Without hesitation, our team here at the Designer Society of America (DSA) continues to be so incredibly impressed by our members. That’s why we get so excited when it comes time to announce the annual DSA 360° Design Excellence Award recipient, which was originally established in 2019.To discover a recipient, we sort through designers’ business models and explore what the most successful designers are doing differently. The thing we notice that sets award recipients apart is a 360-degree business model, including good design practices, professional photos, a daringness to be different and a strong social media presence.
And the Winner Is …This year’s recipient of the DSA 360°Design Excellence Award is Guillaume Coutheillas, Founder and Creative Director of frenchCALIFORNIA.
Elevating the identity and propelling public awareness of world-class brands.
Coutheillas, who was born and raised in Paris, and has worked in design for a little over a decade now, has been on our radar since he first joined DSA. He continues to impress us with his accomplishments and design skills, as well as his forward-thinking concept of branding combined with marketing for high-end residential developers is just brilliant.
With his firm frenchCALIFORNIA, Coutheillas’ team really does it all—from creating a brand identity, naming the development and building the website and brochures to designing and decorating the physical space.
“A lot of [developers] will go to one agency to do branding. And then, much later on, start thinking about the interiors and the lobby. And it feels disjointed,” he shared previously in an interview with Architectural Digest. “Or maybe they work with a designer who creates beautiful spaces but isn’t savvy about the other aspects and develops a space that you can’t really tie into the larger concept.”
He recognized an opportunity early on in the market to connect these industries together and provide brands with innovative, design-oriented strategies that move the needle and drive the cultural conversation.
With offices in San Francisco and New York, Coutheillas works with top-tier household names in the real estate, hospitality, lifestyle and medical sectors, but he also enjoys working for more accessible spaces like condos and senior housing.
There are two main ways Coutheillas approaches these projects:• Exhibition-Style Projects: frenchCALIFORNIA works with luxury real estate developers by partnering with a collectible design and fine art gallery, along with other various design partners, to curate a selection of pieces to design a model residence that mimics a design gallery. This space is also open as an exhibition to the public, but typically by appointment only. These exhibitions serve as a way to help amplify exposure for the developer, bringing in a crowd of collectors and design aficionados who may also be interested in the actual real estate.• Full Interior Design Projects: Sometimes a developer hires frenchCALIFORNIA to do full interior design, which means he will purchase all of the inventory, including furniture, accessories, art and lighting. This is more of a traditional model residence interior design solely to help the developers sell the space and help potential buyers envision how they might live in a particular unit.An Interview with Coutheillas
From a very young age, Coutheillas says he was immersed in the art and design world, and fascinated by design details.
“I grew up in a neoclassical, historic apartment from 1900 that included centuries-old architectural and design details like handcrafted moldings, a winding staircase and storied design pieces. Though my family has a very contemporary taste with modern art and design, this is how I was first introduced to a high/low, old/new juxtaposition that I still utilize in my work.”
Growing up, he also remembers his mother taking him to the south of France, which is where she grew up. “I fell in love with the relaxed, coastal aesthetic that lends itself very well to West Coast tastes,” Coutheillas adds.
And while he is not traditionally trained in interior architecture, design seems to just come natural to Coutheillas. “I started with DDG, a development, architecture and construction firm, where I had my first professional experiences in design, leading marketing and communications efforts for luxury, high-design spaces,” he says. “A few years later, I developed the skills and connections needed to start my own firm, frenchCALIFORNIA.”
Founded in 2016, frenchCALIFORNIA is a marketing and design house that works with brands to elevate their identity, propel public awareness and drive sales. With an expansive and diverse network, frenchCALIFORNIA cultivates unmatched experiences and partnerships that utilize talent across real estate, interior design and art.
The firm has a branding sector in which they develop visual identity for their clients, which primarily include real estate developers and residential buildings, but also include clients in the health, wellness, design and tech space. This might include developing a client’s logo, typography, color palette, marketing materials, website, signage and art curation.
Coutheillas says the most important element he’s learned about running a successful interior design firm is relationships. “And for many design firms, it is finding the right partners to work with in order to address the client’s needs and aspirations. FrenchCALIFORNIA has been fortunate enough to partner with some of the top real estate developers, artists, art and design galleries, and makers around the world to help make their projects come to life and hold weight in the art and design community.”
They also prioritize quality over quantity at frenchCALIFORNIA when putting together a project. “We try to work with brands that are mindful of the impact they have on the world,” he says. “For example, we always work with a sustainable paint company for our projects, Color Atelier, rather than going a more commercial route.”
FrenchCALIORNIA also makes sure every piece of furniture, art piece or object has a very specific function and only adds to the overall narrative and objective of the environment.
So how does Coutheillas and his team at frenchCALIFORNIA go about establishing and growing those elevated brand partnerships? They are organic, and Coutheillas says they only work with brands whose values align with his firm’s, as well as aligning with what he’s most passionate about.
We also asked Coutheillas how frenchCALIFORNIA balances formal design practices with the daringness to be different, and whether he thinks it’s important to break from the norm in design.
“It’s important to have a high/low mix, and show that luxury design can still feel livable and warm,” he says. “We try to show our clients how they can live with both a piece of incredible blue-chip art and a CB2 console in one space. These days, collectors are eclectic and like to have a mix of pieces in their spaces from different genres, styles and price-points. We strive to convey this trend through our own designs.”
What sets apart frenchCALIFORNIA apart from the competition is that they always bring a multicultural and multi-faceted approach to all projects, which Coutheillas says they allude to in the firm’s name—bringing two cultures together between Europe and North America.
“Two of our lead designers are based in Paris, and with that we are able to execute a more refined, European aesthetic that still is rooted in a deep understanding of the domestic U.S. market,” he adds.
And it’s those connections and relationships between the two cultures that inspire Coutheillas in his designs, partnerships and branding.
“It may be that in one moment we’re inspired by the work of a particular lighting designer or furniture maker, and decide to build our design brief off of that certain piece or collection,” he says.
Collaborations also inspire new ideas. “We love to work with an artist on custom works and illustrations for a particular space. It’s all about working with people we love and want to support,” Coutheillas concludes.
frenchCALIFORNIA has a branding sector in which they develop visual identity for their clients, which primarily include real estate developers and residential buildings, but also include clients in the health, wellness, design and tech space! This might include developing their logos, typography, color palette, marketing materials, website, signage and art curation.
See more branding work here: Branding
Interior DesignfrenchCALIFORNIA works often with luxury real estate developers, but also enjoys work for more accessible spaces like condos, senior housing, etc. There are two main ways in which Guillaume approaches these projects:
Exhibition-Style ProjectsfrenchCALIFORNIA works with luxury real estate developers in a very unique way, where he will partner with collectible design and fine art gallery, along with other various design partners, to curate a selection of pieces to design a model residence that mimics a design gallery, and is also open as an exhibition to the public typically by appointment only. This is more of an ‘exhibition-style’ project in which he designs a space with a gallery, and all of the pieces from the gallery are for sale. Here’s an example of this type of project: NYC Landmark project
These exhibitions serve as a way to help amplify exposure for the developer, bringing in a crowd of collectors and design aficionados who may also be interested in the actual real estate.
Full Interior Design ProjectsSometimes a developer hires frenchCALIFORNIA to do full interior design which means he will purchase all of the inventory including furniture, accessories, art, and lighting. This is less of an exhibition-style design job and more of a traditional model residence interior design solely to help the developers sell the space and help potential buyers envision how they might live in a particular unit. Here’s an example of this: Crescent Nob Hill
See more of his interior design projects here: Design Work