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Meet Marsha Sewell of Marsha Sewell & Associates in Gaslamp Quarter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marsha Sewell.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I arrived in San Diego in 1974 looking for work. At that time high end furniture stores in La Jolla that offered interior design services were a good starting point. But the market collapsed in 1977 when the Pacific Design Center opened and I found myself self-employed. Lots of clients followed me and it was easy to expand to a small shop with great Italian lighting and accessories. In 1978 I was awarded the contract to renovate the CIVIC THEATRE. When the THEATRE reopened in 1980 I won the first Orchid Award for Interior Design by the local AIA chapter. By then, I had a furniture showroom on Morena Blvd. and continued to get my projects published as fast as I could finish them.

In 1991, my late husband Mike Shea and I bought the Historic Yuma Building in the Gaslamp District. Mike had no creative bent, but he shared my passion for real estate. My idea was to live above the shop. I moved my design business to the basement of the building, continued to rent out the retail space; then converted the top two floors (an SRO) to our fabulous 3600 square foot townhouse. We were considered PIONEERS of the GASLAMP. We opened our house to every non-profit organization for parties and had many of our own. We watched as the District came to life from our living room window.

After Mike passed away, I needed a new gig, which was the renovation of the historic Ginty House on Cortez Hill, It was threatened with demolition and needed to me moved; then completely redone. A perfect challenge I could complete while continuing with my interior design business.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Lots of struggles as I had no mentor or financial backing. My business grew and I had to figure out how to manage it on my own. My showroom on Morena Blvd. was a place to experiment. Some things worked out like having a great place to show products to my clients. But some didn’t such as the upholstery line that I designed but couldn’t sell. I grew board with the showroom and looked for other avenues of design.

Purchasing the Yuma Building was a huge challenge as there were no lending institutions that had ever heard of a Historic Mixed Use Building at that time. I was finally able to get a loan from the Small Business Assoc. The renovation was also very challenging as we knew nothing about historic brick buildings or how to navigate the red tape at the City. Later on we purchased a remnant parcel at the back of the building that belonged to the City. It took 6 years to do the deal. We added a beautiful deck with an elevator and BBQ for outdoor entertaining.

The neighborhood was challenging as well. Lots of drug dealers and prostitutes openly sold their wares. It wasn’t safe to walk around at night. We carried mace for a couple of years.

Please tell us about Marsha Sewell & Associates.
My interior design business does mostly residential design. I have had clients all over the United States. My most challenging and rewarding clients had a Fortune 500 company in New York City before they retire and started collecting real estate. They were referred to me by a National Design Magazine in 1987. They started out with 3 homes: one in New York; one in San Diego and one in Maui, Hawaii and continued from there. The current project is a 10,000 sq. foot Koa Wood Plantation on 6 acres in Maui. I helped to design the exterior after an historic figure who developed land on the island in the 1930’s; and the entire interior. Many other projects have come and gone during the years and more are to come.

My favorite project with these clients was their last home in Westchester County, NY which they built; then added to. It was on three acres with gorgeous gardens and many outdoor sculptures. I once worked with a florist from their village at the house. He was so complimentary. It turned out that he had been the official florist for the White House during the Reagan years… What a treat.

What sets me apart from others is my internal vision. It is a gift; not something that you can learn or acquire. I follow no trends, Most of my signature design elements have become trends such as Black kitchens, banquette seating, built-ins of exotic wood; clean looking spaces; lots of color and original art

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would have had some financing.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 631 5th ave.
    San Diego, Ca 92101
  • Website: marshasewell.com
  • Phone: 619-696-7575
  • Email: marsha@marshasewell.com

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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