My Design Journey: Jean Liu on Her Modernist Style and Unconventional Entry Into the Design World

Jean Liu headshot.

Danielle Sabol

Dallas-based designer Jean Liu took a roundabout path into the world of interiors, but she brought with her a savvy business sense and a passion for personalized spaces. As part of our series, My Design Journey, we spoke with Liu about her proudest professional accomplishments, her sources of inspiration, and an upcoming project that’s provided her with lots of excitement. 

On Her Entry Into the Design World

Growing up, Liu never envisioned herself pursuing design professionally. “I come from a traditional Chinese family where education and success are highly prized,” she explains. “While my parents supported creative outlets, it was not something they believed should be pursued as a job. I jokingly refer to myself as the ‘accidental designer'—this was not a career I had ever intended on pursuing, but here I am 13 years into it and loving every moment.”

After high school, Liu, who had enjoyed studying political science, received a degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and then completed a master’s degree in theology at Harvard. “I was particularly interested in the role of religion in politics and thought I’d graduate and work for a think tank,” she reflects. 

While still in graduate school, Liu’s plans quickly changed—she was asked to determine the future of her late father’s business in the lighting manufacturing and distributing industry back home in Dallas. “This was not a call I had been expecting, and needless to say, I was shocked,” Liu explains. “I had no experience in the lighting industry and moving to Dallas was not ‘part of the plan,’ but out of duty and obligation, I came back right after graduation.” 

Back in Dallas, Liu put her energy into the business. “I was most interested in the product development aspect of things,” she says. ”I spent most of my time with the product design team studying trends, reviewing new designs, and working with the factories overseas. This sparked my creativity in a way I also had not expected.” 

Liu also began to get settled in her native city, purchasing and renovating her first home—a historic Tudor in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood. “The experience was such a positive and enjoyable one, and the contractor and I went on to renovate four more homes,” she explains. “Our last renovation completed around the time the market had started to soften, so the broker encouraged us to add ‘soft touches’ to the house, such as window treatments and bench cushions.”

After seeing these developments, a friend of Liu’s took interest and hired Liu to transform her own condo. “By the time I had finished her space, I had two more jobs, and before I even realized what had happened, I was in business,” Liu says. 

On Her and Her Clients’ Design Style

“We are modernists at heart,” Liu says of her aesthetic. “We love midcentury classics, edited spaces, and feel like no room is complete without great art.”

But, no two spaces she designs are the same. “We believe in creating personalized interiors for each of our clients to reflect their interests and lifestyle,” Liu explains, who works with individuals in all stages of life. “Clients share an affinity toward a more modern and tailored approach to living, and several of them have first-rate art collections that become a significant part of the programming and layout of a home.” 

On the Transition from Her Family Business to Design 

Liu says that her background working with a product development team at her family’s business made the idea of designing and fabricating custom furniture for a client’s specific need less daunting when it came to interior design. She adds, “All those trips overseas to work with factories to develop prototypes turned out to be great experiences.”

Liu entered the design business with strong knowledge for the financials of running a company, too. “Understanding what overhead is, being able to bill and collect on a timely basis, and managing cash flow each month are all necessary aspects of being successful in a creative industry,” she notes. 

Liu is grateful for the younger interior designers she has been able to onboard. “Their ability to use the latest and greatest software and programs that did not exist when we were in school have helped increase our efficiency throughout the studio,” she explains. “They’ve also proven to be great sounding boards for how and what role social media should play in our firm.” 

She adds, “Don’t believe the negativity surrounding millennials—the ones we are lucky enough to have are some of the savviest self-starters we’ve ever been around. They’re hard workers, come with fresh ideas, and don’t hesitate to roll up their sleeves to get the job done.” 

Don’t believe the negativity surrounding millennials—the ones we have are some of the savviest self-starters we’ve ever been around.

On Drawing Inspiration from Fashion and Travel

“We travel so much as a family, and as a studio, we joke that we are gypsies,” Liu says. Thus, Liu’s adventures in new places have influenced her work greatly—as has fashion.

“Having had the chance to attend couture fashion shows in Paris and Italy for some time, I have been lucky enough to see the most incredible and jaw-dropping creations and wearable works of art,” Liu explains. “For example, in 2019, I attended the Dolce Gabbana Alta Moda show in Sicily, where Greek Revival was all the rage, and there was one particular gown in a luxurious shade of eggplant with gold shoulder lapel details that became the inspiration for our orchid dinner table that following spring.” 

On Her Career Highlights Thus Far

Liu is extremely proud to have been named one of House Beautiful’s Next Wave designers. “Until that recognition, I always felt a bit uneasy or insecure about not having had a proper interior design degree like most of my peers, regardless of how much harder I might have been willing to work,” she says. 

We felt like we were swimming in peanut butter for months, and it was such a surprise to be in the spotlight for a bit and have positive recognition.

She was also thrilled to see her work on the cover of House Beautiful’s October 2020 issue. “It was completely unexpected and came at such a hard time for us during the pandemic,” she reflects. “It completely refueled and re-energized my entire design studio. We felt like we were swimming in peanut butter for months, and it was such a surprise to be in the spotlight for a bit and have positive recognition.” 

Lastly, Liu greatly enjoyed serving as a co-chair for the inaugural Kips Bay Dallas Showhouse. “Dallas has long had great design going on, but it wasn’t until this showhouse did I feel like it was on display for everyone in the industry to see and appreciate on a national level,” she explains. “This showhouse also was pulled off during the pandemic, so while we feel incredibly lucky to have been part of it, we’re also coming out of it pumped for our city and feeling a bit invincible, since we had numerous obstacles to overcome.” 

On the Future of Jean Liu Design and the Industry as a Whole 

Liu is excited to share that she’s working on her first restaurant design project—designing the new location of Sassetta, which will open in Dallas’s Joule Hotel this fall. This type of work is something she had hoped to take on for quite some time.

Liu will soon move into a new design studio in the Dallas Design District, too. “It will be a larger studio space for our ever-growing needs, but will also be shared amongst other creatives who are in related industries,” she explains. 

With regard to the industry in general, Liu says she is remaining bullish on what the future holds. “I think the pandemic has forever and further affirmed the importance of home, and clients—current and prospective ones—will be prioritizing their houses and renovations over some of their previous interests or pastimes,” Liu explains, who has witnessed an influx of client inquires.

“We remain excited about witnessing this robust and renewed interest in creating comfortable and functional interiors,” she adds. “Home is where it’s at.”