How Travel Informs Design, According to a Designer

How Travel Informs Design, According to a Designer

If you’ve ever set foot in the Ace Hotel Palm Springs, then you’ve experienced the work of Commune, a design studio cofounded by Pamela Shamshiri. She and her team create effortlessly cool spaces (such as the new Durham Hotel in North Carolina) that mirror the tone of their environments. Shamshiri’s interiors deliberately feel like home, the result of years spent roaming the globe.

Her Roots

For her forward-thinking designs, Shamshiri often looks back, to relics and to her Iranian heritage. “The 5,000-year-old city of Yazd has buildings made from mud as well as the ancient wind catchers of Dowlatabad Garden,” she says. The structures recirculate air without power, an early form of air conditioning. “We have no idea how they thought of it,” she marvels. “As we’re searching for sustainable ways of living, it’s important to consider architectural feats from the past.” Shamshiri’s next trip is to India, as she’s felt inspired from afar by the brilliant urban design of Chandigarh. “The city is changing so much, and I want to see it now,” she says. Her other must-see destination: Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory that was built almost 300 years ago.

Her Vibe

When Shamshiri was just starting out in design, she and her brother hopped from city to city, job to job, living out of hotel rooms. The experience allowed her to reflect on what makes a place really feel like home and what does not. For instance, plastic. “Get it out of your house,” she pleads. “You’ll be amazed how much more beautiful your home will look!” She routinely seeks out natural elements. “I recently stayed at the Hacienda de San Antonio outside of Colima, Mexico. It’s a pink hacienda with volcanic rock details that’s set at the foot of a volcano on a 5,000-acre wilderness preserve.” Indoor-outdoor living is an organizing principle of Commune’s work, evident at the Elder Statesman retail shop in West Hollywood. An open, light-catching interior plays off L.A.’s bright, sunny skies.

How She Unwinds

Shamshiri found bliss at 7132 Hotel and Spa in Vals, Switzerland. “I’m in awe of anything by its architect, Peter Zumthor,” she says. For her, Zumthor’s genius lies in his ability to boil down the details of a space to a singular feeling—in this case, complete awareness. “Being inside is a spiritual experience,” she explains. “There are no distractions.” As for simpler pleasures, she’s known to grab a preflight manicure and, when in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, a Ladurée macaron or three. If she has downtime on the road, one ritual chills her out. “I often take historic house tours in whatever city I visit. I find them so relaxing.” Unsurprisingly, she adds, “I pretty much have one foot in the past at all times.”

Sarah Purkrabek is a Los Angeles-based travel writer.