Interior Designer Spotlight with Gil Walsh
Owner of Gil Walsh Interiors, The Palm Beaches – Martha’s Vineyard – Pennsylvania.
Renowned for her keen eye for color, design and fabrics, Gil Walsh has directed over $200 million in design work in Palm Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, and Pennsylvania. Growing up in homes filled with classic design Gil’s first love was fashion, but she soon realized that interior design allowed her to broaden her love of fashion to include art history, antiques, and architecture. Her powder room in the 2016 Kips Bay Decorator Show House called J. Lo’s Jewel Box received wide acclaim and her home in Martha’s Vineyard has been published numerous times. Her new book Gil Walsh Interiors – A Case for Color comes out in October. On top of heading a staff of 21 brainy designers, Gil finds the time to mentor new design graduates.
Join me as Gil Walsh delights us with her insights into Kips Bay, emerging interior design trends, deriving inspiration from nature, and what she loves about Asmara rugs.
“Pair of mallards” photo by Richard Clifton, Milford, Delaware,
winner of 2011 Federal Duck Stamp Contest.
How Did You Learn to Put Colors Together from Nature?
“I learned this when I started working at Irvin and Company. I was young and needed inspiration, so I bought every book and magazine I could afford. I had to put together a presentation and wanted it to be really special, but I didn’t know where to start. I had no thoughts about color because it could be any color. I was sitting and thinking how to do this, and began looking at my collection of bird and botanical books. I studied how nature layers colors in a bird or in a flower. I started looking at the colors in a mallard duck. So I went out and selected fabrics that imitated a mallard’s colors. The scheme was unbelievable and the firm thought it was fantastic. I’ve never forgotten that. Whenever I feel stuck I go back to Mother Nature and look how colors are put together.”
What Drew You to Classic Design?
“I learned design as a child. I learned because my mother was an artist and my father was a surgeon and they both collected furniture and fine art. My father loved fine classic furniture and he would teach us all about them. When other children were at the playground, my sister and I were taking children’s classes at museum while our mother was teaching adult classes. We learned scale, color, and how to talk about design starting at six years of age. At the same time as this was going on I was learning to play golf from Arnold Palmer. He was my teacher and babysister. We had a very interesting life.”
Why Did You Leave Fashion?
“Prior to graduating from Chatham University, I really thought I was going to be in fashion design. I like color, textiles, style and clothing. But during training I began to recognize it was not the field for me because it wasn’t broad enough, and I found it to be very narcissistic. I wrote my thesis on stage sets and costumes with a play my college did called Desire Caught by the Tail by Pablo Picasso. From that experience I thought, I’m no longer in fashion, and if I stay in theater I may become a starving actor. So I decided to do something serious that would allow me to move from city to city. I ended up taking all of my knowledge into interior design. A lovely man, Sherry Falsgraf, hired me at a very large company in Cleveland called Irvin and Company. We had our own work room—I mean everything. We had our own lamp shade shop, refinishing shop, and a drapery work room. I went to school at night to study scale. I didn’t know the seat or arm height of a chair. I didn’t understand that part of it, but I learned. I also spent a great deal of time studying architecture. I felt my rooms needed an element of architecture or they would have nothing. So that’s how it all started.”
J. Lo’s Jewel Box at the 2016 Kips Bay. Photo courtesy of Kholer.
What Was it Like to Do a Room in The 2016 Kips Bay Decorator Show House?
“We were very fortunate to be able to do a room in this year’s Kips Bay. It was a tiny powder room which was the only active bathroom in the whole house. The room also had a bath tub that was being used as a mop sink. It’s still there but hidden behind a wall. They couldn’t wall it up until the last week before Kips Bay opened. We had three days to put it all together once the wall went up. We really crammed it together in three days, but everything was organized so that it could happen quickly. A powder room can be made into a beautiful over the top room because no one is in the room long enough to get tired of it. It was an amazing experience. If you can make it through Kips Bay doing a working powder room, you can do almost anything. All the designers were fantastic. They were very careful when using my room after it was done. We had a lot of laughs!”
J. Lo’s Jewel Box at the 2016 Kips Bay. Photo courtesy Phillip-Ennis-Productions.
Why Did You Name Your Kips Bay Room J. Lo’s Jewel Box?
“We researched Kips Bay history and who had gone through the Kips Bay program and discovered that the amazing Jennifer Lopez is a Kips Bay alum. From there, we found some fantastic photography of her by fashion photographer Tony Duran. He said we could use any picture of her for the show house. He submitted all these photographs and some of them were a little risqué. J.Lo has a presence so she can dress risqué, but this is for children. So I said I needed one where she was clothed and they found this beautiful picture where she’s wearing a soft pink suit. I thought it was gorgeous. It started the whole theme for the room, which is why we named it J. Lo’s Jewel Box.”
What Design Trends Do You See Coming?
“I think we are slowly coming back into the traditional classic mode. Transitional design is still out there but it’s becoming more detailed. For the longest time you looked at transitional design and it was three different colors in a room. You may have a window treatment in blue, a sofa and rug in beige, and somewhere an orange pillow on the sofa. You try to figure out how these designers are putting colors together. That’s now morphing into a much more detailed layered look. We are seeing beautiful traditional fabrics coming out of Europe now. You can see that it’s coming back in two to three years. Maybe classic traditional design never left New England, but for the most part in south Florida it’s been pretty transitional.”
What Do You Like About Asmara Rugs?
“I happen to love rugs. The best way to start a room is with a rug or painting and Asmara has exquisite rugs. Asmara rugs are beautifully designed and they all look individual. I love the textures and weaves such as Oushaks, Needlepoints and Bessarabians —Asmara covers them all. They are beautifully designed, so the rug designer is doing a fantastic job. Asmara stands alone as a very good high-end resource for interior designers, and their online catalogs are great. You will be seeing more from us for sure since we have so many clients who need oversized rugs.”
What Are Your Thoughts On Box Retail Home Furnishings Stores?
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Restoration Hardware’s of the world. Their flagship store is being built in south Florida right now. For the most part we don’t use retail stores. Many times I can offer my clients the same thing for less, and I can offer them special design services. I can give them a look that doesn’t look like every retail store. We deal with a lot of private manufacturers. We don’t deal with middlemen.”
A Veranda You Designed Got 30,000 Saves on Houzz.
“I love exterior spaces. An exterior spaces has to be treated like an interior space, but it also has to work within the climate. So when you look at most of our exterior spaces they are very individual. We have different pieces of furniture—we don’t really do suits of furniture. They all have a personality. That veranda has a lot of elements. It’s not just a set of wicker furniture, it’s different pieces.”
How Do People New to Florida Discover You?
“I get a tremendous amount of new clients from my online presence. We hired a fantastic woman who manages our social media and she has us everywhere. When people come to Florida, if they didn’t bring their designer from the Northeast or Northwest, they don’t really know where to go. So what they do is they go to the yellow pages, which is Houzz. I have concluded that Houzz still needs some higher-end designers that really work in layers. Most high-end designers like Timothy Whealon use a lot of layers to make a room special. When you go onto Houzz, there are not many spaces that show layering.”
What is Different About Designing A Yacht?
“We are just entering into yachts. Every year I look for a new challenge—what are we going to learn next? Because we sit right here in Florida and Martha’s Vineyard, we have started merging into that world. It is very tedious work because every inch counts. Boats are very tight and all the furniture needs to be exact to the half inch or less. Your fabrics need to be a certain quality that will stand up to weather. It’s also very expensive to work on boats and it’s expensive to own a boat. Everything is custom made. You just don’t go out and buy a piece of furniture and put it on a boat. There’s not a lot of places for people to get interior design services for yachts and we are excited about it.”
Have You Worked with Patrick Ahearn on Martha’s Vineyard?
“We have a tremendous number of clients on the island. I’ve never had the pleasure of working directly with Patrick Ahearn, but I’d love too. He’s an extraordinary talent. I did work at a Patrick Ahearn home, but I came in after he had done his work. I enjoyed reading your interview with Patrick about his work in Edgartown. I’ve already built a historic home in Chilmark but I really want to build a contemporary home. I don’t want to live in Chilmark anymore because it’s so far out, but if I go into Edgartown I’m going to have to build a shingle style home. So now I’m thinking I’m going to build a shingle style home, but I’m going to do the interior very contemporary so no one knows. The outside is going to fit all the requirements of a historic district—which it should.”
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater was built between 1936 and 1939 over a waterfall in southwest Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Do You Have Anything Left on Your Interior Design Bucket List?
“I don’t anymore. I’ve pretty much done everything I’ve wanted to do, but a designer’s life is about perpetual discovery. There’s always something new to learn and experience, and new spaces to design. The way we live now is so different from 10 years ago, and I can’t wait to see how we’ll be designing spaces 10 years from now! I think the best thing I’m doing now is I have a studio of 21 people and I’m working with a lot of great young brains coming out of college. As far as any goals for huge projects, I’ve done a lot of them and am really satisfied. I’ve done great country clubs and I have worked with Edgar J. Kaufmann on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. I’m mean how good does it get! My joke as a young person was that I really want to do the White House. Well, I’ve sort of done everything else, I don’t need to do the White House. I’m really happy where I am, I love coming to work, and all the clients I have.”
For more on Gil Walsh visit: http://www.gilwalsh.com