Why shouldn’t your home be just as interesting? Let the designer worry about space and proportion. If you want to hang a gilded Baroque mirror in your farmhouse, go for it. I did, and it was fabulous!

Lead image: Design: Alexandra Rae. Photo: Madeline Tolle


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August 14, 2023

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.