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Design inspiration: our specialists’ suggestions

From the Instagram accounts of fashion greats to stately homes, sources of inspiration are plentiful for those with an eye to design. We asked 10 Decorative Arts specialists to share the places and sites they seek out for a fresh perspective

Elizabeth Wight, Specialist, Private and Iconic Collections: ‘Whenever I am in a new city I try to find a local “house” museum that tells the story of both the city and an individual collector. These often jam-packed interiors are an ideal way to see wonderful decorative arts alongside fine art, presented in the way they were meant to be enjoyed. Some of my favourites include the Frick Collection in New York, the Wallace Collection in London, Bayou Bend in Houston and the Hillwood in Washington, D.C.’

Large drawing room, the Wallace Collection, London. Photo the Wallace Collection
Large drawing room, the Wallace Collection, London. Photo: the Wallace Collection

Sophie Sevenoaks, Junior Specialist, Decorative Arts: ‘One of my favourite sources of design inspiration is the Instagram account of Alessandro Michele, creative director of Gucci. Michele is a discerning collector of decorative arts, and his designs for Gucci reflect time spent in antique shops and museums. On Instagram, he shares images of objects that have influenced his style, including ancient statues, Old Master paintings, French furniture, Persian rugs and Staffordshire figures. Michele’s eclectic account demonstrates the close relationship between fashion and interior design, and his posts inspire me to surround myself with beautiful objects.’

The Fragonard Room, The Frick Collection, New York. Photo Michael Bodycomb
The Fragonard Room, The Frick Collection, New York. Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Beth Vilinsky, Senior Specialist, Design: ‘The truth is, I am very old school. I continue to draw the most inspiration from the small permanent installations of Tiffany, Arts & Crafts, Art Deco and design at two of the world’s greatest institutions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA. The experience of immersing myself in amazing objects, seeing how they interact with one another, and losing myself in their beauty and craftsmanship never ceases to invigorate my passion for my field. I can’t reach out and touch, but viewing the best of the best in person cannot be beaten.’


Architectural elements from Laurelton Hall, Oyster Bay, New York, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Architectural elements from Laurelton Hall, Oyster Bay, New York, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Bliss Summer, Head of Sale, Decorative Arts: ‘Early in my career, I wandered into an exhibition of the interiors designed by Billy Baldwin, the American decorator, for Mr. and Mrs. Harding Lawrence at Villa La Fiorentina in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France. Thanks to that exhibition, I began to understand that humanity is the essence of the decorative arts. For the Lawrences, Baldwin incorporated pieces ranging from English and Continental furniture to Persian works of art, creating a residence that was at once modern and traditional, unique and universal. Although each piece was individually sourced, they came together to create an environment that reflected the Lawrences’ individual experiences and interests.’

Emily Shwajlyk, Associate Specialist, American Furniture: ‘I am fascinated by historic houses — I follow several historic homes on Instagram. My favourite is the account of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and the Richard Hampton Jenrette Foundation, founded by Dick Jenrette. Mr. Jenrette owns six historic homes across the United States, and recently decided to make them accessible to the public. As he explained, the objective of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust is “to make sure that these fine old homes are enjoyed and that it is a ‘fun’ experience to visit them.” Their Instagram account fully captures the essence and importance of these 19th-century houses.’

The East Wing at Ayr Mount. Courtesy of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and The Richard Hampton Jenrette Foundation. Photo John M. Hall
The East Wing at Ayr Mount. Courtesy of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and The Richard Hampton Jenrette Foundation. Photo: John M. Hall

Natalie Voorheis, Junior Specialist, Decorative Arts: ‘The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is truly a source of inspiration for me. Walking through the galleries, surrounded by the best of the best in decorative arts and design, brings me a lot of happiness. From a piece of silver laid on a British Royal table to a traditional Korean day dress, the objects at the museum offer a chance to travel through time and circle the globe.’

The Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Image credit www.alanwilliamsphotography.com

The Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Image credit: www.alanwilliamsphotography.com

Carleigh Queenth, Specialist, Head of Porcelain: ‘The Denis Severs House museum in Shoreditch, London, is an amazing immersive experience. Walking through the house of an 18th-century silk merchant, lit only by candlelight, you really get a sense of how people lived in that epoch. A punch bowl sits on a table, the dregs of some spicy concoction still stuck to the bottom. Wigs are slung off the back of chairs. The curator even bakes bread every afternoon to give the kitchen the right cosy atmosphere. It’s a delight for the senses, and truly makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.’

Vanessa Booher, Associate Specialist, Design: ‘I’m always inspired by the delirious imagination of Italian artist and designer Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988). His house and atelier in Milan, now managed by his son, Barnaba, is a place of endless fantasy and amusement. Nearly every surface is a different colour; furniture, walls and ceilings are printed with images of bicycles, butterflies, hands, pipes, cats, fish. Rare and unique examples of Fornasetti’s work await at every turn — it’s a surrealist’s paradise.’

The Green Sitting Room at Casa Fornasetti in Milan, and detail of guest room with marine theme. Photos courtesy Fornasetti

The Green Sitting Room at Casa Fornasetti in Milan, and detail of guest room with marine theme. Photos courtesy Fornasetti

Géraldine Lenain, International Director, Chinese ceramics and works of art: ‘Travelling in remote places in China has been my hobby and design inspiration for the past four years. Unfortunately, many people outside of Asia believe that contemporary China is about fakes, copies and poor-quality works. But, contrary to popular belief, traditional skills were not completely wiped out during the Cultural Revolution. There are artisans working today who are keeping alive the traditions of ancient times — and they can also innovate.’

Sculptures from the Yungang Grottoes, 5th-century Buddhist cave temples in Shanxi province, China

Sculptures from the Yungang Grottoes, 5th-century Buddhist cave temples in Shanxi province, China

Victoria Tudor, Associate Specialist, Decorative Arts: ‘My design inspiration comes from my travels: the experience of discovering different shapes, colour palettes and being exposed to new iconographies and ceremonies. Travel can inform how you want to decorate your space. In incorporating elements of your travels, each design decision becomes personal and memorable.’