An interview with David Santiago, whose Strictly Santi brand includes a lighting collection, wall coverings and more.
BY STEPHANIE CASIMIRO
DAVID SANTIAGO, OWNER AND FOUNDER OF CASA SANTI, LLC, is the creative force behind the Strictly Santi brand that includes a lighting collection in collaboration with American Brass & Crystal Lighting and a wallpaper collection entitled The Passport Collection catering to hospitality and residential markets with Bijou wallcoverings. David is acknowledged by the High Point Market Authority and Dallas Market Center as an influencer and continues to grow as a brand ambassador and give back through media platforms as a design and lifestyle correspondent for The Donna Drake Show on CBS New York and guest designer on the NBC hit television series George To The Rescue. David is also the President of the New York Chapter of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA).
Oh, and one more thing I learned about David — he is a classically trained opera singer! As a massive fan of the theater, I was intrigued to talk with David about a great many things. Buckle up, it’s a great story.
STEPHANIE: How did you go from acting to interior design to singing opera? Tell us about your journey.
DAVID: I was living in California, and I was "pursuing an acting career." That led me to decide to come back to New York City and study theater. While I was doing that, I worked over one summer with a contractor, painting and learning to hang wallpaper after one of my neighbors generously asked me if I would help her with her apartment.
I also met a gentleman who designed window treatments and I visited his workspace, and I found the idea intriguing. One day he asks, “If you like this kind of work, I know a company looking for a young guy, entry-level like yourself.” I said, “Sure.” And he picked up the phone and called Nassau’s Window Fashions in Ridgewood, New Jersey and I was interviewed and hired on the spot.
So my journey first was in interior design decorating, becoming a “shop at home consultant,” as they used to call it back then. I worked for Nassau’s Window Fashions for a couple of years, and then I became the window treatment consultant for Calico Corners in Ramsey, New Jersey.
While working there and going to school part-time, I ended up doing a musical, and that musical was Calamity Jane. I played the role of Wild Bill Hickok, and there began my singing career. When the show concluded, the director said, “You know, David, you’ve got some talent here. You’re studying acting, you move well and you look good. You should get some musical education underneath your belt so you can be a triple threat.”
So I started taking voice lessons and introductory music courses at Mannes Conservatory of Music. Basic theory, how to read music, ear training, all of these things. Shortly after that, my voice teacher looked at me and he said, “You know, David, you’ve got something. You should consider auditioning for the program.” I said, “Sure, why not? With your guidance, if you’ll help me prepare, I’ll do it.”
And so I was accepted into the Mannes Conservatory of Music classical music program. Shortly after that, I started working as a supernumerary or character mime at New York City Opera and worked my way up through the company for ten years at Lincoln Center. I got the opera bug, and my voice started to develop, and now I live this life of duality. Interior design became my trade and how I made a living while pursuing my passion for music which led me to make my Carnegie Hall solo concert debut in January, 2020. Now I’m singing with a company here in New York — Teatro Grattacielo.
STEPHANIE: Bravo! Talk to us about your design philosophy and how you work with clients.
DAVID: During my journey in becoming an interior designer, my affinity for the traditional elements of style — traditional, modern, neo-classic – evolved as I acquired knowledge. I'm not formally trained, but I researched those styles and educated myself, so I could hold my own when I'm walking the walk.
My design evolution started in New York City at a design firm on Madison Avenue. Fast forward, with the sensibility of knowing precisely what I wanted in my design concepts and how a space could be resolved, I quickly created a style not afraid of color.
For example, there are 100 shades of white or beige, and I’ve always told my clients, “You don’t need me for white or beige; you need me for the champagne and pearls.” I have this natural ability to take people from an uncomfortable position of not knowing where to go and making decisions, taking their hand, embracing the unknown and getting comfortable with the uncomfortable.
I started calling this — The Santification Process.
There’s a structure to my business, but there’s also a sense of humor. I need a little fun and laughter. That started happening with the Santification Process. One year later, when I was attending High Point Furniture Market, I came up with the idea of Strictly Santi.
There is a little bit of a Latin flavor with Casa Santi Interior Design and our trademark Strictly Santi.
STEPHANIE: Let's talk about technology and how it is enhancing your design goals.
DAVID: My immediate favorite is motorized window treatments. They have changed my life and my clients' lives, and it's no longer about the dollars and cents but investing in the lifestyle. The practicality of coming home and with a press of a button having all of these features available, whether it is harvesting natural light or providing privacy in the evening — this is my favorite thing happening right now. And the array of textures, fabrics and colors is amazing.
And LED lighting and the scale of light fixtures also influences my design recommendations. I love the micros and the mini scaled-down versions of lighting that can illuminate beyond, where you’re not looking at a fixture but into a space. You’re just focusing on linear illumination, and I love that, especially under-cabinet lighting. I love pin lights on ceilings. I use a lot of layered lighting in my designs.
You have pathway lighting, accent lighting and then you have task lighting. So I have three different sizes and three different scopes of lighting within my projects and my clients ask, “Isn’t that too much light?” Everyone that has challenged me has thanked me. They have never seen their spaces so bright yet so warm at the same time. And that’s another thing, how we can control the lighting temperature is such a fun, wonderful conversation to have with your clients. You have form and function with energy efficiency as well.
So automated window treatments and advanced illumination play a significant role as foundations in my designs.
STEPHANIE: As the President of IFDA New York, you also host a webinar series, right?
DAVID: Yes. The webinar series started during COVID. Our chapter had a call to action, "What are we going to do for each other?" And we decided, "Let's just start having Zoom meetings and let's do the programming ourselves."
It happened very organically because we needed a sense of support and togetherness; we needed to stay connected during the pandemic. It started at the end of March 2020.
That was the smartest thing we ever did because our design community and organization became stronger and tighter. Also, we started having conversations outside of our demographic area. We started connecting on a national level, especially with the IFDA board members.
Today, we invite guests from other trades, vendors and media to talk with us about what’s going on in their worlds, and so the series remains a source of knowledge for our members.
STEPHANIE: Any final thoughts you want to share with us?
DAVID: I love that we're having this conversation today. I love how TD is welcoming designers and giving them information, tools and articles as a guide to utilize technology and not be afraid of it. Their message to the homeowner to hire professionals who know how to do what they do well is critical.
The art of collaboration and knowing when to stay in your own lane is a viable asset when conceiving design concepts. The last thing you want is to fall short in your design. Which, for me, is to focus on interior and product design.
We are stronger and better when we work together. You can’t touch me on color, wallpaper, graphic art and going grand, but I can’t touch technology how the design experts do it.
That would be the best thing I can say. You can’t do it all or know it all. Thanks for a lovely chat, Stephanie!
Stephanie is a contributing editor and the social media manager for Technology Designer. She is
the founder of Designer Marketing Solutions, a full-service social media and marketing agency.