Classically Chic: Young Huh’s Design Style

This New York designer’s aesthetic is firmly rooted in tradition—beautiful fabrics, classic furnishings, and flowers are among her tools of the trade—but she infuses each project with a fresh sense of style, a dash of humor, and a practical worldview
Young Huh’s love of florals was evident in her Kips Bay 2014 show house room. Lee Jofa chintz covered the walls, while metal flowers by Tommy Mitchell mingled with real peonies on the table.


Flower: Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you the child who was always rearranging your room?

YOUNG HUHWell, I was the kid who would make dioramas and little houses out of shoeboxes and scraps of fabric, but that wasn’t really encouraged by my parents at the time—I remember being very frustrated that they wouldn’t let me choose the color of my bedroom! We lived in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but both my wonderful parents immigrated from Seoul, Korea. My mother was valedictorian of her class and a biology major; my father is a doctor, and they always told us that basically we had two choices in life: We could be doctors or lawyers. I chose law school, and although I graduated, I knew it wasn’t right for me. Eventually it was my husband who suggested I pursue a more creative direction. One evening we were at a cocktail party and I met a designer who was talking about what he did every day, and I was just so fascinated. I pretty much hounded him for an internship. I took some classes at Parsons, and I jumped into managing projects within the year. Then about nine years ago I opened Young Huh Interiors.

Young Huh sits in one of her rooms. | Photo by Brittany Ambridge/Domino

You really hit our radar screens during the 2014 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. You had a hallway with a pair of bathrooms—not the highest profile rooms, but you made the most of them. They remain a great example of how to achieve impact from any space.

I remember walking through the incredible rooms of that historic mansion and coming to the area I was assigned—a hallway with two commercial bathrooms. But I was a first-timer, and I was just happy to be selected. My space had multiple doors and the ceilings were low, so I decided to turn it into a lovely, intimate little lounge space. The walls were a bit crazy and irregular, and I thought the best thing would be to distract the eye by using an iconic chintz, Hollyhock by Lee Jofa, to upholster the walls.

Of course you weren’t the first to make a splash by using chintz at Kips Bay, but shall we just go ahead and christen you the “Princess of Chintz” anyway?

Oh no, I would never put myself near the same league as Mario Buatta—he’s an inspiration! But I do love hand-blocked prints, and of course I adore flowers. Some people feared my room was going to look like a grandmother’s house, but I knew it would be super chic. We did black, patent-leather wainscoting, and covered the ceiling in a Maya Romanoff gold leaf paper. The metal fire doors couldn’t be replaced for code reasons, so the only way to add some architectural interest was to paint them, and I thought it would be great to contrast a beautiful floral with something bold and graphic.

Huh’s own dining room is decorated with flea market chairs, a traditional round table, and “always flowers,” she says. She favors tall branches, but moves them aside for something lower when entertaining. | Photo by John M. Hall

You’re one of our favorites to follow on social media. In addition to frequently posting pretty photos of flowers, you also often showcase your Sunday night dinners at home. What’s the story behind that tradition?

Life is all about regular, typical moments. Sometimes it’s very hard for us all to be together during the week, so my husband and I decided at least on Sunday night, it’s family dinnertime. It’s strictly about the kids. At first they didn’t want to set the table, sit down, and clean up after, but they’ve come to enjoy it— maybe because it’s the only time we have dessert after dinner! Our son, the youngest, seems to forget how to set the table every time, but I’m hoping that once he’s out on his own, something will eventually stick. It’s also my chance to get pretty flowers, and have the time to cook and indulge in our favorite comfort foods. It’s the “small things” that often mean the most, and since the kids are all over the place now, it makes prioritizing these rituals even more important

What’s the best advice you can give young clients about how to set their decorating priorities?

Most people want a beautiful living room, and what’s key is that the living room actually gets used—that it’s a great entertaining space, a place to read, hang out, and celebrate. Focus on the most eye-catching pieces, and then you can get away with “cheating” on other things. Not everything has to be fine, but invest in a quality sofa, and all you’ll need to do is reupholster it in 10 years. I also like to plan for at least one good antique, because if everything is new, something doesn’t feel quite right. There’s a line I’ve heard Bunny Williams say that I love. To paraphrase, It’s lasted over a hundred years; it has survived other children; it will probably survive yours. That’s certainly been true with my family and our home.

What destination inspires you the most and why?

So many places, including New York, of course. But I have to choose Paris. Almost everything I discover there stimulates me. The Rodin museum and garden in spring is one of my favorite spots because it’s like a temple of art that’s contemporary and so classically French at the same time. History is kept everywhere in Paris but it’s often presented in a modern, stylish way.

That sounds a lot like your design philosophy, too.

It’s definitely what I strive for—kind of similar to the idea of taking a very traditional floral print and making it feel fresh, a little edgy, and of the moment. It doesn’t always have to appear to be the nice girl from the Midwest in the room. That would be me!

By Karen Carroll