It’s always delightful to find a designer who not only cares deeply about interiors but also about her clients, her team, and the community. Meet Leila Douglah, interior designer-par-excellence, whose Douglah Designs is one of the most in-demand design-build remodeling studios in the East Bay.
Leila's design expertise transcends conventional boundaries, embracing a diverse range of styles – from traditional to contemporary to mid-century modern and beyond, making her a designer for every mood! This versatility has earned her a loyal clientele who value her talent for crafting luxurious yet functional spaces that embody their unique personalities and lifestyles.
Having spent most of her formative years abroad, Leila possesses a heightened consciousness of her privileges. As a committed contributor to numerous local and international charities, Leila has sustained her core principle of giving back since establishing her firm in 1997. She believes that design can positively impact people's lives, and she has dedicated herself to utilizing her skills to contribute to the community.
Leila also possesses a remarkable talent for effectively interpreting her clients' design aspirations and desires while intuitively discerning their underlying needs and requirements. With an extensive 25-year history, her innovative and bespoke approach to design has established her as one of the most reputable interior designers in the Bay Area. Moreover, her Luxe Home showroom, a spacious 3000 sq ft facility located in the heart of Lafayette, enhances the efficiency of Douglah Designs' design-build business model and enables clients to transform their vision into reality effortlessly.
So without further ado, please welcome Leila Douglah.
Q: What is the story of Douglah Designs? As an architecture scholar, what made you shift focus towards a career in interior design?
Leila: It’s impossible to talk about my career path without talking about where I come from and my family history. I was born in the USA and spent the first part of my life traveling around the world with my parents before we landed in Baghdad. Before the age of eight, I had lived on three continents in a variety of living situations, many of which were quite humble and not at all like the kind of homes I design today.
I completed my entire formal education in Baghdad, from elementary school, through college. After graduating from Baghdad’s University of Technology with an architectural engineering degree, I was faced with a tough decision. As a young woman in my early twenties, having lived through the Iran-Iraq War, I decided to do something that for me was quite scary but also the best option for my physical and mental safety. I used my privilege as a US passport holder and moved to California.
After arriving in the US and desperate to find any job in the design world, I landed a position as an assistant kitchen and bath designer at a large home center in Walnut Creek, CA. That was the start of my interior design journey. While I was there, I soaked up every bit of learning I could. As an architecture scholar, I never thought I’d be working in interiors, but I learned that I loved to make clients happy by improving their spaces and, one kitchen countertop and bathroom vanity at a time, I fell in love with the world of interior design!
To get back to your original question, the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) answer is, I said yes to the opportunities I was presented with, approached them with courage, seriousness, and dedication, and then fell in love with curating people’s spaces.
Q: How does Douglah Designs deliver greater value to clients as a design-build firm than those that offer design-bid? What sets Douglah Designs apart from other design-build firms in the industry?
Leila: Here’s the thing about design-build versus design-bid – from the customer experience side, most think they are signing up for a design-build service when they start their remodeling projects with an independent contractor. A majority of people are inexperienced in the world of contracting, building, and designing. So they go into remodeling projects naively thinking that their contractor will provide them with a 360-degree service, which is, of course, not the case.
With design-build, you have one responsible party. Your project managers, builders, and designers are all on the same team. And so, Douglah Designs’ fully cohesive team is the first thing that sets us apart.
The other thing that really sets us apart from other design-build firms is our 3,500-square-foot showroom, Luxe Home by Douglah Designs. With all of our products under one roof, you can run your hand over the countertops, open and close all the cabinets, see the tiles, and learn about the plumbing. Owning a showroom also means that we have direct relationships with hundreds of vendors, manufacturers, and artisans, and these relationships help us have the best prices. Having the full spectrum of styles and price points is a huge source of pride for me. Whatever you are looking for, from entry-level to maximum luxury, we can help you. Even with styles, we don’t specialize in one type of style. We have an incredibly diverse collection, from traditional to transitional to contemporary and more.
I’d like to say one final thing on this topic, especially for anyone considering a remodeling project for the first time. When you start to plan your project, you will probably get a few different quotes. A design-build firm will probably quote you 25-50% more than an independent contractor. But, at the end of your project, you will probably pay about the same. I’ve seen this literally thousands of times! Contractors get a bad rap because they end up having to charge you more as the project goes on. Remember, an independent contractor is not your project manager.
Let’s take a kitchen remodel, for example. Most contractors don’t consider the final design plans or consult with the plumber and the cabinet manufacturer before they give you the quote because it’s not in their scope of work. In contrast, our design-build firm does the design and product selection up-front so that it is an accurate estimate. When a homeowner opts not to work with a design-build firm, it will seem like they are saving money initially, but it often brings a lot of headaches, pivoting plans, and ultimately more expenses.
Q: Your slogan is “Bringing Your Vision to Life.” Walk us through your design process – from the moment your phone rings to the final walkthrough of the completed space. How do you collaborate with clients to ensure their vision is realized in the final design?
Leila: While the work of “bringing visions to life” may seem like a free-spirited occupation, it’s actually science. We have a system called the 15-Step Project Management System, and it’s truly a recipe for realizing visions, and the secret ingredient is “structure.”
When my phone rings, it’s usually for our 15-minute discovery call. This complimentary call tells us if you and your project are a good fit for our firm and vice versa. That’s the first step.
The second step is an optional in-home consultation. These consultations are exceedingly thorough and last around two hours. We charge $500 per consultation, and our clients always feel this is money well spent because it allows them to take a deeper dive and decide if their project is actually something they want to do and how they want to go about doing it.
If you decide that the project is feasible and that Douglah Designs is indeed the right partner, the next step is to develop and sign your Project Development Agreement, and with that, we have officially started the journey of your home renovation project! We quickly get to outlining all the design work and project budgeting. We sign the Home Improvement Contract (construction contract), and then we break ground.
Q: How do you ensure that all your projects remain within budget and are completed on time?
Leila: Easy. We do the planning and make the decisions upfront before any work starts. Douglah Designs has a very high success rate, and I’m proud to say that 95% of our projects finish on time and within budget.
With our signature design-build service, we already know and have planned for every foreseeable detail, down to how far your bathroom medicine cabinet will open and which vanity faucet we will use to accommodate it even before you sign a construction contract with us. Recently, my team came in to help fix a job. One of the many issues was that the contractor hadn’t accounted for the tall faucet spout on the vanity, and because of this, the medicine cabinet door wouldn’t open. I actually see this exact mistake all the time, which ends up costing the homeowner a lot of money to fix the issue.
That's the advantage of working with a design-build firm and finalizing all the design details before construction begins.
Q: Can you discuss some typical challenges you face when working on a project and how you overcome them?
Leila: Unforeseen circumstances are natural for any construction project, and those are the typical challenges we face.
When I say unforeseen circumstances, I strictly mean situations that were impossible to predict, such as opening up a wall and finding severe termite damage, dry rot, or a load-bearing wall where we weren’t expecting one.
Another challenge is client-initiated change orders. Often, our clients add to the contracted scope of work mid-project as they realize how satisfied they are with our work. For example, at a kitchen remodel I worked on, everything was going according to plan. As the work progressed and the client was happy with what they saw, they called me and said, “Leila, since your team is already here, can you also remodel our powder room, right next to the kitchen?”
These requests happen all the time, and I have nicknamed them the since-you’re-here effect. While we always try to accommodate these requests, it can be challenging if we have other projects in the pipeline waiting to start construction.
Q: How do you stay updated about the latest trends in the interior design industry?
Leila: So many different ways! I make a huge effort to ensure my team, and I are up-to-date on the fresh trends. We never want to get tired or stuck in our ways. We love embracing and playing with new technologies, innovation, and old-school products that have been reimagined.
I could never stay up-to-date without our vendor partners. Thanks to the 200+ vendors I have personal relationships with, I see the latest and greatest as soon as they roll out.
Education is essential to everything we do. As a team, we have regular product knowledge (PK) meetings. Our PK meetings are an important part of our company culture, ensuring we know what's up in the industry. These PK meetings are detail-oriented and include visual, technical, and installation tutorials our entire team attends. We also attend seminars as a team which is a lot of fun.
Another way we stay up-to-date is through industry trade shows. We try to attend as many shows as possible throughout the year. We are excited that many of our beloved shows are back after the long COVID-19 hiatus. Some of our favorites are The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), High Point Market, and Coverings.
Q: Being a design-build firm means juggling multiple teams. How do you manage the different aspects of a project, from design to material selection, construction, and project management?
Leila: When I talk about “our team” as it pertains to our design-build service, I mean our design team, our construction team, and our project management team. We all work under one roof. I am really proud of the level of cohesion we have reached when working together cross-functionally. We are loyal to the 15-Step Project Management System, and we live by it!
The Luxe Home By Douglah Designs Showroom serves as a base for all of our design-build clients and also benefits those clients who may already be working with a contractor. For the latter, you can work with one of our showroom designers to assist you with space planning and product curating. This is our design-source service level, where our team doesn’t manage the actual construction. Instead, you will get a binder with plans for your design and spec sheets for all of the curated products that you can bring back to your contractor.
Finally, we invite all local Interior Designers and Architects to use our Luxe Home By Douglah Designs Showroom as a resource for you and your clients.
Q: Your Luxe Home showroom is known for being the ultimate East Bay one-stop shop for all remodeling materials and furnishings. What differentiates it from the traditional shopping experience of running around to a range of specialty stores?
Leila: You nailed it! Luxe Home is a one-stop shop, like a library of everything worth talking about. From lights to tile, flooring, and fixtures, we have it all. You could decorate a home of any size, sourcing all your products exclusively from Luxe Home. Our collection is THAT extensive!
I’d say three big things differentiate the Luxe Home Showroom:
1. First, our selection is highly-curated. Everything in the showroom has been hand-chosen by my team and me. We believe in quality over quantity, and our showroom has grown slowly but surely over many years.
2. Second, the relationships that we have created with our vendors over the years and the quality customer service they provide.
3. The third is our pricing model. All of the items that we sell are competitively priced in the marketplace.
Q: What are some of your favorite brands and products featured in the showroom? Why are these products so compelling?
Leila: This is a tough question. All of the brands at Luxe Home are there for a reason. They have been chosen by us, are all special, and all contribute unique features to our overall collection.
With that said, we love the brand Artistic Tile! They are one of the most creative tile suppliers I’ve ever worked with. Their in-house specialty is their waterjet patterns that offer fabulous designs, textures, and color ranges. You can use them as an inlay for your floor, as a beautiful kitchen backsplash, or as a backdrop wall in any other imaginable space that could use a pop of wow!
I also love Bentwood Luxury Kitchens. Their cabinet quality is unmatched. They are a no-compromise company that makes excellent cabinets for every room in your home.
When it comes to lighting, Visual Comfort & Co is the ultimate lighting supplier. They offer many different styles, from traditional to transitional, to contemporary, at every price point! What more could you ask for from a lighting supplier? The selection is so wide that you will surely find something you love with this company. Our team at the Luxe Home showroom is amazing at navigating their thousands of products. Seriously, don’t try to navigate this collection alone. Come in and talk to us!
Q: Giving back to the community is a core aspect of the Douglah Designs philosophy. Tell us more about your drive to establish deeper human connections through community activities and how you do it.
Leila: I am acutely aware that the large majority of the world’s inhabitants do not have the privileges that my clients and I have when it comes to designing, building, and curating spaces. Giving back has been a core value of mine ever since I started the company in 1997, and as our company grows, I want to systemically embed a culture of giving back even more.
I have had relationships with local and international charities over the years. Some of our past relationships have included Habitat For Humanity East Bay, Habitat For Humanity International (where I personally assisted with a 2-week rebuild after the Tsunami in Thailand), Shelter Inc. of Contra Costa County, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention LPIE (Lafayette Partners in Education) as I have been a long-time supporter and believe that education is the backbone of a thriving society.
I strive to recognize my privileges, approach them with gratitude, and share what I can with others.
Q: What are your plans for the future of Douglah Designs, and where do you see the company going in the next few years?
Leila: Many business owners have a good thing going and then seek to expand geographically and go big, often with a “take over the world” mentality. That’s not me. The future of Douglah Designs is very East Bay.
The culture of work is changing. After COVID-19, people are evaluating their priorities and are looking for a more distinct work-life balance. Douglah Designs embraces this mentality, and we are constantly improving to make our company a great place to work.
For the next few years, I plan to continue to grow Douglah Designs, welcome back returning clients, expand my team, and make our company an ever-better place to work.
AA: Leila, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to gain insight into your remarkable world of interior design and remodeling!
For anyone wanting to start following Leila on social media, I recommend finding her on Instagram for some great interior design inspiration and following her on Facebook and Houzz to see their latest projects. ♥