The Accidental Decorator
I have always resisted calling myself an interior decorator or designer. While I am certainly proud of my BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons and my many years working on Seventh Avenue, the world of interior decor and home furnishings came to me totally by accident.
We were all kids working at our first jobs in New York. I had just gotten a gig working for a moderate dress company whose specialty was garden party dresses made out of cabbage rose-printed chintz. This was back in the days of Belle France and Laura Ashley sweetness- probably a by-product of the influence of Princess Diana. But I enjoyed shopping the American decorative textiles market as much as I did buying apparel fabrics from Europe and Asia. Besides, there weren't a lot of dress fabrics coming from the US at that time, other than denim and chambray from the South and wool jersey from New England, which I loved to use.
The floral chintz houses were in the same building with all the other big home furnishings fabrics companies. I don't mean the elegant brands that one finds in the D&D Building- these were the actual mills that supplied them. There, one couldn't buy just a few yards to recover a sofa- you had to buy full 60 yard pieces if not more- perfect for filling a typical Lord & Taylor order. Now, I look back at those dresses and cringe. But they provided my introduction to the concept of using home furnishings fabrics for apparel, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I started to work in fabrics from the truly fine houses- Schumacher, Brunschwig, Clarence House, and my favorite, Scalamandre. And when I finally opened my own shops in 1995, I used these textiles exclusively, adding lighthearted things from Thibaut and Kravet. Honestly, as I was pretty much a one-man operation, it was just easier. I couldn't work in my stores, design the collection, go to the sewing factories AND go to Europe and Asia for textiles like other designers working for big companies. For me, a few days in the D&D each season was all that I needed.
When I was hired to design a dress collection for the newly-expanded Jack Rogers label, I went straight to Scalamandre. Whoda' thunk that I'd wind up as president of one of America's most renowned textile houses? But that's another story.
During my 3 years at Scalamandre, I really expanded my knowledge of decor. I was always aware of the legendary decorators like Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish and Albert Hadley and current greats such as Bunny Williams and Jamie Drake, but I also had the chance to get to know and work with so many of the wonderful emerging talents, many of whom are becoming stars today. I learned about trim and different printing and weaving techniques, wallpaper and lighting, paint finishes, upholstery and case goods. In the process, I picked up some basics about furniture plans and functionality (always a place to put down a drink!) So when my other half Rich and I purchased the slightly larger apartment next door to our existing one, I felt totally qualified to handle the decor. Silly me.
I screwed up a hundred things. I bought furniture that wouldn't fit. I made every mistake that could be made, and therefore had a lot of do-overs. But in the end, I have to say it looks damn good. So when my buddies at Kohler asked me to design a little powder room for the Hampton Designer Showhouse (honestly, because no one else wanted it) I said, "Sure, why not?"
"Little" is an understatement. The measurements were given to me in inches rather than feet. But I decided to think big. I had recently fallen in love with the abstract floral paintings of Carmelo Blandino, an artist whom I was seated next to at a dinner party in Milwaukee. I asked him for a digital file of a particular piece and had it blown up by a Southampton sign shop on the same stuff they use to wrap trucks. I selected a light fixture designed by Aerin Lauder for Visual Comfort and picked out a paint color for the ceiling. The plumbing fixtures, mirror and sconces had all been selected by the developer, but he inadvertently had the wrong electrical boxes installed, so the sconces wouldn't fit, the wallcovering was already up and there were two gaping holes. My friends at Old Town Crossing saved the day with a marvelous antique mirror that covered all. I added a small bamboo plant stand and a pot of petunias. As a final fillip, I ordered shocking pink toilet paper from an online retailer. For the gala opening, a wireless speaker played a soundtrack of chirping birds, and I thought that it was pretty good for my first time out of the gate as a decorator. I received some compliments, but one question totally dominated the entire evening:
"Where can I get that toilet paper?"