Rachel Madden has made it her life’s work to create elegant, yet understated spaces poised with comfort and functionality — fitting for today’s modern family. She moves through every space, crafting clean and richly layered aesthetics by combining classic elements with contemporary lines, and a unique selection of finishes and materials. Rachel has over 10 years of commercial and residential experience, and her firm, Rachel Madden Interiors, is known for bringing its “classic meets modern” approach to design to the Bay Area.
Shop Rachel Madden’s personally curated selection, exclusively on Sotheby’s Home.
As a mother of three, how do you create and maintain a beautiful home while accommodating the family’s functional needs?
Performance fabrics! It allows me to choose light-colored fabrics for that fresh and airy look I love, plus it makes me a much more relaxed mom with my kids! I also like to use wool rugs. They are soft on the knees and the easiest to clean, and can last for decades if properly cared for. Well-thought-out toy/book storage is essential. There are so many creative solutions to get it organized and off to the side, whether that’s hidden and enclosed or displayed in a sophisticated way. And last but certainly not least, a thoughtfully designed drop-off zone (a.k.a., mud room) that organizes shoes, backpacks, coats, homework, art supplies, mail, etc. It’s the hub of the home, and will keep the home from feeling cluttered and disorganized.
What is your philosophy for designing spaces for children and teenagers, taking into consideration their ever-evolving tastes and needs?
A sophisticated color palette — muted shades of their favorite colors. Something they can grow into. I try to design it so that it appeals to all ages.
You’ve worked on historic properties in San Francisco — how do you bring new life to a space while maintaining the building’s authentic self?
Paint is such a great way to freshen things up while still allowing the original architectural details to shine through. I also like to apply juxtaposition in these types of homes. We do this by mixing in more streamlined, modern pieces to help the home feel fresh and current, but still leaving its old-world bones as the backdrop. It’s a striking contrast between old and new that feels beautifully unexpected.
What is your go-to source for inspiration?
My family and travel. Through constantly refining my own home with my husband and three young girls, I have learned a lot about how to design a functioning, organized home. And on my travels, I am always inspired by fresh new ideas.
What is the most common design mistake you see?
Lack of contrast, or lack of variety, is the first thing I notice. Without contrast, a space can feel dull and one-dimensional. You can achieve contrast with a variety of materials in different textures, a range of colors from dark to light, and a balance of warm and cool colors. Going further, your patterns should contrast in scale and form, and there should be a variety of old and new.
You’ve talked a bit about bedrooms being the most overlooked room in a house. What is the most challenging aspect of designing a great bedroom?
Most clients leave the bedroom until the end, which means there is usually very little budget left for the room. My biggest challenge is creating that serene, beautiful room with a minimal budget that will still feel in line with the quality and style of the rest of the home.
Do you find that it’s easiest to use the vintage piece as a jumping-off point for the room, or vintage shop to fill specific holes in the space?
I like to start with a piece that inspires either the color palette or the overall vibe of the space. Could be a rug, art, or even a special piece of fabric. Vintage pieces are wonderful to layer in later because their patina balances out all the new pieces, adding in a lived-in feel that homes need to feel like home.
Feeling inspired? Check out some of our favorite vintage pieces.
What makes a piece of furniture great in your opinion?
Comfortable, functional, and with huge attention to detail.
What do you think of Sotheby’s Home?
Love the range of styles. Vintage pieces with current, high-end items. It’s definitely a one-stop shop.