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3 Questions for... Charlie Hellstern

An interior designer's origin story, best design tip, favorite details, and secret talent.

interior designer woman sitting in dark room with sunlight on face

Photographed by Jenny Jimenez, courtesy Charlie Hellstern.

Charlie Hellstern interior design projects are known for being serene, luxurious, and exceptionally creative. That's why GRAY and Modern Architecture + Design Society (MA+DS) are thrilled to showcase a Charlie Hellstern project on our Seattle Interior Design Tour on Saturday, June 8, 2024 (details here).

Hellstern's been designing for nearly three decades, and with that comes the savvy know-how for creating captivating environments that not only reflect her clients' personalities, but also embrace and enhance the way people live, love, work, and grow every day. I had the chance to catch up with Hellstern for a quick Q&A session. Here’s what she had to say:

What's your origin story, what drew you into interior design?

I always liked drawing and making things since I was a kid. My Montessori teacher blew my mind by making the perfect heart-shaped cutout from a folded piece of paper. I remember thinking I wanted to use her adult sized scissors, which seemed to cut way better than my tiny kid-sized ones. In third grade, my older sister showed me how to draw train tracks in perspective, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. In high school, my mom was studying to become a licensed therapist, and I became equally fascinated by the discovery of all the unique personalities in the world trying to get along with one another. Then I talked with a family friend about her job as an interior designer. I thought that her job sounded like a blend of all the things I found interesting and loved the idea of helping people express themselves in their environments.

What is your number one design tip?

Create a philosophy based on answers to the design prompt that you stick to throughout your projects. If there are aspects to your prompt response from your client or self that are missing then create them so that the thought is complete before you respond with a design.

Vitus Group Seattle penthouse designed by Charlie Hellstern will be featured on the Seattle Interior Design Tour on June 8, 2024. Photographed by Kevin Scott, courtesy Charlie Hellstern.

What is your single favorite design detail about the Vitus Group Seattle office (the project featured on this year's Seattle Interior Design Tour)?

I’m going to break the rules — I have two favorite design details, but I can only claim one as my own. First, I love the balanced natural light. The penthouse is an elegant and comfortable space — which is my sweet spot in our design aesthetic — but the balanced natural light from east to west that Graham Baba Architects maintained and added with a skylight in the stairwell is really what makes the space special. Some materials were selected specifically based on light reflection to aid in the balance. Funny story, I used to work in this building for a retail interior design firm 20+ years ago. My desk was on what was then the top floor above the canopies of Sycamore trees on Second Ave – it was a treat to be nestled in fluttering leaves when they were in bloom from Spring to Fall so I have a particular fondness for this project for this reason.

My second favorite detail is the kingfisher rug in living room of the Penthouse. The scale of this space is quite large, similar to a hotel lobby, and would host functions, so it was important for us to find a way to provide comfortable seating for groups of up to 30. To achieve this, we felt the space called for one large rug. Given the scale of the space in combination with large-scale art, the design required a large-scale print for the rug and we felt that we could let loose a bit on color too. We took inspiration from the kingfisher bird, one of my favorite tiny but mighty birds that I often see hunting along the waterfronts in the area. It's colorful feathers were often used in Art Deco jewelry and I’ve always been fascinated by their bright blue color. I realistically painted individual feathers and Tessa [Hyatt] digitized them. We worked on about 20 versions of the design before choosing an organic outline to mimic the curved sofas and arranged the feathers in a haphazard pattern as if someone had dropped a handul of exploded scale feathers on the ground. It was important to us that our interpretation of the color feel more connected to the built environment and furnishings. The rug is both the star of the show and also plays a supportive role.

Bonus Q:

Other than design, do you have a hidden talent?

I have a knack for finding four (and sometimes five) leaf clovers all the time! Back when cash was a more popular source of exchanging money, I found it all the time too, still do occasionally 😉


Be sure to check out all the featured projects on the Seattle Interior Design tour on Saturday, June 8, and the VIP tour on Sunday, June 9.

2024 Interior Design Tour schedule

Seattle: June 8, 2024. Ticket info.

Portland: September 21, 2024. Ticket info posted here when available.

San Francisco: October 12, 2024. Ticket info posted here when available.

Stay tuned for 2025 dates and cities!

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