CAPTURE: You have become a renowned designer? What made you want to study design and choose it as your career?
MADELINE STUART: I didn’t have any intention of becoming a designer–that was my mother’s profession, and as a rebellious daughter, the last thing I wanted to become was my mother. Through the recommendation of a friend, I helped a young screenwriter furnish his first place. He was thrilled and recommended me to a friend, which begat my next client and the next. My career was born, somewhat accidentally. As the story goes, I ended up following in my mother’s footsteps. But without question, design is my calling–I needn’t have spent so much time fighting the inevitable! I should also mention that to this day I’m compelled to match my shoes to my belt… I’m very much my mother’s daughter.
C: What is the biggest challenge for a designer when taking on a client’s project?
MS: All designers face the challenges of personality conflicts, budgetary restrictions, misogynistic contractors, spousal infighting, etc. But I often find one of the biggest challenges is when clients are reluctant to cede control of the project to the designer. I’m not a décorator dictator (contrary to popular opinion), but at the highest levels, ours is a business, not a hobby. And although clients are understandably protective of their domain, I often find that they want to retain complete control of the process–often to the detriment of the project. I always work with my clients in a collaborative way, but when they insist on their way or the highway, the outcome always suffers.
C: Is there a signature design detail that we will always see in your collections?
MS: I hope our incredible attention to detail is evident in every piece. We are obsessive about our finishes, the hand wrought metalwork, or the fact that the underside of all our upholstery is finished with tiny tacks that are applied one at a time (as opposed to the standard approach, which is to use a staple gun). If anyone is inclined to turn my furniture upside down, it’s a lovely sight! All of our pieces are made by small, family-run workrooms who take extraordinary pride in their work. And I believe it shows. What I love most about our collection is the opportunity to create pieces that are truly worth the cost–this is not a production furniture line. I realize that for some it might seem a tad expensive, but I can’t–and won’t– compromise on quality.
C: Which designers working today do you most admire?
MS: There are many décorators whose work I like, but without question, Francois Catroux and Jacques Grange are my design heroes. When I met Jacques Grange I told him he was the David Bowie of décorators–and there is no bigger compliment coming from me!
C: You have a new book release this fall, No Place Like Home, published by Rizzoli. Book cover design is so important. Was it difficult to choose because the book reflects your personal work?
MS: This is such a great question! I agonized over the cover choice. My first pick was rejected by Jill Cohen, my book agent, and of course she was right. Of all the vertical images in the book, there were only a few that were true contenders. I didn’t want to feature an interior that was too specific, and I didn’t want a photo that could be interpreted as overtly traditional. My book is a collection of interiors, each representing a specific aesthetic. For instance, the book includes an Arts & Crafts project that’s wonderful, but it would send a strong message had I used that for the cover. I ultimately asked Trevor (Tondro), the photographer of the book, what image he preferred. Without hesitation he picked one he felt was the best option, but we both realized it wasn’t quite good enough to be the cover. So, we went back to the house (for the third time, by the way) and re-shot the room with different accessories, pillows, and flowers, and voila! After shooting hundreds of images for the book, we hadn’t set out to photograph anything we initially intended to be the cover. In hindsight, I can’t believe we didn’t focus on that in the nearly two years it took us to photograph the book.
C: Your personal getaway is a historic circa 1930’s cottage you have restored. Tell us what you love most about it?
MS: Well, to start with the house is in Santa Barbara. I had been fantasizing about having a place in what locals refer to as ‘our paradise’ for many, many years. The house is in the middle of town but can’t be seen from the street. It’s on a private road in a little enclave of seven historic houses–originally artist studios–that were built in 1930. I bought the day I saw it, in spite of the fact that the place was a complete wreck. I reveled in the opportunity to bring the house–and the gardens–back to life. I now come up as much as I possibly can, and spend weekends doing lots of nothing; going to the farmer’s market, cooking for friends, scouring funky antique shops for potential treasures (a Japanese Edo-period bronze turtle purchased for the whopping price of $139.00! Score!), walking the dogs on the beach, and EATING! Turns out there’s lot of great food in paradise.
C: What is the best advice you have ever received?
MS: To thine own self be true.
Madeline Stuart’s book No Place Like Home: Interiors by Madeline Stuart published by Rizzoli Fall 2019