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?
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.”