The Design Questionnaire with Michelle Salz-Smith of Studio Surface

winecreek living room by michelle salz-smith studio surface design

In this edition of Love Happens’ Proust-style Design Questionnaire, join us for a peek inside the creative design mind of Michelle Salz-Smith, founder and principal of Studio Surface. Based in Del Mar, CA, Studio Surface is an interior design firm that transforms spaces throughout the West Coast and internationally with projects and clients ranging from residential home remodels to high-end resort brands.

We are passionate about interiors, various materials and objects; we are always exploring different resources, processes and techniques applied to SURFACES and everything in between. All of our interiors and creations are thought up in our studio in Del Mar. Or while driving or eating. Or Sleeping.

A Peek Inside the Fabulous and Inspiring Mind of Michelle Salz-Smith with the Lh Design Questionnaire

Michelle Salz-Smith. Photo by Becca Batista Photography

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A leisurely weekend morning when I’m up early to feed and spend a few quiet moments with my animals. After gathering eggs from the coop and saying hi to the pups and pig, I head into my kitchen to make a non-rushed, “farm to table” breakfast for my husband and son.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’m from the Midwest and now live in Del Mar in San Diego. I think my greatest achievement has been building a life with my husband and son that honors both of those worlds. We get our homestead nest with chickens, a pig, and our dogs, and then I get to work on amazing design projects in my professional life where I’m exploring artisan lighting, global artworks, and vintage gems. Living in both worlds is a dream come true.

Northlane Kitchen

What profession does your alter ego have?

I grew up in the Midwest and, while at the time I felt like I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, I’m convinced that if I weren’t an interior designer, I’d be a farm steader in rubber knee boots mucking pig pens. Either that or a forensic scientist.

The project you will never forget.

Cabo Viejo Kitchen

One of my most memorable projects was one here in Del Mar because of the way we were able to breathe new life into so much of the clients’ story — their heirlooms, their collectibles — into a modern-day environment. Everything in the house has provenance and history, but we found a way to curate it where it in no way feels “historical” or like an ode to the past. We were able to repurpose items like the dining chairs that were a wedding gift to the wife’s grandparents in 1910. Her dad inherited them and used them in his office in DC. The building burned during the MLK riots but he was able to save 3 of the 4 chairs. We restored and modernized them. When our client’s father saw them again after their transformation, he said, “They have never looked better!”

Cabo Viejo Dining Room

Your favorite business tool or resource.

Instagram and local artists and antique shops. Vintage consignment stores and flea markets. All to generate ideas as we are currently creating a small custom collection of furniture pieces.

Terracotta House Kitchen by studio surface
Terracotta House Kitchen

The most timeless design.

The best way to not carbon date your home is not to mash all trends together. It’s ok to incorporate some trends here and there, but resist using too many trends together. Don’t force it. And don’t fight the home’ architecture if distinct and apparent. Timeless doesn’t necessarily mean traditional or classic. But incorporating some of those elements in makes them more trend resistant.

The biggest design faux pas.

One of the biggest faux pas is when you become too formulaic. You don’t want retro furniture inside a Tuscan home per se, but don’t make it too theme-y.

Your design motto.

Practice Thoughtful Design: Use a design concept, i.e. NOT a theme.

Palmetto Patio

If you were to design a room around one KOKET piece, which would it be, and why?

Divine Armoire: I see this in a living room where it serves as a piece of functional art, part of a classic, eclectic environment. I would not put it in an overall already  “glam” living room. I’d place this piece in a room with neutral beautiful shaped furnishings a’ la Pierre Augustin Rose sofas with textural fabrics and artworks while this piece resides as its own showstopper.

divine armoire cabinet with feather doors by koket

Love happens when…

All my “chickens are home.” My kid, my husband, all my animals. When we’re all together.

Explore more of Studio Surface’s beautiful work at

By Anna Beck Bimba