Friday, May 6, 2011

Amanda Nisbet

In this interview you will see [laughs] in almost every reply – perhaps there was a bit of nervous laughter because designer, Amanda Nisbet was a bit worried about her tendency to be unguarded but mostly it is because she really is a person who likes to laugh and whose rooms are colorful, cheerful and full of warmth.

So we know you are from Montreal …

How do you know that?!

Because we dig up what we can … and you don’t have a New York accent.

No one will claim me because I’m from Montreal and I went to a southern boarding school, well southern to me … it was Washington D.C.

Which boarding school?

Madeira.
Spring has arrived. In the front entry barkskin handmade paper from Caba Company lines the walls. The ceiling fixture is by Herve Van der Straeten from Ralph Pucci.
Looking down the apartment’s main hallway. The ‘Antelope’ carpet is from Stark. The tufted bench and curtains are all by Albert Menin. The guest bath retains its original ceramic tile.
[Sian] Oooh la la! We’re going to talk about Madeira! [Lesley] Did you get sent there? When you’re British you get sent to boarding school.

I went of my own volition because I was a rider.

Sounds very posh.

It’s not posh. It’s a ladies’ school … you know the headmistress was Jean Harris and she murdered her lover. He was the first big diet doctor. He wrote the Scarsdale Diet. So that was the scandal at the time. She was there in my sophomore year … it was right out of a novel. [laughs]

Did you think she was a murderess?

I’m going to get into so much trouble. She was very proper and she would get very upset with us if we were heavy or fat. She would get mad at us. It was all about appearances.
Sun fills the master bedroom through the corner windows.
‘Maura River Cliffs’ by painter Ray Kass from Reynolds Gallery dominates the east wall of the master bedroom. The chairs are by Barbara Barry for Baker Furniture.
A delicate shell oval sculpture by Mary Chatham placed upon an English dresser. The drawing above is by Lisa Yuskage. Family photos, artwork and favorite objects, including an alabaster vessel from Egypt and a selection of books are skillfully arranged atop the master bedroom built-ins.
A sheepskin-covered pouf provides a soft-landing in a corner of the master bedroom. The abstract pastel landscape is by Wolf Kahn.
A tailored yet soft canopy out of ‘Springtime Rose’ fabric from Christopher Farr frames the queen size bed. The bed linens are from Nancy Stanley in Beverly Hills. A work by Rachel Hovnanian hangs near a custom embroidered pillow on Amanda’s side of the bed.
Looking south across the bedroom sitting area. Farrow & Ball ‘Tarlow’ covers the walls. The wall-to-wall carpet is from Studio Four.
Terracotta busts from Sentimento stand atop a Lucite table from Alan Knight in the master bedroom sitting area.
So did you know that you wanted a design career from early on?

No, I wanted to be an actress.

It seems to be a successful interior designer, you actually need a little acting ability, if only to make presentations successfully.

There is a performance [aspect] …. er … er … I’m so scared to talk to you guys [laughs]

Do we have a reputation?

Yeah, you do! Let’s move on to the next question.

I don’t mean that [with some acting ability] you are faking things to clients but that it’s useful to have that confidence so that you can communicate clearly. I’m not saying that you need to be able to hoodwink people.

You’re right. They want a performance. This is a big investment in their home and they want to be excited and entertained in a certain way. And the whole theatrics of actually doing the installation is lovely.
A shagreen covered chest of drawers designed by Amanda fills a niche in the master bedroom dressing area. The print was a gift from a close friend. Lively ‘Pali’ wallpaper by Manuel Canovas in the master bath took Amanda’s husband ‘by surprise.'
Bisque vases from Roost are arranged atop the bath ledge.
Did you ever pursue acting?

I did a little bit. I didn’t make it very far. I have very little patience. I did a few cable commercials and some off-off-in-the-river Broadway. My name was not instantly in lights within a year and I got very frustrated and people kept saying to me, “Will you help me with my house? I love your apartment.” I was married and I had my children right away. It wasn’t really until after I had my children that I got going with interior design.

At what point did you feel you were starting to be taken seriously as an interior designer?

Honestly? Right away. I was lucky. People liked what I saw in my home, and respected me and trusted me. And that’s what it’s all about.

So you didn’t study formally?

No. I think that you have to have innate style and the rest of it isn’t rocket science.
In the study, fabrics and furniture pop off the lacquered walls painted in ‘Jalapeno Pepper’ from Benjamin Moore.
1940's bar stools also work as moveable drink tables.
The rug is from The Rug Company.
A photo by Alex Prager hangs above the den couch filled with ikat pillows by Madeline Weinrib.
A photo of Yves St. Laurent and other model shots by fashion photographer Melvin Sokolsky hang on a wall above a traditional mahogany desk in the den.
A fashion photo by Melvin Sokolsky hangs above a small slipper chair.
A small abstract work by Vermont artist Maureen Russell stands upon a corner table in the study. A nearby ikat pillow is from Madeline Weinrib. Books, family photos and an atypical ‘non-flat screen TV’ fill the study bookcase.
How do you describe what you do, your style?

I don’t have a formula. There are lots of people who study, who do have rules. They studied at Inchbald and went to Colefax & Fowler, they know how high the dado should be and all that stuff. I was never taught that, so I don’t have rules, which is very liberating.

Do you think it matters to have those rules?

I think it helps to have some guidelines, especially for people who don’t feel as confident in their choices but I always feel very confident in my choices in design so it’s been easy for me. I don’t necessarily have confidence in all areas of my life but I have great confidence in this.
The kid's rooms ...
A view across the family eat-in kitchen.
The family eating area is both stylish and casual.
Have you been more or less true to one style throughout your career?

I think I do love color and I’m Canadian so because of cold winters, I always want to make things cozy [laughs] … even if I’m decorating in Palm Beach.

Cheerful …

Yeah, cheerful.

Is that a cliché about Canadians, that they’re always cheerful?

We’re nice. Whenever we go to Canada my children are like, “We know mom, aren’t the Canadians nice?” Because I’m like, “Aren’t they nice? They’re so nice!”
A print by artist Adam Boch hangs near the entrance to the dining room.
A large work ‘White Wave’ by artist James Nares hangs between the dining room windows, Crystal girandoles, a family heirloom, stand atop a custom dining room table.
Looking into a corner of the dining room. The crystal scone is from Niermann Weeks.
An colorful oil landscape and two round abstract paintings From Louis Boffarding hang on Venetian plaster dining room walls.
A family portrait in oil fills the rear dining room walls.
Blue Wedgewood urns and candlestick holders, stand atop the fireplace mantel. The gilt mirror is a family heirloom. Tufted chairs covered updated in a brown silk ikat fabric and black lacquer legs
Looking into the long apartment hallway from the dining room.
Why are they so nice?

I don’t know, a good gene pool? I think we’re part of the Commonwealth and we still feel partly English, and partly European. We’re much more self-effacing than the Americans.

Are you political or engaged politically?

I am but not that I’m about to comment. You know I come from a more social-democratic country … but I’m married to a staunch Republican.
Amanda chose bright raspberry and tangerine accents to perk up the neutral tones of the living room.
The living room is divided into two distinct seating areas. A pair of Aurora double gourd lamps by Christopher Spitzmiller standing atop a sofa table illuminates both spaces.
A amorphous-shaped, macassar ebony coffee table from Pollack stands in front of a sofa covered with pillows in fabric from Manuel Canovas.
Looking into the kitchen from the living room.
An abstract painting by artist Maureen Russell hangs above a low bookcase by William Yeoward. The curtain fabric is from Pierre Frey. An ottoman upholstered in a Zebra print with nail heads serves as a sometimes coffee table and foot-rest.
Low bookcases are topped with family photos in silver frames.
Amanda combined two rooms to create the large living space.
A Lucite sofa table neatly divides the two living room seating areas.
A handmade ceramic mirror by artist Eve Kaplan from Gerald Bland hangs above the fireplace mantel. Purple velvet covered custom Lucite stools from Plexi Craft are tucked under a painted and gilt French console, also from Gerald Bland.
A work by contemporary photographer Alex Prager hangs above a skirted table. The ceramic owl sculpture is by Bela Silver. A landscape painting by a Vermont artist hangs above a flamed mahogany bow front chest in a corner of the living room.
A contemporary photograph by Rachel Welty hangs behind a traditional Chippendale chair, another family heirloom.
Are you a workaholic?

I only know two gears: number five or number one [laughs]

So you can chill? What do you when you chill?

I read or I sleep. I like to sleep. I love to window shop. I love Blue Tree right now. I just bought Easter bunnies for my children … they’re slightly creepy!

What do you like to read?

I’m reading Cutting For Stone [by Abraham Verghese]. I like to read lots of different kinds of books … a diet book always. They all say the same thing but I keep buying new ones in case they say something different [laughs] … I can’t read any decorating magazines because they give me agita before I go to bed … so then I’m like, “Let’s go back to the diet book.”
• Sian Ballen
• Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch