Interior Designer Spotlight with Christina Murphy
Christina Murphy Interiors: New York, Palm Beach, Miami, Bahamas
Christina Murphy describes herself as a contemporary traditionalist. She not only creates amazing spaces for her loyal following of fashionable clients, but has an uncanny ability to help them visualize design schemes at the start of a project. A graduate of Georgetown University, The American Institute for Foreign Study in Italy and The New York School of Interior Design, Christina started her career in 1999 working with Celerie Kemble in the beginning years of Kemble Interiors’s new New York office. In 2006 she launched Christina Murphy Interiors, and since then her work has been featured in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful (who named her among “America’s Top 100 Designers”), Traditional Home, The New York Times and ABC’s The View.
Join me as Christina predicts the start of a new interior design trend, why organic furnishings are here to stay, what’s inspiring about working in New York, why she rarely visits New York’s Design buildings, how to brighten a dark room, when to use color and when to use a monochromatic palette and much more…
What Was it Like to Start with Celerie Kemble?
“Celerie and I kind of started Kemble Interior’s New York office. Celerie had just started a few months or maybe a year before I joined her. Celerie and I worked together for about six years. Her mother Mimi McMakin decorated my family’s house in Palm Beach. I’ve known their whole family forever. We tried to figure it all out together. She is a very fearless entrepreneur and I learned a ton from her. It was a very creative and supportive place to work every day.“
Why Are We Due for a New Design Trend?
“I feel like we are due for the next iteration. There has been a lot of reclaimed wood paired with vintage school house lights and old subway tiles with dark grout. That look was really big a few years ago in New York. A lot of restaurants in the East Village looked that way and then it spread all over. I was just down in Atlanta in some peripheral area and was surprised at how trendy it was there. I’m ready for the next thing and I know it’s coming. When I first started doing interior design, everyone wanted chocolate brown and then that got replaced with charcoal gray. I think there has been a return to people wanting things to feel more organic. People love the raw edge dining tables. It’s so modern, but it has warmth and earthy qualities that people like. What’s appealing about it, is that it feels human and real. I don’t see that going away. The tree stump side tables and that kind of stuff are going to have a place. They are not going to feel like they are suddenly out. If anything, I think the way people have returned to wanting artisanal coffee and gelato is what they also want in their home. They want their chair to feel like someone made it and it’s special.”
How Do You Avoid Looks That Will Become Dated?
“I had a client send me a light today for her daughter’s bedroom. I said you can get that, but it’s going to look really dated in about six months. There are certain things that get trendy and appear everywhere. That contributes to burn out. Anything I’m just seeing too many of, I try and shy away from and find something that’s a little more original. If it feels unique and you haven’t seen it before, then it is going to be more appealing over a longer period of time.”
Why Do You Call Yourself a Contemporary Traditionalist?
“Having a respect and appreciation for tradition in architecture and being grounded in different styles and history. But not feeling beholden and being free to create your own version of it. For the most part I’m always a fan of beautiful moldings and wonderful mantels. I’m never going to be a minimalist in that way. I will never think a room is more beautiful that’s been completely stripped and looks like a pure white box. I do appreciate the warmth that comes with details.”
What Do You Love Most About Working in New York?
“It’s exciting! Although, I no longer exclusively work in New York anymore. When I first started it was all apartments, and now I have more projects outside the city. I’m currently working in Miami, Palm Beach, the Bahamas, Westchester, Greenwich and Long Island. The most exciting part about being a designer in New York is that you have access to so many resources. We have wonderful custom fabric lines, a lot of unique mom and pop textile companies and the ability to really customize anything from building your own furniture to coming up with your own embroidery or curtain fabric. There’s someone in New York who can do it. That’s one of the biggest advantages of working in New York.”
Do You Look For Inspiration in New York’s Design Centers?
“No, but I pretty much already know what’s in there. I don’t really need to drop in very much. Occasionally I’ll take some clients to sit in some furniture. The design center isn’t a place that’s going to take me somewhere new. I don’t feel very inspired in the actual building. There’s something about the lighting and the air that’s not very appealing. When I go out to California, even their design center is more inspiring.”
What is a Map Fabric and How Does it Help Clients?
“Laugh. Funny, that was an expression I used for a client who didn’t completely understand the concept of how to pull a room together. So a way to simplify the process was to show her the fabric with the most pattern and colors. I told her this is what we call the map fabric—it’s our map, it shows us our direction. This is where we are going to pick all of our colors from and make sure they all go together. Sometimes the map fabric might only end up on one or two pillows. It doesn’t necessarily have to dominate the room, but it gives a client a snapshot of how everything will work together. Sometimes we do modern rooms which are very tonal and in those cases there may not be a map fabric but several different monochromatic fabrics.”
When Do You Use Color and When Monochromatics?
“Well, it’s so hard to say. My own apartment does not have a lot of color—it’s very monochromatic. I did a beach house that was published in House Beautiful and it was filled with color. I had a lot of people email me saying they liked how I used color. Bloggers tend to really like featuring color, especially the younger bloggers. A lot of the magazines prefer to photograph a colorful apartment than a monochromatic one. I think color gets more exposed and then people come to you for it, and then you are doing it over and over again. I am really comfortable using color and enjoy it. I don’t love it in my own apartment, but love doing it for other people.”
How Do You Brighten a Dark Room?
“I try to create a lot of contrast within the room. I always say you can almost correlate colors to numbers on a numbers scale. If you are going to have lots of four, five and six middle range colors, you are never going to get that contrast. Nothing is ever going to feel bright. If you can have ones and tens (where one is a white and ten is a very dark color), then at least you are going to have a bright white popping off against something dark. That also helps keep the design interesting. The only thing we steer away from is earth tones and muddy colors. I don’t particularly gravitate towards them, and my clients don’t either. So for the most part it’s pretty easy to achieve some brightness by making sure you’ve covered yourself on the color scale.”
How Do You Choose Rugs for Clients?
“It’s very case specific. If I could do a custom rug for every client, I would. Most of my projects have at least one custom rug. A lot of it has to do with the size and shape of the room. How formal is my client? Some people are extremely casual and a nice way to make a room more casual is to use a Sisal type rug. Some people really can’t stand the feeling of a Sisal rug under their feet. Particularly, that’s a male comment that I get. ‘My husband hates the way that feels and he wants something soft.’ Overall, you try to understand what they are trying to achieve. Usually they’ll have a couple of tear sheets or some ideas they are describing. Some of it is driven by budget because beautiful hand knotted rugs can be very expensive for a large room. Some of my clients love the feeling of thick hand knotted rugs. They look good and wear well. They are an investment.”
Are Clients Willing to Wait for Custom Rugs?
“It depends. Usually you know upfront when you are starting the project what their timetable is. We are about to start an apartment right now that is a three-bedroom rental for a single man. He does not want to wait for anything. If it’s not going to be ready for when he moves in October, then we are not getting it. That’s an extreme case. More often than not, people who hire us are making an investment. They want something that is pretty great. I think it’s within reason to ask my clients to wait 16 weeks for designer rugs. They are on board with it. When we get past 20 to 24 weeks I start to see a little pushback unless we’re doing new construction or a complete renovation that could take eight months to a year.”
If You Could Collaborate with Any Interior Designer—Who Would It Be?
“Oh Gosh. I think Steven Gambrel is amazing. I love Tom Scheerer. I think he is so talented. He strikes the perfect balance of comfortable and chic. It’s like a recipe where it all just comes together. If I could have a Tom Scheerer house, I wouldn’t change one thing. Victoria Hagan also does really pretty work.”
What’s Next for You?
“I’m working on a furniture line for a discount retail company. It’s going to be six or seven pieces. I don’t think I’m allowed to say where yet. I think it’s still a secret. It’s going to be highly affordable and hopefully very charming. My thought when designing the pieces was that each piece needed to have three applications. It needs to work in three different rooms. I wanted it all to be very multi-functional. I’m hoping they will be ready for the fall.”
For more on Christina Murphy, visit http://www.christinamurphyinteriors.com.