Houston designer Randy Powers has transformed Texas interiors and given them a cosmopolitan beat. He is also one of the most charming men on the planet. Whether cutting a swathe through a fusty junk/antique shop in a dodgy part of Houston, wading through a dusty rare books emporium, or leaping in to his design-mobile (stacks of Persol sunglassses in impeccable cases in the ‘sunglass compartment’), he is witty, dashing, charming, and superbly well-informed.
Come with me for a visit.
Sixteen creative and soul-satisfying years later, with dozens of clients under his "care", two retail stores, now shuttered, hundreds of hysterical stories (some not fit to print), and seven upholsterers ago, Powers sits back and thinks how swell it has been. Rarely does a busy designer get the time to sit and reflect. There are curtains to be hung!
“I started my design firm in 1993 with office space that had once belonged to the great decorator, (I HATE the term designer), Billy Francis. I was just two floors down from my best friend Holly Moore, the founder and editor-in-chief of PaperCity Magazine, the most brilliant woman in the world, and another reason for my success. Holly published my work. It that was my first time to be published. The phone rang off the wall from there.
“I had no formal training in this business. I had worked for a few other designers assisting with projects and "learning the ropes" as most young hopeful's do. Now I have one of the city's largest firms. J Randall Powers Interior Decoration has projects all over the country, I am a contributing editor at PaperCity and have a license with Visual Comfort for my lighting line. I have product designed by or named after me in several well respected manufacturers furniture lines.”
“Houston is not at all what most would have in their minds as a "chic place in which to do good design work". People here are fabulous. There is a wonderful modern attitude that permeates everything, a real can-do spirit. Nothing is ever "Oh, no we can’t do that" nor "it's not proper" so the creative process is rich and people are wonderfully open and adventurous. I have had great luck in having well-traveled, elegant, fun clients with a great appreciation for terrific art, good furniture and most importantly, great taste.
“As a person Randy Powers is beyond brilliant ... he has a mind like a deployment clasp...he never writes a thing down and he is early for every appointment, has historical knowledge centuries beyond his years, remembers every great meal he’s ever had, and can catalog antiques and art in his mind ... dates, provenance, where he saw it and when. As a decorator, he (along with The Menil, perhaps) put Houston on the design map. Never have national magazines looked as closely at Houston: House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Southern Accents ... they’re all circling around waiting for his next completed project. Randy is enormously tasteful, in every aspect of his life, which is what makes him such a divinely talented decorator." — Holly Moore, founder and editor-in-chief, PaperCity, Houston and Dallas
This can-do attitude and the larger than life personae Houstonians have has made for some terrific projects. If you politely suggest that "we need to tear out all this molding and replace it with something a bit smaller" or line the curtains in fabric that is better than the face fabric—as it will be seen from the terrace" most clients say—"go for it".”
“Currently I am working on a 1/4 of a floor of a new sleek high rise for a terrific established doctor and his design loving wife. They had actually looked at my own apartment when it was for sale but deemed it too "tight".
It has been a total redesign from the slab up and they have given me total control and creative freedom, so I am really excited to see it installed and completed.
Another project of note is an interior for a young bi-coastal couple with a stellar art collection and a coveted John Staub designed home just down the street from my own house. Total opposite end of the spectrum from the previously mentioned project. High English with lots of wonderful clear color and layers and wonderful furniture passed down from their families.”
"If you’re not having fun doing what you love, than you chose the wrong profession." That's how it all started. A simple quote from a good friend when I was moving her sofa into the dining room as the light was better and I liked the block paneled walls in there. She said "why don't you try your hand at decorating?" I replied, "I guess I have.” She was my first client—non paying—but it was a start.” — J. Randall Powers
“In Florida, I am working on an Addison Mizner-esque home for a big retail CEO. Truly as Palm Beach as we can get it. It's going to be a very happy cheery house and I adore the clients. They really have made the process fun and we have daily conference calls about "what's next" and "what do you think".
“In Texas, I am doing an interior for a long standing clients daughter (her first house), a pool house for great friends and a wing of children's rooms for my ever-decorating clients who have one of the most significantly important homes in the city. I am also completing a flat for an always-Hermes decked-out race car driver (who's only request was to have her laundry room cabinetry color match her beloved Ferrari)!”
Diane Dorrans Saeks chats with
Houston designer Randy Powers:
DDS: What do you like most about the design process?
JRP: Being creative all day, every day. I go to bed thinking about design and wake up thinking about how to improve what we were planning the day before.
DDS: You always have superb antiques and antiquities in your rooms.
JRP: I have to become emotional here. The closing of Ed Hardy’s antiques gallery in San Francisco has been a big blow. The show room was just magical and they were beyond lovely to deal with. So I miss him a great deal. In Houston I love William Gardner Antiques—he is on 1stDibs. Bill just really gets it in all senses of the word. His eye is irreverent and his quest for quality is unyielding.
I also love Brian Stringer in Houston, as a person and as an antique dealer. His sense of scale and the uniqueness of the objects he looks for always get me in the door.
In LA my first stop off the plane is to Joel Chen. He's just all over the map and will always have something for the laundry list of things I cant seem to find.
DDS: You are a longtime fan of Cy Twombly. How many times have you visited the Twombly collection at the Menil Museum in Houston—and what do you love most about the art and galleries?
JRP: The Renzo Piano-designed building that houses the collection may be the most perfect space on earth. I often think that if I could just have it as a house it would never exit the door—ever.
When I need a "breather" I go there. Its like going to a therapist. I walk out of the museum "in check". The collection never fails to take my breath away. The poetry of the work holds such a magical spell over me that I never tire of going to see it.
At home I have a newly acquired suite of works by Twombly that I wake up to each morning. Entitled "Some Trees from Italy" they are my most treasured possessions.
DDS: In all your own interiors—apartment, gulf retreat, pieds-a-terre, your favored color palette is neutral with little patten, and a color range that edges up from white to ivory to perhaps pale taupe or pale tan, at most. It's controlled, chic, cohesive, elegant, classic and timeless. How do you discipline your design?
JRP: At the moment I am doing more color than I have in the past. But I think that's about the mood right now. Deep rooted in my work is my love of the object. The uniqueness of each piece. I feel that a humble back-drop without distraction allows that. This range of simple "non color", if you will, lets each piece in a room shine and take on a life of its own. My idol Kalef Alaton, the late Los Angeles designer, "taught" me that approach, in the rooms he designed that I have studied. While I never met him he has had a profound impact on my work.
DDS: What are you working on right now?
JRP: At this very moment I am preparing "mentally" to do a house in Vermont. It is a terrific Greek revival with lots of charm for my dear friends and clients Andy and Gayle Singer and their teenage son Daren. I finished a large project for them last year that was featured in House Beautiful and we both summer in New England. I am looking for new inspiration everywhere. They adore their house in Houston but I want a different feel for them in the country, something that they are not expecting. So I will start my jaunt today looking for the once piece to get the ball rolling. It could be as simple as a myrtle topiary.
DDS: Most recent passions in fashion, decor, art, and antiques?
JRP: The recession has had a profound impact on my personal style and sense of design. I no longer need 78 sport coats and 13 pairs of alligator loafers. I want one thing that I love and I want to have it always. Filler no longer seems prudent. Quality and detail seem very important to me right now. I have always looked for the best, and now I want my clients to have things that they cherish and will love forever.
I am in love with a painting by David Row at McClain Gallery. The colors are so spectacular and the movement so fluid that I think of it all the time.
And like the old saying goes "Classic is always in style" and "trends are a novelty." I am obsessed with good 17th and 18th century heavily-patinated English and Scottish furniture. I am drawn to the rich color and the simple lines. It just feels right to me now. I have quietly been collecting it and having it taken to my warehouse for the next incarnation of my own house. Stay tuned!
"Randy has the unique ability to adapt to the taste of his clients, no matter how contrary their taste is to his own. If they think purple is a neutral, then he somehow manages to incorporate a color he would never use and make it make more tasteful than taupe. He's nothing short of a genius." — Becca Cason Thrash, international philanthropist and design connoisseur
All interiors shown here are by
J. Randall Powers Interior Decoration,
Houston, TX, 713-524-5100.
J. Randall Powers Interior Decoration,
Houston, TX, 713-524-5100.