The World of Interiors American Editor and writer, Carol Prisant is an elegant, thoughtful woman who also once bought a monkey on a whim, sold antiques from the back of her car and landed her editing job, which she has done for some 24 years, through a chance letter to Min Hogg, former editor of The World of Interiors. “I’m just impulsive,” she says. She has an undeluded, questioning way of seeing things—the mark of the true writer.
So we read your book and we have to say we thought it was going to be an easy read. And it was really charming in the beginning, but when it gets to the part about your husband dying …
Well I thought it was going to be an easy write and then all of a sudden I got there and I couldn’t not write it. There was no way not to include it. My son won’t read it. I don’t really know why because I submitted it to him and I said, “I don’t want to say anything about you that you’re going to hate.” And he said, “No I don’t want to see it.” So people kid him and say, “Gee Barden, we didn’t know you wore dresses until you were 14!” [laughs]
It is a potential landmine writing about your family. There are obviously things that you haven’t written, that you’ve chosen to leave out.
That’s called the “underbook”.
I was struck in the book by a contradiction. You are so clearly impractical when it comes to getting your dogs and other decisions, and yet you’re kind of handy when it comes to painting and hammering …
They’re not mutually exclusive. One is an emotional mindset: I’m just impulsive. I do things spur of the moment and regret them later. The handiness—it’s a byproduct of being a little artistic.
But it does take analysis and planning.
No my husband did that. A&P was his department.
You obviously started your antiques business from very small beginnings. It pretty much seems to be the way with antiques—you have to teach yourself and there doesn’t seem to be anyway around that.
There isn’t. I think there are some colleges that offer appraisal courses but the only way to learn is to spend your money and make mistakes. I wasn’t a very good businesswoman. I loved the finding, the bringing it home, the washing of its little face. I hated selling.
At the end of this book you offer quite an unflinching appraisal of yourself: that you fear you’ve turned into your exacting, critical mother, that you may not be a dog person after all [she laughs], that the two years spent working with your son was not a success …
This comes with age. When you’re my age you’ll have the same second thoughts, you’ll question yourself. Maybe it’s an outcropping, an end to that impulsiveness. You re-think a lot.
And you also paint a very dreary portrait of early married life in the 1950s.
It was very dreary. It was awful … bored to death and not able to say it. You looked around and nobody else was saying it. I had a husband and a child, so I was “lucky”. Women didn’t work so it never occurred to me to go out and look for a job.
Thank God women are can now say “This is so boring I can’t do it anymore.”
Or women who say, “No, I’m not going to move to Nebraska with you. I have my own job here.”
Your job as the American Editor for The World of Interiors – what does that entail?
I am the American “finder” and I write everything that is assigned here, unless writers find their own projects and send them to the WoI.
So you’re their eyes on America.
Yes. And that has been since the day I wrote a letter to Min Hogg (former editor of WoI) about a supplement on antiques and I took that to mean that they were going to do a separate magazine on antiques. I wrote to say that if they needed anything here I would love to do it. And she wrote back and said would I like to write for WoI? I couldn’t believe it! No American would ever have done that.
What was your first assignment?
My first assignment was Richard Lowell Neas. He was a faux painter. I was terrified. I took my tape recorder and discovered that I hadn’t brought batteries. I thought I was going to die! I don’t remember who the second one was but the third was Bill Blass … amazing!
I know they have a fairly large American readership but the whole point of view of The World of Interiors is so un-American, it must be hard to find projects for them.
Well, I’ve gotten pretty good at it because I’ve been doing it for 24 years.
What do they want? Can you say for sure?
Yes. It’s eccentric and it’s idiosyncratic—and that rules out a lot of decorating—I mean professional decorating because that can’t be idiosyncratic, although sometimes it can be eccentric.
They seem to like “strange” …
We love strange.
[Lesley:]What does it then make you think about the whole business of interior design—I am unmoved by some of the places we see. There’s a stage-managed quality to them. I prefer the artists’ houses.
There’s a need for [interior design]. There are women, particularly women, who can dress themselves beautifully but don’t know how to do curtains and carpets and how to arrange furniture—the decorator fills that need.
We haven’t talked about the dogs … I have to tell you we’re not sure that you really are a dog person. You got rid of quite a few of your dogs …
I’ve gotten some emails from readers. One woman said, “I spent the whole book yelling at you. I want you to know there are no bad dogs, there are only bad owners.” I just wasn’t good with biters, and three of my dogs were biters. The Jack Russells … I never got a sweet one and I know there are sweet ones. I never got rid of a dog for chewing … well, I did, yes … [laughs] Then I discovered rawhides—keep them stuffed with rawhides.
How has your transition been from living with a house and garden to apartment life in the city?
Every spring I die. But then as spring gets behind me I get happier. Then spring comes again and I die again.
What are you working on next?
I’m going to start writing a novel.
Is that going to be the “underbook”?
No, I’m going to make it all up.