PROFILE: Tina Frey Designs
Written by Sofia Deeb Photos by Bruce Damonte
From the vibrant streets of San Francisco to the quaint shores of Montecito, designer Tina Frey of Tina Frey Designs proves that there is inspiration to be found in any setting. Since 2007, the Hong Kong-born creative has showcased her whimsical-yet-minimalist home pieces around the world, dazzling clients from France to India, and everywhere in between. This jet-setting lifestyle fuels Frey’s creativity, allowing her to create pieces inspired by her favorite locations all around the globe.
This past year, however, travel restrictions have forced Frey to channel this wanderlust spirit into a new outlet. She recently opened the doors to her brand new flagship store, right here in Montecito, where you can shop the brand’s best sellers, as well as newer pieces inspired by the Santa Barbara coast. I sat down with Frey to talk about all things Tina Frey Designs, including what’s in store for this new chapter.
Tell us about Tina Frey Designs.
I started the company 14 years ago in San Francisco. It began as a creative outlet for me. My whole life I have always been into creative things like drawing, sculpting, and sewing—anything that you can imagine. I actually started my career in finance and felt that it didn’t fulfil my soul or truly give me joy. I decided that if I don’t make this change to do something cool now, then I probably won’t do it. So I started out by making a couple bowls and exhibited them at shows—I started exhibiting in New York and in Paris and before you knew it, it just grew from there. Now 14 years later we have clients all over the world, from hospitality projects, to restaurants with amazing chefs, and retail stores.
How did you get started?
When I started my own company, I wanted to find a way to express my creativity, but in a medium that had endless breadth for what I could do. So when I was exploring different things, I looked on my bookshelf and realized I had a bunch of books on resin because I was fascinated with the material, and there weren't many people who had worked with it in the past. I originally sculpted two bowls in clay before they were molded and cast in resin, and those were the two bowls I initially exhibited at a fair in San Francisco. I like resin because there’s so much ability to make it look like something unexpected. It can look like glass, ceramic, porcelain, or even stone.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
I love traveling a lot—inspiration comes from seeing different places, cultures, and arts. I love going to museums, being outdoors, and seeing nature. I look at how I interact with things in my day-to-day life and ask myself what sort of objects am I using now that could be improved or that could be made in resin. It's constantly evolving out of either need or visual inspiration, and finding ways to do something differently or better.
You recently opened up a new flagship store in Montecito. What inspired this decision?
This year, if it weren't for the pandemic, we would have started doing pop-ups internationally, but because there was no traveling internationally, it made me think about how I could do something like that locally. It was a creative outlet for me, because without having any exhibitions or any way to present the collection to people, it felt like the only way to do it was to open the store and open the doors and do what we do best, which is to showcase the entire collection in an inspiring setting that shows how I envision the pieces to be used in someone’s home. The outdoors and nature here influenced us picking this location—it's pretty magical.
What are you looking forward to most about this new chapter?
It’s about connecting with people more directly. Previously when we've exhibited the collections, it's been in international wholesale-type shows. It’s nice to be able to meet the end consumer, because they’re the ones taking our products home and using them in their spaces. This next chapter allows us to connect with people more directly, and I find that super rewarding.
San Francisco and Montecito both have very distinguished yet unique cultures. What impact does each locale have on your work?
It's similar to traveling. Whether I’m in India, Paris, Milan, San Francisco, or wherever else, each place has its own cultures, attractions, and beauties. The difference between here and San Francisco is that here, there is so much outdoor life to be enjoyed all year round. San Francisco is lovely too, but because our summers there are notoriously cold, you tend to be indoors more. In Montecito, I appreciate the sorts of things I could make that are more useful outdoors versus indoors.
What upcoming designs we will be seeing in the new Montecito store?
There’s a new lamp that’s coming; I’m just finalizing some details on the electrical side of things. But it's called the “Mushroom Lamp” and it's my latest favorite object. It comes in three color combinations. One is with a white base and a fog-colored top, which of course is inspired by the color of the sky at times in San Francisco. There’s another version with a solid black colored base with the fog top. The third color option is a nude base with a transparent, nude-colored top. They are meant to translate to different types of environments.
The other thing that’s exciting about the retail space is that it allows me to launch exclusive items at our shop, before they are presented to the rest of the world. The shop has allowed me to try out a whole bunch of new things, and have an outlet to show them to people.
What is one moment in your career that you are most proud of?
Quite early on, one of the moments when I knew I had pursued the right path was when I was making a few jewelry pieces. I envisioned making this ring with this bracelet, and I could visualize what it would look like when it was done. When I finished it, I remember having this moment where I was like, “Wow!” and felt like crying. You know, when you have this vision of making something and it actually turns out the way you want it to, it's the most fulfilling and rewarding experience.
What is your favorite thing to do in Santa Barbara?
One of my favorite things to do is going for a walk on the beach with my dogs—those sunsets never get old.
What’s in store for the future at Tina Frey Designs?
Many things! I hope to expand the lighting collection, because now that I know how to do it, there are many things in my creative portfolio that I know are going to happen next. Right now it's just nice to be able to meet and connect with people in the community.