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Michael Soriano

Coming to a neighborhood near you


This award-winning designer does things his own way, snobs be damned. Like his shag-carpet makeover of a no-tell motel (The Pearl) or his fantasy-novel riff on a wine bar (Vin de Syrah). Now Soriano’s primed for a huge year of face-lifting San Diego and beyond. Here he talks about change—creating it and fearing it.

The new Raglan Public in OB: Built of construction-grade sticks of incense? We made a 27-foot-long mirror with a map of all New Zealand surf spots, overlaid with the OB pier. I made a chandelier from surfboards from local shapers with carnival lights—Coney Island meets ocean culture. OB locals hate surfboard leashes. So I used them to hang pendant lights.

You don’t live there. Mighty presumptuous. I walk the neighborhoods for each project. I go to bars, talk to the people and business owners, see what they want and need. 

The exterior is pretty. But more reclaimed wood? I know. Last one. But San Diego Urban Timber is amazing. Every bit is old, discarded wood from SD—not imported from some Montana barn. The woman who donated it lives nearby. She got to come see what we did with it.

Bare Back Grill owners are opening Queenstown Public House in Little Italy. You’re designing as … a polite garden party? We want to create a house where 80-year-old grandmas and 20-year-old hipsters can sit on a porch, have a drink, and play games. Grapevines out back, with lanterns and gardens growing food for local chefs. There’ll be a sitting parlor inside with rocking chairs. Giant new portraits will look old, sepia-toned. It’ll be old meets new, like steampunk. 

I heard Little Italy wanted your head. Presenting plans to the Little Italy Association was like a scene from Frankenstein. I felt like locals might show up with torches. “The freaks are moving into town! Kill them before they breed!” But [Bare Back owners] Matt and P.J. are great guys and very much about community. Some locals saw that and came to our defense. Still, it’s not over yet.

People love change! People don’t want change—until the place opens and everyone’s laughing and kids and dogs are playing. Then it’s OK.

The Carnegie Building downtown—heard you’ve been snooping around. Greg Strangman [Onyx Room, Pearl Hotel] and I are building a loft complex for creative types. It’ll have an amazing rooftop garden and patio. Community-use bikes and WiFi. A gallery out back will have art, suspended on a clothesline. Greg bought a 1920s pickup truck we’re turning into a seating area.

Tell me your future. LOOP Isla Vista, LEED-certified residencies for UC Santa Barbara students with rooftop fireplaces, gardens, and a gym. I’ll also redesign hostels in San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego for USA Hostels.

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