Kirill Istomin’s guide to consummate interiors

The award-winning interior designer on why ‘a beautiful antique will work in any room’, the pieces he bought at Christie’s, and his selection of lots from our Opulence and Living with Art sales in New York in October 2016

  • 1
  • Consider function

When designing, it’s important to consider the room’s purpose — whether it’s a drawing room, dining room or living room. A floor plan is crucial, because it tells you what furniture is needed in the room, and how it will be arranged. When I first meet a client, we talk about the room and the layout and discuss ideas.

  • 2
  • Don’t be afraid of colour

Kirill selects A French ormolu and Japanese lacquer-mounted mahogany bonheur du jour. By Emmanuel Alfred Beurdeley, Paris, circa. 45½ (115.5 cm) high, 29¼ in (74.5 cm) wide, 21 in (53.5 cm) deep. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Kirill selects: A French ormolu and Japanese lacquer-mounted mahogany bonheur du jour. By Emmanuel Alfred Beurdeley, Paris, circa. 45½ (115.5 cm) high, 29¼ in (74.5 cm) wide, 21 in (53.5 cm) deep. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Bought at Christies, interior by Kirill Istomin A French ormolu-mounted, mother-of-pearl and lacquered mahogany side-cabinet. By Gervais-Maximilien-Eugène Durand, Paris, last quarter 19th century

Bought at Christie's, interior by Kirill Istomin: A French ormolu-mounted, mother-of-pearl and lacquered mahogany side-cabinet. By Gervais-Maximilien-Eugène Durand, Paris, last quarter 19th century

People are often daunted at the prospect of painting white walls. Part of my expertise lies in finding out what colours a client likes, and presenting them with a colour scheme. They might say they like grey, so I’ll present them with a shade, but add another colour to make it more interesting.

I once had a client who insisted his living room would be beige. By the end of the project, he’d chosen to have it painted dark chocolate with elements of canary yellow. People don’t always know what they like. 

  • 3
  • Break with convention

Kirill selects A French ormolu and patinated bronze jardinière. By Christofle & Cie., Paris, last quarter. 20¾ in (52.7 cm) high, 21 in (53.3 cm) wide. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $10,625

Kirill selects: A French ormolu and patinated bronze jardinière. By Christofle & Cie., Paris, last quarter. 20¾ in (52.7 cm) high, 21 in (53.3 cm) wide. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $10,625

Kirill selects  A pair of French ormolu chenets. In the Regence style, 19th century. 13¾ in (35 cm) high, 5¾ in (14.6 cm) wide. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $1,250

Kirill selects: A pair of French ormolu chenets. In the Regence style, 19th century. 13¾ in (35 cm) high, 5¾ in (14.6 cm) wide. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $1,250

For most people, the colour of a ceiling has to be white. But if a room has darker walls, I suggest opting for a light shade of grey, which looks white, but doesn’t contrast too sharply with the rest of the room.

Another trick is to use wallpaper on a ceiling, although it’s important that any design has no direction. It’s something most people have never considered doing. My job is to convince clients that it could look really interesting. 

  • 4
  • Be aware of trends — but don’t always follow them

Kirill selects A large Meissen Porcelain vase painted by Professor Heinz Werner, dated 1992. 27½ in (69.8 cm) high. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $12,500

Kirill selects: A large Meissen Porcelain vase painted by Professor Heinz Werner, dated 1992. 27½ in (69.8 cm) high. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $12,500

It’s incredibly important to know what’s going on in the industry, and what other designers are doing. But I never try to make a ‘trendy’ room. In fashion, you could buy the very latest designer handbag, only to be told it’s become ‘so last season’ a few months later. The rooms I’m doing reflect what’s current without dating.  

  • 5
  • Know where to buy unique pieces

Kirill selects  A North European ormolu, painted tole and porcelain 16-light chandelier. Second half 19th century. 47¼ in (120 cm) high, 41½ in (105.5 cm) diameter. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Kirill selects: A North European ormolu, painted tole and porcelain 16-light chandelier. Second half 19th century. 47¼ in (120 cm) high, 41½ in (105.5 cm) diameter. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Kirill selects  A Louis XV ormolu-mounted green-stained horn bracket clock. The dial signed Diodonou à Paris, circa 1740. The mechanism inscribed Diodonou à Paris. 52½ in (131 cm) high overall. This work was offered in Living with Art, 13-14 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $6,875

Kirill selects: A Louis XV ormolu-mounted green-stained horn bracket clock. The dial signed 'Diodonou à Paris', circa 1740. The mechanism inscribed Diodonou à Paris. 52½ in (131 cm) high overall. This work was offered in Living with Art, 13-14 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $6,875

I love antiques and strongly believe that a good piece doesn’t have to be expensive. I buy a lot at Christie’s: the Living with Art sales offer good-looking pieces at reasonable prices, while the Estate Sales and Opulence series are great for really special, unique finds. A beautiful antique piece will work in any room.  

  • 6
  • Find inspiration in great homes

Bought at Christie’s, interior by Kirill Istomin Louis XV Commode, stamp of Leonard Boudin, mid-18th century. A pair of gilt-bronze mounted white marble and Derbyshire Blue John vases. The Blue John early 19th century, the white marble and mounts late 19th century. Russian cut-crystal vase, circa 1830. A pair of restoration bronze and ormolu four-light candelabra, circa

Bought at Christie’s, interior by Kirill Istomin: Louis XV Commode, stamp of Leonard Boudin, mid-18th century. A pair of gilt-bronze mounted white marble and Derbyshire Blue John vases. The Blue John early 19th century, the white marble and mounts late 19th century. Russian cut-crystal vase, circa 1830. A pair of restoration bronze and ormolu four-light candelabra, circa 1830 

Kirill selects  An important French ormolu-mounted kingwood, satiné, ebony and marquetry-inlaid commode à vantaux. By François Linke, index number 559. 36¾ in (93 cm) high, 55¾ in (141.5 cm) wide, 23¾ in (60.5 cm) deep. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $583,500

Kirill selects: An important French ormolu-mounted kingwood, satiné, ebony and marquetry-inlaid commode à vantaux. By François Linke, index number 559. 36¾ in (93 cm) high, 55¾ in (141.5 cm) wide, 23¾ in (60.5 cm) deep. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $583,500

The catalogues for Estate Sales often feature archival shots that show how furnishings were arranged in the homes of their previous owners. These visuals inspire my work, along with my love of art and interior design history. I also travel a lot, and have visited many beautiful historical houses — everyone knows Versailles, but there are many other spectacular homes and châteaux worth visiting. One of my biggest inspirations is the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

  • 7
  • Mix periods for an eclectic look

Kirill selects An American gilt-bronze, patinated-metal, portor marble and porcelain floor lamp. By Edward F. Caldwell & Co., New York, c. 76 in (193 cm) high, including fitment. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $5,000

Kirill selects: An American gilt-bronze, patinated-metal, portor marble and porcelain floor lamp. By Edward F. Caldwell & Co., New York, c. 76 in (193 cm) high, including fitment. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $5,000

Kirill selects  A pair of ormolu-mounted French faience vases mounted as oil lamps. Late 19th century, attributed to Theodore Deck. 16½ in (40.6 cm) high. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Kirill selects: A pair of ormolu-mounted French faience vases mounted as oil lamps. Late 19th century, attributed to Theodore Deck. 16½ in (40.6 cm) high. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

A well-styled room will look as if an interior designer had never been there. Mix furniture from different periods to give a room ‘layers’, creating the impression that the design was put together over several years. Rooms in old houses often have a mix of unusual pieces that nevertheless go together. If they’re beautiful, I believe objects from different periods can work together.

  • 8
  • Combine beauty with functionality

Kirill selects  A Chinese export famille rose Pronk Doctors large plate, circa 1738-1740. Enamelled after the design of Dutch artist Cornelis Pronk for the VOC. 10 in (25.5 cm) diameter. This work was offered in Living with Art, 13-14 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $4,000

Kirill selects: A Chinese export famille rose 'Pronk Doctors' large plate, circa 1738-1740. Enamelled after the design of Dutch artist Cornelis Pronk for the VOC. 10 in (25.5 cm) diameter. This work was offered in Living with Art, 13-14 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $4,000

Kirill selects  A set of eight Royal Crown Derby porcelain parcel-gilt plates. Dated 1902-1903, puce printed crowned. 10 in (25.5 cm) diameter. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $5,000

Kirill selects: A set of eight Royal Crown Derby porcelain parcel-gilt plates. Dated 1902-1903, puce printed crowned. 10 in (25.5 cm) diameter. This lot was offered in Opulence on 10 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York and sold for $5,000

Practicality is incredibly important. As an interior designer, I want my work to be beautiful, but at the same time, I’m creating homes for people to live in. My job is to find a marriage between the practical and the good looking.

In a living room, for example, the coffee table shouldn’t be too far from the sofa — it’s a mistake a lot of hotels make, and it makes it uncomfortable to put a drink down. Another tip is to make sure lamps are at the same level; as soon as they’re turned on, any difference will become pronounced. 

  • 9
  • Make your seating plan coherent

Bought at Christie’s, interior by Kirill Istomin A French gilt-bronze and wire fire screen, late 19th century 

Bought at Christie’s, interior by Kirill Istomin: A French gilt-bronze and wire fire screen, late 19th century 

Another important consideration is the seating in your living room, which should accommodate the same number of people as your dining room. If your dining room has a table for 12 people, your living room should have capacity for 12, too. 

  • 10
  • Don’t worry about what others will think

When it comes to decorating, people are often afraid to go with what they like. They worry about how it will look, or what their friends will say. I think that’s totally wrong; it’s really important to create something for you, that you want to live in. Don’t be afraid to express your personality — remember, you come first!