I remember very well the moment that I fell in love with the work of Windsor Smith. We had just purchased our home in Oxnard, and I was sitting on our deck with my "C Magazine". I always start in the back of the magazine to look at the featured home. And there it was...
It was a home on the beach in Malibu. It definitely had a casual coastal vibe, but it also felt unique and fresh. Who was the designer? Windsor Smith.
The whole home had a light whimsical quality. I thought only a happy family could live in it.
During the following couple of years it seemed like whenever I saw a room in a magazine that I loved it was designed by Windsor Smith. Then last year, Steve and I toured through The Veranda Greystone Showhouse. When I walked into the master bedroom, my chin hit the floor. It was the sexiest room I'd ever seen. Then I walked into the magical bathroom. I loved it! I looked in the program to find out who designer behind these gorgeous rooms could be. Windsor Smith, of course!
Image Courtesy of Windsor Smith
I admit, I became a little obsessed with Windsor, so you can only imagine how excited I was when I sat next to her at the Design Leadership Summit that Steve and I attended in New Orleans last April. Once I got to know Windsor, it became obvious why her designs were so appealing. Windsor's personality is reflected in all of her designs. Her positive attitude is infectious. She is just the type of person you want to be around.
Steve, me, and Windsor hanging out at Thomas Jayne's home in New Orleans.
Since then Windsor and I have stayed in touch, and I am now honored to call her my friend. So, one night at dinner at her home, we started talking about my blog, and Steve said "Brooke, you should interview Windsor for your blog. I think your readers would love to get to know more about her." Windsor, being Windsor, said "What fun!"
A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I popped by Windsor's gorgeous home and hung out with her in her pink sitting room....
Brooke: After reading all of the interviews in other magazines and on your website I feel as if I know so much about you and what you have done so far.
So now I’m curious as to what your design focus is now?
Windsor: I’m focusing heavily on the product division of the company. Part of my arc as a designer has been accessibility, bringing things to clients that they wouldn’t bring themselves. Now I’m trying to bridge that to bringing things to people who don’t have decorators. That was why we launched the furniture line through Domino Magazine . They had the customer base of people who didn’t have designers but were doing it themselves.
B: So do you think you will start focusing more on your product lines and less on Interior Design projects for specific clients?
W: I am focusing on doing the “deep jobs”. I just want to do more from the ground up projects. I am doing a home across the street that will be the first “Windsor Smith Home”. I’d like to be at a place where 50% of my business is being design driven whether it be hotel business or private and commercial, and then I’d like half of it to be product driven. That’s is my goal.
B: Tell us more about this home you are designing across the street.
I think my readers would be interested in this, because it provides an insight into your design process. You’ve chosen to keep full control and to create something without feeling constrained by clients, or a company that you are licensed with.
W: I want to derive a look from it. It’s an equestrian property. I always give myself a log line. For this home I imagined what this house would look like if this fabulous woman, or couple, or family lived there. She had her horses in a stable out back, but she still had a contemporary life. I want to build an elegant home that is also an equestrian property. I want to tell that story in a book and document all of the incarnations of it.
Steve: So you imagined the client for this home? You did that with the Veranda Greystone Showcase House as well, didn’t you? Is that something you always do?
Image via Luxe Magazine
W: Yes. I always have a log line. For example, when I was doing a lounge for a client’s guest house my log line was : If really cool people were designing the lounge in St. Andrews’ Golf Club what would it look like? It very traditional in many ways, but it is also very glossy.
I had a rug made out of the piece of art. I do create a story and then build and decorate to the story. It gives me a place to jump off of if I don’t have a client who is wagging the tail of it. Or if I’m dealing with people who are very story driven, which is common in this town. I give them a story to grab onto in terms of a concept, and then the design decisions have a reason. It helps to make choices.
I did this with a room recently. It was a lovely second story room, but I had a vision of it as a garden room which seems odd because it was so up. Instead I decided to pull it back down. It was just the opposite of what I would usually do. Normally I would make it a charming little attic with wallpaper, but I had all of this great woodworking so let’s paint it a garden green and let’s do natural linens and have a big work table at the end... My client is big into gardening, so we could store gorgeous garden pots there. It gave the whole room a theme. All of sudden my client said “Ok, now I know how to use this space”.
B: Did you see the the room finished from the start?
W: Yes. Spatially for sure and the color palette.
B: Is that always the case?
W: Usually. Except for my own houses. It’s a kind of looooong process that starts over here and take forever to get over there. My own houses are more piecemeal. I’ve been buying things for years, and I don’t buy a piece because it has the proper scale. I could never get away with that for a client. I would have to first scale everything and make sure we have all the appropriate seating and that everything was the right size and make sure the room flows properly. But for me, I buy what I love. That textile on the chair you are sitting on I bought six years ago, but I recovered the chair last year.
Windsor’s Medici Armchair upholstered in a textile she found
I just start with something and let the plot sort of go. I’ve accumulated pieces, and I don’t buy for a certain space. The fabric on this couch I got from my friend Kathryn Ireland.
This couch is in my line and I’ve recovered it three different times. I didn’t set out to find this tapestry for this couch. What happened was that I had this tapestry for the couch and the saffron fabric for the chairs and then the pink walls came. I then I realized that anything goes in here. The more I fill it the more it blooms.
Image via House Beautiful
B: Did you know that it would work from the start?
W: It was kind of a nice surprise, but
you would probably never be able to sell anyone on it!
The room didn’t start out this color because I wanted a pink room. The room started out pink because I was doing a photo shoot for Western Interiors, but I had committed the home to Stephen Drucker to shoot our home for House Beautiful. In order for me to keep my promise to Stephen Drucker, I told Western Interiors that we could turn my dining room into a dining room. I don’t normally have a dining room! The pink came from wanting to tell a dining room story. So this room was originally shot as a dining room with a beautiful table and beautiful navy blue chairs.
Image via Western Interiors
After the shoot, we had the pink on the walls and added the saffron. Something great happened.
Image courtesy of Windsor Smith
S: There is something very fearless to the approach of it all.
W: Well that’s a nice way to describe it! It really is the perfect combination of ignorance and ambition, because at the time I really wasn’t set on an end goal. Which is actually the way decorating should be and look. It feels less contrived. It feels like it might have evolved into that. A lot of times you see beautiful rooms, but how do you get that feeling that says “that was collected by someone in family” or “that was collected along the way”? It has to be imperfect to be perfect. I’m not saying that you have to go to my extreme, because my home is really a study. A weird science experiment.
(One of Windsor’s many collections, that make her home so unique.)
B: Sometimes when I start a job I feel a bit overwhelmed as to where to start. I get confused as to which way is the right way to go. Do you ever feel that way?
W: I am really challenged with that with clients. I believe that the answer is in the plans. I usually lay out a room several different ways. I tend to try to look for the less obvious floor plan.
First I figure out what the story is that I want to tell with that room. What this room will bring to the whole home. Once I’ve done that fun part I put it away.
That is what inspires me and gets me to do the part that I don’t like as much, which is the mathematical part of where everything goes.
So then I look at the room. I look at the focal points, the traffic flow.
Then I ask myself what the obvious thing would be to do. What could I gain from this room that maybe someone would see right away? How else can this room work? What am I imagining people will be doing in this room?
I found myself recently wanting to push seating out. Usually the rooms are a little too big, so I’m trying to get multiple seating areas into a room. Lately I found that I am playing a lot with banquettes against walls, pulling the center out of a room. I’m trying to not lose all of the peripheral space to sitting area that is somehow confined to the focal point of that room.
Image courtesy of Windsor Smith
In California I always want to bring the view in. I always to to incorporate the outside area as part of the inside area.
image via the Windsor Smith website
So in terms of what I am doing different these days I seem to be able to play with seating configurations and floor plans.
I’m like an unruly child when it comes to design. I’m at the point where I say “What if this wasn’t the dining room?”
Why does that have to be a formal living room? I’m going to waste all of that room on a formal living? I have two teenage kids. That should be an amazing place for them.
image via House Beautiful
B: The space we’re in right now was supposed to be the dining room. Right?
W: Yes, and the amazing thing is that if I had made it into a dining room we’d be looking over a big table and chairs. Which not only renders this room useless most of the time, it also would ruin the connection to the family room.
There is a connectedness to the way we live by this simply not being a dining room.
When we analyzed it, we said that if we are going to have more people over for dinner than fit into our kitchen, well we live in California and we can set up beautiful tables outside. The number of times a year that I do that, it’s the perfect solution to not walking around a big table here the other 362 days.
So from a design perspective that is why I’m building the “Windsor Smith House”. The title of the book is The Way We Live Today. It is a study about how architecture can set us up for success in our families and in our lives.
S: The social structure of the family is affected by how the rooms are set up in relation to each other, right?
W: We’re in a place in our lives where technology is driving most of what we do. It is so much to balancing your family, your husband, your kids, your employees, all of the outside things they need from you, your deadlines, clients.... at some point you stop at 2:00 and you say “I haven’t even gotten to my list today”, because I’ve spent all of this time facilitating this life that is bigger than me.
How do you get a complete escape from that? Through architecture. Architecture in where we live. Architecture in our lives. Architecture in our relationships. Architecture creates boundaries.
B: So the Windsor Smith Home is going to be very unique because you won’t assume that there needs to be a dining room next to the kitchen etc...
W: I think there will be some convention.
There is a reason why homes are designed with a center hall plan, because it has made sense for so long. I’m talking about things like a real table that the kids can come to where you solve all of the family problems, you have the meaningful meals. You have a place where all of the homework can be spread out.
image via House Beautiful
People don’t have to exit their lives to get something done if they don’t want to.
We knocked the wall down so the kids could share a room. They have that kind of bond rather than being teenagers that go into their separate rooms and shut the door and be isolated.
S: It’s funny how the way we live in our home changes. We have bedrooms that are used as bedrooms for a while and then it will become an office while the kids share a room for a while. Our home is actually much more flexible than you would think it would be.
W: Yes, we have the same thing, and it makes our children more flexible as well.
Because you have to be flexible. It’s not cut and dry. It’s actually a wonderful concept to have rooms that don’t have traditional names.
We are the navigators of energy. Nobody really decorates because they love beautiful fabrics. It’s really about improving quality of life.
S: What do you mean by “We are navigators of energy?”
W: We can make a room an energetic space that people want to be in. We can also make lives different by how we design the space that they are in. Through color...
You can adjust the volume.
B: So is that why you started doing Interior Design?
W: I think so. I got into this in a weird way. I was going to Europe to buy antiques, and I immediately started selling everything to decorators and editors of interior design magazines. So I got a certain kind of attention and validation that I was bringing interesting things back, mostly architectural elements: mantels statuary. My joke was that if it didn’t weigh 2000 pounds then I didn’t buy it!
Then people would start asking me to find certain pieces for their house, and then they would start saying “Well why don’t you just do my whole house”.
At first I wasn’t comfortable about it. I mean in my first house I had this enormous couch. I really had to learn about scale. I think that was the hardest part for me and the easiest thing to get wrong. Being able to have enough negative space too. So I had to learn all of that. Fortunately I had a couple really understanding clients. We would receive chairs and I would say “Oh, well that doesn’t look, right does it?” It really was a learning curve, but because I was so obsessed with it I learned pretty quickly. It has resulted in a line and being able to take a piece that isn’t really scaled well because it is so old and being able give it the proper scale. That lead into gaining enough confidence to start The Windsor Smith Home line.
The Harlow Tufted Chair by Windsor Smith Home
The Directoire Chair, the Chippendale Bench, the Brittany Secretary, and the Regency Settee by Windsor Smith Home
S: Were the first pieces for clients or were they created for the line?
W: Mostly for a client because it started with a need. I would find a beautiful chair but maybe it was at Bonhams and too costly. But it was the right vibe for what we wanted so I would do an interpretation of that. Or I find a great chair, but there was only one that I was going to place with a client. I thought if I had 30 of those I could place that chair over and over again, because I just loved that chair. I had this mentality that if I could use it then I ‘m sure someone else could use it.
The Elegant Chair by Windsor Smith Home
S: Some of you pieces are amazingly charming but a bit quirky. Do you sell a lot of the more quirky pieces?
W: Oddly enough the pieces that we sell are the pieces that you don’t see everywhere. The moroccan ottoman has a silly little leg. We have a new slim chaise that has a brass leg. People seem to gravitate to pieces that you can’t find universally.
The Slim Chaise by Windsor Smith Home
B: Let me ask you about color. I was looking at your projects and it seems like things are getting more colorful. Is that something you are focusing on?
W: I'm kind of funny when it comes to color. It’s sort of cyclical. There are times when I want everything to be Studio White. I seem to be on a bender with color the past couple of years, as long as there is a big dose of white. I’m always trying to find counterpoints to white, and lately I’m drawn to color.
image via the Windsor Smith Website
B: Are there certain colors that you are into right now? Have you moved on from this Pink?
W: Right now I’m into matte golds. Deep browns, grays and long as it’s mixed with something that is a surprise like a pale peach. I’m definitely playing with a little less in your face palette right now, but I love all of it. I am an equal opportunity color fiend. I love mixing color. I love putting colors together that become something else.
Image courtesy of Windsor Smith
Something really exciting happens when you put two off palette colors together. You get a reaction. It’s more about what happens when you put two opposing colors together that I’m into right now.
Windsor Smith finds inspiration for her projects in the artwork she collects.
B: That really does sound like a science experiment. Are you ever surprised at the outcome?
W: Yes always. I love acid yellow with browns and umbers. I am working on a room right now that is influenced by those colors.
B: Do your new fabric lines reflect your interest in those colors as well?
W: I am actually working on an outdoor fabric line and the colors are more Bahaman. It’s a very citrusy palette. I wanted to bring back a very Polynesian, hip, vibe that hasn’t really been seen since the 40’s and 50’s with the tiki bars. Nobody has ever really reintroduced it in a really fun way. I’ve been playing with textures: basketweavings, indian weavings mixed with canvases. I’m playing with outdoor fabrics that are soft and supple instead of rigid. I’m going for more linen textures for the outside.
B: Having comfortable fabrics outside makes great sense, especially where we live.
W: Well it’s a great way to expand your footprint. If you don’t have a really big house, you should look all around your house and see what space on the outside you can claim.
I’m doing odd prints that don’t have an all over field. For this one fabric I used these turtles that I cut out of construction paper that look like labrynths. It sort of looks like it was pressed out of metal. These turtles are chasing eachother up one side of the fabric and nothing on the other side of the fabric. How great would it be to have a chaise with these turtles running up one side of the chaise? If someone is more linear, then they can put them in the middle.
I’m also playing with fabrics with borders, so that you can take off the borders and upholster in an interesting way. I was inspired by a Peter Dunham fabric that I buy over and over again for projects because it has the border on the side. There is so much you can do with that border that brings a level of detail to upholstery. It’s an old idea. They used to do this in the 50’s.
It almost goes back to a craft mentality, trying to figure out another level of detail.
The colors are an off color aqua, pale pale pink like Bahaman sand, and this deeper pink, and a citrus color, and a verdant green. It is really a hard color to find. And a few prints in chino and white, and a few prints in chino and turquoise. The inspiration was a placemat that I got at Cost Plus that was chino and turquoise. I brought it up to my office and just made many photo copies and started cutting them and taped them together to make Indian stars and removing the centers of them replacing the centers with white and doing them on grids. I’m deadly with a pair of scissors and a glue stick.
I was creating stripes by using ridged seagrass papers and gluing them together and making these imperfect stripes with them. Then we photo-copied them. Now Kravet will reproduce them as prints on linen....
The time we spent with Windsor flew by, and before we knew it, we had been there for almost 2 hours. Unfortunately, Windsor had to pop off to a meeting, but after all of the "hugs and thanks yous", I asked Steve to take a picture of me in Windsor's sitting room. I felt like an Elvis fan at Graceland!Thank you Windsor for everything!