Interior designer Maja Lithander Smith is also a collector of beautiful products from her travels around the globe. I love her store, FOUND by maja, in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights. It is an inspiring space that reminds me of a jewel box, with a perfectly curated selection that includes woven rugs from India, Moroccan lanterns, Cambodian silk beads, and Palestinian blown glass. I talked to her about living in Tokyo, her favorite experience of buying abroad, and the importance of artisans.
What is your favorite story of an amazing find while traveling?
The hunt for finds, and all that happens along the way, is what makes my job so fun. I was in Cambodia with dear friends last year and we went to a monk to receive a special blessing. We had to drive to a dirt field, change into sarongs in a bamboo hut, and sit in front of the monk facing the field, which had roaming pigs, debris, and a few unsuspecting tourists. Rather than receive a sprinkling of jasmine-scented water as anticipated, we were doused with water over our heads and left soaking wet, stunned, and laughing! We began to feel we may have been a bit cursed rather than blessed that day, but I found some of my most amazing finds immediately afterwards from a source in Siem Reap that my silk beads, lacquer trays, and antique bronze hands all come from.
You lived in Tokyo for several years. Did your time there influence your approach to design?
I loved living in Japan. Everything from food to architecture, fashion, and furnishings is graceful and considered. The clean lines, artistic integrity, attention to detail, and the incredible art of presentation have informed both my aesthetic, as well as my design process.
How would you describe your aesthetic in five words?
Storied, soulful, elegant, collected, worldly
When it comes to vintage pieces, is there one period you love above all other?
I adore vintage glassware from the 1920s to the 1960s because it tells a story of how people entertained. For example, champagne in a coup glass conjures up an era of glamorous old Hollywood. Right now, I am a little obsessed with the 1970s, especially bold brass and smoke glass furnishings, like the Italian bar carts I just found in the Marché aux Puces in Paris, which serve as inspiration for some of the custom furniture I design for my store. My design interests aren’t confined to a single era. I own Gustavian Swedish furniture, Belgian, French, and Italian antiques—some centuries old. I love when pieces that represent varied periods, geographies, and styles come together harmoniously, it’s a beautiful and singular thing.
Many of the pieces in your store are handmade by artisans. Could you highlight a few of your favorites?
FOUND by maja specializes in one-of-a-kind and limited-edition home goods, created in partnership with designers and craftsmen from around the world. Most of the products we offer are exclusive. I usually do three to four major sourcing trips a year. Last year alone I was in India, Morocco, Japan, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Scandinavia, Fiji, and Guatemala. I’ve hand-selected weavers, metalworkers, and artists, many from developing countries, to create beautiful products with a modern perspective. FOUND by maja is designed to offer worldly goods, while supporting global artisan communities in a meaningful way.
Getting to know the artisans we work with is one of my absolute favorite parts of the job. I seek to support women whenever possible. My Guatemalan beaded cuffs are hand beaded by a group of women artisans from a small village near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. My woven leather Moroccan bags are hand woven on looms in a single workshop so the quality is preserved. The dhurrie rugs are woven on looms in Jaipur where the manufacturer employs all local workers and provides schools and healthcare for the village.
I have added your blue Tassel Keychain made in Morocco, and a fuchsia Silk Necklace made in Cambodia to the AERIN Southampton store’s collection this season. What are your favorite accessory shades this spring?
I’m drawn to blue and green tones, but recently am having a crush on pink, especially blush pink. I love a variety of accessories from bags, glassware, and pillows and newly upholstered vintage brass pieces from Paris in hues of pink. I just ordered the raffia bags with hearts from the AERIN line and will personally be carrying the pink one this summer.