His interiors look like no one else’s. America’s most famous decorator changed the way all of us live in our homes.
The complete interview is shared here exclusively for our web readers.
THE ONE THING A WELL-DECORATED ROOM NEEDS TO HAVE?
Books. They make for a well-round brain.
YOU’RE KNOWN FOR YOUR LOVE OF AMERICAN POPULAR STANDARDS. YOUR THREE FAVORITE SINGERS?
Peggy Lee. Blossom Dearie. Sinatra.
A SONG WHOSE TUNE YOU KEEP IN YOUR HEAD?
Erroll Garner playing The Loving Touch.
WHEN YOU VISIT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU GO TO SEE?
The bookstore. I race in to see what new books they have.
AND AFTER THE BOOKSTORE?
Furniture, porcelain, silver. Anything to do with the home.
A MOVIE YOU WATCH REPEATEDLY?
Only until recently, Call Me By Your Name. It’s beautiful visually and musically. I’ve seen it three times already.
THE ONE PLACE IN NEW YORK YOU NEVER TIRE OF SEEING?
Rockefeller Center. I love the ice-skating, the Christmas tree, the small shops. It’s always very alive.
THE MOST VALUABLE/PRECIOUS OBJECT YOU OWN?
SOMETHING YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED ABOUT WHICH YOU ARE ESPECIALLY PROUD?
My career, having been called “The Prince of Chintz”, which is something I have always loved since childhood, when I first opened my eyes.
WHAT DOES EVERY SUCCESSFUL PERSON NEED TO HAVE?
A drive. You can’t become something without that intensity, a drive to achieve.
A ROOM YOU’VE SEEN AND NEVER FORGOTTEN?
Nancy Lancaster’s “buttah yellow” room in London. I saw it in a book in 1961 and then in person in London in 1964. After that, I had to have my own yellow room. But my yellow is fresher.
YOU’RE HOSTING A DINNER PARTY AND YOU CAN INVITE THREE PEOPLE FROM THE PAST. WHO ARE THEY?
Nancy Lancaster. Aileen Mehle, who was wonderful. The decorator John Fowler.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
A decorator. When I was five years old, I started moving furniture around the room at my Aunt Mary’s. She had an expensive antique hooked needlepoint rug that looked faded and worn out to me and I remember saying to her, “Aunt Mary, can’t you afford a new rug?”
WHO TODAY EMBODIES STYLE?
WHO OF THE PAST EMBODIES STYLE?
Billy Baldwin. John Fowler. Sister Parish.
A TRAVEL DESTINATION YOU’VE NEVER FORGOTTEN?
The first time I went to London. 1961. I still love London. I could pack and go tonight.
YOU LIKE TO TELL JOKES. WHAT COMEDIANS ALWAYS MADE YOU LAUGH?
Milton Berle. Joan Rivers. George Burns.
FOR WHOM DID YOU WORK THAT WAS THE MOST SATISFYING?
Myself. A showhouse for Kips Bay in 1974. My blue bedroom. With a showhouse room, you never have someone looking over your head. With clients, you always have to hold back.
IS THERE A MOTTO YOU LIVE BY?
I always tell clients, “I decorate a room as if I were a painter, painting a little bit of the canvas at a time. A room is never finished, a house is never finished. A house is like a garden. It continues to grow throughout your lifetime.”
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INTERVIEW BY DAVID MASELLO
This story appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of MILIEU.