‘One must know the rules in order to break them’

‘One must know the rules in order to break them’

New York designer Marcy Masterson discusses her design principles, inspirations and methodology

New York City designer Marcy Masterson and her client Lisa Zenkel-Sheldon collaborated on the Sheldon’s residence in Greenwich, Connecticut. Zenkel-Sheldon was the founder of Lisa Sheldon Fine Jewelry and Amantani New York as well as a seasoned fashion and design professional. Masterson, respected in the design world for her refined eye and expertise in the decorative arts, shared with us her design principles, inspirations and methodology.

When did you decide to found your own firm?  What is your educational background, both institutional and practical? 

Marcy Masterson: The firm was founded in 1996, after the passing of my mentor Jed Johnson. After ten years with Jed Johnson and Associates, I felt it was time to start a new chapter.  While there, I had worked in a large variety of styles alongside a fantastic architectural team, and appreciated the education this provided me. My previous work experience with decorating legend Valerian Rybar had taught me a European approach to design in which anything is possible. My education in art history, design history and interior design studies in Italy, at Cooper Hewitt and at the Fashion Institute of Technology underpinned all else.

What are your design inspirations?

Marcy Masterson: I am always looking and always absorbing.  Classical architects like Andrea Palladio, Christopher Wren, and Louis XVI, contemporary designers like Mattia Bonetti, Mark Brazier Jones, Ingrid Donat, Claude Lalanne and international textile and print designs provide me with fresh perspectives.

That is an interesting list of sources.  How do you weave them together?

Marcy Masterson: A thoughtful eye and an understanding of the classics, whether in architecture or artistic expression, enable me to form an individualistic aesthetic that references the past and conceptualizes the future. One must know the rules in order to break them. I select every furniture piece specifically to integrate seamlessly with my client’s interior and to create studied, curated environments with great focus on detail.

‘I strive to find the best pieces that are available on the market, searching worldwide, in many cases from Christie's!’

How do you prefer to mix furniture from different periods and cultures and contemporary pieces?

Marcy Masterson: The Greenwich project had a Neo-Classical theme due to the space’s bones.  We chose objects and architecture with classical lines from Italy, Russia, England and Sweden. I love mixing great objects across styles, cultures and eras. Old or new, high or low cost, I choose pieces that are unique, either in shape or even colour, that are tailored to my client's desire. These choices are exclusive to each client, not a repeated or expected concept.

What can you tell us about your collaboration with Lisa Zenkel-Sheldon on her Greenwich home?

Marcy Masterson: It was great working with Lisa and the architect Ann Chara-Baily. Lisa herself has a strong professional and personal history steeped in the Fine and Decorative arts. She was heavily influenced by several aesthetic masters of our time including Bill Blass. Lisa sought out an interior designer who shared a mutual academic emphasis on European fine furniture and decorative arts and was well acquainted with the expert dealers and auctions. We were great collaborators. In one remarkable moment early in the project, she presented a richly coloured linen napkin that she had found in Paris. That napkin was the prototype for the colour of the dining room’s lacquered walls. I found a stunning 19th-century Breche Violette bolection mantle in London to continue the design process in the dining room, and it all took shape from there. The Sheldon Collection was profiled by Jason Tudor in Connecticut Cottages & Gardens, in February 2005. In this and every project, I strive to find the best pieces that are available on the market, searching worldwide, in many cases from Christie's!