A Designer's Advice to Homeowners: Always Order the Sample!

Ashley Daubert, née Fitch, has known she wanted to be in design since she was just a little girl. In fact, she fondly remembers asking for a certificate to redecorate her own room for Christmas. She enlisted her brother for help and together they spent three weeks removing the self-described “terrible” wallpaper, and making her space just so.

“I was influenced a lot by my great uncle,” says Daubert. A former landscape architect, now in his 90s, who practiced in the San Francisco area. “I remember he would take us around, we would walk into a courtyard and he’d say, I wonder who designed that?...Me!”

“He introduced me to the world of design,” she smiles.

So when it came time to decide on a career path, it was perhaps not much of a surprise that she chose to attend USC School of Architecture. After school, she pursued internships in Interior Design in the Los Angeles and San Diego area. At first, focused on residential design, and later commercial. Commercial design was a space that excited a young Ashley, given its faster pace and larger scale.

Headshot of Interior Designer Ashley Daubert
Interior Designer Ashley Daubert has extensive experience in both commercial and residential design. Her advice to the remodeling homeowner is simple - always order the sample! 

Her real sink-or-swim moment in this world came during her time at Studio PCH, the Venice- based design firm responsible for multiple Nobu properties worldwide, as well as a slew of other high-end commercial projects.

With Studio PCH, Daubert worked on both hotel and restaurant projects, such as Los Cabos - a Nobu Hotel, as well the launch of the Nobu restaurant in Warsaw, a first-of-it’s-kind in this burgeoning European hub. “Nobu in Cabo influenced my career the most. I had very little commercial experience at that point. I had only been working in hospitality for about a year.”

“It was a small office so you really took on a lot of the responsibility and work,” Daubert explains, which is how she came to learn so much about this world. Everything from how to consider the flow of traffic in a restaurant, to matching materials across guest rooms and common spaces while still creating wildly different atmospheres that speak to how a space would ultimately be used. In other words, she swam.

Daubert says she was influenced a lot by the design aesthetic of these properties, which she describes as “Japanese contemporary, yet warm and comfortable.” And she has carried this style through as she made her return to residential design. At the moment, Daubert and architect husband Chris are focused on a ground-up new construction project at a property in Manhattan Beach, CA.

For her, design all comes down to “How do you create a cohesive feel with such wildly different technical approaches?” Explaining that “materiality comes into play. Not everybody’s design approach is the same, but the way I work, I try to carry materials through that work for each space.”

Beachy Basics Living Space Rendering
This "Beachy Basics" living space was designed by Daubert with the beach in mind, a tonal beige and gray color palette along with the warm white oak millwork brings a sense of ease and calm. Designed with Beam. 

This is perhaps why her number one piece of advice to remodeling homeowners, whether they are going it alone or collaborating with a design partner, is to always sample the materials they plan to use in a space.

“My biggest tip: With online shopping, you can click your mouse and you can order anything.” But before you click buy, she says: “Order samples, and exercise patience when it comes to buying materials for your home. You do really have to commit to the time to go to a showroom to hold a material in your hand and feel the physical quality of it. It’s the only way to understand whether something is worth an investment.”

And when you know, you know. “If it is a good product, the sample will sell it,” says Daubert.

Daubert herself remembers a moment with a client, where a particular set of custom bar stools could have set her homeowners back a good chunk of money if they hadn’t been patient enough to wait for the material samples. “I went to order the finish samples, they weren’t in stock, but I finally got it, and the sample was very whitewashed, rustic – a bit rough and ready – and didn’t work for this space at all.”

Flat lay image featuring different textures and materials
Daubert uses tools like flat lays and visual renderings of a space to connect the dots of a design.

Living with those samples for a bit, seeing and feeling how they work as the light shifts in your space and whether there are undertones you hadn’t noticed in the material has an impact on the final outcome. She uses tools like flat lays and visual renderings of a space to connect the dots of a design. “I can envision the space and have a sense, but the rendering puts everything together.”

Yet, “bottom line, it always helps to have samples when you are ordering.“

But what if I can’t get my hands on a sample, or visit a showroom in person – a common issue in the era of Covid? Daubert recommends considering which items are really going to have an impact – a small side table may not be a big deal to replace – but certain materials and furnishings are going to be a large investment in both time and money, and says she has often requested video of materials installed or visited a local project that features that same material.

“Trying and testing is really the key.”

Eclectic Ease Kitchen Rendering
In this "Eclectic Ease" design, black painted wood plank cabinetry with vintage brass hardware and honed Arabescato Vagli marble counters is paired with a vintage mango wood freestanding island, to create a juxtaposition between updated and antique. Designed with Beam.

As for her personal favorites to work with? Daubert says she is a glutton for wood materials and oil-rubbed bronze, adding, “it adds that moody, elevated look to a space.” And then depending on the project, she will complement these materials with textures and colors that are location appropriate - beachy linens for a California coastal, or plusher, warmer materials like wool for a Colorado ski chalet. Always taking care to order samples of any material she isn’t already familiar with.

Because at the end of the day, materials make all the difference.

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