The fall promises to be another season of books filled with decorating ideas, philosophies and styles that run the gamut from densely saturated and layered, to distilled and selectively edited; all these promise to be beautiful books you will be adding to your list. Every once in awhile I hope to catch up with a designer or two, and toss a few questions their way. This weekend in East Hampton I caught up with Tom Scheerer and...
Charlotte Moss: Editing is an acquired skill and you seem to have mastered that. Have you always approached decorating with such discipline?
Tom Scheerer: Editing is the essential skill of decorating. It's what separates the men from the boys so to speak. What separates you and me from our clients! It's why I eschew the word DESIGN. Yeah, I design night tables, fabrics, the occasional lamp or special upholstered chair, but 95% of the job is knowing what goes with what! Simple as that. And there's nothing like experience when it comes to editing, and of course, a point of view. Editing is about setting a course and knowing how to keep on it. An accretion of small moves that add up to a cohesive whole. When I was less experienced I was always more conscious of the "course,” more disciplined. Now it's almost second nature, I make associations more freely and my decorating might be better for it.
CM: So many of the rooms in the book have a tranquil and transporting air about them. The palettes, the textures, the prints and even the selected plants all send me drifting. What do you attribute your aesthetic to? A childhood on the beach in East Hampton? A set of values that preached 'whispering not shouting?
TS: That's a nice way of putting it CM! I didn't grow up in "decorated" houses. My family valued comfort, a semblance of order, family togetherness, fresh air, clean windows. Oh, and good, real food! Luckily, the houses had varied qualities and atmospheres and could stand on their own without too much embellishment. What decorating there was was a bit haphazard, always cheerful and not too serious. In decorating for clients I try to evoke those same qualities. High ridicule in our family came in the form of "Did you see their house? It’s awful! Looks like a decorating magazine!"
CM: When you are out shopping for a client and you see several things you want to buy for a particular spot, but you only need one, tell me, really, HOW do you decide which one? How do you restrain yourself, which you seem SO good at doing?
TS: This brings us back to editing! In a perfect world every item that goes into a clients house must pass a few tests. Does it move the story of the house forward? Does it work spatially, compositionally and in tonality for the spot in mind? Whether it be a practical item or an extravagant one, does it give good value? Can the client handle the responsibility of it? (a great plant, nice linens, a unique and rare work of art would fall into this category!) But if I truly love something I just buy it knowing someone else will too, whether it’s right away or down the line. This morning I bought a surrealist tabletop iPhone holder for $350! But it was cast in metal in the shape of a delicate hand like the old Gucci wallets
Who ever winds up with it will smile everyday, for life!
CM: You are a bit of a design Sherlock Holmes. I love how you mine through a house or consider its geography and build on it, like the shard fire surround done in Cape Dutch style, and the Cuban tiles found in a pantry. Do your clients get as excited about it as you do?
TS: Detective work and mining are both great analogies. It's the initial step in any decorating job by a seasoned professional to find the first thread of a story that can connect the client to the house to the locale. Case in point: South African clients, house in Bahamas, broken pottery in the topsoil, et voila!
CM: Pratt and Lambert's Burnt Sage, your favorite color...have you ever asked them how, the heck they came up with that name for such a beautiful faded, as you say ripe mango? Just curious...
TS: You are so right. Great color, dumbest name ever. I have a friend who made a living dreaming up names for colors…of cars! (She might have coined British Racing Green) I could ask her. How about Honeysuckle?
CM: It's obvious that your travels influence and inform your work. What's on your travel horizon?
TS: Someplace you have not been, but stirs you. Travel is becoming less and less interesting (to me, anyway) Luckily I’ve been almost everywhere already (Down Under and Scandinavia are gaping holes in my experience.) The intrigue of travel was always about the "get.” No more, sadly, as someone has already brought it to the Indagare Souk or to ABC Carpet! I like to revisit places I'm fond of. The second visit can reveal the real place. I also generally prefer to rent a house and have a house party of friends. This April it’s Morocco, but Taroudant, not Marrakesh or Tangier. I've been to the chic places, and am liking them less so - more and more! Except Capri (of course!) which Mike and I return to year after year, if only for a few days.
CM: I was at a beach party last week and coincidentally sat with one of your clients. The praises flowed, as I know they will when everyone else sees your book. As this is your first book, what is the message that you want someone to see, feel, be moved by when they close it?
TS: It was great to have Mimi get so many of my ideas on paper without me having to blow my own horn and sound too preachy. There is an overriding message, which is that decorating is not random. You have to educate yourself, keep your eyes open, apply logic as well as instinct. Listen to your customers and to the wind, be fair and be grateful to be in a world where people decorate!