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  • Writer's pictureHannah Sloan

Good Humans, Good Design: Meet Designer Risa van Wijngaarden

This week's Q + A is with Risa van Wijngaarden, Unscripted rockstar since March 2021 and Interior Designer for our Colorado Model Studio. She is a brilliant designer with the most compassionate soul, and we're so grateful to have her talents on our team. Which is why we just couldn't wait to sit down with her to chat more about her perspective on design, life, and of course, being a good human.

Unscripted Interior Designer Risa Burke
Interior Designer Risa van Wijngaarden and her design for Empire Communities' River Reserve in Greenville, South Carolina

All Things Unscripted

Q: Tell us about your role in the company. What does a day in the life look like?

A: I am a Designer with the Model Merchandising Studio in Colorado. My day starts off with coffee and a morning walk with my dog, then it's all things design. Depending on what stage I'm in, I am either starting from scratch with a new project and pulling concepts and ideas, traveling for presentations and installs, or working from home designing and pulling art and accessories. We're lucky that we get to be involved in the design process from start to finish. It really helps you stay passionate and proud about the work you've put in to create a beautiful home.

Q: What does being a good human mean to you?

A: Staying educated and listening. I think it's important to continue learning about others and yourself, even when you're out of the classroom. The world is constantly changing and evolving, and I think staying open minded and creating your own educated conclusions makes you a good human, and with that comes curiosity and humility. You never know the past and present of the person sitting next to you.

Q: How have you evolved as a designer since starting at Unscripted?

A: I started at Unscripted as a Designer two and half years ago, and they give you a great deal of responsibility when it comes to your own projects. I think I have become more confident in my design ability and also a more well-rounded designer—carefully considering every aspect of the house when designing.

Q: What is your favorite design element and why? How do you incorporate this element into new projects?

A: It's hard to narrow it down to one (or even two), but I think my favorite design elements would have to be lighting and art. I feel like these two elements are great conversation pieces and a way to really personalize a home—taking it straight out of a catalog to one-of-a-kind. I also see lighting as another form of art, just in the sculptural sense.

Q: How and where does your design process start? Is there anything special to your personal creative process?

A: My process starts with anything that I've seen recently that may inspire me. It may be a color scheme, design motif, or even a specific piece of furniture or lighting that I NEED to incorporate into my next design. From there, I go to Pinterest and gain conceptual images that match that style or aesthetic, and after I've collected a few dozen images, I try to find a pattern to solidify my direction and start designing.

Q: How would you describe your personal design style? Tell us about how you grew into this specific style and the way it makes you feel when you enter a space.

A: I grew up in a creative household, my dad was an Industrial Designer and my mom majored in Illustration. So, I started at a young age developing the notion of self-expression and was always pushed to expand on my ideas in a creative way, which lead me to finding my medium of Interior Design. I'm a shy person in a social setting, but this is a way for me to project my bold ideas and playful side that people may not see when they first meet me. It's just another form of expression, even if it doesn't include the typical paint brush or graphite pencil. Which summarizes my personal style of eclectic design, where it has a mix of new and familiar.

Unscripted Interior Designer Risa Burke's parents

The creative heads of the household who fostered a space of self expression and style—Risa's lovely parents

Getting Personal

Q: If you could design a celebrity home, who would it be and why?

A:  I've recently become obsessed with the relationship of Suleika Jaouad and Jon Batiste, and the two of them as individuals. Their relationship with art and their passion for each other have given me inspiration in my own life and my personal relationship with creativity. If you watch their new documentary on Netflix, American Symphony, you would feel the same way. They recently designed their home in Brooklyn, and it's a beautiful combination of their personalities and creative spirit. I feel like if I had the opportunity to work with them, it would be just as empowering creatively to conceptualize with them as it would be throughout the design process.

Q: If you could buy one piece of furniture, artwork, or material to put in your home (with an unlimited budget) what would it be?

A: If there was an unlimited budget, I would own the photographs Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) by Ai WeiWei. It's not necessarily the art itself but a reminder of his actions as a performance artist and social activist. It has more of a symbolic meaning behind it, and it's one of his first pieces of art that made him well known around the world. His current art focuses on the refugee crises and brings a physical awareness—a reminder—to people around the world. When I studied abroad in Copenhagen, he had an installation on the famous Nyhavn Canal, which also brings a personal experience into the art.

Life Jackets on the Nyhavn Canal
A photo of Ai WeiWei's "Life Jackets" on the Nyhavn Canal, from Risa's trip to Copenhagen

Q: What artists, makers, authors, or Interior Designers inspire you and why?

A: One of my favorite design groups is Basile Studio in San Diego, who mainly specializes in hospitality and commercial design. They have a full in-house manufacturing warehouse where they create anything their team imagines. Their designs are out of the box, and they create the definition of an experience through design.

Q: Outside of work, what are some of your favorite passions or hobbies?

A: Outside of work, I love anything food related. Each week you'll find me making a new dish that inspires me or tests my skills in the kitchen. It's somewhere I am constantly learning and improving my skills, critiquing what I made, and then finding what would be better the next time. Similar to my life as a designer. Some of my favorite experiences are to save up and go to a restaurant to try their chef's menu, where it's curated by the chef that day and will usually includes courses inspired by their trip to the market that morning, their childhood, or life around them.

Q: What inspires you and keeps you curious? Where do you find inspiration for projects? 

A: I tend to get inspiration from what's around me, whether it's a color scheme of algae that you see on a rock or the hippest new restaurant. 

Inspiring color palettes from travels
Inspiring color palettes from Risa's travels

Q: Tell us about a favorite trip you’ve been on or place you’ve been. 

A: I have plans to travel to Italy and Holland this summer for my honeymoon, but right up to then my favorite trip was my time studying abroad and taking a class called Visual Culture of Cities, where we biked around Copenhagen and Berlin learning about city planning, art, and cultural history.

Q: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? 

A: Somewhere in Europe, where there's an ease to travel around different countries and there's diversity to learn from others who have a different culture than yourself—and obviously great food!

Q: How does Interior Design influence your personal life? Are there any unique design elements in your personal home you’d like to share?

A: Interior Design influences my life every day. My personal style is a combination of eclectic finds and playfulness. For instance, in my apartment right now I have a velvet teal sofa (that makes a huge statement in my 800-square-foot apartment), paired with a vintage 70's chair I got at a vintage market and my great-grandmother's cedar chest. I love the combination of old and new.

Unscripted Interior Designer Risa Burke's home
The infamous teal sofa, vintage 70's chair, and heirloom cedar chest that nod to her eclectic style

Q: Is there anything else you want to share? Books you are reading, favorite quotes or songs, pieces of advice, anything?

A: love travel memoirs. It's a way for me to explore the world from inside my living room. Right now, one of my favorite authors is Jedidiah Jenkins, especially his memoir, To Shake the Sleeping Self, where he bikes from Oregon to Patagonia. It's a beautiful story of self-discovery and realizations, while finding humanity from strangers and wild adventures. And has inspired more places in my travel queue.


Thanks so much, Risa for spending some time with us! Want more? Follow our blog to keep up with good humans, good design and get to know our Unscripted Rockstars!


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