Interior Designer Spotlight with Brian J. McCarthy
Brian J. McCarthy, Inc: New York, Southampton, Greenwich, St. Tropez, Gstaad, Monaco
AD100 designer Brian J. McCarthy has such an elite clientele, that it is not surprising his website’s portfolio is password protected. Brian was a partner at the legendary New York design firm Parish-Hadley before starting his own firm in 1991. Brian is on all the most coveted lists such as Architectural Digest’s AD100, Elle Decor’s A-List and New York Spaces Top 50. He has been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Veranda, New York Magazine and The New York Times. He has published two books, Luminous Interiors and Parish-Hadley Tree of Life: An Intimate History of the Legendary Design Firm, which he co-authored with Bunny Williams. The highly respected Franklin Report awarded Brian four stars and quotes clients saying, “Everyone who walks in is blown away by the warmth and details.” “Brian is on an intellectual mission to find the beauty in any period.” “He strongly encourages you to find your own design viewpoint.”
Join me as Brian shares with us his opinion on how clients could get better results if they would just let decorators do their job, what it was like to be a partner at Parish-Hadley, trends he’s tired of seeing, how decorating is moving back to color and pattern, how he chooses designer rugs and much more…
Tell Me About Your Visit with Albert Hadley’s Sister in Nashville?
“I went to see Elizabeth “Betsy” Hadley and celebrated her 90th birthday. I flew down in the morning and arrived at 10:30 a.m. and was on a 4:30 p.m. flight back to New York. I had such a close relationship with her brother Albert Hadley. I started as his assistant 33 years ago at Parish-Hadley. I was reminding Betsy of that. It wasn’t until Albert got sick, and decided to move back to Nashville five years ago that I really got to know her. I’ve kept in close touch with her, and have gone down several times for the Antiques & Garden Show of Nashville where I did a book signing and gave a talk. It has been delightful because she is such a unique woman, and she was such a great sister and friend to Albert. She took care of him up until his last breath. I feel I have a very strong bond with her.”
What Was It Like Working at Parish-Hadley?
“In those days decorating wasn’t a big business. We were kind of at the forefront. Yes, you had Elsie de Wolfe, Syrie Maugham and Billy Baldwin. It wasn’t really until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that decorating became a bonafide business in a big sense. Americans were really turning to decorators to create their homes, lifestyles, collections and their interests. Parish-Hadley was the master at making it all comfortable. It was an incredible time. Mariette Himes-Gomez was there before I got there and Bunny Williams started as Sister Parish’s secretary in 1968. Bunny and I overlapped at Parish-Hadley for about five years before she opened her own business. While I was there it was one of the richest periods in American decorating.“
Why is Your Online Portfolio Password Protected?
“I have such private clients; I would say seventy to eighty percent of them can’t be published. On my website I have to have my portfolio password protected. I’ve done a little bit of corporate work for clients. I would love to do hospitality work. I did the Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C. while I was at Parish-Hadley, but haven’t done one since. It would be a lot of fun to do one.“
Why Do You Avoid Trends?
“It’s not avoiding trends. Listen, I get clients that come to me who have an interest in Mid-Century modern. While it’s not what you think of as my thing, I love the challenge of doing things like that. I do get tired of all these trends. I’m tired of everybody referencing boutique hotels, absence of color and these collections of modern art. Everybody is trying to check names off a list, and I just don’t find this very original. It can be beautifully done, it’s not that there aren’t fabulous examples of it. I’m about the individual as my client, and really creating something that is bespoke for them. It’s not to say that I don’t have clients that have very strong opinions. I have a client right now that can’t help herself. Every time she references anything, it’s about making it look like a boutique hotel. I frankly find that boring, but so be it—it’s what appeals to them. I prefer the more curious client that’s really interested in finding things that are made uniquely for them. I love working with artists. Working with artists also takes the project off the plate from being another frozen dinner that’s been thawed out and put on the table.”
Are Color and Pattern Coming Back?
“I think that decorating is moving back into color again—finally. It’s been like 11 years of beige and white. That can be beautiful and we all do it, but I love color. I’m so happy that I’m seeing it creep back into the magazines. It’s not as vanilla as it has been for a such a long time. I think we are going to see more pattern used again. I think we are coming out of one cycle and moving into another one. We need a little freshness in the air right now.”
How Has the Internet Changed Interior Design?
“We debate this all the time. The internet has made people think they can learn about something or find something, and it has taken them out of real-time. They are not really seeing things, touching things and getting a sense of scale. I think that is doing a disservice to the industry. It’s cheapening it a bit. There are so many knock-offs of everything, and at different levels. People don’t really understand the difference between the very good and the good. They kind of see them in the same breath, which I find very frustrating. I don’t know where it’s going to go, and if people are going to back away from the internet. I doubt it. If people could just let us as decorators do our job, they would be the benefactors in the end. They would be getting better projects out of us.”
How Are Clients Getting Misled by the Internet?
“You present a fabulous piece of furniture and the client comes back saying they’ve done an exhaustive search of auction records, and found it was sold nine months ago for an eighth of the price the seller is asking for. Well, the reason the seller was able to get it was because they found it in some obscure town in Sweden, they had someone find them these extraordinary things and the price they are asking is actually a real price. Yes, if you had someone specifically looking for you maybe you might have found it, but I doubt it. We are looking at auctions all the time. It’s situations like that, that don’t help us.”
How Do You Choose Designer Rugs for Your Clients?
“It really does depend on the client. The rug is always the foundation on which the room is developed. Especially if I know the client wants something that’s unique or special. That doesn’t mean it is an antique rug. I would say 90% of our rugs are custom made. Mostly because we need specific sizes that you are not going to find. We also have the resources where we can do just about anything. That really opens up a world of opportunity, which is fantastic. I love Moroccan rugs, Swedish rugs from the 1950’s, Indian Agra rugs with their rich Byzantine colors and some modern rugs. I have several clients that love French interiors, so it’s Savonnerie rugs and Aubusson rugs. It really runs the gamut. Anybody that comes to me with a love of something, whether it’s an interest of mine or not. I will develop an interest, and I will find the most unusual pieces of whatever that is.”
Do You Take Daisy on All Your Trips?
“She’s a well-traveled dog, I will tell you that. Although, she didn’t make it to Africa. She’ll travel with us wherever we can easily take her. She’s easy to travel with and is the perfect size. It’s better to have her than to not have her. It was really hard the two and a half weeks in Africa just being away from her. She’s my life.”
For more on Brian J. McCarthy, visit http://www.bjminc.com
Images courtesy of Joshua McHugh and Brian J. McCarthy.