One of my all time favorite designers is Mary McDonald so you can imagine my surprise when I got an email that my question had been included in questions answered by Mary on the Schumacher website column "Ask Mary". I thought all you "Mary" lovers out there would enjoy the article if you haven't seen it already.
1. Christine Conte: When you have a blank canvas of a room, where do you get your inspiration from? Do you consider nearby rooms, a clients particular like or request or is it instinct?
Generally it is all three. First and foremost and contrary to popular belief, we actually do have to listen to some sort of client request even if it is as simple as “I love pastels.” Rarely do we get 100% “Just surprise me.” Even Carte Blanche has some parameters. In the case where I am lucky enough to do whatever I want, I usually look at the architecture and surroundings first. If I have to match an already complete nearby room, I don’t really want the job unless someone like Nancy Lancaster or Jaques Garcia had a hand in it. I like to look at the overall picture of architecture, surroundings, geographic location and client’s preferences. Once I have mulled that over, I usually just get a vibe for the house. It kind of speaks to me, and I usually see a color palette in one or two specific areas which start to set a tone. For me being inspired is never a problem. Inspiration is about 10% of the work. It is the execution that demands your all and the refining and editing after you have been inspired. Just because you are inspired to do a lavender rough hewn organic beach house does not mean that all of that exists visually or technically. So to recap the answer to your question, it would be client first, architecture and surroundings second (including existing- yet only fab rooms) and thirdly every little thing on the planet can inspire me after I have considered the first two. A button on a shirt, a strip of wood or a fanciful ice cream scoop can be the start of an entire room for me.
2. @InteriorCanvas1 : Which is one of your design “golden rules”?
Don’t turn back after you have committed to your style plan. Commit Commit Commit. If you are going for 70’s chic don’t turn back when you go to your friend’s cottage and bring home a pine table.. There are VERY talented collected and curated interiors of that nature but you had better have been touched by the design Gods to do it… as for the average person, just commit. If you don’t, you end up with the equivalent of a Marchesa dress with gladiator sandals.
3. Leslie Devito: What is your favorite thing to do (at home) when you are NOT working?
I like to cook. I also like to sit and read fancy cookbooks “pretending” I am going to cook all of these 20 part recipes. By the time I finish reading it all I’m exhausted and feel like I did it. The French cookbooks really get you in the (see recipe) department.
4. Krista Nye Schwartz: What is your favorite room in a house to decorate and why?
I actually like the challenge of any room I can make dramatic and layer. Having said that I love over the top vestibules, really formal living rooms and as it might be apparent the “come hither bedroom”. I can really sink my teeth into fashion-y feminine layering and no room allows you to do that like a bedroom.
Let’s just say bedroom, if I had to boil it down.
5. Emily Nickell Vanderputten: In your opinion, in terms of execution, how much of design is ‘learned’ and much of it is instinct (having an eye for scale, composition, color, and layering patterns etc)?
There are many successful talentless people out there that have gone to school. Their talent is in business and networking and being efficient but not necessarily in anything more visual than the next person. That is actually a talent too, which is why many artistically talented people never really make it but are filled with natural talent. You cannot teach someone style. One can learn to mimic styles and be a good executor becoming successful but they never really had intrinsic style and still don’t. They are copying in a paint by numbers way and have made an effort to learn why scales technically work together and how the business of design works. There are truly stylish talented designers and one can never teach that intrinsic gift. Everyone can learn how pieces fit in a room but not necessarily with cohesion unless you are a tented copier. In both cases, one always learns and trains their eye and grows as whichever type of designer one is and obviously the truly talented will grow 10 fold.
6. @Kenpasadena: Which is your absolute favorite accessory: ( A ) ginger pot ( B ) pagoda( C) Foo Dogs?
For me personally a pagoda by far, but for the client in general the most easily used and versatile is definitely a ginger pot.
7. Juliana Posess: What is the most seemingly-random early job/internship experience you had that actually proves to be extremely useful in your life as a designer now?
I was such a terrible assistant intern type that I really can’t remember anything except feeling sorry for the people that hired me. So I guess to answer your question, I can see my teen type coming now and know they won’t work out if I hired them.
8. Jenn Gallagher Maher: What is your best strategy for handling clients with poor taste?
I validate what they like and possibly what type of home that it could work in and then explain that is not what we are trying to do in theirs. Sometimes people’s bad taste is just a lack of editing and discernment as to what works together. Those people tend to like absolutely everything which never works together but might have a significance separately.
9. Lisa Mende Design: Loved this interview! Bravo! I would like to ask her who her all time favorite client was? Thanks!
I kind of have so many that I can’t honestly choose one (or tell who a few are), but I loved working with Glee creator Ryan Murphy because his mind is really as quick and sharp and completely bizarre as the work he creates. He is somewhat genius in so many ways.
10. Andrew Skipper: Do you set goals and then go after them or do you do your own thing and let opportunities come to you?
I am more of the latter. Goals too huge or too far away get me confused. I try to look at the year ahead and then some. Besides so many things come your way when you think they are going to go another way that you have to be willing to see the opportunities that suddenly present themselves. I admire those big goal people, but it freaks me out. My advice is to set your goals and be willing to shift them as different opportunities present themselves along the way.
"Room To Bloom"
Greeted by beautiful flowers at Charlotte Country Club
I had the opportunity to hear Mary McDonald speak recently at Charlotte's Mint Museum
"Room to Bloom." Mary was as candid and frank as with the answers above which I loved.
She is quite beautiful in person
She had a sense of humor and didn't mind laughing at herself.
She also reminded us that she has the same issues as all designers
that being a celebrity designer doesn't change things.
She talked about her new collection with Schumacher. You can see the panels
and trim in the background are made of her fabric and the podium is
upholstered in it as well.
Her remote for the power point wasn't working to her liking so after what seemed like an eternity, she promptly said "little remote , you're fired" to which, we all broke out in laughter.
(See even glamourous designers have to succumb to practicality sometimes)
After Mary spoke we had a delightful lunch!
What day that begins with flowers and ends in dessert with a little "Mary" in the middle can be all bad? Catherine Austin and her committees did a fabulous job!