Flower: You’ve had a big year, including the release of your new book. I love the title, Wonderland. What aspects of your work were you exploring in it?
Summer Thornton: I’ve had that title in my head for many years. In fact, one of the very first showhouses I did in Chicago was based on the dreamworld that Alice escapes to in Alice in Wonderland. Design is all about escape, and that means different things to different people. For me, it is about creating a story and driving the design to elicit a powerful mood and feel. The book is separated into five chapters that explore different moods. My own home is the first chapter, which is all about romance. Building my home was like writing a love letter to my family. It was a sentimental, creatively freeing process that tells the story of the people I love.
You seem to have a visually graphic approach to design. Who has influenced you?
It’s no secret that I love contrast. I like things that jump off a page, whether in color or form. I have been inspired by many people, but some of my favorite decorators are Madeleine Castaing, Nicky Haslam, Jacques Grange, Dorothy Draper, and David Hicks. I’m also heavily influenced by different time periods. My house has a Victorian theme (one of my favorite time periods), but another home in the book embraces my love of the 1970s. Movies also serve as a huge source of inspiration for me. Directors like Wes Anderson, Baz Luhrmann, and Sofia Coppola top my list.
I see you use a lot of de Gournay papers in your work. How did the collaboration happen? And will you include floral motifs in the collection?
I’m crazy for de Gournay, and I love their team. Their papers are the ultimate in fantasy, which is why I use them whenever possible. There is no better way to transform ordinary architecture into something fantastical than with one of their exquisite hand-painted papers. I started working with them on a custom design for the Kips Bay, New York, showhouse, and then we did one for my office. The whole collection, inspired by candy-colored palettes of the past, is something that has been in my head for a while now. And yes, there will be flowers, as well as a pretty graphic frieze and some border motifs.
What is the boutique hotel project?
It is in Old Town Chicago and is going to be an all-out design experience. Let’s just say there will be canopy beds in your hotel room. Finally! And it will be loaded with color and bold pattern. It hearkens back to the time period when the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition made Chicago the great city it is today.
What are your favorite cities for design inspiration?
I often look to Latin cities for inspiration. I’m crazy for Mexico, especially San Miguel and Mérida for their colonial architecture and bold colors. I’m going on a major Mexico tour this year because we are building a house there. I also love Buenos Aires for that Paris-in-South-America vibe. And I’m dying to get to Japan for a full design immersion.
What is no home complete without?
A good sofa in an amazing fabric. No white or gray sofas please!
What’s your least favorite design trend?
“It’s no secret that I love contrast. I like things that jump off a page, whether in color or form.”–Summer Thornton
by Summer Thornton (Rizzoli, 2022), $45, barnesandnoble.com
Designer Summer Thornton shares her expert advice for creating interiors that are the ultimate in escapism. Appropriately, a quotation from Alice in Wonderland opens every chapter.
By Lydia Somerville
Photography by Thomas Loof