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Designing Restaurants, Creating Atmosphere and Wide-Leg Jeans with Grace Lee | Professional Opinion

“Dress for the job you want,” they say. Instead, we’re dressing those who already have jobs we covet for our fashion series, Professional Opinion. And while we’re at it, we asked these talented women for some career and style advice. (We know how to show initiative!)

Part of the immense pleasure of going out to eat is enjoying a well-designed space. Not only do you not have to cook, but you also don’t have to clean or decorate. Somehow those added perks just seem to make the food taste better.

As a marketing and resource manager for one of the most prominent architecture, design and build agencies in Seattle, Grace Lee knows what goes into creating great atmosphere. At Mallet Incorporated, she is the one who selects the fabrics, wallpaper, paint and flooring that decorate some of the food-centric city’s best restaurants and bars.

Grace Lee of Mallet IncorporatedVince Camuto ruched-neck blouse | Halogen leather shift dress | Chelsea28 floral brocade pattern tights | Givenchy ‘Elegant Piper’ pointy-toe flat | Argento Vivo circle collar necklace | lower right image: Simone Rocha calf-hair satchel 

We spoke with this aesthetic savant about what she wears to work, her favorite restaurants (when it comes to design) and her career advice to anyone who wants to do something as cool and creative as she does.

Tell us about Mallet. What does the company do?

Mallet is an architecture, design and construction firm. We are split into two different companies–Mallet Architecture + Design and Mallet Inc. Our company designs and builds restaurants, hotels, offices and residences.

Grace Lee of Mallet IncorporatedWhat is your role at Mallet? What does a resource manager do?

I’m the marketing manager for both companies and the resource manager for Mallet Architecture + Design. As the resource manager, I source materials for the projects we’re working on–from lighting, flooring, furniture and textiles to wallpaper. The resource manager’s role is to find items needed for a project to present to the design team, so it’s important to stay on top of new trends or the resources to find cool items.

What are some of the interesting commercial and residential constructions you’ve worked on recently?

Recently we finished up a restaurant called the Butcher’s Table down in Westlake. What’s interesting about this project is that we worked on it from start to finish. We took an old building and added two floors (which is now Sugar Mountain headquarters) and then built a two-story restaurant below it. For the office build/remodel, we reused the old windows and wood that was demoed from the building and worked it into the design. I wouldn’t call this a residential project, but we took an old historic house in Ballard and turned it into an Italian restaurant called San Fermo.

Grace Lee of Mallet Incorporated
Your firm has designed a lot of Seattle restaurant spaces. Any favorites?

My favorite restaurant project we’ve designed would have to be Le Pichet. Le Pichet is one of our earlier projects, and the design work is timeless. Paired with the atmosphere we created and the amazing food that chef/owner Jim Drohman serves, it makes you feel like you’re dining in a neighborhood bistro in France. For craft drinks, my favorite project would have to be Percy’s & Co. in Ballard. My newest favorite, though, is The Butcher’s Table; the detail work in the project is top-notch–from the leather hand-stitched stairwell and bar to the custom lighting, this project is truly something special.

How has working at Mallet taught you to view your surroundings differently? Are there things you notice now in buildings that you wouldn’t otherwise?

Working at Mallet has taught me a lot. I’ve always been aware of my surroundings, but Mallet has taught me to take notice in the finer details. With all the new construction being built in Seattle, we at Mallet make a conscious effort to preserve the look and feel of old buildings; we update the look of old architecture, letting its historic beauty shine. Working at Mallet has definitely made me appreciate and understand the importance of preserving historic architecture.

Grace Lee of Mallet IncorporatedHalogen one-button long vest | Halogen ‘Taylor’ ankle skinny pants | Halogen modal jersey V-neck teeMarni ‘Sabot’ slide loafer | Matt & Nat ‘Keely’ vegan-leather satchelHalogen kaleidoscope geometric silk scarf | Nordstrom multistrand knotted Y-necklaceLAGOS open link bracelet

Do you have any tips for creating atmosphere?

The best atmosphere is created by surrounding yourself with the things you love. Mixing found objects with new ones–mixing old and new always creates a beautiful space. Lighting also plays an important role in creating the right ambience in a room.

Grace Lee of Mallet Incorporated

What is an average workday like for you?

Every day is a little different and my job definitely keeps me on my toes. On an average day, I’m meeting with the design team on the projects they’re working on, and we discuss the aesthetics of the design and the items they need sourced. Then it’s time to start sourcing, which oftentimes takes me to the Seattle Design Center to pick out samples or to the stone yard or the tile store to pick out materials.

Grace Lee of Mallet IncorporatedWhat is your work environment like?

My work environment is very chill and laid-back. I work in a very collaborative environment, so it’s not unusual to see people crowding a desk to discuss new ideas and concepts. We have a lot of fun at the office and always make sure to partake in beer o’clock.

What do you usually wear to work?

Most days I wear jeans, a tee and a comfy sweater. I tend to have to run around a lot, so comfortable shoes are a must. On days I have client meetings scheduled, I’d wear a collared shirt, loose-fitting trousers or a dress paired with some loafers. Comfort is always key!

How do your colleagues dress?

My colleagues are a group of designers, so they all dress a little differently and have their own unique style. While some stick to the black-only look, some of my colleagues aren’t afraid to have a little fun with bright colors and prints. Scarves seems to be a big thing with the girls I work with. The guys go casual with jeans paired with a patterned collared button-up shirt.

Grace Lee of Mallet Incorporated

Halogen rib-detail lightweight merino wool sweaterHalogen pleat-detail A-line skirt | Vince Camuto ‘Felana’ over-the-knee boot | Halogen ‘Optic Plaid’ skinny silk scarf 

Do you have a wardrobe work staple? An item that you often incorporate into your work attire?

I know I’m late to the game, but I’ve recently discovered wide-leg jeans after wearing skinny jeans for so long–and boy, they are a game changer! They’ve definitely become a work staple due to the ease of dressing them up and dressing them down for a more casual look. Also, they give you the freedom that skinny jeans don’t. Like let’s say you get the sudden urge to do a karate kick…. With wide-leg jeans on, you can do just that–let that urge shine!

Grace Lee of Mallet IncorporatedHow has your style evolved over time?

My style is always evolving.  I welcome change and being out of my comfort zone, so this encourages me to try styles or pieces that I wouldn’t usually wear. I get inspired by the things I see around me, whether it’s a new wallpaper print or something I see on the street. It’s always good fun to look back at old photos to see just how much my style has evolved. I like to think that my style is slowly maturing with age but without the stuffiness. I’m a strong believer in dressing for yourself and wearing what makes you feel good, and that’s one thing that will never change.

Do you have any career advice you’d freely dispense?

Hard work really does pay off, so stick to your goals–big or small–and go after them. It’s easy to let criticism from others stunt your creative growth, so grow thicker skin and don’t let it get to you so much. Believe in yourself and the work you produce! Lastly, everything is research.

Grace Lee of Mallet Incorporated

Classiques Entier print stretch-silk blouse | Halogen one-button long vest | Via Spiga ‘Deanna’ mary jane pump | Halogen ribbed tights | COACH 1941 ‘Dinky 24’ print calf-hair crossbody bag 

Grace Lee of Mallet Incorporated

Art direction and shoot production: Jeff Powell
Photography: Elizabeth Rudge
Hair and makeup: Jenny Verador
Styling: Tamala Ayres and Sharde Bullard
Copy: Britt Olson