If New York Social Diary is a kind of chronicle of city life then this is our contribution: three generations of designers in three HOUSE interviews: grandmother, mother and now, in this new interview, daughter. Elizabeth Pyne is the daughter of designer Ann Pyne and granddaughter of Betty Sherrill, of the design firm McMillen. After a stint at Sotheby’s, Elizabeth started working at McMillen three years ago. Poor girl, we kept asking her about her mother and grandmother but she didn’t seem to mind although she’s not quite as outspoken as they are—yet. We sensed the potential …
We’ve got the third generation! This is a first for us. We’ve never done a grandmother, a mother and then the daughter.
The lampshade Ann made for Elizabeth, when she went to Groton.
The front entryway is covered in a ‘Pavillon’ wallpaper from Cowtan and Tout. The Miro belonged to Elizabeth’s father.
I loved those interviews. You guys showed that lamp that my mom made for me when I went to boarding school … she says [in the interview] that I didn’t like it but I loved it! I was so annoyed. It was in my room the whole three years I was at Groton.
I remember the wallpaper she made out of literary quotations, was it? Are you literary like your mom?
I’m not, no. I love reading but I don’t read as much as she does. Actually I always thought that I needed to be as academic as my mother but I realized in my late twenties that I’m just not.
Are you more visual? Is that more like your grandmother?
Yes, yes I think so. I have a short attention span like my grandmother … I don’t think it’s quite as short as my grandmother but you know my grandmother, we’re like eating at a restaurant and she’s like, “Okay, we’re going now,” and everyone is only half way through their entreés.
I’m not always sure that patience is such a virtue … you know, let’s get on with it. Are you patient?
No, I’m not, certainly not with myself. And sometimes with vendors I’m not patient.
Did you resist going into interior design for a while because of your family being in the business?
I did because, again, trying to be an intellectual, I didn’t think interior design was intellectual—my mother was always the intellectual—and then my grandmother was the designer and I really wanted to be like my mom, so that’s why I really felt like I needed to be at Sotheby’s and write and research but actually interior design is intellectual.
It’s certainly demanding.
I don’t know if I’m going to be good but I do know that to be a good interior designer, you need to be very, very smart because there are so many moving parts. But I did love art history and I did love painting.
The front room of the apartment serves as both a dining and seating area. The walls are covered in a ‘Papilio’, a fabric by Osborne & Little.
A dining table is by Mathieu Mategot. The chairs by Rene Prou are covered in a fabric from Fonthill and stand atop a white sheepskin rug. The large black and white photograph is by Matthew Pillsbury from the Bonni Benrubi Gallery.
On the far wall a desk signed 'P.H. Jean' from R.E. Steele is topped by a lamp from Christopher Spitzmiller. The drawing (top) is by Nicolas Muys and was a gift from Old Master dealer Otto Naumann. The bottom drawing in red charcoal is Dutch, 17th c. and was a gift from Elizabeth’s mother, Ann Pyne.
Floor to ceiling curtains are by Anthony Lawrence Belfair in Papilio, a fabric by Osborne & Little.
A family photo and a vase with white feathers stand atop a small console from R.E. Steele.
Clementine resting in her cozy bed.
The kitchen, which was left untouched when Elizabeth moved into her apartment, is covered in a wallpaper by Hinson. The refrigerator is a handy place to display photos, invitations and artwork by her young goddaughter.
A small bar stands near the entry for the kitchen bath.
Whose idea was the McMillen Plus idea? Does that mean younger clients and lower budgets?
It was my mom’s idea but although anyone who works with me is a McMillen Plus client but they have the same access to the firm as any client—sorry, it’s complicated but the idea behind it is to get younger people to be our clients for life. So we’re not that concerned with what the starting budget is. If someone literally just wants me to re-upholster their sofa, I’d be very happy to do that but then at the moment I’m doing a whole house in Richmond, so it’s really varied.
How do you get people to trust you when you’re young?
Because I have McMillen behind me … I think if I came to a 60-year-old’s apartment at 740 Park by myself they might get a little jittery!
Bookcases full of books and photos flank the fireplace in the sitting area of the front room. Decorative yellow elephants from Elizabeth’s grandmother, Betty Sherrill are arranged near an iron mirror from R.E. Steele.
Jansen bucket chairs were purchased at Hinson by Elizabeth’s grandmother, Betty Sherrill.
Photos of family and friends are arranged atop the bookshelves.
What have you learned from your grandmother?
She is extremely flexible. She does not hold a grudge. She just moves on and she doesn’t get bogged down, wasting her time stewing about things.
What was a nice Park Avenue girl like you doing on a dude ranch in Wyoming? I read about the cowboy …
Oh yeah, I had a cowboy boyfriend. When I was 27 … or 28 I guess … I wasn’t working at Sotheby’s [any longer] and I thought, this is my chance, so I went out there and I loved it.
What’s it like having a cowboy for a boyfriend? Was he a … er … professional cowboy?
Yes he was. He was like a lifetime cowboy. He’s from South Dakota [laughs] I think my father was quietly having a heart attack. My mother thought it was funny—I think she thought it was kind of cool and my grandmother just pretended that it wasn’t even happening. And my friends thought it was hilarious …
Views from the front room into a corner of the living room.
What kinds of things did you learn to do? Can you swing a lasso?
I cannot swing a lasso. They moved cows … and that’s what I tried to do. I managed to cut the babies off from their mothers … I was there in the winter and early spring.
Oh … did you know how to ride before you went?
I did know how to ride … but not cowboy riding.
How long were you there?
Oh, I gave it a little over a year.
Peeking into the master bedroom. The small corner vanity and chair are from The Conran Shop.
A pink ‘hand-me-down’ lamp stands atop a bedside table from R.E. Steele. The photograph is of Elizabeth’s grandmother, Betty Sherrill. Elizabeth’s headboard and bed skirt are a lacquered linen in warm white from Travers.
A photograph of Elizabeth’s grandmother, Betty Sherrill stands front and center atop the bedside table.
The Pottery Barn wicker chest is from Elizabeth's Trinity College dorm room, and the mirror is from Elizabeth’s childhood bedroom.
What did you learn from the experience?
I learned that although New York is where I’m happiest, I did learn that I can be happy anywhere.
Did you enjoy boarding school?
[Hesitates] … I did. I went in tenth grade and I wish I had gone in ninth grade. I think you really, really bond in those [earlier] years and the major bonding had already taken place. Also I was very rebellious.
In what way?
Well … I … um … tagging and hanging out in the park. My mother said that one day she was jogging in the park and she said, “I saw this group of guys. And I thought, this is dangerous … I’ve got to cross the street but then I got up closer to them and they were all your friends!” One of them had a Rottweiler—I don’t even want to think about what he’s doing now—so I would go and walk our little poodle, Pudding, and my parents were like, “Oh so strange, she wants to be helpful …” but I just wanted to be with the guy.
A unique corner vanity and chair are from The Conran Shop.
Elizabeth’s jewelry and a handmade box made by her mother Ann Pyne are arranged atop the wicker chest of drawers.
Photos of family and friends line the window built-ins.
Two side tables with a single top were combined to create the bedroom desk.
It just shows you have an independent streak.
People are just … surprised.
Why? Your mother isn’t all that conformist and neither, in a sense is your grandmother. They were among some of the frankest interviews we’ve had. They’re not particularly bothered about what people think of them.
No, I don’t think my mother actually cares at all. I do … when I was little I used to think I had to be extra, extra polite [starts to laugh] to make up for anything my mother might say!
A photograph by Justine Kurland from Mitchell-Innes and Nash gallery hangs in the bedroom hallway.
A watercolor given to Elizabeth by the artist, Elizabeth Thompson, on the occasion of her 18th birthday. Mrs. Thompson is the mother of one Elizabeth's best friends, Victoria Thompson.
A pastel by artist Paul Maze hangs above a couch covered in a strip fabric, ‘Rhythms’ from Osborne & Little.
Clockwise from above: A pair of botanical prints hangs above the sofa table covered with more photos of family and friends; A view of Rome from the steps of Santa Maria by artist Julian Barrow is Elizabeth’s favorite vantage point of the city. When she was a student in Rome she used to sit at the top of the steps and try to identify all of the different buildings she studied; A vase of tulips stands next to a stack of marble books and a column fragment from Cove Landing.
Floor to ceiling curtains by Anthony Lawrence Belfair in a Nina Campbell fabric flank a floor lamp from Vaughn.
Another view across Elizabeth’s living room.
What do you do when you’re not working? I see all these Mad Men videos up there …
I love Mad Men but the show I love is The Wire … it’s incredible. I’m now on my fourth time watching it. I will never tire of it. I actually really never watch television … because growing up TV was so forbidden. It was so like, smart people do not watch television. I still have like this guilt about it … it’s so stupid.