I've had the extraordinary good fortune of having a very stylish mother with impeccable taste and creativity as my first teacher so, of course, having started my career working for her, she has been a hugely important mentor to me. It was through my experience working with her and running the various offices of Leta Austin Foster & Associates (New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) that I was even able to handle going out on my own and later open my company in West Hollywood. Still to this day, my mother gives me sound client and business advice when I’m in a bind. I have also strongly relied on the advice and styling of my good friend Michael Tedrick of Tedrick & Bennett who used to operate out of San Francisco. Michael has a very distinct sense of style and everything is a very clean interpretation of traditional, very refined and elegant. I absolutely love everything he does and because we have a very similar style aesthetic he’s proven to be a wonderful sounding board to bounce ideas off of.
What is your signature look? How would you define it?
In the simplest of terms, I would say my signature look is Fresh Classicism. I give traditional styling a twist…a reinterpretation that feels now and vibrant, down to even the smallest nuances. Having said this, I comfortably design in many settings, from contemporary to Hollywood Regency. I strive to create livable homes that are timeless, rich in style and inspire conversation. Uncovering a client’s sensibility, and making it chic while still inviting is a central theme in my work. From selecting glowing finishes and being finely tuned to the details of a project, my design palette is very tailored but at the same time, upbeat and urbane. The Modernist and Art Deco movements are very top of mind when I design spaces, but I liven and freshen them up a bit to create my own updated style. To this end and in a perfect world, I like to use furniture pieces from notable designers as statement pieces in houses with good traditional bones – just to make the rooms more interesting and relevant to today’s culture.
What is it like working as a mother/daughters team and how do your tastes influence one another?
Sadly, I don’t work with my sisters or mother on projects anymore, but I will say that my classical training is adopted from my mother.
Who gets the veto power on joint projects?
If you knew my mother, you would know the answer to that question…
When did you know this was your calling in life?
Though I have been exposed to interior design my whole life, via my mother’s company, my decision to follow the ‘family business’ – so to speak – did not come until my mid twenties. After graduating from Georgetown, it took a few years stint in television news production to convince me that I needed a change. So, I went back to school and took classes at Parsons and the New York School of Interior Design before I began my apprenticeship with my mother’s company out of New York. And that’s how it all began…
What other designer and or architect do you most admire (living or not) and why?
There are so many, so, it’s hard to limit this response to just one.
For starters, there is Mies van der Rohe, Syrie Maugham, Billy Baldwin and Eero Saarinen. Each of these designers used clean lines and really pushed the openness of a home to the outdoors and I try and incorporate these same ideas into my own work – just with more of an unexpected twist. Additionally, there is Dorothy Draper, Frances Elkins, Stephane Boudin, Billy Haines and Albert Hadley. I have always loved how these designers took classic elements and interpreted them in their own unique style…making it very personal, never derivative. They were or are all iconic for their time. In terms of architects, Phillip Johnson is a favorite of mine. His architectural work is a balancing act between Minimalism and Modernism. His best work has aspects of both design movements.
What is your favorite go to fabric house/collection or singular fabric?
Raoul Textiles is one of my favorite fabric lines/independent showrooms here in Los Angeles. It’s my refuge at times. It forces me to take a deep breath whenever I go there. It is such a jewel in the bustling Pacific Design Center. The hand printed fabrics, which are made locally (a big plus), are timeless but actually have a modern feel. They are always top of mind when I begin a new project because fresh colors abound, have a timeless feel and there is so much to enjoy from this fabric line. It’s a joy to find ways to incorporate more of their textiles.
What material do you love?
Right now, I really love using GLANT Liquid leather. It upholsters beautifully. Looks so chic and a big plus is its easy maintenance. They offer an extraordinary level of choice and sophistication for any environment or decorating style…from rich to understated…classic to modern…refined to relaxed. You really you can’t go wrong with this material.
What is your favorite antique you own and reproduction collection you constantly use as a resource?
My favorite antique would have to be the Indian Taboret Table in my living room that I got from Colefax & Fowler in London. Updated iterations of classic furniture pieces are available from Baker, specifically the Laura Kirar, Lexicon and Bill Sofield collections. These pieces invariably prove a great resource for my firm. Another favorite would be Remains Lighting which recently introduced a line of lighting inspired by the inimitable and always magical Tony Duquette. Like much of his work, the pieces are environmental works or art with names like "Splashing Water Chandelier", "Magic Forest Sconce" and "Dusk Phoenix Candlestick". My personal best is the "California Sunburst Corona Chandelier" which is so adaptable, I could envision using it in anywhere from a Paul Williams style house to a post & beam ranch house. The entire collection is exuberant and fresh and oh-so Californian! Everything you'd expect from such an iconic design legend and more! We also turn to the Madeline Stuart Collection and Soane from London. Two wonderful furniture lines that provide a classic range of best quality furniture options.
What is your favorite project and why?
Swallow Drive is probably my favorite project. I love the clean mix of mid-century and antique pieces that are very complementary to the architecture of the house. I have worked with these clients two subsequent times since then.
What trade or retail store inspires you most?
I find great inspiration from Jasper Conran in London. They have a great mix of everything. Certainly, Paul Marra here in West Hollywood is a favorite of mine to find mid-century antiques, reproduction lighting and mirror collections. Paul has the most beautiful and eclectic mix of interesting and well-made objects, and he is so keenly aware of what designers need. Other notable mentions here in Los Angeles include CB2, Jonathan Adler and Lawson-Fenning. And of course, I could not forget Coup d’Etat and Epoca in San Francisco, which have been great resources to me for many years.
What is your favorite new and old interior book?
Though it’s not really a ‘design book’ I’ve found a great amount of inspiration and influence from “The Remains of the Day” (by Kazuo Ishigoru for Knopf, 1989). Set in the 1930s (like seemingly everything I am inspired by and love) the novel is really a period piece that gives a sense of the traditional, formal, aesthetic and lifestyle of the era - an era with strong influence on my own style. The ideas of proper social etiquette and traditional design and how these influence a home are really important when considering the detailing of a project and how to make a space ‘livable’.
For specific detailing and space planning inspiration I refer daily to Dorothy Draper’s “In the Pink” (by Carlton Varney for Pointed Leaf Press, 2006), Class Act: Billy Haines (by Peter Schifando for Pointed Leaf Press, 2005), The Jansen Book (byJames Archer Abbott for Acanthus Press, 2006) and Frances Elkins: Interior Design (by Stephen M. Salny and Albert Hadley for W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). All have their bindings bent open at least once a week by someone on my design team. Billy Baldwin Decorates (by Billy Baldwin for Book Sales, 1976) is an older interior book that I still refer to for inspiration. His look is timeless and so fresh. This is something I strive to achieve in my finished spaces.
What country house in England and America do you most love?
Although it's hard to call it a "house" by any normal standards, I think Blenheim Palace is one of the most awe inspiring houses ever. To my mind, it's located in one of the prettiest parts of England in Oxfordshire with sweeping views of the English countryside. The palace remains a perfect monument of English Baroque architecture and the grounds are a breathtaking example of landscaper Capability Brown's amazing vision - it's well worth the visit if you haven't been. On this side of the Atlantic, Phillip Johnson Glass House remains my dream house in America. I am surrounded with so much stuff ever day in this business that it makes me crave less in my own life and the clean, almost spartan-like aesthetic of this house just calls to me on every level.
Are there charities you all support and work with that is design related?
I support the Institute for Classical Architecture (http://www.classicist.org/about-us/), the Decorative Arts Council at LACMA (http://www.lacma.org/membership/ACDecArts.aspx) and P. S. Arts (http://www.psarts.org/whatwedo.html).
If you were not doing this what would you do?
That's easy. I'd be running a wildlife sanctuary somewhere in the wilds of Africa, surrounded by all my favorite animals!
What city besides NYC/LA/PB do you visit to inspire you?
London is a constant source of inspiration for me…from the museums, food (great vegetarian restaurants) and architecture. It’s also a wonderful family city. Additionally, Istanbul inspires me because of the ancient antiquities, patterns and color combinations that you find there in the furnishings and textiles.