SHE’D WORKED FOR THE RITZ in Paris and other international corporations, mostly designing hotels, but French designer Isabelle McGee wanted something different — something more intimate — when she set out to establish her interior design atelier in San Francisco.
One day she was walking on Sutter Street, just a block from Fillmore, when she struck up a conversation with Joan O’Connor, longtime proprietor of Timeless Treasures at 2176 Sutter and a notorious neighborhood networker.
“I need a space like this,” McGee told her. So O’Connor promptly called upstairs and introduced her to the landlord of a nearby vacant storefront.
She had found her home. In late 2013 McGee opened her consultancy and showroom called Regard at 2182 Sutter.
Most of her work is designing residential spaces or advising clients, but her showroom also offers for sale a small collection of interesting objects and accents.
“It’s more like an invitation,” she says. “It starts the conversation. I listen with respect and develop projects that make life easier and lighter — and never forget to be elegant.”
Sitting in her comfortable showroom and offering a visitor a glass of bubbles, she has clearly found her niche.
“People just walk by and say hello here — most of my clients are people who pass in front of my shop or live in the neighborhood,” she says. “This is exactly what I was looking for. It remains extremely intimate.”
She relishes the one-to-one approach.
“I really wanted to be separate from the other designers,” she says. “Many more people should have access to design because beauty has no price.”
She prefers the more holistic French concept of interior architecture, rather than interior design, and she thinks of herself as a design coach as much as a designer.
“Our interior, our street, our neighborhood, it’s all connected,” she says. “I can offer some advice — to refresh and rearrange and live in accordance with our values.”
She recalls a client who came in to ask for help selecting lamps. “We talked about what she wanted,” she says. “After talking, it was not lamps, but lighting more generally.” So they examined the broader concept: how the client lives, why she lives that way, what she really wants.
“It’s something quite intense,” McGee says. “What they want is often something different. It has to have a total purpose.”
McGee says she most enjoys working with owners and renters “to simplify their lives and add a little zest.” She also likes working with small businesses and helping solve their problems. But she admits she might enjoy working on larger projects, too.
“Perhaps a boutique hotel,” she says, “something cozy and natural.”
Regard is located at 2182 Sutter Street.