Friday, September 17, 2010

Milly de Cabrol

Italian interior designer, Milly de Cabrol was happily forthright in our conversation, although she wouldn’t go on the record with the name of the extremely famous comedian she met whom she thought “the most boring, saddest person I ever met.” Her style, at least in her own Upper East Side home, is bohemian and, not surprisingly, very European, cheerfully admitting that holes in a beloved couch are disguised by an Indian throw. What lies behind the European love affair with (gentle) decay? Discuss.

The style of this apartment is, at least to us, distinctly European. Are you able to pinpoint the things that might be thought of evidence of European style in these rooms?

Number one: throwing all these materials on top of sofas. It’s very eclectic and very much a European thing, as we see. People don’t understand why you are throwing on top of a sofa a fabric, then another fabric and then another. That’s something we see a lot in England. I lived in England for about ten years.

So why do people put lots of different fabrics on a sofa?

I think it’s … kind of a chic. It’s not American shabby chic, which is white linen. It’s a passion for fabric.
The walls of the front entrance hall are covered in two contrasting wallpapers by designers, Muriel Brandolini and John Stefanidis. The table is draped in a curtain from Madeleine Castaing’s former shop in Paris. Peeking into the hall.
The queen size master bed is made up with a mix of Pratesi linens.
Looking across the master bedroom. In the bedroom corner, a Biedermeier secretary.
The flat screen TV stands opposite a wall of bedroom closets.
Clockwise from above: Necklaces and other trinkets adorn a bedside lampshade and botanical print. The table was originally a medicine cabinet; A low table near by the bedroom window bed includes a collection of partner Jeff’s collars stays and cufflinks; A place for remotes and Teddy's toys.
Worry beads from Turkey wrap around bedtime reading.
Layered Moroccan and Turkish rugs upon sisal wall-to-wall carpet.
A pair of oversized urns stand atop a Biedermeier secretary. Teddy in ‘the country’.
A view from the bedroom up Lexington Avenue.
There is a passion for fabric in Europe, I wonder why.

Fabrics kind of tone down a look. And also in the case of this sofa, quite honestly it’s got some holes in it but I’m attached to it—so it came in handy to throw an Indian cloth over it.

Why do you choose to live in New York?

I was married—it was by marriage … and New York was fabulous at the time—it still is—as much as I’m in love with Los Angeles lately.
An eclectic mix of patchwork and other print fabrics cover the bed in Milly’s son, Charles’s room. A teak chest of drawers is topped with Yankees caps and a of photo of the old Yankees stadium.
A Sports trophies share space with a favorite gorilla and playful bookends.
Clockwise from above: Milly’s dress hangs on an edge of a pine armoire; Shipwrecked; Sports trophies share space with a favorite gorilla and playful bookends.
So your husband I heard, was a baron, was he?

My ex-husband.

Does that [title] mean anything to you?

No. Because my in fact my mother’s family was much bigger than being a baron, and I never mention it.

Do you think the whole “celebrity class” has now overwhelmed the fascination with the traditional aristocracy?

I think Americans are still fascinated by the aristocracy—although not as much as when I first came here. I’m not fascinated by movie stars … rock stars are much more interesting than movie stars. Rock stars are more approachable. They have more character. I’ve met some big movies stars, a famous comedian and he was the most boring, saddest person I’ve ever met. [off-the-record she tells us who he is].
A Swedish side chair also works as a hat rack. Teddy lets JH know who's boss.
Milly purchased this illustration from a Harrods catalog at Sotheby’s because “it reminded me of me.” Vintage family photos hang in the bedroom hallway.
Peeking into the prewar master bath. A group of shell prints lines the bathroom wall.
Did you like living in London?

I adored living in London—but I was in London in the great days. I love my British friends. Most of my friends are British, actually.

What do you like about British people?


They’re so out there. They’re outrageous. And they’re really inventive and creative. I don’t think the French have that. Even the Italians, they don’t have that—they’re very classic. To me I love the madness of the British. And they’re so insulting! But they can also take it. They used to say [to me] “You’re a wop” and all of this when I was in England and I could say [back]: “You fucking lost all of the Empire so shut the fuck up!’ And they loved the fact that I say that.
The dining room serves as both an entertaining area and library.
A group of prints from Jane Stubbs fills a corner of the dining room/library. A screen covered in bold fabric John Stefanidis fabric adds a bit of pop to the dining room corner.
A built-in bookcase overflowing with books and artwork fills the rear wall of the dining room.
Bookshelves also serve as a place to display art and objects.
Photos of friends and family fill a desktop in the dining room. Asian art found at the 26th Street flea market and a pair of watercolors of Tangiers hang in a corner of the dining room.
A vibrant photograph of flowers by Oberto Gilli hangs above the family dining chairs.
They curse a lot, the British, don’t they?

The French aristocracy, when you go to their houses – so different! When you go to the houses [of the English aristocrats] they’re all on drugs, they’re all drunk and falling apart and their houses are like these rambling things—so unbelievable and the gardens are divine! The French instead … everything is very formal. I adore going into this [English] madness.

So how do you live so happily here? Americans are rather conservative on the whole.

I think Americans are very Puritan! They’re extremely Puritan! But I must tell you, I love New York. I do think it’s the center of the universe. But lately, I’m a little tired.

Oh, why?

New York is so like living in Milan. All about money. Artists can’t afford to live here now. They’re moving to LA. And they can still afford to live in LA. The creativity of a place gets killed by the power of money.
Original glass-fronted cabinets provide ample storage space in the kitchen.
A glimpse of Milly’s partner, Jeff Podolsky, at work in his office off the kitchen. A shelf filled with candlesticks hangs above a Turkish blue-and-white serving platter.
Open shelves in the kitchen store serving dishes and glassware.
I agree with you but don’t you feel you can form your own creative life in New York?

I used to think that but I must tell you, when they say in the movie business “You’re as good as your last job”, it’s actually ten times worse here. Here you’re as good as your last appearance. Suddenly if you disappear for a few minutes, it’s “Where is she? Oh my God, what happened to her?” And I find that very stressful.

But you seem very sociable.

Not as much as I was. And I’m concentrating on my work.
Milly created a cozy corner sitting area with a velvet-covered French chair and a corner banquette covered in a throw from Tangiers.
Front and center in the living room, a gilt iron coffee table from friend Olivier Gelbsman stands atop a rug from Tangiers. A Suzani from Uzbekistan and a group of vintage fabric covered pillows fills the living room sofa.
A living room tabletop holds a collection of shells, candles, a vase from Jonathan Adler and two stars from designer Jeffrey Bilhuber. Iron shelves in the shape of an obelisk displays ceramic vessels. A work by artist Chris Brooks hangs on the wall behind.
More family photos cover a marble top lamp table in the living room.
Are you surprised by your success, the way your style works in a New York setting?

I never thought about it. Do I consider myself successful? Yes, in the way of name and people know me … my God for a girl from Italy coming to New York—it was like a Frank Sinatra song! Fabulous! But it’s just me—it’s my life. When I lived in London I wasn’t doing anything. I was just this crazy girl but I came here and I made a life.

What do you like to do when you’re not working—are you a reader?


Actually I’m not a reader, like books and novels—I’m a visual person. I like to watch TV. I love American Idol. I love Amazing Grace and all the detective programs.

As an Italian, can you give us a recommendation for the best Italian restaurant in New York?

I adore Morandi.
Stacked books also work as a small drink table. A stack of design books are piled atop a small Moroccan table in the living room.
A fabric-covered table doubles as a drinks bar in a corner of the living room.
A pair of sculptural wire garden forms from Lexington Gardens are a whimsical additional to the living room.
• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
• Photographs by Jeff Hirsch