The Perfect Amount of Wild and Whimsical: How Emilie Munroe does Custom Furniture

Hilarious, statuesque, and brimming with talent, Emilie Munroe can’t help but be noticed. The San Francisco designer also has a helluva pedigree: more than five years at Jay Jeffers where she groomed the daring — but classically oriented — aesthetic for which she’s known. Munroe’s launch into the industry happened when she was filing papers for an interior designer client of her mother (a professional organizer), which became a summer job, which became the impetus to study interior design at night school. Her Studio Munroe five-person team is rounding the corner on 20 years of work (“I started when I was 12, I swear!” she says) and her insights on all-things-custom keep coming. Read on for funny backstories and sage design tips.  —Sophie Donelson

What was your first-ever custom-made piece?
In our first year of business we designed one of my favorite dining tables of all time: An 84″x42″ oval speckled concrete table top with two whitewashed tree stump bases. I knew this profession was the perfect amount of wild and whimsical to entertain me for a lifetime when the vendor sent photos of 20 different tree stumps so we could hand select the ideal combo for our pedestal base set.

What custom project are you dying for a client to request?
I love using curves in projects, whether it’s mixing in spherical shades on chandeliers or a curved-back dining chair. Right now I’m dying to install a semicircular fireplace mantle. I’m thinking the mantle will be lacquered wood with a terrazzo slab surround and hearth.

Photo by Thomas Kuoh

What’s your favorite part of the design process?
I love the movie montage part of a project — after the home is designed, and before it installs — when the vendor and maker collaborations are at their most frenzied while the various pieces take shape. I can almost hear the music and see the clips of activity as the project morphs from conceptual to reality.

Tell us about a mistake making furniture – big or small?
Remember to match the height of your sofa table to the height of the sofa frame, not the overall sofa height. Early in my career I was on a team that spec’d a custom sofa table to the height of the sofa, not realizing the top of the sofa back cushions were 6″ higher than the tuxedo back of the sofa itself. This led to a looming sofa table with a big gangly gap, yikes. Thankfully it was easily fixed by cutting the legs down, but in a different style the error could have led to a full re-make.

Design your personal sofa style at home:
Visual interest and choose-your-own-adventure comfort and fit is achieved by including two sofas of the same size, but two different styles, in one space. A cozy frame with wide arms for a full layout lounge is a must, and then the second can be more sculptural with either a tight upholstered tufted layout or a wood frame with attached cushions.

Photo by Thomas Kuoh

What sort of upholstered furniture out there do you find… questionable?
You need the highest quality construction when specifying a leggy sofa or lounge chair. There is nothing worse than a loose, ill-constructed leg on an upholstered piece of furniture. You end up hearing squeaks and having the piece move and creak when you lounge — both disconcerting and a sure sign of poor quality and imminent replacement.

What sorts of pieces do you do really well?
There is nothing like a large-scale mirror to open up a room by reflecting light, key design features and often the view of outdoors through a window. For this reason, we work hard to achieve the perfect mirror size and shape and this often leads us to explore custom options.

Photo by Thomas Kuoh

Name a few fabric + profile combinations that always work?
Boucle wool and natural walnut wood. Mongolian lamb and brass.

Your go-to textile companies:
Pierre Frey, Christopher Farr Cloth and Christian Lacroix for prints. Rosemary Hallgarten and Sandra Jordan for woven solids.

What furniture trend or piece should be retired?
Anything using a hex screwdriver for assembly. Also coat racks. I am all for a fun sculptural coat rack as an accessory piece, but load them up with coats, and they become a hulking Chewbacca looming in the entry. No, thank you.

Which old-school piece or idea needs to come back?
Tea sets. They are beautiful on the shelf and the calm ritual of sharing a cup of tea is a welcome respite from our screen-focused, instant gratification culture.


Sofas: Skirted, platform, or bare legs? Bare legs.

Sofa pillows: Knife edge, box, welt, or other? Knife edge with fringe or dangly beaded edge trim. Bring the dangles!

Sectional sofas: Yah, nah, or when? We always select a pair of sofas if possible.

Generously decorative-pillowed beds: Yah, nah, or how? No. 3 max.

Upholstered headboard? Always.

Coffee table or ottoman? Dealer’s choice.

Where you get your best ideas: Shower.

My first real sofa… Not yet.

I’m a sucker for… Pattern on pattern and large scale anything.

Dinner with a friend: banquette or barstool? Barstool. With the accompanying beverage.

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