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School of Interior Architecture and Design Graduates Launch Successful Firm

Mitra Gholami and Nik Seif are going from strength to strength as they transform spaces with Deleap

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Academy of Art University School of Interior Architecture and Design alumni Mitra Gholami and Nik Seif. Photo by Celeste Sunderland.

When Mitra Gholami and Nik Seif met in a light and color perception class in 2011, little did they know that one day they would be working together as partners in their own interior design firm. In fact, during their time as students at Academy of Art University, the designers mostly went their separate ways. “We were ‘hi and bye friends,’” said Seif.

Four years later, the designing duo, both of whom earned Master’s degrees from the Academy’s School of Interior Architecture and Design (IAD) in 2014, work together most every day at their interior design firm Deleap and are as close as sisters.

Their bond formed easily based on a shared heritage (both hail from Iran) combined with similar goals—Gholami got her undergraduate degree in Dubai, Seif studied in Malaysia, and both women attended graduate school in the United States to deepen their knowledge of Western design.

The springboard for their venture came in the form of a redesign of the popular San Francisco nightclub Temple. Gholami met the owner during a site visit led by IAD instructor Jane Chan, and after being invited to submit her portfolio, she was hired to redesign the club. Busy working on her thesis, she figured she could use some help, so she gave Seif a call. “I don’t even know how she remembered me,” Seif said. But Gholami had always been impressed by her work, and soon the former classmates were working side by side in a cheerful co-working space (which Gholami also designed) above the nightclub.

The duo drafted a spectacular new look for Temple, transforming the ground level and subterranean space into a futuristic sanctuary of vibrant illumination that helped catapult the club from 96 to 24 on Nightclub & Bar’s list of the top clubs in the country. The pair soon realized that in order to capitalize on the success of that first big job, they needed to act. “We said ‘OK, we are very young, we’re fresh, let’s start our own business,’” explained Gholami.

Combining guidance from IAD instructor Tobi Adamolekun, with some business skills learned at the Academy, and help from a support system spawned from San Francisco’s startup culture, the designers got to work establishing their brand. “In the beginning it was hard for us,” said Seif. “You have to do everything on your own. You have to be the manager, you have to be the boss, you have to be the designer, you have to know business, you have to do marketing—everything. But we are so happy we did that, because we put a lot into it and now we are starting to get it back.”

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Co-working space project, (left) meeting room and (right) phone booth. Courtesy of Deleap.

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Temple Night Club project. Courtesy of Deleap.

The Temple redesign led to clients like Payam Arvin, proprietor of Monroe, an upscale nightclub in North Beach. “Mitra and Nik are really fresh, they’re right out of school,” Arvin said. “There’s always risks with going with someone new, but there’s also a lot of benefits to it. When you are in the design industry for a while you get kind of stuck doing the same things over and over, when you’re fresh out of school you have a different perspective. They have a lot of new ideas, and I’m very happy with what they came up with.”

Other projects, like a redesign of the bartending school SF Mixology and some corporate spaces, have followed, providing a solid foundation for Gholami and Seif to establish themselves in the interior design world. But while both women realize their success has been based on hard work and a supportive network, they’re also grateful to have each other as a partner. “We are each other’s backbone,” said Seif. “We support each other. That’s the main thing. The trust established between us—that’s why clients trust us. They see we work together. We communicate. And that’s very important for our client to see. We trust each other. They trust us. And that’s beautiful.”