clé conversations: mandy cheng, of mandy cheng design

by clé tile | published: Apr 28, 2021

mandy cheng’s kitchen backsplash featuring clé tile pattern cement new west in pattern nine

at clé, we are lovers of design in all its manifestations, but we admit to having a soft spot for those who celebrate and employ pattern and texture in ways that are playful but grounded in a strong aesthetic sensibility.

so we were thrilled when architectural digest published this striking piece about the recent renovation of the southern california home of emmy raver-lampman (of umbrella academy fame) and daveed diggs (star of hamilton). (we were even more thrilled when we saw designer mandy cheng’s bold use of clé’s new west cement tile in the heart of the home: the kitchen.)

collaborating closely with emmy and daveed, mandy designed a home filled with deeply personal touches and nods to the owners’ roots (like a wallpaper that featured bay area celebrities of a certain era — a nod to daveed’s oakland roots); a sophisticated, energetic palette of mustards, deep greens, browns, and blues; and of course, pattern — featuring motifs from american western traditions. the pattern served to unify the home’s eclectic design, appearing on rugs, curtains, ottomans… and of course, the kitchen.

(right) designer mandy cheng, (left) mandy cheng’s signature style, photo: madeline tolle

we had a chance to catch up with mandy to congratulate her on a wonderful design, and she shared some of her thoughts on her design process, inspirations, and obsession with tile.

clé: how would you characterize your style?

mandy: livable, fun and inviting

clé: you have an exuberant sense of design (which we love). where do you think that came from?

mandy: i started out as a production designer, so my approach to design starts with that same thought process, which is that anything is possible.

i try not to be restricted by what’s expected, and instead talk to the clients and really listen to what design styles they love. and if that is a clean, contemporary aesthetic, great! if it’s that they love color and texture and pattern, i focus on that. or if it’s that they want their home to feel like a grown-up playground, i add swings in the kitchen.

and sometimes that means reading between the lines, as was the case with emmy and daveed. their initial thoughts on how they wanted their home to look was the complete opposite of how it turned out. they initially imagined the house to have a very light, bright, scandinavian-style design. but as i spoke to them, hung out with, and shopped with them, i noticed they would get distracted by the brightly colored patterns and textures you currently see in their home. i’m all for reflecting my clients’ personal taste back into their home, so whatever it is that they gravitate towards, i amplify it and curate it.

4×4 zellige in sea salt

cement solid hex in mocha; design: mandy cheng, photo: madeline tolle

clé: you obviously have a way with tile. where did you develop your fascination with it?

mandy: i love the commitment of tile! it’s bold, and adds dimension, texture and patterns to any space. even if the tile is one color, the shape, size, and grout lines make a statement. and the tiles take you to a place that maybe only art otherwise can, which is to a specific place and time.

with tiles, many are handmade and come from a specific area, and having that in your home is like having art from a specific region that’s meaningful to you, or a time period that is meaningful to you. for example, one of my favorite collections from clé, the octagon/bouchon collection, makes me think of granada, spain. i saw some of the most beautiful mosaic tile work there that i will probably ever see in my life, especially at the alhambra. the intricate nature of the octagon/bouchon collection and the commitment it takes to want it and install it takes confidence, and i love that.

clé: at clé, we really encourage our clients to play with pattern, surface, and texture, to take risks, and to create something that’s uniquely “them”. what are your clients’ biggest fears when it comes to pattern and risk taking in general, and how do you get them over that hump?

mandy: for me, this is where technology really comes into play and i am so grateful for it.

i don’t want to bore you with the specifics of my design process, but for all of my projects i create digital renderings of the space. this bridges the gap between staring at one tile sample while standing in your kitchen, and envisioning how it will look with 200 of those tiles on your walls or floors.

this was monumental in designing emmy and daveed’s kitchen, actually. we had a lot of discussions on tile, patterns, and how high up the walls we wanted the tiles to go. ultimately, this rendering was approved and everything went into motion.

4×4 zellige in sea salt; design: mandy cheng, photo: madeline tolle

clé: are there unexpected ways in which you use tile?

mandy: i think that with tile, and any other design decision for that matter, if budget allows, try not to default to the bare minimum. why would you only tile up to 4, 6 or 8 inches when you can tile all the way up to the ceiling? if you take your tile up to the ceiling, that’s where your gaze will stop – the ceiling! and if that’s not enough, tile the ceiling (but make sure to add appropriate support first because tiling the ceiling adds substantial weight)! the tiled walls envelop you, and that’s a wonderful thing.

clé: what’s coming up next for you? and what’s a dream project?

mandy: i definitely have a full plate at the moment, which is just an amazing place to be in my career.

i have the most badass (am i allowed to say that?) team of women working alongside me, and great clients. i can’t wait to share these new projects with everyone! and i have an exciting new partnership that’s in the works, but that’s all i’m going to say about that for now.

my dream project: a boutique hotel. a curated, immersive experience where each room is a little different, but there’s clearly a running theme throughout. and tile. lots of tile. there will be tile everywhere.

modern farmhouse brick in deep blue gloss

4×4 zellige in pending storm; design: mandy cheng, photo: madeline tolle