Studio visit: Michael S. Smith

The celebrated interior designer shows us around his Santa Monica offices, and reveals the thinking behind his collaboration with Christie’s on the forthcoming  Rooms as Portraits auctions in London and New York on 12 and 26 September

‘What I have always loved is the idea of combining history, architecture and personality,’ explains the award-winning designer and decorator Michael S. Smith, whose signature style is a seamless blend of classic English country house, European classicism and American modernism. ‘I’ve always been a history obsessive and have always wanted to do something that puts that into practice.’

Showing us around his design studio and offices, a converted warehouse in Santa Monica, the California native who has been named in Architectural Digest’s  ‘AD100’ list on five occasions, and whose work has appeared in countless magazines and books, explains that he chose the beachfront location for its sense of isolation.

‘I wanted people who work here to be focused on the work,’ he reveals. ‘I wanted somewhere where people would be incredibly dialled-in on the details and nuances that are so important in terms of what I do.’

Michael S. Smith studied interior design in Los Angeles before continuing his studies at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. After returning to the United States, he worked under the revered antiques dealer Gep Durenberger before teaming up with designer John Saladino in New York. He then went on to open a home furnishings store in California, subsequently launching Michael S. Smith Inc, his design firm, in 1990.

‘I’ve always loved furniture and fabric,’ he says. ‘I was a natural-born decorator. I have a very interesting practice in that I don’t really delegate creative decisions to anyone. Everyone is involved — it’s a collaboration — but [each detail] is something I’ve seen and approved.’ Smith compares his approach to ‘three-dimensional chess’, likening the process to ‘a sculpture that’s constantly being perfected and getting more and more refined’.

The breakfast room in New York, overlooking Central Park, with a pair of English George III-style open armchairs, 20th century. Estimate $1,500-2,500. Offered in Rooms as Portraits Michael S. Smith; A Tale of Two Cities, New York & Los Angeles on 26 September at Christie’s in New York

The breakfast room in New York, overlooking Central Park, with a pair of English George III-style open armchairs, 20th century. Estimate: $1,500-2,500. Offered in Rooms as Portraits: Michael S. Smith; A Tale of Two Cities, New York & Los Angeles on 26 September at Christie’s in New York

This September Christie’s presents Rooms as Portraits, two collection sales of interiors decorated by Michael S. Smith — Eaton Square, London (12 September in London) and A Tale of Two Cities, New York & Los Angeles (26 September in New York). Together, these auctions will showcase the breadth of the designer’s considerable talents.

Comprising pieces from private residences in London, New York and Los Angeles, the collections being offered reflect Smith’s curatorial knowledge, multicultural sensibility and ability to create distinct environments. Within them will be Old Masters, 19th-century and Impressionist paintings, Modern British and Post-War and Contemporary art, as well as English and European furniture, 20th-century design, Islamic and Asian works of art, and antiquities.

The living room at the Los Angeles residence. The carved giltwood open armchairs (Estimate $2,000-3,000) are flanked by a pair of Pelham three-seat sofas ($3,000-5,000). Offered in Rooms as Portraits Michael S. Smith; A Tale of Two Cities, New York & Los Angeles on 26 September at Christie’s in New York

The living room at the Los Angeles residence. The carved giltwood open armchairs (Estimate: $2,000-3,000) are flanked by a pair of Pelham three-seat sofas ($3,000-5,000). Offered in Rooms as Portraits: Michael S. Smith; A Tale of Two Cities, New York & Los Angeles on 26 September at Christie’s in New York

‘We felt this was the time to show the aura of these houses, and to share them with other people,’ explains Smith of his decision to collaborate on the sale with Christie’s, with whom he has enjoyed a long relationship.

The Earl of Snowdon, Christie’s Honorary Chairman, is among the interior designer’s many admirers. ‘His energy, enthusiasm and easy charm mixed with his order, sense of style and good taste make him the most important interior designer for clients in search of comfort and gracious living,’ he says, making special reference to the way in which Smith ‘reflects the client’s personality and works in their art collections seamlessly to the schemes.’

Smith confirms that he has long been ‘obsessed’ with the idea of trying to convey the sense of a person — and the diversity of their life — in his work. He also explains that the works will be presented in a way that will allow visitors to Christie’s to get a sense of how it felt to live in the rooms he designed. 

The designer, who insists that he can remember every piece he’s ever bought, is excited about the prospect of these beautiful objects finding new homes. ‘The best thing I can say,’ he says with a smile, ‘is that I would buy every piece again.’