Monday, October 26, 2009

ANTIQUES DEALERS I ADMIRE: Axel and Boris Vervoordt

Fields of Vision

Boris Vervoordt brings rare Egyptian treasure and bold Sugimoto photography to California for this year’s San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, opening next week, with a preview party on October 28.

DATELINE: ANTWERP, BELGIUM — It’s a freezing cold winter evening, already midnight dark and damp at 6pm. I’m standing at the stone gatehouse of Axel Vervoordt’s twelfth-century castle in the silent ‘s-Grevenwezel countryside, on the fog-swathed outskirts of Antwerp. I’m meeting Axel and May Vervoordt and their sons Boris and Dick for the first time at the castle, invited for a family dinner.

Around me in many layers is enough cashmere to choke a mountain goat, and still I am shivering as I ring the doorbell, my hands protected with cashmere-lined leather gloves. Lights are flickering in the castle, visible in the mist across the moat. Someone unseen buzzes the door; I push it open and make a dash across the dark cobblestones and over the moat bridge. Breathless, I make it up the wide, stone stairs of the castle, and to the front door. Axel and Boris are waiting there, back-lit and beaming, welcoming me into some of the most beautiful rooms in Europe.

I’d flown from San Francisco to London, and then straight on to Antwerp. I set down my bags at the exquisite all-white De Witte Lelie hotel, and almost immediately headed to Axel’s.

Axel offered me a well-chilled flute of Krug Champagne, and invited me upstairs to see new acquisitions, sculptures and paintings.

Perhaps my favorite, in the rather bare Oriental room, is the twelve-foot tall Antoni Tapies oil painting from 1972. In a signature Vervoordt juxtaposition, it hangs near a sixties Lucio Fontana abstract bronze sculpture that looks like an asteroid.

Displayed throughout the formal downstairs living rooms and the family’s upstairs quarters are exquisite 13th-century Thai vases, Khmer statues of Buddha, and second-millennium BC stone sculptures from Ecuador, Egyptian porphyry bowls, and a collection of Lucio Fontana Spatialist paintings as well as the more-expected Old Master paintings and venerable European antiques. May’s lovely flowers, including amaryllis grown in the Orangerie, are placed elegantly on tables and in window niches.

Highlights from the Vervoordt photo album include the dramatic 12th-century castle residence northeast of Antwerp.

The interior of the castle, where Axel and May live and work, is rich in detail. Best of all, there are densely detailed rooms like Axel’s study with walls of antique embossed and gilded leather (a Belgian tradition). My favorite is an Oriental sitting room with scrubbed pine floors, and a music room, the white dining room. The castle windows, which overlook the moat and gardens, all have deep reveals. Axel arranges collections of porcelains there, and May sets flowers from the garden on the windowsills. Images courtesy of

This was perhaps twelve or thirteen years ago, maybe more, and Axel Vervoordt was not yet widely known except to European cognoscenti, certain designers, antique dealers in the inner circle, and European royalty, naturally. Now, of course he has published two marvelous volumes and has been ‘copied’ by designers left and right. There is ought to be a ‘Vervoordt style’, though his work ranges from palatial period rooms and humble country cottages to stark art-filled galleries, as well as Venetian palazzi. Never published are decades of handsome country houses dotted around Antwerp, all of them surrounded with Jacques Wirtz gardens.

Axel’s books make it apparent that his collections and designs are worldly, highly individual, and always authoritative. They paint a portrait of the owners and their lives and aspirations—but there is always a sign of Axel, in a Fontana painting, an Anish Kapoor sculpture, the floor (often bare), the fabrics (never printed patterns and usually no motif at all), spare rather than over-blown backgrounds, and a reverence for aged and old and worn and time-altered surfaces.

I’ve since had the great pleasure to return to the castle several times. In summer that meant dining with the family in the cutting garden beneath a flowering apple tree. One evening, young Antwerp student musicians were invited to play for dinner guests. Vervoordt family members have always been generous patrons of both accomplished musicians and music students.

Some years later, on a warm day in July, we sipped an aperitif in the Orangerie, and later Boris took me to meet the great landscaper Jacques Wirtz, before heading to the dramatic new Kanaal headquarters.
And last year, Axel presented the acclaimed Artempo exhibition at the Fortuny palazzo in Venice. I was fortunate to be there at the right moment, and both Axel and Boris conducted me through the rooms, stopping to announce a favorite video, an unknown sculptor, a fetish object, and an antiquity. Heaven.

This year in Venice Vervoordt is presenting In-finitum, conceived by the Vervoordt Foundation and the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and set in the mysterious and exquisite Palazzo Fortuny.

The concept of this new show, Axel told me, is a discourse on art and life and death and creativity. Rather more abstract that last year’s debut show, it expressed, said Axel, the infinite in the finite, the indefinite, and unfinished art of all kinds. Art without words, I would say.

In-finitum exhibits 300 works of art, including large and small-scale pieces, video and photographic works, conceptual works, old and modern masters as well as archaeological artifacts. Artists include Picasso, Rothko, Viola, Miró, Twombly, Fontana and Kapoor. The exhibition will remain open until 15 November. As with everything Vervoordt, the collection is one-of-a-kind and provocative and it combines today’s cutting edge conceptual art with archaeological digs and rare masterpieces.

Axel Vervoordt, courtsey of Architectural Digest

Axel Vervoordt’s interiors are always heart-breakingly beautiful and poetic—without being in any way dramatic or emphatic. Vervoordt can do simple interiors—and he can happily accrete the antiques and books and objects that make his study one of the most compelling rooms in the world (outside a museum).

There, too, are his famous sofas—long, simple, spare, and dramatic (larger than they look in these photos). I sat on one recently, sipping Champagne, and enjoying lively conversation with the Vervoordt family. Dinner later in the blue and white dining room. I look forward to more meetings with the Vervoordts—in San Francisco, at the new palace in Venice, and in Antwerp or Paris. Always a great pleasure.

Axel Vervoordt, over the last three decades, has established himself as a favorite antiques dealer of both the European Old Guard and American tech moguls (he never drops names, but Bill Gates has been a client). He was, not long ago, a secret source whispered among friends. Appointments at his castle headquarters just outside Antwerp required a discreet call made through a decorator or architect.

Clients as diverse as Sting, the piano-playing duo Katia and Marielle Labeque, San Francisco interior designer Steven Volpe, as well as fashion designer Bill Blass, San Francisco interior designers Douglas Durkin and Paul Wiseman, and Antwerp fashion designer Dries van Noten have all acquired antiques and art from Axel Vervoordt. Not that the discreet Vervoordt drops these names or would offer any hint as to their acquisitions.

Axel Vervoordt's office, courtesy of

The scholarly Vervoordt, 64, an engaging, warm and articulate man who moves without fanfare in the rarified realms of Europe’s royalty and dedicated antiques collectors, was one of the founders of the prestigious annual European Fine Arts Fair in Maastricht, and has been a vivid presence at both the New York International Fine Art and Antique Dealers show, the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, and the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires for many years.

The dazzling Labeque sisters, however, do speak of Vervoordt as a mentor, and have filled their Tuscan palazzo with Vervoordt treasures placed with Vervoordt style: gilded Venetian mirrors, a polychrome Piedmontese cabinet, antique Cambodian pots, and a Thai bust of a warrior prince. The chic sisters and the Vervoordts have become close friends.

In California, too, Vervoordt has been an inspiration.

“Axel is one of the few truly cross-cultural antiquaires, who draws his collections of antiques and garden ornament from the far corners of the earth and several millennia,” commented Ed Hardy, a leading antiques dealer in California

Today, Boris Vervoordt, Axel and May’s elder son, has taken over management of the company and he is now the director. Axel spends more time with his foundation, his Venetian projects, and handpicked clients.

In this new capacity, Boris oversees core activities of the Axel Vervoordt company-- art and antiques, home collection and interior design. He continues the company’s values of quality, durability, harmony. The concept is that Axel and his wife May Vervoordt will act as mentors and éminences grises within the company. Axel channels the majority of his time and energy into the Vervoordt Foundation, which he and May established, and of which Axel is the President.

Boris Vervoordt

“From day one, the core and drive of our company has been an uncompromising search for quality, beauty and harmony,” said Boris.

“The realities of the new economy all point in one direction: a revaluation of basic values,” said Boris. Our continued strength has been that we have never lost sight of these ideals. They run through all our activities, they are our raison d’être and the key to our success. The current zeitgeist fits our strategy and mission like a glove.”

May Vervoordt

The Axel Vervoordt approach continues to be a search for absolute harmony, serenity, purity, authenticity and genuine soul, said Boris, an engaging dinner partner.

This week, October 28, will see the next stage and statement of the Vervoordts.

Rare Egyptian treasures and modern art collections are among the selections Boris is bringing to the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. He’s accompanied by his colleague, Cecile Terwan.

And perhaps in the winter I will fly off to Antwerp to take another winter visit to the castle. Treasures await inside.

ABOVE: Axel Vervoordt at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show 2008.

BELOW: An exciting preview of what Boris Vervoordt will be bringing to at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show this year, beginning this week at Fort Mason.

The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show:
A Benefit for Enterprise for High School Students

The presenting sponsor is 1stdibs
Wine sponsor is Michael Polenske, Blackbird Vineyards

Designer Vignettes:
Four vignettes include a chic classic modern style by Grant K. Gibson (with antiques from Therien & Co and Epoca), along with style statements by architect Stephen Sutro, a living room setting by Cheryl DuCote, and a garden scene by Elizabeth Everdell.

Among speakers on Egyptian style are: John Saladino, Suzanne Tucker, and one of my favorite design bloggers, Emily Evans Eerdmans.

Egyptomania—Nile Style in the Decorative Arts—Planned and directed by Lisa Podos. Curated by Maria Santangelo. Creative director is Andrew Skurman. Presents paintings, jewelry, decorative accessories, cabinets, etchings and influential styles through the centuries. Displays in glass cabinets surround the café.

The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show
Fort Mason Center, Festival Pavilion
Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
2009 Preview Party Benefit Gala
Wednesday, October 28, 2009, 7 to 9 p.m.

2009 Show
October 29 to November 1, 2009
Thursday - Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m.
For more information:, email: or phone 415-989-9019.

See you there!

Some years ago, I wrote a feature on Axel Vervoordt for Departures. This involved many days of directing photography of the garden, the many rooms of the castle, the orangerie, the park, the rhododendrons, the statuary, with photographer Deidi von Schaewen, who I adore. Deidi and I had also worked together on the huge best seller, the Icon book 'Paris Style' published to great success by Taschen. Toward the end of this magical week chez Vervoordt, Axel and I were talking of his horses. I suddenly had the idea to take a portrait of him, formal, very Gainsborough, on one of his fine Andalusian horses. I selected his (English, of course) riding gear and styled him for this shoot. As Deidi was getting her light readings and we were getting horse and rider in position, with the castle in the background, I pulled out my own camera and snapped Axel. The picture is one of my favorites, and a lovely reminder of a wonderful moment and a great and generous person (and the most beautiful horse, ever.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ARTIST I LOVE: Felix Baudenbacher

Art as Poetry of the Everyday
Felix Baudenbacher’s delicate paintings capture quiet interior scenes

I discovered the young Swiss artist Felix Baudenbacher through my great friend, the New York photographer Don Freeman.

Come with me to meet Felix whose life would make the basis for a lovely novel.

DDS: You have had a peripatetic, international life.

Bio: I was born in Switzerland on April 24. 1977, sharing my birthday with Willem de Kooning, a fact I try to find mythical meaning in during times of low self-confidence. After a year and a half in Gabon, equatorial Africa, where our father worked at the Albert Schweitzer hospital, we settled in the canton of Appenzell in Northeastern Switzerland. I spent an exchange year in Bel Air, MD.

DDS: Where did you study art?

: I emigrated to London in 1998 to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, graduating with a BA Fine Art (Painting) in 2002. I won some prizes and thought that now my career as a fine artist had started. Nothing at all happened. I sold tickets at the National Gallery before moving on to an administrative assistant position there (neither of them life-altering experiences but walking through the empty galleries of the National Gallery in London every weekday morning on the way to the office is a pretty special thing for a painter). I had a tiny studio in East London and was painting in the evenings and on weekends, participating in a few group shows here and there.

DDS: You had the good fortune to leave London for Los Angeles.

In 2004, I moved to Los Angeles, where I worked as a runner on films and commercials for a few months before meeting Scott Flax, a well-respected decorative painter and architectural colorist, who was just then looking for a new assistant. I worked on some interesting projects with him, learned a lot about color and found out that the decorative painting world wasn’t for me. I had my first solo show in October 2007 at the Found Gallery in Silverlake, Los Angeles.

DDS: Switzerland and family called?

At the end of 2007, I moved back to Switzerland. I had come to love L.A. but after a divorce in 2005 (I had gotten married to an American in England), there wasn’t any real reason for me to stay in the US. Besides, I missed my family. I moved to Basel, where I quickly found work as an English and German teacher at a private language school. I also fell very deeply in love. I was soon able to limit my teaching to 3 days a week, finally giving me ‘real’ time to paint. These elements of time, space, financial and emotional stability allow me to pursue a career as an artist in earnest now. I’m looking for high-quality galleries anywhere to represent me.

DDS: How did you start experimenting with paintings of tabletop still lifes?

Back in art school I was assigned a new painting tutor for my final year. In our very first tutorial he said: “I’ve looked at what you did last year and I can tell you’re very sincere in your work.

Unfortunately, you don’t understand the first thing about painting so let’s start again at the beginning”. It wasn’t what I would call a classical education, but I learned from him about a painting’s interior life and laws, about the strange fact that you kill a painting when you just copy nature as faithfully as you possibly can, that you have to make it work as a painting first and foremost, even if it’s worked from life — I think Cezanne called a painting a reality parallel to nature, or something like that. I was learning about all that by drawing and painting objects set up on a flat surface in my studio. My degree show consisted exclusively of still lives in various degrees of recognizability and formats. I was very much inspired by Giacometti’s paintings back then so many of my still lives had a similar feel to his.

DDS: The life of an artist is not always a dream.

What followed were a couple of frustrating years of hitting my head against the same few walls, artistically speaking, until I decided to stop doing that and avoid the whole problem of figuration by fleeing into abstraction.

DDS: Exit Los Angeles.

Fast forward six years to the summer of 2008. I had just moved back to my native Switzerland from Los Angeles, where I’d had my first solo show, consisting mostly of grid-based abstract paintings all about California light. I settled in Basel, had a small studio but paint what? Abstraction had never fully satisfied me and I had long suspected that I couldn’t avoid the problems of figuration forever, and that I would have to go back to dealing with them sometime.

I had come full circle and was as lost as I was at the end of my second year at art school. And I did the same I had done back then — I set up a few objects on a flat surface and started painting them. Except, this time, it wasn’t about learning about painting but about trying to forget all about it. Whatever was going to happen would happen between the objects, the canvas and me. I was determined not to let art historical thinking discourage me like it had so often in the past. So what if painting was dead, if what I was doing was anachronistic and obsolete in the 21st century and if every artist of my generation I knew was into ‘street’ and post-modern conceptualism or painting fantastical narratives and interior landscapes? My only guiding criterion would be whether it worked and felt ‘true’ to me. Of course, it wasn’t anywhere as dramatic as I’m making it sound — no-one can work in a vacuum and I was going back to Cezanne and looking at a lot of Morandi; but I was trying to give myself as much freedom as possible. The first attempts were discouraging but I soon found the beginnings of something, a new honesty and simplicity. I’ve been following that since then.

DDS: I love the classic muted colors and subtlety of your interiors.

FB: I’d love to say that’s all intentional and quote my sources of inspiration, but, honestly, it’s much more the result of my limited abilities than anything else - working with muted colors is a lot more forgiving than working with bright colors. Not coincidentally, my work is getting more colorful as I’m getting more comfortable with this way of working. Don’t get me wrong, I love the subtle work, it’s just not totally intentional.

DDS: You capture a wonderful mood of natural light. Is your inspiration a particular place and time?

Quite the contrary, actually. Because I have irregular painting hours due to my teaching activity, I work with closed shutters in artificial light to keep the lighting conditions consistent. I love it, of course, if the paintings evoke natural light. Now that I think about it, I do take the paintings down into our apartment (my studio is on the floor above) in the final stages to judge them in daylight and make decisions away from the actual objects depicted — in that sense, the simple but beautiful apartment my partner and I share — our home — is my place of inspiration.

DDS: You work brilliantly in various media—oil, watercolors. And you maintain the same delicate palette and exquisite emotion in all of them.

I think that this is the area where my abstract work turned out to be a lot more than just avoidance of problems in figuration. It taught me a lot about color and about restricting my palette. As for the emotion in them, that undoubtedly comes from a stable and happy personal life, grounded in a great love. That shows in the work.

DDS: You work in oil and watercolor.

Struggling with oils, I avoided watercolors for all these years, considering it too difficult a medium, mostly because my way of working in oils depends on being able to endlessly add and subtract until I get just the right balance, whereas with watercolors, you have to get things ‘right’ from the beginning. Also, the medium is very unforgiving — heavenly when gotten right but so bad when gotten wrong — and it’s so easy to get wrong! With growing confidence due to the oil paintings going quite well, I found the courage to do my first watercolor about 10 months ago - and found to my surprise that it suited me. I found a way of working with it that also allows me to ‘take away’ paint — at least to some degree. At the same time, the limitations imposed by the medium give my watercolors a spontaneity and freshness my oil paintings sometimes lack (I tend to overwork pieces).

DDS: I was so happy to know that you work with Sennelier pigments. I buy them in Paris at the Sennelier shop at 3, quai Voltaire. Their natural colors and textures, and the delicate blues and greens are especially complex, subtle, and elegant.

I use Sennelier oil paints. Being a beginner, I bought myself just a basic watercolor set. I do love the Sennelier oil paints, though - their color is exquisite in its depth and richness and I prefer the way they handle to the other top-of-the-range oil paints I have experience with, Rembrandt (by Royal Talens) and Old Holland paints.

DDS: Your portraits are very tender — but somehow the subjects are confronting the viewer rather directly. They are a little disconcerting in their directness.

Working from life is central to what I’m trying to do. I want to show things, not explain them or tell a story about them. Any ‘pose’ of the sitter (which, so far, have only been myself and my partner) invites interpretation and narrative — that gets in the way of just showing. There is simply no reason to paint them in any other way than fully head-on. I understand that that can be a little disconcerting. After all, we don’t enjoy people intensely staring at us in real life, either.

"So what if painting was dead, if what I was doing was anachronistic and obsolete in the 21st century and if every artist of my generation I knew was into ‘street’ and post-modern conceptualism or painting fantastical narratives and interior landscapes? My only guiding criterion would be whether it worked and felt ‘true’ to me." – Artist Felix Baudenbacher

DDS: What new topics and subjects are you exploring?

FB: I’m still doing still lives but have recently gotten into the idea of painting ‘non-paintings’ — what I mean by that are still-lives without the objects of the still life, i.e. the empty table I usually set up still-lives on, the piece of builders’ foam I found on the street and used to raise the level of the still-life table, the various baskets and boxes I use to keep materials and still life-objects in but without the objects or materials in them.

I’m also hesitantly experimenting with somewhat larger formats. That’s tricky because I can’t just paint the objects larger (that just makes no sense to me), which means more objects have to be painted on a larger canvas and then it becomes more of a ‘composition’ again, more ‘artsy’ and complicated — all things I want to avoid.

I want to try larger watercolors, though — so far, they’ve all been just of one or two objects, with not much more than a suggestion of a surface they sit on and of a wall behind them. I’d like to try to bring them up to the size of the small oil paintings and paint more fully articulated environments.

I want to paint more portraits but I’m sick of my own face and my partner is very busy these days so that’ll have to wait — I don’t have the courage, yet, to ask anyone else.

Felix Baudenbacher can be reached at

All paintings above are by Swiss artist, Felix Baudenbacher.

Monday, October 12, 2009

DESIGNER I LOVE: Timothy Corrigan

The Cosmopolitan
California designer Timothy Corrigan travels the world to find inspiration—and creates superbly detailed, elegant and highly individual residences for his clients in every latitude

I recently had the great pleasure to visit the apartment of my friend Timothy Corrigan in Paris. I’d seen photographs of the apartment in Architectural Digest and was prepared for a certain glamour and elegance, even hauteur.

What made a profound impression, in the end, was the superb comfort and ease of his pied-a-terre, situated in a grand eighteenth-century Haussman building.

Light spilled into every room through tall windows. Somehow, with opulent (but simple) golden silk curtains and artful lighting, Timothy conjured up a glowing, optimistic interior mood that was uplifting even on a cloudy Paris day. Ample roll-arm sofas, down-filled, were the perfect pitch for reading or chatting. Mirrors amplified the sense of space. And Timothy filled the apartment with books to thrill a maniac bibliophile (‘On Chesil Beach’, the latest Ishiguro, French poetry, McEwan, Mitford).

Timothy Corrigan is one of today’s dream designers. A man of charm and grace, he moves effortlessly from the palatial mansions of Santa Barbara to chic arrondissements in Paris, and from the sleekest architecture in Beverly Hills to the wilds of Normandy. The interiors are luxurious, but at the same time understated and soothing, and he’s never tempted with theme design, even in his elegant chateau. There, in a seriously French setting, his décor was completed with a light hand, with paled-down colors and rigorously edited furniture with no period French clichés.

Timothy is versatile—one moment restoring an historic French chateau with just the right amount of modernity—then taking off for a meeting with an enlightened leader in the Middle East. He’s a knowledgeable antiques collector, and knows when to splurge in an interior, and when plain natural linen is ideal. Timothy is focused and devoted to his clients, and a thoroughly nice guy. Just ask Vicente Wolf, a Corrigan fan.

Luck—and lots of it—is a good thing in the design world. Timothy Corrigan would be the first to say that his interior design firm was launched with good fortune. An advertising executive, Timothy (who grew up in Mexico and California) lived in Paris in cosmopolitan style for several years. A friend asked Corrigan to design his apartment. Timothy discovered a new passion and in just a few years has made first the real estate business, and now decoration and restoration his highly successful career.
Timothy Corrigan Inc. has nine staff in the Los Angeles office, three versatile staff in the office on Place d’Estine d’Orves in Paris, and clients in Europe, the United States and the Middle East.

His company’s services include restoration of historic residences, art and antique acquisition, landscape design, and architecture services. The passionate Corrigan recently introduced Timothy Corrigan Home, a collection of hand-embroidered table linens, signature candles, lead garden containers, a home care line, and decorative accessories.

I recently captured Timothy Corrigan between flights—to discuss design, style, practical decorating tips on how to travel well, and to find out what makes the gregarious Corrigan tick.

DDS: You must have been interested in houses from an early age.

TC: As a boy I was fascinated by architecture. I designed houses out of balsa wood and even created the landscaping around them. When I was ten or eleven I saw a photo of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and I was awestruck. I was so impressed with the way Wright integrated the exterior elements into the house itself. I was lucky enough to have great exposure to the arts as a child. My mother took us to museums and that early exposure established my connection with art and culture.

DDS: When did you first decide to make interiors, architecture, and restoration your life’s work?

TC: I always loved architecture, but I majored in English Literature. Working at a large advertising agency, I was able to develop strong business skills within a very creative environment. By the time I was 27 had become the youngest senior vice president in the history of big Madison Avenue ad agencies. At the age of 30, I moved to Paris to run the international operations of our European network.

In Paris, I found a wonderful large 19th century apartment that needed a lot of furniture. I started exploring Paris’s famed flea markets and Drouot auction house. When it was completed, a friend asked if I would consider having the apartment published in House & Garden magazine.

Friends and advertising clients started asking me if I would help them with their residences and before I knew it, I was doing that. After seven years in Paris I was promoted to president of my company’s international operations. But I found that the world of architecture and design really was the passion that I was meant to pursue.

I moved back to California and became a full-time designer, with the establishment of Timothy Corrigan, Inc. in Los Angeles in 1998. We opened our office in Paris in 2000.

DDS: Did you study design or architecture formally?

TC: Museums, travel and books have been my primary teachers. I am a maniac about continuing to learn and grow; my reading is history or architecture and design books and auction catalogues. My seven years living full-time in Europe opened my eyes to the way history has always impacted the world of design.

DDS: What was your first major break?

TC: One of my early projects was working for Madonna on a wonderful 1920’s Wallace Neff house in Beverly Hills. The project proved to be somewhat of a baptism by fire and if nothing else, I proved to myself that I could make it as a professional in my new chosen field.

DDS: Which design movement has inspired you most?

TC: I have been most directly influenced by mid-18th century French architecture and design. It was an era in which everything was changing very quickly. The age of enlightenment brought about the transition from the rigid, yet at the same time, very exuberant style of Louis XIV and led the way to a more free social structure that ironically enough was more restrained and strict from a stylistic perspective.

The world is in a similar state today, as we re-assess the excesses of the past 50 years and begin to realize that we must start to think more responsibly – whether in the way we live or the things that we buy. I believe in the importance of living responsibly with the environment. My line of eco-friendly home care products was introduced in 2006. I have always used antiques on my projects because they are such a solid investment and if you think about it, they are also the ultimate ‘green” product—no new resources are used in creating them!

DDS: Who has been your inspiration?

TC: Two designers have been helpful in my development and their design styles couldn’t be much more different.

California designer Frank Pennino guided me in the nuts and bolts aspect of the business. His advice stuck with me throughout my career

Frank said that a designer is closely involved with clients and their lives, so “you had better like your client a whole lot at the beginning of a project or you are going to hate them a whole lot by the time the project is done!” Frank is the consummate gentleman and has served a great role model as to how to deal with others in business.

New York design icon Vicente Wolf has been a great inspiration. While at first glance we may appear not to have much in common from a design perspective, we both approach design on the premise that by mixing pieces of different styles, periods, textures and quality you appreciate each one more. Contrast creates spaces that are intrinsically exciting and alive. I hate spaces that look too perfect or “decorated.” Vicente has also been such a great inspiration in the way he manages it all: he runs a successful design business, is a brilliant photographer, designs lines of his own furniture and fabrics and is a great collector of art!

DDS: Which designer from the past inspired you?

TC: Jean-Charles Moreux who lived in Paris from 1889 to 1956 did it all. He was an architect, he designed interiors, he created furniture and he did landscape design. In short, he was a true renaissance man. He believed, as I do, in the importance of creating a fully integrated environment. Moreux’s furniture took classical forms as their basis and then shifted it to make it feel more contemporary, provocative, fresh and alive. He mixed wood finishes and materials in unexpected ways. He played with perspective and color. When you see his rooms you are reminded of the past and yet they seem very suited for the day. Useful reference: ‘Jean-Charles Moreux-Architecte-Decorateur-Paysagiste’, by Susan Day (Norma Editions, Paris, 2001).

DDS: What is your favorite interior you’ve seen on your travels?

TC: Charles de Bestegui’s famed Chateau de Groussay in Montfort-l’Amaury on the periphery of Paris was so creative. In the 1940’s de Bestigui worked with Cecil Beaton and Emilio Terry to re-do a 19th century chateau he purchased just before the Second World War.

I was lucky enough to visit the chateau before it was taken apart and sold off in a mammoth four-day auction held by Sotheby’s in 1999.It was the chic-est place I have ever seen. It was done with such great style and elegance but it didn’t take itself too seriously.

The two rooms that I most loved about the chateau were the Salon and Dining Room Hollandaise (Dutch). The floors had been inset with a really bold geometric pattern of circles within squares in black, tan and white marble and the walls were upholstered in an olive green fabric. All the trim was painted white and black. The overall décor was spectacular but when the Dutch and French old masters paintings were mixed in the entire place became absolutely magical. The chairs were all loosely slip covered in casual big blue and white checked fabric. Throw in a couple of spectacular chandeliers hanging from a white painted coffered ceiling and wow.

DDS: Which design books do you read again and again?

TC: ‘David Adler, The Architect and his Work’, by Richard Pratt ( J.B.Lippincott, New York, 1970). Adler was one of the finest residential architects of the 20th century, working predominately in Chicago. In all of his houses you see that he intrinsically understands how people want to live in spaces. The book, which has long been out of print, has both photos and floor plans that allow you to really appreciate the art of his work.

‘Les Pavilions, French Pavilions of the Eighteenth Century’, by Cyril Connolly and Jerome Zerbe, (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1962.) This book focuses on the small French pavilions or follies that were built in the mid 18th century. A quote from the book summarizes the uses of these buildings: “they were intended for relaxation, of which there were four: conversation, making love, eating and cards. Reading and music were occasionally indulged in.” Doesn’t that say it all?

‘Mastering Tradition, The Residential Architecture of John Russell Pope’, by James B. Garrison,(Acanthus Press, New York, 2004). Pope designed huge mansions all around the eastern US throughout the first quarter of the 20th century. Most of his projects were really pretty grand (a number of the wonderful Newport “cottages” were by Pope) he always understood the importance that scale plays in the way that one interacts with a room.

‘Les Decorateurs des Annees 40, by Bruno Foucart and Jean-Louis Gaillemin, (Norma Editions, Paris, 1998). The furniture and design that came out of France in the 1940’s in its own way equals the zenith of French furniture of the 18th century. This book has lovely photos highlighting the work of the greats of the period including: Adnet, Arbus, Leleu, Poillerat, Royere and Subes.

DDS: Do you entertain?

TC: I love to entertain at home: whether it is a small weekend lunch for a couple of friends or hosting large charity events. In California a dinner might be focused on my business. At my apartment in Paris I am a little more formal and elegant. At my place in the French countryside entertaining is about hanging out with close friends. No one wears a watch and the conversations tend to ramble from one subject to another.

For a dream dinner I would invite Louis XIV of France, because he really is the inventor of style as we know it today. He is directly responsible for France being the center of fashion, fragrances, fine furniture and decorative arts for three hundred years!

Edith Wharton, is known as one of America’s first women novelists, but she also wrote the first book on interior design and a couple of great books about Italian landscape. She lived much of her adult life in France and had a wonderful pavilion next to the Chateau de Versailles, outside of Paris.

Gore Vidal is the most erudite man alive today. He knows a lot about almost everything: history, politics, and literature. He has known so many of the most well known people of the 20th century, not to mention being the cousin of both Jackie Kennedy and Al Gore.

Elsie de Wolfe—(Lady Mendl)—was such a wonderful, wacky character who started out as a Broadway actress, and along the way became a nurse for the Red Cross, one of America’s first interior designers, and found the time to be an international socialite running around between Hollywood, New York, London and Paris, and was even included in several of Cole Porter’s hit songs.

DDS: What are your latest projects and where are you working on new projects?

TC: A Paris apartment for the ruler of a Middle Eastern country, a 35,000 square foot new construction house in Greenwich, and the restoration of a 1920’s Mediterranean in LA’s first gated community, Fremont Place.

What's new: A 5-star hotel in Seattle, a 1930’s house in Montecito, a super yacht in Europe, an 18th century chateau in Normandy, a house on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, and the restoration of a great old Beverly Hills estate.

DDS: The most versatile paint color?

TC: “Verte de Terre” by Farrow & Ball: Green is my favorite color because it reminds me of life and renewal. This green is particularly good because it has a touch of gray to it so that it is really easy to live with. I have used this in the entry to my Paris apartment and as the trim color in much of my chateau in France.

“Cream” by Farrow & Ball is warm and rich. It’s a strong, gutsy cream color that reflects really well on people’s skin.

“Parma Gray” by Farrow & Ball is the perfect blue for bedroom walls, especially when paired with white trim. It is fresh but very sophisticated.

“Riviera Terrace” by Polo Ralph Lauren: This is my favorite color for ceilings. A lovely warm white wit has just enough yellow and pink added to it that it works with almost every color wall; I usually use it in an eggshell finish to help make rooms look a little brighter and the ceilings a bit higher.

DDS: Favorite fabric?

TC: Pindler and Pindler “Singapore” 100% Linen. I lined all of the walls of my bedroom in Los Angeles with it and covered two sofas in the living room in a different color. It’s really chic but has a low-key vibe about it. It comes in a huge range of colors and is really well-priced.

Christopher Hyland: “Patricia”, linen/silk blend is a bold contemporary take on a traditional design. We have used it to cover living room chairs in a fancy townhouse in Paris and to upholster a little jewel box of a powder room. It is offered in a number of jewel-like colors that can add a special punch wherever you use it.

Fortuny: I adore Fortuny, but who doesn’t? Basically, you could hand me any of their designs in any color and I would love it. Recently, I used Fortuny for the curtains in the formal dining room at my chateau in France. The magical blend of corals, reds and pinks work together so well that I took some of the same colors to paint the 18th century paneling on the walls.

DDS: Secret of traveling well?

TC: First, I never eat meals served on the plane, no matter which cabin. I bring a small sandwich that usually elicits a few envious glances from the other passengers that are struggling with the airline meals. I bring my laptop computer with all my music, I make lists, sleep, and write emails that I send as soon as I land.

DDS: What do you love most about being a designer?

TC: Interior design is a very fleeting, transitory thing so it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. On the other hand the architectural part of our job is much more likely to have a longer impact.

I try to create an environment where people feel really at home and welcomed. Comfort is the key ingredient. Comfort is more than just being soft and cozy though—comfort is also a mental thing—do you feel comfortable enough to be able to put your feet up on something? Can you put down a glass on a table without worrying about leaving a mark? Can you let the kids play in the room without being afraid that they are going to ruin something? That is essential.

DDS: What advice would you give to young designers, beginning designers?

TC: Design is all about trust between you and your clients and you and your suppliers. You must establish that sense of mutual trust and continue to reinforce it all along the way. Designers must listen to the client. It’s not about you or your ego.

It is important to study the history of architecture and design. Even the most contemporary design has its roots in the past. Designers must always continue to learn and grow in your knowledge. Designers should try new things and venture out of their safety zone sometimes. This is a business so designers should handle a client’s money as prudently as if it were your own!

8225 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90046

Telephone: 1.323.525.1802

Fax: 1.323.525.1803


Photo credits:
Timothy Corrigan apartment in Paris: Photographs by Marina Faust

Timothy Corrigan Chateau de Grand-Luce: Photography by Marina Faust

Timothy Corrigan new projects: Photography by Lee Manning, Michael McCreary and Nick Springett