Monday, April 18, 2011

The Brilliant, Inspiring Charlotte Moss

Designer I Love:  New York designer Charlotte Moss has just published her newest book, Charlotte Moss Decorates with the great Rizzoli international publishing house (my publisher).

It’s Charlotte’s seventh book—and her finest.

Rich with inspiration and ideas, tips and directions and insight, each page is beautifully illustrated with her interiors. The book covers basics (lighting, fabrics, color, scent in a room) as well Charlotte’s wide-ranging and often arcane and always fabulous inspirations.

Charlotte Moss Decorates (in a great collaboration with the amazing Mitch Owens) is an essential addition to a design reference library, an instant classic.

I recently had a great chat with Charlotte, who I’ve known and admired for years.

Pour yourself a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc, settle into your favorite chair, and come and meet Charlotte Moss.

DDS: Charlotte, this is your seventh book--and absolutely your best. It's full of the richness and wisdom of your experience—plus very pretty pictures. You say 'An empty room is a story waiting to happen, and you are the author'. You leave lots of space for individual expression and personal taste here!
CAM: An empty room is an opportunity and that’s why I chose showhouses for this book. To most people, an empty room presents a dilemma – where do you begin? Which is what every designer is faced with when they begin work on a decorator showhouse. It is their opportunity to create a client. I think that client is always themselves, therefore decorators doing showhouses and anyone beginning a project is faced with the same empty room…dilemma –where to begin…their chance to tell a story.

DDS: Your early life — your Southern heritage — shaped your unique style. How so? Is it about hospitality? A generous way of life? Family?
CAM: Unmistakably. There is an ease of doing most things. And an instinct that is nurtured from birth. Sometimes I think I was born with recipes in one hand and garden clippers in the other. (Ha.) I grew up helping our mother set the table, with gardening, I learned how to sew, cut flowers, went in the woods to cut some more – made an arrangement. I just did things and didn’t really think about them. Family was a huge part with family picnics, a crab roast, waterskiing afternoons, baseball games, Easter egg hunts…fishing, fashion shows, you name it.

DDS: You've lived in New York City for decades and are very much part of the design scene, the philanthropy world, the arts and culture at the heart of Manhattan. That informs your design.
CAM: Yes, absolutely. I also have a country house, so there’s a very relaxed side of my work. I work on design around the country—Santa Barbara, the south, and townhouses in New York, or example.

DDS: You're a great traveler. When you travel you go to antiques galleries and art galleries and new shops and hidden corners. For a designer, what is the best way to go about finding great things on these kind of design travels. What are your tips? How do you research?
CAM: I read a lot. Magazines, books, online. I ask friends. I’m always gathering, researching.

DDS: Antiques and vintage pieces are on your radar at the moment?CAM: I have three houses, very full. My fantasy is to fill a French farmhouse. Until that time, I need nothing. But when shopping, I always keep an open-minded with a roving eye.

DDS: You're obsessed with fabrics. Current passions?
CAM: I have always been fascinated by textiles since I raided my Grandmother’s attic when I was a child and got to play dress up with all of those marvelous outfits. I think some of my early memories are “tactile moments” – to texture has been very important.

Yes, I am obsessed with textiles --new and vintage, and I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to create new ones under license. My new collection comes out in the fall with Fabricut.

DDS: I love the way you've incorporated inspirations from the likes of Pauline de Rothschild, for example.
CAM: Great women of style have always interested me. They are constant muses. Their styles are as varied as their backgrounds, all rich with experience, joie, curiosity and discipline. And peppered with eccentricity.

DDS: Your book is full of ideas. On every page you have collages and drawings and sketches, and portraits, flowers, antiques, art, color swatches, architecture, art, paint chips, postcards, photos. It's so inspiring.
CAM: What got reduced to an 11 x 17 inch collage board are fragments of paper, photographs, fabric, etc collected over years. Selecting takes hours, sometimes days – and committing each piece to a location can even be agonizing. What is adjacent to what – sometimes random, sometime ironic. It is more than a story board for a design concept, they are visual narratives. Once I begin, sometimes it’s easy to stop, other times I am hopelessly obsessed – and possessed. I want to make it twice the size. That will have to be another project. 

DDS: Clearly, the best way to be a good designer is to be voracious — to read hungrily and to travel courageously, and to rip pages from every magazine, and to be a vibrant collector and observer. To know design, you must learn a
nd study and be open-minded and adventurous. Any other secrets? Tons of vitamins, I guess?
CAM: You must learn how to restore yourself and your creativity by stepping away form it. By doing something completely different. And to be really good, you have to get outside of this business altogether. Get outside of the business of design. Travel. Study. Garden. Meet new people. Embrace new ideas. And understand what the world is about, the future, how we are all connected on this planet. HOW TO LIVE. How to think, and how to connect all the dots.

DDS: Thank you, Charlotte. As always it is a great pleasure to chat with you...rather like sipping a crystal flute of very chilled Champagne Henriot 1976 Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. Dream destination for pure relaxation?
CAM: The Seychelles and Bali have always been on my list. A trip to Bali had to be delayed and I can’t wait to travel there.

DDS: Dream destination for culture, art, study, inspiration?CAM: I have my yearly European garden trip this summer, India in the fall. And I want to do Sweden in the peak of summer.

DDS: Charlotte, I will see you there!

All photography from ‘Charlotte Moss Decorates’, by Charlotte Moss with Mitch Owens, courtesy of Rizzoli, used with permission.

Charlotte Moss

24 East 71st Street 
New York, NY 10021


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

A most interesting interview combined with some very attractive interior images.

Viewing this from an English perspective, it is fascinating to note styles and trends in decoration which appear, at times, quite 'foreign'. There is, most certainly, an American look which does not altogether correspond to its English counterpart.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Jane and Lance-

Your comment is much appreciated...and it is fascinating.
From this side of the pond--Charlotte's work would be seen as, at times, 'English-inspired'.
It is also French-inspired and cosmopolitan, reflecting her broad interests, her travels, her sense of comfort and tradition.
Traditional, elegant, classic rooms in American houses are often seen here as 'English country' or 'Colefax and Fowler' or 'David Hicks' inspired, etc.
I love your comment that her work does not feel English to you--and I know all the designers and editors who avidly read THE STYLE SALONISTE will find it provocative and thought provoking. Perfect!
Thank you so much, DIANE

shiree segerstrom said...

Such sumptious design work, as always. Thank you for a little visual treat Diane. Charlotte does beautiful homes. Shiree'


Oh no, another book I must have!
Thanks Diane....great interview.

The Devoted Classicist said...

With so many of the recent decorating books a complete disaster in terms of text, this was a wise decision to bring in one of the current best writers of decoration, Mitchell Owen. I am a fan of Charlotte Moss's work, and am sure the book will be a big success.

Ann said...

Quite honestly, swoon...

Charlotte's elegance is evident in everything that she does. I love her use of color.

Love Your Homes said...

What I love about Charlotte Moss and her design is that whatever her choices are they are sublime matches and look like a natural choice. The interiors are elegant and comfortable from my point in of view.
Being brought up with different cultures myself, I also find her blend of styles interesting as they bring forward her influences from traveling and all kinds of daily life over a longer time, for not looking at the latest trends.

So I'm looking forward to explore her latest collaboration of rugs with Stark, but also do I look forward to her future collection of textiles.

Thank you Diane for a charming chat!

Hope to see you both in Sweden....


designchic said...

Such a wonderful interview of this elegant lady. I have most of her design books, and can't wait to add this one to my collection!!

peggy braswell said...

Love your questions, Diane. CM what a treasure.

Windlost said...

Hi Diane, I think this post is wonderful! Charlotte is so beautiful and has a gracious, elegant, exquisite style. She is one talented lady (like you)! Great post.

xo Terri

Square With Flair said...

I very much look forward to Charlotte Moss’s new book.

She has beautiful taste, somewhat ancien regime, and I admire it greatly. I wasn’t a fan of her work when she started, finding it a bit formulaic and not always of the best quality, but I think with experience she has become excellent. This is elegance, the kind of elegance that comes with taste, years of studying architecture and the decorative arts, a knowledge of sourcing things, and deep pocketbooks. I cannot say that there is anything strikingly original in her work, but the pieces are so beautifully chosen, scaled and perfectly coloured, that I think she is one of the best in the business today. Basically it is the look of the best 18th century models (original or good reproductions), with a smattering of Chinese and other ethnic accents. Accessories related to fashion and design and charm and personality to many of her rooms.

I would also say that she her taste also extends to her clothes and presentation of self. Her wardrobe colours, accessories and coiffure are so beautifully chosen, that she has become even more attractive with time.

Few designers, other than people like Mario Buatta or David Easton, understand this type of classical design, and that it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel. Ms. Moss has my respect and admiration for continuing the tradition of elegant, livable, classic, interiors. These pieces and rooms would have been lovely 50
years ago, and they will look just as wonderful decades in the future…that can’t be said for the work of most interior designers today.

I’d love to know her opinion of the depressing beige Belgian look. Is it finished yet? I do hope so.

helen tilston said...

I agree with Square with Flair when she says " these pieces and rooms would have been lovely 50 years ago and will look wonderful in decades to come"
I also love her style of dressing.
You conducted an excellent interview
Many thanks
Helen Tilston

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear, dear Friends-

Such wonderful comments, and such great insight. You all get it!
Yes, absolutely...these are rooms that would have looked elegant twenty or thirty years ago--and will look wonderful in years to come.
Square with Flair, our dear friend in Canada, said it well, that Charlotte's style is a little 'ancien regime', said with deep praise.
I agree...I love her personal style. She wears lots of Ralph Rucci.
Ingela-you said it well, also, that she brings together cultures and traditions of many countries!
And it is all done in a welcoming and effortless manner.
So happy to hear from you all...just wonderful.
And, yes, Sally, this book is a must.
You are all brilliant.
cheers, DIANE

Anonymous said...

anytime i see the name charlotte moss, i wonder what happened to max sinsteden -

john in nc

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Jon!

This is such a good question!

Maximilian Sinsteden was a student in college two or three years ago--and his dorm room was voted 'most preppy' and featured in New York magazine in a design feature. And it was said then that at the age of 21, he already had decorating clients.
Well, as Jon said...where is he now?
I'll have to do an investigation. Anyone know Max?
Anyone hired him? Anyone seen him hanging out in the design showrooms of New York?
I hope he apprenticed with a top designer--that would be best--or transferred to a design school to study interior design. Let's see if we can trace him.
Thanks, Jon, great question.
cheers, DIANE

bomm said...

I, too, think that Moss's interiors, though European in their references, look quite American, mainly because they are so evidently designed. Even if individual pieces are old, one does not feel that the room developed over time; her interiors are governed by a single, highly coordinated intention. The "starting from scratch" approach seems very unEuropean to me.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hello, Bomm-

Thank you for your fine comment. I totally see your point--the newness--and they are evidently designed.
American is a newish country...and many houses or apartments are quite recent. An eighteenth-century apartment does not exist here...and we don't have centuries of ancestors' hand-me-downs. San Francisco was founded in 1848 approx, for example, and Paris or London or Antwerp were centuries old at that time.. So grandfather's old chest...was not brought around the Horn, let's say. We don't have dusty chateaux or 16th-century country houses. We weren't even born when Palladio was at his height.
What we have is freshness, a new approach, a feeling for light and air and new ideas. Either way--centuries-old or relatively new--it's all good.
Please stay in touch. I appreciate your acute insight, so well expressed.
best, DIANE

The French Tangerine said...

I have just found your blog while searching for books including works by Ira Yeager. I have just acquired one of his paintings and am ecstatic about it... my current post features the new piece over my mantel. Anyway, I have purchased 5 of your books and already own one. Through a little more research, I discovered your blog and can't believe I've missed it! I see many of my regular commenters on your blog list and am so excited to sit back tonight and read through your posts... I just posted about our trip to Napa recently as well... you must know Brian at Ira Yeager Studios.. have been in close contact with him for the last couple weeks...
Anyway, such a small world! Will add you to my bloglist on my blog immediately!
The French Tangerine