Monday, April 18, 2011


In the antique trade, you often hear of "harlequin" pairs. But what exactly does that mean? No, it's not a sneaker, at least not to antiquarians:

I always thought a harlequin meant a clown and actually it does. Here's the harlequin clown as depicted by Picasso in 1918:

The term originally referenced the clown figure Arlecchino in the Italian traveling art troupe known as the Commedia dell' Arte (dating back to the 16th century). That figure is traditionally represented wearing diamond patterned multi-colored tights. Paul Cezannes' painting, Harlequin demonstrates this patterned motif and character:

But antiquarians use the term harlequin to mean a pair of items that are similar but not exactly matching. My guess is that this comes from the harlequin pattern where the diamonds match but the colors do not, hence they too are similar but not matching.

Here is a harlequin pair of 18th century Dutch brass candlesticks. Note how at first they appear identical but on closer inspection the triangular bases are of different sizes and the nozzle stems for the candles also differ in shape:

Another example would be this pair of late 18th century Louis XIV French Walnut Armchairs. Can you see how they differ?

The chair on the left has a shaped stretcher between the two front legs, unlike its harlequin twin on the right. And the shape of the arms differ in that the one on the left has more pronounced front portions curving down than does the one on the right.

Similar but not matching antiques like these are called "harlequin" pairs or sets.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I love it when those reality TV shows like "The Real Housewives of '
Fill in the Blank'" try to stretch their season by adding episodes called "From the BRAVO vaults: the Lost Footage."

Yeah, I know, there are no vaults at Bravo and this footage was never lost, but even so it's usually interesting stuff. And sometimes it's the most interesting stuff! Like when Tamra in "Orange County" went swimming in the lady pond (whatever that means) with her Brazilian girlfriend/trainer who's really cute but kinda mannish. The point is that I really like "lost footage" because it's just plain fun.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

So I was thinking, in my recent magazine article with Paul Wiseman, one of the deans of American interior design, the interview ran a bit long because we were having so much fun.

And because of the length, some parts just couldn't fit into the article. In other words, as they say in Hollywood they ended up on the "cutting room floor" (don't forget I was born in Hollywood-adjacent Van Nuys so I know these things).

Photographer: Matthew Millman

So from the vaults of The Buzz on Antiques, here's some NEVER BEFORE SEEN "lost footage" (OK, "lost verbiage") from my interview with Paul:

Q: Paul, how's the interior design industry changed since you started out?
A: When I started my business about 30 years ago, a lot of the really “big” decorators were crooks.

Q: Did you just say crooks?!
A: I certainly did and I meant it.

Buzz thinking to himself: OMG, this is SO great! Maybe I’ll get a Pulitzer for this interview-I mean it’s really more like hard-hitting investigative reporting. Or forget the Pulitzer, what about a Nobel Prize?! I could go to Sweden! Or is it Norway? A cruise to Scandinavia! I love cruises.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: Crooks. Ok, please go on.
A: It’s just that I could see that many of the “big” decorators back then weren’t dealing straight with their clients. They were being sneaky and dishonest.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: How were they doing that?
A: In different ways. Like saying a carpet was custom woven in Crete by virgin mermaids and charging a ridiculous price when the rag really came from some shlocky furniture line in Grand Rapids.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: So what did you do, call in the Feds?
A. [Smiling] No, nothing that dramatic. But I saw an opportunity not just to do the right thing but also a way to stand out from the crowd by building a business on not just my talent but also my integrity. And I think I’ve succeeded in that regard.

Photographer: Christopher Irion

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: And how did you go about doing that? Did you parade around the Design Center wearing a sandwich-board saying, “I’m the honest decorator!”?
A: [Laughing]. Not exactly. I started by hiring a lawyer named Naomi Ramsden who was tired of practicing law. She wanted to work with creative people and also knew about the sorry practices being used by the “big guys” back then.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: How did she help you?
A: She taught me about my bottom line—and that if you don’t understand it, then you can’t create a fee scale that’s fair and reasonable. She also taught me how to communicate to clients exactly what I would provide in terms of goods and services and that my goal was to make a fair and honest profit. Naomi taught me to be very clear with clients and vendors as to how I make my living. My clients see all of my invoices and backup documentation, whether they request it or not and they know that I always negotiate the best price I can from vendors. They understand that I charge a percentage on that negotiated price as my fee along with the time spent on their project. My clients also know that my mark-up percentage is the same for everyone–there are no exceptions.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: Do you offer multiple fee arrangements to your clients, like “hours plus mark-up” or “comprehensive flat fee deals”?
A: No. I offer the same fee arrangement for everyone. There are no exceptions. I charge for hours plus a percentage. A set lump-sum fee arrangement is a disaster and it never works in the client’s favor. I’m amazed that some clients actually believe that a designer is going to quote them a flat fee that’s not going to cover all of his costs and include a nice profit. Every designer offering a flat rate knows that in decorating people always change their mind. They add on features and items as the process unfolds. And this inevitably adds to the costs. Flat fee designers build this contingency into their lump sum fee.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: How has the onslaught of decorating websites affected the world of design and you personally?
A: Online sites like 1st Dibs are great for preliminary shopping. Of course, we never buy something, certainly not an antique or vintage piece, without seeing it first. Photos of antiques you see online are often better than the objects themselves. Unique objects have to reveal their soul. And they can’t do that through only photographs. But for viewing furniture lines as we do on Decorati and seeing what other designers are doing, online media is very useful and wonderful.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: What are some well-known public spaces, like buildings or restaurants, that you’ve designed?
A: Almost all my work is private residential and so by definition it’s not “well known.” Of course, many of my clients’ homes have been featured in Architectural Digest, Veranda, Traditional Home and other shelter publications. The only somewhat public space I ever did is Nanea, the very private golf club on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. And it was also published in Architectural Digest.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Q: OK, then let’s talk lead times and deadlines. Are clients requesting quicker deadlines and how do you handle those requests?
A: Yes and it’s a problem. Especially with younger new money clients who want “instant” results. I try to educate them that we aren’t selling a product but rather a process. If they want just product, they can go to any retail store and see the quality and style available instantly. Once they see what’s out there, they usually back off.

Photographer: Tim Street-Porter

Q: What will be different about the interior design industry in 15 years?
A: I think the line between retail and wholesale will go away. There won’t really be a wholesale market and everyone will just pay retail.

Q: Ok, that’s kinda scary since C. Mariani is a wholesaler. You think I should start job hunting?
A: [Laughing]. No Buzz, I think that Claudio and you will be around for a long time to come. But look how most of your wholesale competitors have gone out of business in this recession.

Q: Guess that's true. Anyhow, it's now time to play our “lightning round!” Name your favorite…

Q: Actress?
A: Meryl Streep

Buzz aside: If I ever become Head of Casting at a big Hollywood studio, I’m going to make “Little Bo Peep-The Movie” just so I can scream: “ I want Streep for Peep!”

Q: Movie?
A: “I am Love”

Q: I don’t believe it! That’s my all-time favorite too!

Buzz’s off-the-record confession: Never heard of it.

Q: TV show?
A: I don’t watch television.

Q: [Shocked] Not even The Real Housewives?! Ok, I can understand not watching “New York”-Alex and her husband were borderline creepy. But “Beverly Hills” is so great. Plus “Atlanta”-that one’s getting really good again-did you see that Nene and Cynthia are warring with Candy and Sheree!? What a tragedy and ...[Paul interrupts]
A: Excuse me? I really haven’t watched TV for 25 years.

Q: Oh, OK. Yeah, me neither except the occasional Masterpiece Theatre.

Buzz comment: You didn’t really expect me to confess that I’m a reality TV junkie, did you? Paul’s an important client and I have an image to uphold.

Q: Singer?
A: Judy Collins

Q: Judy Collins?. Is folk music making a comeback?
A: [Silence]

Q: Never mind. What’s your favorite book?
A: That would be tie between “War and Peace” and “Red and the Black.”

Q: Favorite food?
A: Boy that’s a tough one. [He pauses]. I’d have to say Jean Georges’ Seared Foie Gras with mango and orange juice reduction.

Q: I'd have to say "Does the Safeway carry that?
A: I doubt it.

Q: Broadway play or musical? Wait! Don’t tell me! I’m guessing “Annie!”. Am I right?
A: [Laughing] No, but you’re close: “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”

Q: I’m not sure. Who is Sylvia?
A: That’s the name of the play.

Q: But which of those plays is your favorite, “The Goat” or “ Who is Sylvia”?
A: [Looking up, shaking his head and mumbling something like "Why me?"]. Buzz, it’s getting late-just say “Annie” and you can correct that later in editing.

Q: OK. Favorite soprano (opera coloratura not the HBO show)
A: Joan Sutherland

Q: She looks like a football player.
A: Is that a question?

Q: Um, what's your favorite football team?
A: Why would you ask me that?

Q: Because of Joan Sutherland.
A: OK then, next question.

Q: Favorite NASCAR driver?
A: What’s NASCAR?

Q: I’m not sure. Maybe a football team.
A: [Laughing]. Great! Put NASCAR down for my favorite football team.

Q: Who’s your favorite Louie? Quatorze, Quinze, Seize or Armstrong?
A: None of those. My favorite Louie would have to be “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen.

Q: As in “Uh Louie Loo-ay, Oh no, said we gotta go…da-da…yeah yeah yeah yeah”?
A: Yeah.

Q: [Laughing] That was funny!
A: [Smiling] I thought you’d appreciate that.

Q: What movie set would you most like to live in?
A: “Forbidden Planet,” with Walter Pigeon and Anne Francis

Forbidden Planet Set

Q: Forbidden Planet? The sci-fi movie? What about “Barry Lyndon?”
A: What about him? I’d want to live on Forbidden Planet and that’s my final answer.

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Another Satisfied Wiseman client?

Q: OK-What’s your biggest gripe with most interior designers today?
A: Their lack of historical knowledge of periods and pieces.

Q: If you could ask any two people to join you for dinner (they can be past or present) who would they be?
A: The Roman Emperor Hadrian and Bette Davis

Photographer: Matthew Millman

Monday, March 21, 2011


FEUILLE DE CHOU is a term used to describe a certain kind of tapestry but can also describe export and Chinese armorial porcelain characterized by a stylish motif of lush green/blue overlapping leaves.

It's pronounced (and this is a tough one so practice it a few times before trying to impress your friends & neighbors): "FUR duh SHOE". Sounds like an animal-print Manolo Blahnik, right?
But this is not real "FUR duh SHOE". This is more accurately called "fur ON duh shoe" and lists for about $650 USD the pair.

Feuille de chou is actually French for CABBAGE LEAF and looks like this 16th century Flemish tapestry:
And here's another, same period and also Flemish:
What do these tapestries cost? For ones that are in C. Mariani Antiques condition, $30,000 USD to $125,000 USD each depending on provenance and subject matter (e.g., a pretty bird or a unicorn in the cabbage patch will fetch much more than a horned man-eating monster):

Popular and expensive:

Not so popular but still pretty expensive:

All too fascinating for words, I know. But just when I thought I'd become jaded about even the prettiest feuille de chous, we acquired a show-stopping masterpiece (TODAY, 4/14/11): An incomparable 16th century Sicilian silk ceremonial table carpet, in superb condition, and, yes, priced well above the other feuille de chous but so, so worth it! It makes me want to cry it's so beautiful:

Wow. Sob.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second helping of Cabbage? FEUILLE DE CHOU, Part Deux

For those of you who are rabbits and therefore can't get enough feuille de chou cabbage leaf tapestries, read on:

Feuille de Chou (this is hard to type so I’ll just call it FDC) tapestries, as I mentioned in my last post above, are called that because of the mass of cabbage-like leaves dominating their fields.

I think they're the most striking and mysterious of all tapestries. Their design is almost abstract, a profusion of wild foliage seemingly emerging out of the darkness. Ooh, scary.

The first FDC tapestries appeared in the early 16th Century and probably evolved from what are called millefleurs (pronounced:”meel FLUR”) tapestries that are flowered and less dense tapestries. Here is the 15th century "Captive Unicorn" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Flemish, 15th century:

The funny thing about FDC tapestries is that they really don’t depict cabbage leaves at all.

And so the “cabbage leaf” name is really a misnomer. The leaves portrayed are actually meant to be acanthus (bear’s breach) plants. I have three of them in my back yard:

FDC tapestries are almost three-dimensional and often have animals or mythological creatures amid the foliage. What they rarely, if ever, depict are people. Why is that? I have no idea. But that’s just one of the many mysteries of FDC tapestries. Others are:

"What do FDC tapestries mean?”, and

“What do they symbolize?", and

“Why doesn't Buzz get a life and stop wasting time on boring subjects like this?”

All excellent questions, but no one really knows the answers: maybe these wild and dense thickets, appearing to be beyond the control of man, represent medieval society’s genuine fears of chaos or insanity (hmmmm.). Life then was short and brutish—that’s a quote from some famous guy (Thomas Hobbs?) that I studied in college . But I’m too lazy right now to look it up (it’s Saturday!). Hope you have a lovely weekend.

P.S. I know, now you’re all worked up over tapestries (dream on, Buzz) and probably want to know all about verdures too. But I’ll mercifully save that for another post. You can thank me later….


David Phoenix, the uber-talented Los Angeles designer who you probably all know, did the extraordinarily gorgeous Living Room at the currently running 2011 House of Design in Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach, California this year (it's open through the 27th so there's still time to go!). And so I flew down to attend the opening and take a "look see". And I was stunned--all I can say about David's room is WOW! Talk about a tour de force! David knocked this one out of the park! It's really a must see:

I arrived (with the lovely Sarah Hills from our Gallery) at the Tuscan villa and snaked our way through the crowds of spectators, designers and press, to our usual hangout: the open bar. OK, I admit that before we found where the bar was we entered the tented area (it looked so elegant!) where the portapotties were. But anyhow, after we finally found the bar area we feasted our eyes on David's room:

Could you just die!?! This guy has the most unflinching superb taste, pure and simple. I kinda hate him for that, but in a good way.

I honestly wanted to buy the whole room. Ok, a couple of pieces were from C. Mariani, so I guess I wouldn't have to buy those. But what amazed me was how incredible our pieces looked in the context of the room as envisioned by David Phoenix. To coin a phrase from my college days (yes I DID go to college), the transformation and gorgeositty was mind-blowing. See for yourself:

Above: C. Mariani's 18th Century Chinese Sang de Boef Lacquer Screen (the most expensive piece on display and worth every penny by the way), according to OC Register) and our very modestly priced (and also worth every penny) La Collezione Rossano Tuscan Coffee Table.

What struck me was the way David mixed traditional with contemporary and then detailed the room to perfection with a wide array of accessories, none of which he borrowed from me :( but I didn't take that personally. Sob.

He did however use our Collezione Montalvo Demilune Console Table:

And he used our C. Mariani's 20th Century Set of Flora Danica Botanical Designs Dinnerware, some of which he mounted on the wall (which I would never think of doing but am now a total convert since it looked amazing):

What can I say except that I genuinely "j'adore" (no, I don't speak French) David Phoenix's work and thank the Philharmonic society for showcasing his extraordinary talent. My recommendation is to run don't walk to see his room before the 27th! General admission tickets are $35 and unlimited-entry passes at $45. For a schedule and other information, please visit the Philharmonic Society.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Enjoy my latest interview on Decorati Access Magazine with San Francisco Designer, Douglas Durkin:

My “day job” is as Executive Director of C. Mariani Antiques in San Francisco. In that capacity, I’m lucky enough to interact with some of the country’s highest end interior designers.

During this recession, most of my designer clients have seen their businesses shrink dramatically and in some sad cases, just plain flat-line. Most have laid off staff, cut salaries and been forced to hunker down while they wait out this “economic nuclear winter.”

Because of this, most designers can no longer pick and choose projects or require a minimum budget like they once could. Now, most take new work wherever they can get it. However, there is a small handful of designers who have seemed to escape this recession unscathed, unaffected and unperturbed.

One of these designers is Douglas Durkin, principal of Douglas Durkin Design, San Francisco.

I’ve known Douglas for many years and so our interview was easy, remarkably frank and quite revealing as to his success and style.

Buzz: How has your firm grown and prospered in a recession that has brought many design firms to their knees?

Well, we were quite fortunate in that we had a large number of very large scale and long term projects that were in the pipeline and that didn’t get cancelled when the economic crisis hit. Also, we have been incredibly blessed with a long term and extremely loyal clientele that has been keeping us busy with multiple projects. Lastly, our clients are geographically very spread out across the country and so we’ve avoided having all of our eggs in one location basket, so to speak.

Buzz: Do you feel you’ve created an aesthetic niche for yourself amongst the modernists in the business?

Funny enough I don’t view our work that way at all. We still work in so many different styles that reflect the projects’ architecture, the environment, and the client’s tastes. With that said, the trend has definitely been towards a more contemporary aesthetic for our clients, plus we’re working with so many contemporary art collectors, and so the aesthetics really are in service to that. I am still passionate about art and design from the past, and I live in a very traditional environment in San Francisco, though much of what we do is considered contemporary.

Buzz: Then is it fair to say that your contemporary jobs far out number your traditional ones?

It definitely seems to be the trend, though we still have projects that are traditional in nature. And the contemporary work really keeps us on our toes as you can’t rely on the marketplace for your answers if you are striving for unique space. I have always said it’s easier to create a unique traditional room than a unique contemporary one. Our contemporary projects are rendered in a completely custom way as we design most of the furnishings for them.

Buzz: I have a fun idea: let me throw out some random concepts and you give me the first word that comes to mind. Um, let’s start with the letter “S” just to show how random and meaningless some of my questions are.

BK: Silk Flowers

DD: Inexcusable

BK: Slipcovers

DD: Summer

BK: Silver cups

DD: Legacy

BK: Shinoiserie

DD: That’s doesn’t start with an S.

BK: Good point. I’m having low blood sugar, why don’t you name something that starts with “S”?

DD: Silk, which I Iove if used sparingly and appropriately

BK: Ok, now my turn. But I’m over this S stuff. How about words that start with “Over”? Like, Oversized Furniture?

DD: Tricky

BK: Oversized clients.

DD: No Comment

Side note from Buzz: I have found oversized clients to be just as tricky as oversized furniture).

BK: Over-decorated homes

DD: Sad

BK: Over the Rainbow:

DD: Judy Garland?

BK: Huh, interesting. Ok, then…Judy Garland! (my answer to this one would have also been “Sad” but I’m not the one being interviewed)

DD: I don’t know what she has to do with design.

BK: Neither do I but what comes to mind for you?

DD: Uh, there’s a character based on her in Valley of the Dolls?

BK: Really? Huh. Which one? Neely O’Hara?? I’m sure it’s her—the Patty Duke character.

DD: No response.

BK: Ok, Twentieth century furniture vs. 18th century furniture

DD: Equally relevant

BK: Pairs of things versus the “everything in three’s” concept

DD: Not sure about that concept

BK: Tassels

DD: Overly and improperly used

BK: Would that be in homes or burlesque?

DD: Please tell me you’re kidding.

Buzz: Could you talk about some unexpected accessories that you like to use?

I absolutely LOVE ceramics, whether old or new, pristine or used and showing some wear. I think they show the hand of the artist, they are about form and often function, and the glazes can be otherworldly. I think they mix well in both contemporary and traditional settings and are usually curious to the eye, whether very simple or complex. I also love ancient objects in stone, particularly Egyptian alabaster and Bactrian pieces.

Aside from Buzz: Bactrian? I thought that could be cured with antibiotics. But I just Googled it and it refers to an ancient civilization (around 2500 BC and later) living in what is now Northern Afghanistan. The primitive marble and unusual totems and other objects created by the ancient culture are highly prized as art and accessories. Learn something new every day, huh?

Durkin continues: Objects in stone have such a clean, monolithic and often mysterious quality to them and can work very well in contemporary settings. I am pretty light on the idea of accessories for my projects, as I like to encourage my clients to fill their homes with objects that mean something to them, not just pretty things to dress up a table or their bookshelves. Happily, I work with a lot of real collectors, so not a problem here. Though when looking for accessories I am always drawn to simple forms and shapes.

Buzz: Describe the perfect Douglas Durkin Design client.

My perfect client is the one who I feel partnered with in the process, who has a point of view that I help interpret, and who is polite. It’s not about being given latitude to do what I want. It’s about feeling that we are aligned in spirit and on the same path with mutual understandings and appreciations.

Note from Buzz: Is this guy evolved or what? My perfect client is really cute, a size zero, kinda Chanel stylish, addicted to The Real Housewives of New York, Atlanta, etc., and invites me to fun lunches where I drink wine and don’t do any work.

Buzz: When you were in high school, what were your hobbies and extracurricular activities?

Drama Club (of course! I was passionate about the theater, opera, music of all kinds) art classes, and a lot of daydreaming and fantasy. Probably no big surprises here!

Buzz aside: I’m surprised he wasn’t also in Glee Club and Marching Band. I certainly was and both were highlights of my junior high school career. But I almost didn’t make it into Glee Club (we called it “Choir” then at James Madison Jr. High) because the song you had to sing was The National Anthem, accompanied on the piano by the very skinny, smelly and bitter Choirmaster, Mr. Shipkey. This is not a lie. So on Shipkey’s cue, I started the National Anthem, no doubt off-key but with lots of gusto: “My country tis of thee…” and Shipkey screams “Well that’s just lovely but I asked for the National Anthem! You know it, right??”

And all the other kids were now staring so I said “Sure, sorry.” So I started again, this time with tons of verve, upbeat enthusiasm and lots of volume (called “projecting”): “From the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans, white with F-O-A-M!!! (I was really belting it out)—and Shipkey slams his fist on the keyboard, scaring the Shipkey out of me-and hissing, why don’t you try Mary had a Little Lamb?” Ugh. So I very quietly and on the verge of a crying fit of major proportions, whimper “Mary had a little” and he says “Fine, you’re in.” I only found out later that everyone who auditioned for Choir had to be admitted because they needed enough students to justify some stupid budget. I think in today’s world I could sue Mr. Shipkey for verbal abuse and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Not to mention cigarette breath if that’s a crime. But back to our interview….

Buzz: Sticking with your high school, how would you describe yourself then? Were you in-crowd, out-crowd, bad boy, geek, jock, brainiac, class clown or what?

Definitely not “in crowd”, and not so athletic…like most creative kids, I always felt distant from the status quo. It was college where I finally felt free to be myself. College was a very happy time for me. Athleticism became a part of my life during college and remains with me till today.

Buzz: When and how did you first discover that you had a talent for interior design?

Probably when I was a kid (although not articulated as such….). I used to draw all the time when I was young, a lot of architectural things like theater sets and buildings. My folks used to let me decorate my room with my own holiday decorations, as their taste was a little restrained and mine was a little more flamboyant, so to speak! Funny to think back on that…we’re not so difficult to figure out, as it turns out!

Buzz aside: Yes, we are. When I decorated my room with Christmas decorations my parents told me that I could no longer be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Not sure if that’s true or not but I’ve got an interview to do here.

Buzz: How long have you been a professional designer?

I had my first job in interior design at the age of 20 in 1982……so 28 years….

Buzz rumination to himself: Why am I not as successful as Douglas Durkin? I mean, I’m practically 40 and what do I have to show for it? Just a brilliant ability to lie about my age.

Buzz: Early in your career, where you mentored by anyone?

I was. He was my first boss in NY: Frank Sierra, who was the President of Ellen Lehman McCluskey & Associates, a top hospitality and residential design firm there. Happily, though he is officially retired, Frank helps me now with my New York projects. He gave me my very first job in the business when I was in college, and really kind of took me under his wing. Frank taught me how to think like a designer and how to draw. Drawing by hand has become so undervalued in our culture….I continue to hand draw every day I am in the office. It is my process and I really owe a great debt to Frank for believing in me at such a young age and showing interest in my abilities.

Buzz: Describe how your design career unfolded. Did you start by getting a degree in design?

I had gone to Cornell and studied Hotel Administration (which I had been advised to pursue by my high school guidance counselor since I never tested well on my SATs and was advised that I wouldn’t have gotten into a good architecture school, which was my original plan). I wasn’t so happy with my choice when I got to Cornell and come my sophomore year, I took a class in Hospitality Design and Planning and loved it. So then I started taking elective classes in the Architecture and Design Schools there. In essence, I received an incredible education in the business of service and aesthetics (what the hospitality industry is all about) with a concentration in design and planning.

In 1982 I worked at the reception desk of the Mayfair Regent Hotel on Park Avenue. The hotel was so beautifully designed: classic, old world and comfortable…So I went to see the designers at the end of the summer to see if I could intern with them (Ellen Lehman McCluskey and Associates) and Frank Sierra hired me for the following summer. It was an amazing few years of experience! Mrs. McCluskey was in the later part of her career so I never worked directly with her. But she was kind and formidable and it was an amazing start for my career to be there at her firm.

When I graduated Cornel in 1984, I worked as the assistant manager of the Barclay Intercontinental Hotel in New York for a year, hoping to move into the corporate design division of Intercontinental. They decided I was doing well in operations so that became the plan and I was miserable. And within days of getting a promotion with Intercontinental, I got a call from Frank Sierra who had heard through the grapevine that I wasn’t happy at Intercon and wanted to find a way to pursue a design career. He called and invited me back to work with their firm…it was weird, almost too good to be true, and wonderful!

I worked there for three years, mostly on hospitality related projects, and then had an opportunity to work as a designer in the office of Robert Metzger, who was one of the most renowned 1980’s decorators in NY. It was an unbelievable opportunity and learning experience and I also spent three years there. I learned so much from Robert about antiques, the best in materials, finishes, and quality. He also taught me about taking risks in design, and about being bold with materials. He also encouraged me to be a little bit outrageous and unafraid from a design standpoint. It was the eighties after all, and Robert had a top client list with very extravagant tastes.

Buzz: What’s the most fun part of your job?

Working with people, including clients, vendors, and my staff. I am a relationship-oriented person so every aspect of the work gives me great pleasure. I also absolutely love traveling the world in pursuit of objects and furnishings for my projects. I attend a great many antique and art fairs annually, and I really do love “the hunt”.

Buzz: You’ve been so busy for so long, do you ever feel in danger of “burning out” or just leaving design and joining a kibbutz in Israel?

I would love to go to Israel, but a kibbutz is probably not for me. I have gotten much better at time management and taking care of myself regarding travel. For instance I got an apartment in New York this year as the constant back and forth travel and staying in hotels became really unsatisfying for me. When in New York, I usually try to stay on California time and keep my mornings open for myself. The days of red eye flights and 9 am meetings in New York don’t work so well for me anymore, or at least not for the first few days I’m there. I also usually stay at least three nights when traveling to the East Coast or to Hawaii. Lastly I have an amazing General Manager Sharon Oosterman and equally amazing Design Director Greg Elich and as we are all working closely together but focused on different things, I feel so well supported that burn out doesn’t really seem on the table for me. Kudos also goes to my amazing staff in general. People work really hard in my firm and care about making sure I am managed well. I absolutely love the people in my firm and feel blessed on a daily basis for their support. I am not one to complain about this aspect of my business as it really does work so well.

Buzz: What inspires you?

Integrity, honesty, kindness, culture, music, the arts.

Buzz: What drives you nuts about running a top design firm?

Nothing really drives me nuts.

Buzz aside: that’s funny, just about everything drives me nuts recently. He probably drinks herbal teas instead of double shot lattes.

Buzz: When a prospective client approaches you, how do you decide if the job is right for you?

That is sometimes very difficult. It truly is an energetic feeling you have. It is crucial that you feel an alignment or it cannot work well.

Buzz: Do you have a minimum budget that is essential for you to consider a project?

Not really. I think because we’re a firm of 20+ that offers full service, a job should be of a certain scale and intensity for that full service to be worth it to the client. That is probably a better way of answering the budget question rather than thinking about budget numbers. For our existing clients, we will do any scale project large or small.

Buzz: Are the best interior designers born or trained; in other words, do you think great design comes from nature or nurture?

I am more of the philosophy of nature. In all fields, people with a knack for what they do seem to do the best. Of course exposure to aesthetics and passion along the way are helpful.

Buzz rumination: I knew it! I’m a naturally gifted designer but I stink because I haven’t had enough exposure to aesthetics and passion. That’s a relief.

Buzz: What are the most common decorating mistakes made by non-professionals?

I would rather see something too large than too small in a room. Also using materials in rooms that do not have the architecture or quality to support its use (think spec homes with silk damask curtains: horrible). Another common error relates to poor choices in linings for window treatments. Just drive around San Francisco and look at white linings on curtains. Glass always reads dark and the light linings, especially with balloon shades, it looks like someone’s underwear is hanging out to dry.

Buzz comment: That was funny. And NOTE TO SELF: Gotta change my balloon shades and underwear more frequently.