Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Michael Smith Lecture

I had the pleasure tonight to attend a lecture given by Michael Smith (seen on the left, with Ali Wentworth speaking to his right) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art here in Washington, DC. Michael is a very talented and now very FAMOUS interior designer thanks to the coverage of his work in the private quarters for the Obamas at the White House (which he would not talk about). However, no stranger to publicity, he had his first project published at the tender age of 24 in a major publication! Images shown are from his website of one of my favorite projects he has completed, a townhouse in Eaton Square. Michael showed a great deal of images: both published and unpublished, older and recent as well as a brief rundown of his many product lines. While talking about the bedroom shown above, probably one of my top favorite published bedroom images, Michael mentioned his philosophy of a bedroom as 'a crib' or a cozy retreat. He is a fan of patterned walls and beds nestled against the wall.Michael quickly broke down his design philosphy in a very clever way and you can see examples of this throughout all his work: the mixture of 2 ideas (often opposing) that bring out the best features of both. Whether it be mostly modern with an antique painting thrown in or English country with a few pieces from Marrakesh, this tension is where the interest lies in his work- the true definition of an eclectic interior! He believes the discord "brings you into the moment by its contrast". At the same time, Michael is concerned with balance. He never wants a room to be 'too simple, too fancy, too cluttered', etc. In a very formal dining room he'll throw in a sisal rug in contrast to a patterned or scenic wallpaper.
Another of the mainstays of his work is investing in quality, classic pieces. He mentioned in his own homes (as he is always moving) keeping the same couches for decades and uphostering them when they get a bit shabby. I noticed throughout many of his own houses that he showed the same pieces kept showing up. If you love something, you will always make it work: Stay away from the overly trendy and never start from scratch!Michael said that being an interior designer is one of the most personal and private fields you can ever go into. You get to know your clients very intimately and you should never betray their trust, hence the 'don't ask don't tell' policy on the White House! He did however mention that his work there was to 'highlight the best of America' and not neccesarily the traditions of the White House.
Some of the most interesting things he talked about were during the Q&A which was cohosted by his hilarious friend Ali Wentworth, actress and wife of George Stephanopoulos (whose house was recently in Elle Decor magazine). He mentioned his use of layering numerous smaller carpets in a large room. The reason? Not for the 'look' per say, but more because he felt it was hard to find rugs he liked in appropriate sizes!
Michael easily (and often) admited to being proudly high maintenance. He said "I'm not the easiest decorator to have" because he wants to challenge his clients to be invested in their houses. He wants them to think about their choices and for their spaces to be true reflections of not just Michael's taste, but their own lives. He claims all of his projects are incredibly individualistic and won't ever take on a client who merely wants a copy of one of his previous jobs.
I hope you all enjoyed these little tidbits I gleamed from the lecture; it was an entertaining and charming way to spend a rainy evening! All quotes are in italics.

32 comments:

Habitually Chic said...

How fun! I love hearing advice from established designers! They have so much to teach us! Michael Smith will be in NYC on Thursday and I can't wait to finally meet him! Thanks for the preview!

Mrs. Blandings said...

It must have been such a treat to hear him speak - I'm in full on green envy.

Terry said...

That sounds great. How do you find out about event like this? "Personal" is the word. You are naked in front of your doctor but the doctor doesn't go home with you and rummage in your closets or challenge you to "own" your decor.

Visual Vamp said...

Great tidbits. Great reporting. Thanks for sharing. But will we ever get to see the Obama project ha ha.
xo xo

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

S--Thank you so much for taking notes during this talk.

Michael is the most eloquent and thoughtful designer and is able to communicate his ideas about design in the most authoritative and unpretentious manner. He has a great sense of humor.
When and if his White House residence interiors are ever published they will be a revelation and will set trends for decades.
Bravo to Michael.
cheers, www.thestylesaloniste.com

Francine Gardner said...

love the way you showcased his different design approaches.I have met Michael a few times as he took his clients through my showroom shopping for their project. he is extremely personable and attentive...a brilliant designer with an amazing career path.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

It was a great event! Terry, the corcoran museum is also a school with an interior design program and they sponser this lecture series -it's the same series i've also seen stephen drucker and jamie drake, if you remember my posts on those lectures.

I was such a geek sitting there with my pad and pencil taking notes - I love it! He was asked if he knew if the White House interiors would be published and his response was he didn't know but he guesses they'll be published towards the END of the presidency for privacy issues. He cited the publication in architectural digest of the Bush interiors at the 7 year 6 month mark of his terms.

Greet said...

I really wood have been there to listen to him! I love his well thought interiors!

Greet

Off the List said...

I'm interested in his using "quality, classic pieces" & what furniture and lighting being made now will continue to be viewed as such - 'the antiques of the future' as the dreaded phrase goes.

In both the kitchen (with the orange blind) from Eaton Square and the yellow bedroom, he has used 'classics' from Soane. The small stool - known as the Halma Man (I believe) - the trolley - Nureyev Trolley - and the oak and red leather Klismos are all pieces derived from the antique but improved and updated. What will be thought of these in years to come?

PS The apartment is spectacular and was finished in less than a month as I understand.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

List, I think he mainly was referring to using real antiques as a base and buying traditional styled upholstery that will last your lifetime and reuphostering as fashions change. I agree with you -I HATE the phrase 'antiques of tomorrow'...mostly because it's said about the most dreadful pieces!

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Incredibly impressive that he was published at the tender age of just 24. I admire his design philosophy and praise him for encouraging quality to last the test of time. Thanks for sharing this incredible evening.
Cheers ~

home before dark said...

Thank god you are geek! Loved the reporting. Still hurting from Corcoran envy. I think Michael Smith is one the decorators of this decade. It will be fascinating to see the WH reveal. I'm assuming that won't happen until health care reform (?) is passed. Hope you are feeling better and that this night was a little pick me up from a way down week.

Aesthetic Oiseau said...

Funny that you just found my blog, because I was JUST reading yours. I totally enjoyed the lecture and your summary of the event. Sounds like we keyed in on some of the same themes. Thanks for the comment and I will be returning to your blog!

Regina Joi Drucker said...

Michael Smith has been on a journey for now over 20 years and I have watched him grow from the sidelines, starting from his days as the asssistant to Lynn at INDIGO SEAS, which she also owns the famous IVY restaurant here on Robertson, to his filling in the gigantic shoes of both Billy Haines and Michael Taylor...to walking straight thru the front door of the Obama WHITE HOUSE.
What a dream, I am sure with some nightmares along the way, but what are dreams without the cautionary tales of a nightmare. HE IS MAJOR TALENT.

There are many out there who try to don the Crown of Master Stage Setter, but none fit better in it than our own American Boy, MICHAEL SMITH....with a name like that, how American can you get.

I hope one day, he gets to publish the NEW restoration of the WHITE HOUSE, he will be in the company of our Jacqueline, Stephane Boudin, with a little Rachel Mellon and Jane Englehard thrown in for good measure.

I have too say that you are a great writer, and you ALWAYS post informative text and ravishing photography.




Regina Joi Drucker

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Regina, thank you so much!! He has had a successful career from his beginnings which is only a testament to his talent and drive!
HBD, I think privacy is what is holding it back (as well as the political intrigue). As michael said - I woudln't look for it till the 11th hour of his presidency!

Megan Blake said...

Thanks for the terrific feedback from last nights event! I also attended the lecture at the Corcoran but forgot a pen to jot down the interesting material Michael delivered. You sure took some great notes! I have to say that the Eaton Square home might be one of my favorites as well. His drive and talent, and of course as we were privileged to witness, his warm and welcoming personality, surely are intriguing.

pve design said...

What a treat for you! I do agree, that it is in finding a balance as well as trusting your instincts as well as said clients. I still have that first "crib" tear sheet, as I loved those grey trees and thought, one day I shall paint those and I did for a client years ago. I love the subtle colors.
pve

Windlost said...

Oh, I am delirious with envy. Thanks for sharing your tidbits, which I read with earnest, looking for gems. I adore his work, which is so undecorated looking but so utterly well-appointed. His aesthetic is just perfect in my book and he remains my favorite designer.
You are TOO lucky. xo Terri

Chic Coles (Cole Design) said...

What a wonderful night. You are so lucky to have meet Mr Smith.

Renee Finberg said...

no kidding around!
i would have absolutely love this.

lucky YOU!!!
xx

My Notting Hill said...

What an outstanding post. You captured pretty much everything he said last night!! It really was a great weay to spend a raining evening.

Dagny @ Beautiful Living said...

Great post! I so wish I could have been there!!

DAM said...

I was at that event and asked the question about the Rugs/Ferns/Blue China - themes we see in his work.

I'm sorry I didn't see/recognize you as I would have loved to say hello.

Great event!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

SuthrnGent -they were great questions!! Wish I had known!

Edward said...

On your Michael Smith post, I noticed the Eaton Square living room is different from the same room printed in the October issue of the House & Garden. It seems the solid scalloped back sofa was replaced by a camel back one in a striped fabric. Did he say anything about it?

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Edward, I noticed that too. He didn't mention this project in detail much so I don't know which is the more recent.

Thomas said...

Excellent-Excellent post. You continue to inspire me to do better as a blogger. I enjoyed this and I wish I jumped on the opportunity to go. I love Ali Wentworth. She is one of my favorite celebrity Washingtonians (can I call her a celebrity-she is on Oprah often?).

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thanks, Thomas! I'm so flattered! Too bad you didn't make it to the lecture -maybe next time!
BTW, yes - she was introduced as a 'washington insider and celebrity'! All thanks to Oprah (well, and her acting and her equally famous husband!).

Love Where You Live said...

Stefan! It was wonderful meeting you on Tuesday night! I didn't realize you were a blogger-hope to see you at future events with Annabelle! - Rebecca

columnist said...

Excellent examples of "over door" pictures in the last two images of your post. Great to hear of and see his work.

Things That Inspire said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! I found your comment 'never start from scratch' to be an interesting one. I wonder what most of Smith's client's home inventory is like when they hire him? On the one hand, they are usually people with a lot of funds to afford a decorator of his caliber, so perhaps they have decorated before, have traveled, have collected. On the other hand, many people hire a decorator like Michael at a transition time in their lives - they are moving into a home, they are changing their lifestyles, they have bought another home. So there must be an element of starting from scratch with some of these projects.

Great post!

Lascaux Tile said...

When one enters into a Michael Smith room, it feels like it's been there for decades, even though it was just installed. One is transformed. How does he do this magic? His respect and love of history and its artisans comes into play.