Meet the Designer: Jessica Risko Smith

The California-based interior designer talks modern homes, wallpaper, and indoor/outdoor living.

Interior designer Jessica Risko Smith. Photograph by Mellon Studio

“We love solving problems in spaces for our clients,” interior designer Jessica Risko Smith says. Risko Smith has been based in Santa Barbara doing residential work for 14 years, but before that she focused on commercial work in Los Angeles.

Risko Smith revamped an original home in Santa Barbara that was stuck in the 1950s. The clients “wanted to be in the space and feel completely connected to the outdoors,” Risko Smith says, noting the expansive yard with a pool and gardens. The kitchen and living room were compartmentalized, so with some reconfiguration and help from architect Joe Andrulaitis of Andrulaitis+Mixon, the home became much more open.

Following a gut renovation, the home is nearly unrecognizable. The homeowners initially skewed more traditional in style, but worked with Jessica Risko Smith Interior Design to go for a fresher look. Risko Smith’s advice for those looking to shift their style? “Finding someone you trust to help you is key,” she says. “You might need someone to hold that vision for you.”

How would you describe this home after you redesigned it?
Clean, open, airy, fresh, modern––but not cold. It has a lot of warm materials and texture.

Do you tend to lean toward more modern interiors?
I like things to be pared down to their essential forms and I like cohesion in the material. For me, that’s layering and when your eye can move through a room and dance through the space––and feel energized, but also soothed.

How did you choose the color scheme of grays and blues in this home?
I think because we started out with all the Santa Barbara sandstone and the warm oak tones, we were trying to counterpose those with the grays and softer neutrals. We were always holding that there would be some blue. In the clients’ old house, there was a lot of bolder blue, so for this project touched on the blue. We tried to make it a color without it being a big color statement. When you’re sitting in the room, there’s actually a lot of color. But when you stand back, it feels very neutral and tonal.


Photograph by Mellon Studio

What are some of your favorite aspects of this home?
I love the whole home and how cohesive it is. I love the powder bath because I love the wallpaper. And I love the drapery. The drapery in the great room was one of my first selections. I love that it’s strong, impactful, and carries the room, but it plays well with others.

Are you noticing a comeback with wallpaper?
For sure. It’s such an easy way to provide an experience and I do feel like most of my clients are really embracing it. Even more minimalist clients are open to it. It’s just hard to choose one these days––there are so many.


Photograph by Mellon Studio

Do any other rooms use wallpaper?
The laundry room. We played with the idea of just something whimsical and playful, but it still carries the concept of the home. We play with the hardware a bit, we added a fun paper, and I love that the client was on board. It brought out a little bit of their whimsy, which was nice.


Photograph by Mellon Studio

The indoors and outdoors seamlessly connect, which is great for a Southern California property.
We pulled the main living spaces into one great room and gave full and complete access to an outdoor kitchen and outdoor dining, so they could just be flowing between in and out all the time.

How does the kitchen connect with the outdoors?
Early-on, the homeowner and the architect had decided they would do Euroline Steel Windows. The windows and doors would be able to slide and there would be nothing in between, other than the structure of the island. I was attracted to the idea that that outdoor kitchen felt like the indoor kitchen. It was a true continuation.