Flower: we love that we can still detect a bit of a Southern accent, even though you’ve been in New York for a long while now. Tell us a little about where and how you grew up.
Miles Redd: I grew up in Atlanta where I was exposed to so many beautiful houses and gardens, and some seriously stylish women. It was and still is a big influence on me—there’s such a graciousness about the South.
What are some things you remember about your early impressions of those beautiful houses and gardens?
A childhood friend’s next-door neighbor was the designer Dan Carithers, and I’d walk over and knock on the door, and just ogle over his sense of style. I wasn’t always aware of everything I was seeing, but my mind was such a sponge at that time, and I look back now and understand the references. My mother’s decorator, Susan Wilcox, also had such exquisite taste.
In our backyard, my father had a large vegetable garden—lots of tomatoes, summer squash, and corn. I remember picking fresh vegetables every morning. It was not exactly the most aesthetic garden, but it was fun to watch it grow and produce something we used every day. Later, when I was 12 or so, I made a small garden myself in the side yard that was meant to be pretty, and I guess it had a childlike charm with lots of pots of bright-yellow chrysanthemums. It’s not exactly my favorite flower today, but it did spark my interest in order, which I think a garden is all about—creating order and rooms outside.
When did the “destined to decorate” lightbulb truly go off for you?
I always had the creative knack and I think a lot of people do. The trick is finding the medium that works well with your talents. I went to Parsons and took a stab at fashion design, but it moved too quickly. I tried filmmaking after getting my film degree from NYU, but it involved too many people, could be technically difficult, and very expensive.
Finally I realized I had always been that kid who pushed furniture around the room and rehung the posters, so then I turned to decorating, and thought perhaps it would be easy. I learned two big lessons: one, decorating is not easy, and two, to pursue the things that come most naturally. Still I am continually influenced by all creative types—artists, fashion designers, and other decorators, past and present. I believe in borrowing from many to create your own.
“My favorite flower . . . Paperwhites. I love the way they bend and fold and particularly the way they smell.”—Miles Redd
So how would you describe your own style?
I do think everyone has a signature, and mine is saturated color, 18th –century furniture often painted chalky white, contemporary art, and a sort of tension in disparate objects.
Your sense of color is so refreshing and seems pretty fearless. Not every man would be confident enough to paint his own living room pink.
People say that, but there have been many before me who have used color in stronger and more striking ways. I mean, have you seen the palette in the Governor’s Palace at Williamsburg? The rooms are acid green and electric blue. John Fowler designed pink rooms all the time. Name anything bold I’ve done, and I’ll cite an example of where it was done before. I’ve studied all the greats!
You’ve continued to work closely with fashion, formerly serving as creative director for Oscar de la Renta Home, while maintaining your interiors firm. How does fashion inform your eye when it comes to decor?
I like to look at textiles and techniques of fashion and try to apply them to decoration. I love men’s suiting upholstered to walls of dressing rooms, or feminine ruffles on a curtain.
With other elements like color and pattern commanding attention, where do flowers fit in?
One of the things that I’m drawn to over and over again is Chinese wallpaper, particularly the designs of Fromental and de Gournay—they’re like having an interior garden. Flowers and plants animate a room. I use them constantly to punctuate the mantel or a table. Even one ‘Casablanca’ lily or tropical leaf in a simple glass vase can say so much. I love the freshness of maidenhair ferns, or peonies in a faded terra-cotta pot on an antique table. And I adore an immense mound of red carnations. If I won the lottery, I would have Larry Becker do my flowers every week. His shop on 83rd Street, L. Becker, is simply brilliant.
In your fabulous book, The Big Book of Chic (Assouline, 2012), you write about loving houses that are “party-ready.” What does that mean for you, and what advice could you give us to make sure our houses fit the bill?
That phrase actually comes from a very good friend in Houston, and to me, it means having things ship-shape and always ready to go. If you are into decorating, you need to be into housekeeping—it’s pretty much the point. The best advice for housekeeping is to have a place for everything (or edit down) and have everything in its place.
So, what kind of party should we expect to be invited to at your house?
I don’t have the talent for casual, impromptu dinners—I’m a more choreographed, controlled person. I like small black-tie parties at home. Sometimes friends think I’m ridiculous, but when they actually come, they have fun and certainly look smart in pictures. I want to give people an experience of delicious food and drink in a sparkling and rich environment. I always try to mimic a dinner at La Grenouille, which of course means the flowers are important too.
The person who taught me the most about fabulous parties is Oscar de la Renta. He once hosted a birthday party for Jayne Wrightman, and asked me to step in for a dropout at the last minute (I often wonder who dropped out!). It was black-tie, there were about 18 people, and let’s just say it felt like walking into The Age of Innocence. It was an intimidating bunch, but Mrs. de la Renta sat me next to her, and held my hand under the table. I shall never forget that. A great hostess makes everyone feel comfortable.
What a wonderful story and a good reminder for us all. Now finally, with the last name like Redd, we have to ask: How do you deck the halls for the holidays?
I knew that was coming! I like to decorate for Christmas, but I make it no fuss, no muss. I gather a bunch of magnolia, cut the stems, and layer the tabletops and mantel. I love clementines and lemons, and sometimes if I’m feeling ambitious I’ll put cloves in them and intersperse those among the magnolia. Then I get lots of paperwhites and put them on the floors, on the tables, and everywhere. The house smells like a citrus and paperwhite confection. Fragrance is very important to me and makes a room even more inviting.
By Karen Carroll | Originally published in Flower magazine Nov/Dec 2014
Miles Redd’s 300-page tome, The Big Book of Chic (Assouline, 2012) is a decorating classic.
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