From the minute we entered Charlotte Moss’ pristine East 70s townhouse and were ushered in by her personal assistant, we knew we were dealing with the consummate pro. Every inch of her private home reflects her practical sensibility for tradition and elegance in a comfortable setting. Over the course of our interview we learned a bit more about the private Charlotte behind the perfection.
Why did you decide to get into this business?
I guess it was more like ‘when was I finally going to get into this business?’ It was organic, a part of me. And my grandmother …
Was your grandmother a decorator?
No, but grandmother was good at everything. She dressed beautifully. She could make a feast out of leftovers. She could go out into the woods and come back with an incredible flower arrangement. She could sew. It was before women worked so it was really about the art of the home in an all-encompassing way. It was more about how you lived. I learned that was more important than how you decorated.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
It’s the place where I want to be. It’s the thing I fantasize about the most – someone locking me in my library, sliding a tray of food through the door and not having to talk on the phone or anything. All my fantasies somehow revolve around home … breakfast in bed … they’re all about spending more time at home.
In your own home is there an object, something that is special to you?
The older I get, the less I connect to things. Things tie you down. I do love being here but I don’t ever want to be a prisoner to things.
What do you ask your clients once you have embarked upon a project?
‘Where do you read The New York Times?’ You can’t do anything until you find out about all their minutiae. I worked in a house once where my client said to me: ‘I haven’t got enough closet space.’ This was a house they built from the dirt up and the architect had never asked her: ‘How many pairs of shoes do you have? Does your husband fold his shirts or hang them?’ No one will be any good in this business if they can’t anticipate people’s needs.
What are the warning signs indicating clients you don’t want to work with?
Bad shoes. Polyester napkins. A ‘library’ with no books. Very wealthy people who are not philanthropically inclined. Oh, and the ones that tell you that ‘this house is going to be good for your career.’ You have to learn when talking to a client what hasn’t been said – but has. When somebody calls me on the phone I know if I want the job or not after two or three sentences.
Isn’t it your job to rid the world of polyester napkins?
I think it’s softly educating about the finer things.
And mistakes? When you first started out what made you nervous?
Worrying that the sofa wasn’t going to fit through the door, which of course happened once. I think recurring mistakes are sometimes ‘holding back’ – wanting to suggest something outrageous once in while, not doing it and then somehow they circle back to it and say ‘you should have made me do it.’
What of minimalism?
I don’t understand it and I don’t mind saying it. I love beautiful objects. I think with some people it is a hoax because you can tell it is forced and it’s so contrived. Some people might look at this and say ‘well you’ve got too much stuff in here’, and I’ll go ‘well, it’s my stuff and … it just sort of happened!’
What can you tell about someone when you walk into a particular room?
A lot. I mean I can tell you bedrooms where I know there’s no good sex going on.
Really? What are the signs?
[The room] looks like an afterthought, as though nobody cares. Old lampshades, dusty … things are dirty. It’s there even in some of the finest properties in New York.
Do you derive pleasure from the practical aspect of the work? Do you like getting paint under your fingernails?
I guess it really depends on where I’m going that night and do I have time for a manicure in between! I have been down on my hands and knees cleaning a sofa waiting for a client to walk in the door. I don’t enjoy measuring rooms or doing floor plans and elevations. One of the things most smart people know is to hire really good people and when to delegate. There are a whole lot of things I can’t do.
How well do you tolerate mess?
Well, I have a messy husband, and you know something, I’d rather have it that way than the other way around.
What do you do at the weekends?
Read. Exercise. Shop. Shop more.
What do you like to read?
I read a lot of weird stuff. Now I’m reading The Art of Wonder, which is about seeing, ways of seeing. And I’m reading a book on Voltaire. I love biography, especially about women. I named all my furniture [line] and all my fabric after women. I have a whole photography and drawing collection of women: woman as muse.
Which interior designer would you hire?
Oh gosh! I’d probably do a Carroll Petrie by having three decorators in one house. I’d hire Jacques Garcia to do a great fumoir, a Napoleon III big hang-out room and I’d have Bunny Williams to do a gracious dining room, Southern style, and Robert Couturier to do something fun so that we could have a giggle together.
What is ugly?
Bad housekeeping. Clean! Givenchy said ‘Elegance is a bar of soap.’
— Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge