Having interviewed so many designers by now, we could probably write a scholarly paper on designers with dyslexia because so many people we interview suffered through school with their intensely visual rather than verbal minds and Brett Beldock is one of them. We happened to be talking about schools and learning issues on the way in to her Upper East Side apartment and our first questions naturally turned to the subject.
We were talking about schools on the way in: where did you go to school?
I went to the Little Red Schoolhouse. I was the only Upper East Sider there.
Why did you go there then?
My mother’s best friend lived on MacDougal Alley and she died, so my mother decided that she had to be downtown with them for the first year and that I should be downtown at school with them. I ended up staying there until they found out, when I was 12, that I couldn’t read. When all my friends were leaving and applying to Dalton, they said, “Mrs. Beldock, she paints beautifully and she speaks beautifully but did you know your child can’t read?”
Didn’t it occur to them to let your parents know this before you were 12?
But the Little Red didn’t care. If you don’t like reading, make models.
A view across the living room.
Hanging above a mirrored Parsons table is a pastel by friend and artist Donna Balsan.
In the front entryway an églomisé mirror from a South Hampton thrift shop hangs above a mirrored Art Deco style
So where did you end up going?
I went to this disgusting little school called Bentley. It’s closed down now. And I went to college. I only wanted to go to Wheaton because there was … a boy. I went to France chasing him … I worked every summer at Bendel’s and I idolized Gerry Stutz and so I spent the whole year at Wheaton with my head in a grey turban. All the other girls were in green corduroy and they thought I was a weirdo. I finally go to Little Red. I transferred to Parsons and originally I was a fashion designer.
Oh yes, tell us about that.
I had my own knitwear line at Saks. It started at a [firm] called Begedor in Israel. It was a leather company in 1979. It was the hottest leather company—Mrs. Onassis [i.e. Jackie Kennedy] wore their leather trench coat. I spent 11 years of my life designing [clothes].
The study. A coffee table from Ron Zeff stands in front of a pullout sofa from Avery Boardman.
A whimsical monkey lamp was leftover from a1993 showhouse. The chair is covered in a chintz fabric from Lee Jofa. The small red table is from Richard Mishaan’s former Madison Avenue shop.
Piles of art books are neatly stacked atop both the coffee table and lucite shelving.
Brett recently ‘refreshed’ her sleep sofa by combining solid colored fabric with a more traditional chintz pattern from Lee Jofa.
A primitive landscape from the 1913 Armory show leans against the study window,
A houseplant flourishes in Brett’s sunny apartment.
A pair of bookcases flank the requisite flat screen TV.
So why did you switch to interior design?
Because I had no life. I spent so much time in Asia that I didn’t have a life. And I was on Broadway—I wasn’t on Seventh Avenue. It got to the point where I was design director of Russ Togs.
Oh my God, that’s sad!
Yeah, pull-on knit pants. The last straw was that this company came to see me and I actually wanted to buy their fabrics, this cashmere that was $72 a yard and I had to say, well I’m at Russ Togs and our fabric is $3 a yard—I said to myself, I’ve gotta to get out of here! [Suddenly leans forward and points to the tape recorders] This is on? [Shrieks] I had no idea!! I thought you were just talking to me!! I thought it was a camera!! [Waves and peers into the recorders] Hi! How are you? Oh my God!
Brett with Grace, always nearby.
Grace fast asleep on the living room rug.
Grace fast asleep on the dining room rug.
Grace waking up from her nap.
We are just talking to you. The red light and the cassette wheels going round and round are the clues. Anyway how did you get the design jobs?
Because I’m just like a little catfish. I just get out there and make the connections and I work and work and work. You keep meeting people. I’ve been very fortunate and I just always get work.
So what does it take to get the work? You’re very talkative—that helps! You have to have a good personality.
[Laughs] Well, thank you. I’m not a household name because there is a quirkiness about me, so not everybody gets me and likes me and I know that. And the other thing is that my clients are all the same clients I had when I started and most of them do not want to get published.
Brett’s office was carved out of the living room of an adjacent studio.
Framed paper shadow puppets from Bali hang above a round glass and Lucite table in a corner of the office.
Woven baskets overflow with Grace’s toys.
Brett showing us samples of her new wallpaper line available through Studio Four and Stark showrooms.
Wallpaper samples are temporarily stored in a corner that also houses a hat rack.
Your wallpaper is quirky but your rooms are not necessarily so.
I can’t get my clients to buy the wallpaper.
Sian: Well, this would make me nervous, this wallpaper [pointing to the wallpaper in the living room]
Well, for this actually, I’m the guinea pig. When I do it again, I’m going to do it big.
[This does not seem to reassure Sian]
A pair of Philippe Starck black ‘Ghost Chairs’ and a glass and brass table from Malmaison stand against a living room wall filled with artwork collected by Brett over the years.
Another view of a living room wall filled with artwork.
A steel side table is by sculptor, Tom Penn. The blue decanters are from Brimfield.
Brett set out perfect pastries from Le Pain Quotidien for our visit.
A leather covered sofa and zebra-pattered pillows are from Oly Studio.
Looking across the tiled mirror coffee table toward the dining room. The silk rug is from ABC carpet.
In the dining room, a pair of sconces from David Duncan Antiques, were a gift from a client. The scroll armchairs are made out of bone and covered in fabric from 39th street. The walls are covered in Brett’s faux brick-patterned wallpaper available through Stark.
The dining room table, which belonged to Brett’s mother, stands atop a zebra-patterned rug from Patterson, Flynn and Martin. Brett had the rug made for the South Hampton Showhouse.
A pair of porcelain lamps of Chinese figures from the Pier Antiques Show stand atop a bone-covered Parsons table in a corner of the dining room.
An oversized floor lamp from Oly Studio illuminates a corner of the dining room.
More books, artwork and objects are neatly arranged atop the dining room windowsill.
You teach at Parsons. What’s the key to being a good teacher?
I think everything has to have a story. For example one of my assistants at Parsons said to me “I cannot believe I have to take a class in Indian art.” I said, “You don’t want to take a class in Indian art?” I told her all about my trip to India and how walking down the street, every arch, every window, every building … I explained that every single thing you see is something you can use in your design, all those little things, the way a sign is written: Honk If I’m Going Too Slow … there might be something in the way that’s written that you’ll use forever.
You strike me as being unguarded, which makes you receptive and open.
I am open to everything except for going in the ocean at night.
An oversized headboard frame to gives the illusion of higher ceilings in the master bedroom. The chest of drawers is from Oly Studio. The bed linens are from Pratesi.
A detail of the wave-fronted Oly Studio chest of drawers.
A mix of prints and solid, soft and straight edge pillow cases make for a sumptuous bed.
A pair of chests belonging to Syrie Maugham were refinished in a high gloss stripe by an auto body shop.
Two small paintings by outsider artist, Clementine Hurder hang near a drawing Brett found in Russia.
Brett purchased this drawing of a nude for its frame. She later discovered the drawing was attributed to Gustav Klimt.
Pratesi linens add a bit of color to the neutral tones of the master bedroom.
Grace’s comfy bed.
A vibrant orange vase from the 26th street flea market stands atop a mirrored chest of drawers from Bungalow 5.
The matt finish of the striped wallpaper offsets the high gloss finish of the Syrie Maugham chests of drawers. Brett had the chests refinished in an auto body shop.
A painted découpage lady’s secretary is filled with family photos.
Looking across the bedroom. The rug is from Madeline Weinrib.
That is scary! Do you worry about money?
Never. Because something comes along. With all the things that have happened in the world, you say to yourself, you know what? This is just a pillow. I have been saving and donating to various things. Every Tuesday my accountant comes in and says we can’t do this, $10 to this one, $10 to that one but we must because it’s real.
What do you do when you’re not thinking about design?
I love travel. We just got back from London. We went to London because I wanted to see Sir John Soane’s house. We met these clients of mine who I totally, totally adore. We went to the opera and John [her partner] and I were sitting up so high that I could literally touch the gold leaf on the ceiling—I could tell you what the pattern is—and the [clients] were sitting in their box. I decided I wanted to look pretty for the show and I wore my contacts. At the interval Catherine said to me [puts on a very good British accent] “Wasn’t that amazing? It would never happen in Europe, running around the stage like that!” I said, “Running around the stage like what?” She said to me “Brett! They had no clothes on for twenty minutes.” And I hadn’t seen a thing.
A pair of blue velvet chairs made for the Southampton Showhouse was made by Anthony Lawrence-Belfair. The garden stool is from Mecox Gardens.
Looking across the silk carpet toward the living room sofa and pillows by Oly Studio.
Brett’s living room wall is covered in her lively topaz patterned wallpaper available through Studio Four showroom.
Two drawing by Brett’s Uncle Charles hang on either side of a nude pastel by friend and artist Donna Balsan.
An unmatched pair of French cane back chairs are topped with leopard printed fabric pillows.
A crystal column lamp stands atop black lacquer stacking tables. The two artworks in the corner are from the Outsider Art Fair.
Which opera was that!?
There was no reason for it … it was Aida.
Incidentally, you win the prize for the best British accent we’ve heard yet. Do you do any other accents?
I do, I do a lot … I have an ear.
• Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge
• Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch