Buzz: Does this same non-judgmental professionalism apply to politics?
BW: Absolutely! Politics is another topic that really isn’t raised in polite society and has no place interfering with my business relationships.
Buzz: OK. Are you a member of the Tea Party?
BW: Didn’t you hear anything I just said? Why Buzz Kaplan, you are NO gentleman!
Buzz aside: Not to worry, people make that mistake all the time.
In all my years as a designer, my relationship with my clients has been a professional one. I never forget that they are hiring me to provide them with a service-that defines our relationship. A designer should never lose site of that but I think many do. Maybe they aspire to the lifestyles of their clients. Or perhaps they secretly wish they were their clients. But I don’t.
Buzz: When you say you don’t aspire to your clients’ lifestyles, what exactly do you mean?
BW: I mean that I don’t need or want to surround myself with famous, titled or wealthy people. I have nothing against them. I just have my own life and it’s not as grand as most of my clients. But I love living it.
Buzz: OK, new topic. In preparation for today, I read many interviews you’ve done in the past and, quite frankly, some of them made me nauseous.
BW: Pardon me?
Buzz: No offense to you Bunny, but some of those interviewers were falling all over themselves to gush about you, kiss your….well, they were overly obsequious.
BW: You know I never understand that. And frankly, it makes me kind of sick too. I’m basically a normal person who works very hard for a living. I don’t think I’m pretentious. I think I’m unassuming. I’m really not sure where all that comes from. It’s flattering of course, but really unnecessary.
Buzz: Bunny, why are you the most celebrated, fabulously talented, glamorous and wildly successful designer on earth?!
BW: Buzz, put a sock in it, OK?
Buzz: OK. How about this: Do you think your gender plays a role in your client relationships?
BW: Yes, I do. I think that male designers are expected to be best friends with their female clients. But women designers like me aren’t. My female clients understand that I have a husband and a very busy private life. Plus no one wants an extra woman just hanging around.
Buzz: OK, it’s time for our lightning round: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Buzz: Favorite TV show?
BW: That’s a tough one because I don’t have a TiVo and don’t watch a lot of TV. I do love Madmen. I think it has tremendous style. “24” was great because it was so fast- paced. Oh, and I love the PBS series Foyles War.
Buzz: If you weren’t Bunny Williams, who would you want to be?
BW. Tina Turner.
Buzz: I knew that!
BW: You did not. (laughing) I’d want to be Tina because I’d love to be someone who sings from the heart. You know, sings with soul. Her singing is so heartfelt and I love that. If I couldn’t be her, I think I’d be Aretha Franklin. Also incredible.
Buzz: Name your favorite food.
BW: Something chocolate.
Buzz: What’s the biggest design faux pas that people make?
BW. Scale. The scale of many interiors is just off and it drives me crazy. Furniture pieces in a room need to be appropriately scaled both as to the size and height of the room as well as to each other. When I worked for Albert Hadley, I had to learn scale. I can’t tell you how many times he asked me, “Have you scaled it into the plans?” So that’s important. But I also believe there are no hard rules as to scale. Either something works in a room or it doesn’t. Feeling scale is an emotional thing. At least it is to me.
Scale faux pas are often made when a designer is planning and buying for a room that doesn’t yet exist. Like in the construction phase. That’s where you really need to look at the plans and then “feel” the scale of the room, the ceiling height, the layout and the overall dimensions. Then once you “get” the room, you just know what will work and what won’t.
Buzz: What is the one course every designer should take?
BW: A drawing class. It’s one of the best things I ever did. It makes you see in terms of relationships. For example, you mentally take in the relationship of a wall to a piece and you instantly see whether it’s a great look or not. Just like a painter who paints the eyes that work in the context of a particular face. Everyone who wants to design should take a drawing class.
Buzz: What one piece of furniture is critical in every house and should convey a sense of style and panache?
BW: Chairs. Chairs are the most interesting item of furniture to follow in design. Every period changes style through its chairs. Chairs fascinate me. And every chair that you put in a home should be interesting. Otherwise, they’re just boring. Whenever I see a great chair, I buy it because I know I will find a place for it in one of my projects. I look for chairs with character.
Buzz: Speaking of character, what’s your take on furniture that’s worn or beat up and things like plates or figurines that are chipped?
BW: I love them. People are always surprised when they visit my homes and see pieces that are imperfect in some way. I think that’s what gives them their charm. (Left: John’s Sofa for the Beeline Home Collection).
I believe that people should celebrate the wear, scratches, and other imperfections that they see. This is especially true with antiques. I mean, if you were 200 years old and been kicked around for decades, you’d be beat up too. (laughing) But that’s what creates the character, uniqueness, and personality of a piece. I don’t think that that visible wear and tear makes objects less desirable. I think they make them better and more interesting. Great interiors aren’t the ones where everything is new. Just the opposite.
I think it’s sad that our society puts such a premium on perfection. You go to a fine restaurant for lunch these days and every woman in the room looks the same. It’s scary. I believe that faces and bodies are perfect when they’re unusual, unique and different. Take brides for example. That’s a favorite of mine. Too many brides look like hookers these days. They’re popping out of their skin-tight dresses. Woman these days have a screw loose. Why do so many of them want to take pole-dancing classes? I mean really.
Until rather recently, people looked unique. Before they got their noses done, cheeks implanted or their breasts augmented. Or reduced for that matter. Everyone now wants to conform to a norm that makes for a homogeneous and very boring world. Years ago you had faces like Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. Not cardboard cut out beauties but beauties nonetheless. I like that.
As a society, I think we’re losing the confidence to be different. And that’s a shame. People look, dress and decorate their homes the same. No one wants to be an original any more. How sad that is.
Buzz: Back to our lightning round. Favorite cocktail?
BW: Oh that’s easy. Jack Daniels on the rocks.
Buzz: Favorite actress?
BW: Laura Linney.
Buzz: Favorite actor?
BW: I have a thing for old men so I’ll say Anthony Hopkins.
Buzz: What is it about old men that you like?
BW: They tend to inhabit their characters more completely and create an illusion about who they really are. I’m a big fan of illusion. I believe that everyone should have some mystery about them. They should be entrancing and not too available.
Buzz: OMG, you sound just like Blanche Dubois in Streetcar! I have chills!
BW: Laughing. I do love that character. And I loved when she put a paper lantern over the light bulb to create the illusion of youth and desirability.
Buzz: As a true Daughter of the South, I bet I can guess your favorite film.. It’s Gone with the Wind?! Definitely. Am I right??
BW: No dear you’re wrong. My favorite film is actually Indochine. Have you seen it?
Buzz: Are you kidding, of course! Loved it.
Sidenote to readers and apology to Bunny: I actually never heard of Indochine in my life. But I had to fib or I’d look like a cretin. Anyhow, I’ve ordered it on Netflix. If it’s Bunny William’s favorite film, then it must be incredible.
But I do love Gone with Wind also. I understand the importance of saving Tara. Your home is so important. I feel that about my home in Connecticut. It’s very nurturing and homes should be that way. My garden is there, my dogs, and my collection of things that mean a great deal to me. I really don’t feel that way about my apartment in New York.
And there’s a graciousness about living that Southerners had before the civil war and still have. Southerners are more home-oriented. And I hope that grace and charm is never lost.
Buzz: Are great designers born or made?
BW: Well, great designers are very visual and you’re either born a visual person or you’re not. I’m not musical or mathematical, but I’m very visual. But even when you have this gift, you need to be trained. I believe the best training is being mentored and working as an apprentice. I was very lucky in that way, having apprenticed at Parrish-Hadley. Apprenticeships are fantastic because they allow you to DO as opposed to just learning in a vacuum as might be the case in school.
Buzz: What do you think is essence of decorating a home?
BW: In decorating homes, you want to imbue it with a soul. You want to make it somewhere where your clients want to play house. Designers sometimes lose sight of this and wind up creating stage sets, not homes. Home is a place where you feel protected and nurtured. (Right: Porter Drinks Table for the Beeline Home Collection).
Buzz: Have you escaped the recession unscathed?
BW: No. I’ve been impacted like everyone else. But I’m very fortunate in that I have wonderfully loyal clients who are still well off. But my shop and my furniture line have certainly been impacted. And there are fewer design projects out there so I’ve leaned out my staff. It’s a terrible time for the design industry. And antique dealers are really suffering. And even though the recession is technically over, people are still frightened and hesitant about spending money. Even the wealthy. Their main concern is preserving their wealth in this economy.
Before the recession, people couldn’t spend enough. But now they realize that not every light switch has to be gilded. The mentality of excess is over, at least for now. As I said, it’s all about cycles. For example, stylistically speaking, it’s only a matter of time before everyone is going to get sick of Art Deco. And the most fabulous piece of furniture will be a Georgian chest of drawers. Everything goes in cycles including design.
Buzz: Any other thoughts on this recession?
BW: Yes. I think there’s a silver lining to these horrible economic times. The conversations I have now with clients as to the scope and nature of their project is a MUCH more interesting conversation. Fascinating and more challenging than ever.
And this invigorates me. In fact, I’ve never been more excited about what I’m doing than I am right now. That’s because I really need to THINK about every project dollar. It’s more important than ever that I provide value. Value is critical in this economy and the nature of the downturn has made everyone want to wheel and deal. Negotiating is much more intense. It’s very different than how it used to be where clients felt that when it came to money, the sky was the limit. Boy are those days gone!
I also think the recession is oddly reflected in the antiques that are available on the market. Most people would think that the economic squeeze would force the truly great pieces into the marketplace at fire sale prices. But that’s not happening. Instead, the wealthy are hanging on to their best pieces and waiting until the markets improve before selling them. So I actually find that there are less truly special antiques available these days.
Buzz: I don’t mean to sound like your psychoanalyst, but what’s missing from your life?
BW: Well, for starters, a psychoanalyst. (Laughing). I think I’d have to say I don’t have enough time. But now that I’ve said that, I’m not sure what I’d do with the time if I did have it!
Buzz: What do you think about the design “commandment” that framed photographs should only be in the bedroom?
BW: I think it’s unadulterated baloney. I mean, really. Design rules like that are so ridiculous. You should have photographs wherever you want them. I’ve even created a screen for my line that allows you add and change photographs that are actually incorporated into the screen. My only caveat about framed photos is to be selective about the grouping you choose. You don’t want a huge hodgepodge of too many framed pictures.
Buzz: Back to the analysts couch for a moment.
BW: Oh God.
Buzz: What regrets do you have?
BW: Hmmm. I feel very blessed in my life so I can’t say I have many regrets. I guess I regret not taking the time to enjoy things outside of my business life. I could always spend more time with my dogs! And I also regret not taking more time to fix the things that I see as needing fixing in our world. I think the time we spend giving back to society in ways that change it for the better are very important. Mentoring young people is one way that I give back.
Buzz What is your greatest single accomplishment?
BW: I have no idea!
Buzz: What should I have done differently in this interview?
BW: Skipped the last question. Actually, this has been one of the most fun interviews I’ve done. Your questions have been very unorthodox to say the least and I’ve had a very good time!
Buzz: Thank you Bunny, so have I and it’s really been a pleasure getting to know you better.