In TZR’s franchise, Interior Motives, celebrities and tastemakers discuss their unique approach to home design and how it reflects their personal aesthetic. Here, we sit down with style influencer and author Tahereh Mafi to discuss her Irvine, California home that is essentially a writer’s creative sanctuary.
In many living spaces, books are often afterthought (if a thought at all), tucked away in a corner bookcase or used to fill up a too-bare shelf. But in Tahereh Mafi’s home, books are an integrated part of her home’s essence. “We have lots of bookshelves in our house, and they're all arranged a little bit differently,” explains the influencer and best-selling YA author. “But the purpose of all of these shelves is to house books that are meant to be read because we're always reading our books. So that was just really important to me to make sure that they were easily accessible.”
Considering both Mafi and her husband Ransom Riggs are both writers by trade (Riggs penned the novel-turned-film Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), it’s not surprising that the written word is deeply engrained in their environment, perhaps to provide a sort of subliminal source of insight for upcoming projects.
As it happens, Mafi’s latest fantasy novel, This Woven Kingdom, (which has already skyrocketed to New York Times Bestseller status in the few weeks since its February 1 release) was very much inspired by the fantasy and historical fiction novels she surrounded herself with growing up. “It’s like the Persian Game of Thrones ... with a bit of a Bridgerton vibe,” says Mafi, who has a total of 16 books under her belt, including the best-selling dystopian Shatter Me series. “It's got clashing empires and forbidden romance and lots of magic. It's all fantastical, but it's inspired by so many Persian elements that obviously influenced who I am and informed my identity.”
In fact, many of the “magical realism” books that likely serve as decor in her Irvine, California home — Isabel Allende’s House of The Spirits, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses — served as stylistic inspiration for This Woven Kingdom. “I wanted to challenge myself to write a book that I knew I would want to read,” says Mafi. “[...] These were the books that really changed the way that I thought a story could be written and really spoke to something essential and emotional inside of me. [They] just really resonated — the language, the colors, the textures of these worlds were just so beautiful.”
Ahead, Mafi explains how she’s strategically made her extensive library the statement piece in her home, particularly in her cozy sitting room, where she spends much of her time writing and dreaming up the fantasy worlds her readers can’t get enough of.
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What's the optimal physical, creative writing environment for you?
I like to joke that I set up my writing space the way that I might set the stage for a date. I like mood lighting and candles — a really serene, soft, cozy space. I also like to feel alone when I write and that's kind of a strange thing to say because I share my office with my husband, who’s also a writer. The two of us sit side by side in the same space, but somehow we’ve managed to make it work, because we both need the same things when we're writing.
The perfect time for me to write is usually before dawn, before the sun's come up, before the house is awake, before my emails have gone off before anybody needs me. I love writing while waiting for the sun to come up and watching the sun rise as I'm working. There's just something so peaceful about that time. So it's really important for me to make sure that the space that I'm in feels just as peaceful and safe.
Is there a space in your home that epitomizes this environment for you?
I should first say that I work from home. I know most of us work from home these days, but I work from home as a general rule and did so even before the pandemic. But, once the pandemic hit (I feel like I'm not alone in saying this), I began to go a little stir crazy. So my office began to feel a bit like a prison because I would just go in there. And what used to feel like a safe space to retreat into suddenly became a place that I was confined to.
So I found myself moving around the house to try and find other places to work that would feel a little new or fresh and help inspire me somehow. I often found myself retreating to the sitting room. I should say that almost every room in my house has a bookshelf. And many of those rooms also have desks. And that's partly because we've got two writers in the house, so we're always reading and writing and it's nice to have access in all of those spaces.
So, our sitting room is positioned slightly off to one side [of the house]. You walk a couple steps down into it and it's surrounded on three sides by our outdoor space — it has these French doors that open up into the yard. So there's lots of natural light and green space and it feels kind of like its own little area. There's nothing in it but central furniture, a book case, a desk, and a fireplace. So in the winter, especially, I love to go in there and turn on the fire and work. It doesn't get a lot of foot traffic because of its location. So even though it's a bit exposed, I still get some privacy when I work in there. And it's just really quiet and cozy.
What are some of the key decor elements of the space?
Whenever I'm designing a space, I just live in it for a little while before putting any furniture in there. I watch the light — where does the sun come in? What hours does it shine brightest? What do I find myself most drawn to in that space? Which window do I most prefer looking out of, if there is a window?
There's this one window in the room that overlooks part of the yard, and you can see directly through the window. You can see my daughter's swing and this hammock in the distance. I had always known that I wanted to have a chair in that space positioned in precisely such a way that I could like sit there and look out of that window. So that became the focal point of the room for me in designing it.
I wanted [the decor] to be kind of subtle. There are white couches in this room, but with like occasional pops of color. The books are basically [that, as] they're organized according to color. So there's like a rainbow shelf of books behind this white couch. There are also a couple of colorful blankets for getting cozy. And the chair that I sit in to look out that window is an Eames lounger. So it's like that classic brown and tan contrast. But [the room is] fairly simple, straightforward. It's not really overdone. It's really just about appreciating the natural light and letting the books be the accessories.
Is there a specific place, country or city that just, you find incredibly inspiring from a style/decor perspective?
From a style perspective, the Ritz Paris is one of the most beautiful hotels, hands down. I love all of their spaces. I love the choices they made. The details are just incredible. There is also this hotel in London, Rosewood. When I lived in LA, I designed my dining room based on one of their dining spaces — it’s called the mirror room. I was just so inspired and I thought, I want my dining room to feel like this. So, yeah, I'm definitely inspired whenever I travel.
How would you describe your own personal style?
Constantly evolving? You know, the older I get, the more my reasons for my personal style become obvious to me. I think the more comfortable I get in my skin, the more comfortable I become in my own body and the more confident I become as a person — and the more I find myself wanting to wear softer materials. When I was younger, I was drawn to really structured fabrics and stiff starched materials. And as I get older, I find myself wanting to wear silk and velvet and softer textiles. It's almost like I'm learning to be more gentle with myself. Ultimately, at the end of the day, my style is informed more by texture than anything else.
Where do you source from when it comes to your decor and your furniture?
It's kind of a mixed bag, and it depends on how long I want to wait if I'm being honest. I have waited a very long time for [a piece of furniture] because I've had it custom made and had a specific vision. During the pandemic, I was still building out some rooms [in this house]. In fact, I took advantage of the time to finally be like, OK, let me finish furnishing this space. But there was nothing available. Everything was backed up and nobody was working and everything was closed. It was becoming really important to have furniture in some of these rooms. So, I relied a lot on the efficiency of Restoration Hardware. They were able to come through.
How would you describe the overall aesthetic of the house?
My focus above all else was to create spaces that felt inviting. I firmly believe that furniture should be used and used thoroughly. I don't believe in saving things for a special occasion. I want to use the furniture we buy, especially if I've spent money on these pieces. I want us to enjoy them. I don't want to worry about my kid getting jam on something. It doesn't matter to me — if we can't wash the fabric, then it's not useful. So for me, everything starts with function and ends with form ... which is not to say that I don't prioritize form. I absolutely do. But it has to be useful to me.
And as I said, what I normally do before I put any furniture in a room is I walk through it, and I imagine the day-to-day in it. How do we use this space? Where are we drawn to? And then, and then I go from there.