“There is great beauty in simplicity. It is the truest measure of good design. ”
Today in the spotlight: Thomas Pheasant - one of the worlds top 100 architects and interior designers by Architectural Digest and winner of the Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year Award. Classic, simple, luxurious, with a strong connection to classical architecture… all are words that come to mind when asked about Thomas Pheasant’s designs. Interesting to know: his love for interior design began in third grade while on a school field trip…
How would you describe your own style?
Classically based, modern and serene.
How did you decide to become a designer?
The first time I was aware of interior space happened when I was in third grade while on a school field trip. I was standing in the rotunda of the National Gallery in Washington DC looking up at the grand dome thinking, “I could live here”. My fascination with buildings and grand classical spaces started that day. I began my college studies in architecture and moved into interiors.
How did you get your first assignment?
I was working as a design assistant for a residential firm in Georgetown when I was approached by one of the firm’s clients. They had a friend who was looking for a young designer and thought I would be a perfect choice. I decided to leave the firm and see if I could make it on my own. That was in 1980.
Is there a designer that has influenced you?
Many designers inspire me. Certainly many designers from the past especially those working in the mid century. Designers such as Arbus, Frank, Ponti and Quinet have all brought inspiration into my work. I have great respect for a number of current designers who have evolved their vocabulary into a recognizable style. For some it is branding and for others it is just their thoughtful eye that can be seen within their interiors.
Are great designers born or made?
I feel great designers are born with a special creative gene. It is something that lifts their work above the crowd. There are certain instincts that cannot be taught. I do think time and experience are needed to hone the skill of designing no matter how much creative talent you are born with.
What do you enjoy most in your work?
The trust and design freedom my clients give me. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with a very diverse clientle. Our current projects are in Los Angeles, New York, Southampton, Paris, Moscow and Singapore. When I began my career I never dreamed I would have the opportunities I have now.
Which project have you been most proud of?
That is a tough question. Certainly my Paris apartment and my residence in Washington DC have been a source of pride. In my Washington home, I am surrounded by not only the architectural spaces I created but, other than the art and a few antiques, I have designed all the furnishings. I have pieces I designed over the last 15 years. Although this is not how I typically design interiors for my clients, it is interesting to see how well my pieces all live together. Each piece has a story or a connection to an event or person. It is a little like having my own personal retrospective.
Please tell us more about your beautiful house near Washington D.C.
I purchased the house in 2007. I gutted the interior, opened up rooms to view the gardens and treated myself to many of the luxuries my clients enjoy. It took two years to complete the renovation. The house has fantastic light and the property feels like I am miles from the city yet I am only 5 minutes from my Georgetown office. I believe it reflects my love for serentity and my interest in modern classical ideas.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Having my work appreciated by editors and the recognition I have achieved professionally. In 1997, I received the Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year Award in London. It was a wonderful moment for me personally.
What inspires your creativity?
Inspiration comes from everywhere. The most obvious source would be travel. I just returned from Bali and my mind has been overwhelmed by the beauty of its people and the artisans I met. It will be interesting to see how these impressions will take form in my work.
What’s the most commonly mistake that people make when decorating their home?
Not taking time to address the architectural background of their home before filling it with furniture. No matter what the scale of any project I take on, I always focus, initially, on building a great space before I think about the furniture. I believe a beautiful space that is lightly furnished always beats a bland space that is overly decorated to hide its flaws.
What is your idea what a beautiful home should feel like?
Its easy to create a pretty space but a home should reflect the spirit of its owners. As an interior designer, it is a vital part of my job to bring the clients personalities into the space. The more a client identifies themselves with their home, the more their comfort is felt by those they share it with. It’s not about perfection, it’s about personality.
Your favorite books?
My home library is filled with books on design, art and travel. I am a big consumer of beautiful books. I spend a lot of time on planes so I always carry a few books to pass the time. As for what I am reading now, “Provenance”(Laney Salisbury) and “Sarah’s Key”(Tatiana de Rosnay).
Your top travel tip is…
Make the time to travel. Try to visit one new place each year. It is amazing the affect this will have on you personally and creatively. My tip: “Travel light and bring Tylenol PM”.
What does success mean to you?
I think this answer changes at different stages of a career. Right now, I am very happy to have captured an audience for my work that enables me to keep evolving as a designer. The fact that I get paid to do something that I love is amazing. What could be better than that?
What’s your advice to upcoming designers?
There are so many roads you can take within the design profession. I think it is important to think about what it is you want to do and focus on creating your own path. Each one of us brings something unique to our work. It is key to understand yourself and build your own vocabulary. It is easy to stray into trends and it is difficult to keep your creative voice clear.
My signature Design Elements question – what are the most important design elements?
Balance, simplicity, proportion and texture are four elements vital to my process.
photos: Thomas Pheasant