‘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
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’.
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.
‘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.’