Mark Nichols is a highly regarded interior designer located in the epicenter of modernism: Palm Springs. He is committed to creating refined contemporary interiors appropriate for the home’s architecture and the surrounding natural environment. Named to Metropolitan Home’s list of Designers to Watch, Mark’s designs have also been featured on HGTV where he was named one of America’s Top 10 Designers. He is the mostly highly accredited sustainable designer in the Coachella Valley and his design studio is the first certified LEED Gold Commercial Interior in the entire region.
Mark Nichols thanks so much for talking with me today! I’m a big fan of your work. Your designs are clean and architectural, but your use of color and texture create a very sophisticated yet comfortable environment. I particularly appreciate how you incorporate the stunning views of Palm Springs into your designs. Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Well, I’ve always been interested in architecture–I don’t think I put away my Legos until I was in my 20s–but I have many creative interests. I was drawn to the theatre at an early age and worked in various aspects of it in New York and Los Angeles for many years. Interior Design is actually my third career.
Where did you do your training, and how did you get your start in the business?
The genesis of my career in Interior Design is not so different from many: I loved to re-arrange my parent’s furniture. Fast forward 30 years when a photographer from Architectural Digest scouted an apartment I had designed for myself in New York. It wasn’t chosen for publication but the feedback was good and it gave me the confidence to consider Interior Design as a career option. At age 40, I started my training at UCLA’s Interior Design Program. I was then hired by Rancho Mirage-based Interior Designer Randy Patton as a Project Manager. Two years later I started my own firm.
Where are you from originally? What is it about Palm Springs that led you to make your home and career here?
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia but left for New York City when I was 17. It was easy to wander the streets of Manhattan endlessly, getting lost in the galleries and museums. At that time public plans were being made for the new MOMA, and Paul Goldberger was still writing for the New York Times. Even though I was establishing a professional identity in a different art form, it was contemporary art and architecture that I reveled in. After a theatre job transfer to Los Angeles played out, I was offered a year’s severance to figure out my next career move. I knew that I might not get another chance to really change gears, so I took a weekend trip out to Palm Springs to mull it over. Not knowing Palm Springs all that well, I took a hotel room where I could get a decent rate. It just happened to be William Cody’s Le Horizon Hotel. It was my watershed weekend. Upon my return to LA, I immediately enrolled at UCLA with my sights set on establishing my own design firm here in Palm Springs.
Mark, you’re committed to ecologically-sensitive design. Do you feel that the community of Palm Springs is supportive of this as well?
I’d assumed that a city built on a site of such incredible beauty would have environmental sensitivity as its core value, but sadly I’ve not found this to be consistently true, particularly in local government. There are certainly many residents who live their lives in an ecologically sensitive way and there are many in the preservationist community who understand that re-purposing and adaptive re-use is often a better way to build in the long-term.
I know you chaired the City of Palm Springs’ Sustainability Commission. That must have been interesting! Please tell us a little about that experience.
It was very interesting. Serving on a local commission is serious and time-consuming work. I treasure the other Commissioners and their commitment to sustainability. During my term, we made some real progress with smaller programs like lawn buy-back, community gardens and the like but there is potential for so much more. The fact that in four years we could do nothing about the non-native plantings on municipal property and the wasteful sprinkler overspray on the Tahquitz median demonstrates a lack of political priority at the Council level. There are systems and means to make the City of Palm Springs a leader in municipal energy independence; hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money has been spent on studying this issue but unfortunately the make-up of our present Council does not have the vision or vitality to move forward in this area.
When you’re not designing interiors or trying to save the planet, how do you spend your free time? What would a typical weekend look like for you?
I work every weekend! My partner, David, and I relax and travel during the summer months. Favorite free time activities include yoga retreat centers in exotic locales, surfing off the coast of Wialea, or biking on the Provincetown Bike Trails.
Please share with us some of your favorite restaurants, retail stores and hot spots to enjoy in Palm Springs.
If we’re just too tired to press start on the microwave, we can always grab a good meal at Zin where the special for years has been macadamia encrusted Mahi-Mahi (which though delicious, makes one wonder how special it is!). If it’s a more formal occasion, then it’s Copley’s. If we want to take friends out for a lively night of fun and good food then it’s either Tropicale or LULU Bistro. My favorite day of the week is Sunday because it’s my day to hit all the vintage and consignment shops. I start at the North End of Palm Springs and work my way all the way down to Rancho Mirage. Christopher Anthony, Hedge, Spaces, the Estate Sale–I love them all.
And, Mark, what is it that you most love about Palm Springs?
The drama of the setting, of course, and the concentration of mid-century architecture but also that so many people have come here to reinvent themselves in some way. Everybody has a story. How much of it is fanciful is always fun to figure out. What is the line from Gilbert and Sullivan? “Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream.”
Touche! Thanks for talking with me today, Mark, and sharing your Palm Springs story with us!