“Take the leap to follow your passions, wherever that might lead you!”
Timothy Corrigan – a designer extraordinaire, one of the world’s top 100 interior designers by Architectural Digest and the first designer ever who told me I have a terrific blog. Timothy Corrigan’s work is showcased in some of the world’s most extraordinary properties with clients including European royalty, an emir of a Middle Eastern country, Hollywood celebrities and corporate leaders. This interview was for me a fascinating educational experience. I’ve been an admirer of Timothy’s aesthetic for a long time and was so delighted to find that he is blessed with one-of-kind personality and natural warmth. Prior to forming his design firm in 1998, the Los Angeles-based designer had a successful career in advertising where he served as the president of Bates Worldwide’s international operations. In his free time Timothy started designing houses for himself and his friends. So he decided to follow his heart and moved into the world of design. I’m always impressed by people who made the choice to follow their passions and stick with it. It’s a rare thing!
How would you describe your own style?
A magazine once described my style as “European elegance infused with California casual” and I really think that it is a good summation of what I try to achieve. I spend half of my time in Europe and the other half in California so it really does fit my life as well as my design style. While I love so much of the European design esthetic, there is something very special about the ease of life in California—so if you can have a blend of the two, you have the best of both worlds!
You began a career in advertising first. How did you decide to become a designer?
After spending 5 years working in advertising in New York City my company transferred me to Paris. It was a total life changing experience. I was so overcome by the sheer beauty of everything in Paris and I was particularly struck by the way that culture and the arts play an important part of everyday life there. Before too long I become addicted to the Paris Drouot auction house and flea markets. My apartment was published in House and Garden magazine and that was the beginning of my new career.
How did you get your first assignment?
One of my early design projects was working for Madonna on a wonderful 1920’s Mediterranean style house in Beverly Hills. The whole experience turned out to be somewhat of a challenge but I proved to myself that I could make it as a professional in my new found career.
Is there a designer that has influenced you?
Jean-Charles Moreux who lived in Paris from 1889 to 1956 did it all. He was an architect, he designed interiors, he created furniture and he did landscape design. In short, he was a true renaissance man. He believed, as I do, in the importance of creating a fully integrated environment. Moreux’s furniture took classical forms as their basis and then shifted it to make it feel more contemporary, provocative, fresh and alive. He mixed wood finishes and materials in unexpected ways. He played with perspective and color. When you see his rooms you are reminded of the past and yet they seem very suited for the day.
The other designer who has played a huge role in my life is New York designer, Vicente Wolf. While at first glance we may appear not to have much in common from a design perspective, we both approach design on the premise that by mixing pieces of different styles, periods, textures and quality you appreciate each one more. Contrast creates spaces that are intrinsically exciting and alive. I hate spaces that look too perfect or “decorated.” Vicente has also been such a great inspiration in the way he manages it all: he runs a successful design business, is a brilliant photographer, designs lines of his own furniture and fabrics and is a great collector of photography!
What are the most commonly held misconceptions about designers?
Many people think that designers are out of reach for them from a financial perspective…there are designers for every budget. Using a designer can end up saving you money because they have great resources to get things made less expensively and can bring ideas and materials that you couldn’t find on your own. Finally, they bring a level of experience that can help you avoid making costly mistakes in the first place.
I read you’ve restored a seventeenth-century Norman castle, a Georgian town house in New York and a vast Mediterranean-style residence in Montecito that belonged to two generations of the J. P. Morgan family. Why do you love old houses?
All of those projects were houses that I was doing for myself, so I must be crazy or a glutton for punishment! Seriously, though, I love old structures because they have stories to tell about the way people have lived for generations. An old building doesn’t share all of its secrets in the first five minutes that you spend in it the way a new building does. I particularly love the challenge of figuring out how to maintain the integrity of that building and yet adapting it to the needs of today.
What do you enjoy most in your work?
Whether we are working on a hotel lobby, a restaurant, a small beach house or a 35-room villa the most enjoyable part of my job is figuring out how that space can be designed for maximum livability. I hate walking into a space where people look as if they are stiff and uncomfortable. You have to get so many aspects right: the flow, lighting, furniture, colors, details…all of those elements combine to create a space that people WANT to be in!
Which project have you been most proud of?
My home in France, the Chateau du Grand-Luce’, is an 18th century historic monument that I bought from the French government. It needed to be completely restored: there was no plumbing or electricity. No kitchen or working bathroom. It’s a constant work in progress: I now have 14 bedroom suites completed, and have just finished restoring the chapel and theatre. There are so many buildings on the property that it could take lifetimes to do it all….but I have loved every moment of it.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Having achieved great success in one career and then abandoning it in order to pursue my real passion of design, I hope that I can inspire others to not be held back by their fears; take the leap to follow your passions, wherever that might lead you!
What inspires your creativity?
The most important thing is to keep exposing yourself to new ideas, new styles, new places. It is so easy to let yourself get into an auto-pilot way of living and when you do that you stagnate. It’s good to put yourself in situations where you feel a little bit unfamiliar because in doing so you stretch as a person. I constantly keep pushing myself to grow, experience and learn new things.
What is your idea what a beautiful home should feel like?
No matter how beautiful a space is, it is not entirely successful if it is not completely comfortable; you need to feel that you can make yourself at home in that space in order for it to be a successfully designed space. Deborah Needleman, the fabulous editor of the Wall Street Journal wrote about this aspect of my design style like this: “Most principles of good design are truly universal, not size or income dependent…Comfort doesn’t have to mean paper plates and sweatpants. It can be elegant, and something we can achieve no matter where we make our home.” When I read that I felt so good about having succeeded in my primary design objective.
‘Les Pavilions, French Pavilions of the Eighteenth Century’, by Cyril Connolly and Jerome Zerbe, (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1962.) This book focuses on the small French pavilions or follies that were built in the mid 18th century. A quote from the book summarizes the uses of these buildings: “they were intended for relaxation, of which there were four: conversation, making love, eating and cards. Reading and music were occasionally indulged in.” Doesn’t that say it all?
“A Charmed Couple” which is about the lives of Walter and Matilda Gay; he was an American painter of interiors who lived in Europe at the turn of the 20th century and hung out with Henry James, Edith Wharton and all of the expatriate crowd.
My all-time favorite book is the novel “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. I have read it three times and I continue to be struck by its insights into our quickly changing world. It is about maintaining one’s humanity in the face of an increasingly technological world.
Your top travel tip is…
First, I never eat meals served on the plane, no matter which cabin. I bring a small sandwich that usually elicits a few envious glances from the other passengers that are struggling with the airline meals. I bring my laptop computer with all my music, I make lists, sleep, and write emails that I send as soon as I land. Finally, I try to take non-stop flights whenever possible…I have gotten stranded in so many places that I never wanted to go to in the first place!
Your favorite way to celebrate Christmas…
Every year a big group of family and friends meet at my house in the French countryside. We take long walks in the woods, feed the swans and geese on my lake and sit by the fire for hours reading, playing games, taking naps. It’s almost like going back in time to when life was all much slower and people really had the time to be with each other. I can think of no other place that I would rather be for the holidays.
What is the perfect gift for you?
Books, books and more books! I am totally obsessed with them…there are piles of them all over my houses! I should probably figure out a way to make them a part of my approach to design.
What does success mean to you?
Success for me is defined by one’s ability to give back to others—whether we do that through a simple meal, creating a beautiful space, or teaching something new. It doesn’t matter if you give of your time, your money or your heart….but when you do so, you know deep inside that you have started on your on personal road to achieving a successful life.
My signature Design Elements question – what are the most important design elements?
On every one of our projects I make sure that we mix styles, periods, textures and cultures into a single space in order to make it feel fresh and alive. No one wants to live in a museum or a furniture show room; we strive to make spaces that feel like they have been achieved over time and reflect a specific personality.
photos: Timothy Corrigan, Inc.