For Robert Wright, co-founder and principal of the San Diego-based interior design firm McCormick & Wright (formerly Bast/Wright Interiors), a career as an interior designer wasn’t exactly planned. “My family and my father all worked for oil companies and in the oil fields,” says Wright, who grew up just outside Houston, in Richmond, Texas.
“I was always interested in architecture, and as a little kid, I would draw floor plans for houses. I don’t know why I was doing that, but I did. And when I would go to my father’s office, I would be roaming and snooping around and was intrigued with the building floor plan, space planning and where I was. I guess I was a nerdy kid.”
This natural curiosity for spatial planning, architecture, floor plans and “meandering” (Wright also admits he used to wander in department stores and ‘get lost’ as a young boy), led him to a major in Interior Design at Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University.
“I was the first in my family to go off in that direction, but my mother and father were always very supportive of my education, and through all of the different whims and going into something different what seemed like every third week, they didn’t judge it, they would just come on board and cheer me on,” adds Wright, who went on to serve as National President for ASID (the American Society of Interior Designers) from 2005-2006, and most recently won the society’s prestigious Designer of Distinction Award. “I think it goes back to that original interest in architecture and design, and plus, I was really good at it. It stuck and it made sense, and I wanted to do good.”
Wright, who began his career after college working as an entry-level designer for Houston-based firm Clegg/ Houston (one of his first projects was the law offices of Fulbright & Jaworski), has designed spaces for the former ASID San Diego Designer Showcase Houses, and has been featured in major publications for his timeless private residences for clients across the United States in Vail, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, and on Oahu’s North Shore, among others.
“I guess it was a case of sink or swim at Clegg/ Houston, and I found myself running a lot of projects,” says Wright, who later moved to Denver and worked for several years for a large multi-city firm, Neville Lewis & Associates, before relocating to San Diego. Wright soon received a phone call from a headhunter and was recruited for a position at an office furniture dealership and design firm, Parron Hall, where he worked for six years. In 1991, he serendipitously met design partner Jan Bast, through ASID and his work on the San Diego Center for the Blind. That year, he started his own business and began designing private residences for an ever-expanding portfolio of clients. He also began a 12-year stint as a part-time instructor at San Diego State University, and became an advocate and board member for the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).
One of Wright’s proudest moments is earning ASID’s Designer of Distinction Award. “I’ve had some wonderful acknowledgements and some success stories, but that one shocked the heck out of me,” says Wright of the award, with past recipients including notable designers Barbara Barry, Paul Vincent Wiseman and Andre Staffelbach.
Robert Wright gave this ocean home in La Jolla, Calif., a “coastal contemporary” aesthetic with a chic European sensibility
“Many nationally known people have received the award, and it’s very humbling,” he adds. “It’s a compilation of our design body of work, my contributions in design, and being an advocate and a spokesperson for design. I’m a volunteer nut, and between hopefully really good design work and community work, is how they found me in San Diego. When I received the award, I shared with the audience: ‘well, I think I reached my peak.’ Then I came back to the office on Monday and got a bad upholstery job redone.”
Wright, who recently joined forces with Kellie McCormick, a former intern, student and longtime employee (hence the company name change and new direction with McCormick & Wright), has outfitted a slew of coastal homes such as a “total gut and remodel” for a client from Arizona with sweeping views of San Diego’s Coronado; a single family residence in breezy La Jolla Shores; a modern, beachfront residence on Oahu’s North Shore with modular sectional sofas and clean-lined accessories; and a mid-century-inspired condominium project in the iconic Sierra Towers in Los Angeles (Cher and Elton John have lived in the building).
“The whole building is kind of famous for the Hollywood scene, and my client bought it and scored a prime spot,” says Wright of the year-long remodel. “We wanted to give a wink and a nod to mid-century and the 1970s, but also wanted to maintain a clean, urban and contemporary look with some nuances to mid-to-late mid-century style, but I didn’t want it to be a theme park. It’s a nice mix of items that we hand-picked from that era.” The space is also layered with abstract paintings the client procured from New York, as well as Warren Platner armchairs, and a massive, ceramic wall panel by Austin, Texas-based ceramic artist Jen Prichard, which neatly conceals the television.
It’s obvious that Wright’s love of design, though, doesn’t end at the office. The self-proclaimed “bargain hunter,” who lives in a condominium in San Diego’s Balboa Park district, spends his weekends hiking, or working on his new 1950s “ranchita-style” home in Borrego Springs. “I just love finding bargains and have found everything from a Milo Baughman chair to a vintage dresser inspired by designs of George Nelson,” says the designer, who attributes decorators Barbara Barry and Jamie Drake among his design heroes.
“I’m constantly snooping around, and shopping in San Diego has some intriguing opportunities. I love going to what I call ‘vintage row’ along Park Boulevard. My favorites include Design/One, Mid-Century and The Atomic Bazaar. I’m always stopping by to see what is new. And, for fine art, the best galleries are on La Jolla’s Girard Avenue including R.B. Stevenson Gallery, Scott White Contemporary Art and Quint Gallery. These are my go-to resources.”
After nearly 30 years, Wright is still just as passionate about reinventing a space, and making his mark in the design community since his very first days on the job. “I mean this with all sincerity, but I have seen good design change people’s lives, and how they have come to life after we left them,” he says. “We did this project in Point Loma, San Diego, and when it was completed, the recently widowed homeowner would host family gatherings, dinner parties and not-for-profit events, and it kind of gave her this new confidence. I just love that once we leave the project that people’s lives have changed, and how a space really can affect someone. I still get very fired up over that.”
Image Credits: Photos by Brady Architectural Photography.