Katie Ridder

Featured image

We don’t much like the suburbs, but the lovely old trees and the gracious 1920s villas along Katie Ridder’s street exuded an atmosphere of stability and affluence, which is somehow different from wealth. It was kind of comforting. Katie, who is married to the architect, Peter Pennoyer, began her working life at House & Garden, and later became the decorating editor at House Beautiful. She now works on the other side of the camera, so to speak, as a successful and well-established interior designer, something she says that in her “kind of meandering way” she always wanted to be.

You started out working at shelter magazines so we wanted to talk to you about them. That scene has changed so much. What do you make of the way everything has gravitated online? Do you miss the abundance of actual shelter magazines?

Well, it’s very different. Ten years ago with something like Elle Décor, I remember thinking, I can’t wait for the magazine to come out. It will be so fresh and no one will have seen it. But now with everything on the internet, the news dissipates just like that. It’s not so fresh anymore.

Do you think the impact of those magazines has also dissipated?

I think it is still important to be in a magazine because potential clients deem it to be so. And so it is. And I don’t look at the online magazines … it’s saturated. There’s so much. I think they go like three hundred pages or something. It’s just forever, forever, forever. But I love Instagram. There are decorators that I follow and cooks … I just have a great interest.

The front entrance to Katie and her husband, architect, Peter Pennoyer’s, 1920s Westchester home. The architect of the property, Charles Lewis Bowman, was a former McKim, Mead and White draftsman who designed many of the neighborhood Tutor and Cotswold-style homes.
The main serpentine staircase was given a lift with a red paint and silver leaf railing by artist Chuck Hettinger.
A specimen marble table designed by Katie and Peter stands front and center in the front entrance hall. The glass sculpture standing atop the table is by Mexican artist Feliciano Bejar.
In a corner of the front entrance hall, a grandfather clock from the 18th century stands next to a high chair that belonged to Peter’s great-great-grandfather.
Peter came up with the clever idea of suspending a shell sculpture in front of the archway living room door.
Peeking into the front entrance hall from the living room. The Khotan rug is from Gallerie Shabab.
The downstairs powder room is covered in a Clarence House “Flowering Quince” wallpaper.
Photographs of Peter’s car painted by graffiti artist Keith Haring, hang in the main stairwell.
A lithograph by James Brooks hangs near the doorway to the library.

Don’t you think one of the reasons it’s still important and prestigious to be in those magazines is because there are gatekeepers, the prominent editors who select the content? If you’re given their blessing, then you’re considered a good designer.

We all care what they think.

What did you actually do—what was your first magazine job?

I was at House & Garden and at first I was delivering the laundry … and doing things like that! I was there from ’84 to ’88. Anna [Wintour] came in ’87 and changed the name to HG. All the editors were changing their image: shortening their hems and wearing high heels. Nobody had the guts to wear sunglasses in the office but everything changed, just like that, overnight! It was really interesting. Everyone was intimidated when she came but she was very nice to me—she really liked young people.

A cozy library retains its original mahogany wood paneling that was painstakingly refinished by Peter himself.
Louis Bouche’s gilt-framed “View of Engineer’s Gate” hangs above a tile top table purchased in Paris.
A drawing of a tile from Turkey hangs above the library fireplace mantel. The side chairs are covered in a persimmon linen velvet from Bergamo and the small side table is from the Marché aux Puces.
Library bookcases are filled with art books and the classics.
The library’s ceiling is covered in a silver leaf paper, giving the room a mysterious reflective quality.
In a windowed alcove of the library, a silk hanging fixture designed by Katie hangs above a sofa upholstered in a Lulu DK fabric.

A pair of plaster sconces found on Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn illuminate the mahogany-paneled library.
Looking across the library to the second floor landing. The geometric custom-colored Porto Roco carpet is from Mark Inc.

Do you miss working in that environment?

It was very glamorous, especially coming from California to the Condé Nast building. Alexander Liberman (the editorial director) would come in to look at the cover tries and ask me which one I thought was the best and I would always get it wrong. But it was a very different environment because when I was working for a magazine, everything happened for me. Everyone wanted to be in the magazine. Now the tables have turned where I’ve got to make everything happen for my clients.

Why did you change over?

In my kind of meandering way I’ve always wanted to be a decorator, right from when I was little. I did a lot of craft things. It was the inevitable ending point. When I was at House & Garden, I was going to see rooms that had been professionally designed by people like Jed Johnson or Mark Hampton … you know all the big biggies in the design world. That was something that was invaluable … invaluable to me because I didn’t go to design school, which was a shame.

Vintage book covers hang near the entrance to the main dining room. Teddy, the family dachshund takes a snooze nearby.

Teddy, giving Jeff a curious look.
In the dining room Katie designed chairs that combine a Rogers & Goffigon velvet (inside) with Jim Thompson silk that has been embroidered by Penn & Fletcher with a Turkish evil-eye amulet motif to ward off evil spirits.

Katie created a dramatic atmosphere in the dining room with trim in Farrow & Ball’s “Blazer” red paint, grass cloth walls and a metallic paper ceiling from Roger Arlington. The sisal rug is from Beauvais.

In the dining room Teddy’s bed is tucked under a sawhorse table.
Looking across the dining room table, a Blackamoor bust from a Doyle auction stands in front of a window with curtains out of a Bergamo fabric.
A 1960s hanging fixture from Carlos de la Puente hangs above a vase of fresh roses. The sunflower painting on the far right wall is by Cornelia Foss.

Do you think it makes a difference?

I think it does. I mean the design schools … I’m a member of the Decorators Club and we judge all the students’ work. A lot of the design schools don’t teach residential work for the real world. You need to get that from working in an office, so in that way, you don’t need it. But in terms of drawing and CAD drawing, the women in my office, they do that for me.

None of the designers we interview can do CAD. But if the younger people you hire can do CAD, what else do they know how to do?

Well, they’ve got that under their belt. And they’ve all worked elsewhere, and for big names. There is one [employee] who worked for Gerry Bland and she has a real appreciation for brown furniture, which is very unusual for someone young.

Looking into the main entrance hall from the top staircase landing.
Katie designed this charming hall light made by Susanne Wellott of Midnight Sun. The coral finial is from Creel and Gow.
Peter designed this windowed entryway into the master bedroom. The wallpaper is by Katie through Holland & Sherry.
In the master bedroom, a custom-made Charles Beckley bed is covered in Leontine linens. The bedside tables were painted by Charles Hettinger in a faux-bois wood grain.

A sculpture by C. Jere hangs above the bedroom fireplace mantel.
Peter designed a small niche tucked in a corner of the master bedroom to store part of their book collection.
On the far wall Katie and Peter’s desktop Apple stands atop an elegant Biedermeier desk and chair. The oval window allows a peek into the upstairs hallway.

A custom-made Charles H. Beckley daybed embroidered by Penn & Fletcher was inherited from a room that Katie designed for a former Kips Bay showhouse.
Family photos.
Katie’s bead necklace collection (and a mirrored reflections of the collection) hangs on hooks in the master bath.

Ah … brown furniture. It always comes up. Do your clients veto brown furniture?

No! No … no … no! Not at all. The young people, I think, who look at the magazines and see everything shiny and highly designed, don’t appreciate just how beautiful a mahogany pedestal table is.

But you come from California, which I don’t associate with brown furniture. What kind of furniture did you grow up with?

My parents had mostly inherited furniture—so there was lot of brown furniture. And then there was a lot of chintz. It wasn’t high style at all.

What makes a good room?

Scale … pattern … and the unexpected. I’m always on the lookout and I buy a lot at auction. At the Christie’s Interior Sale, you’ve got the sales that are rejects from people who’ve gotten divorced and decorators who’ve been fired—and there always very good deals! You know what I got a few weeks ago? I got a 14-foot long beautiful 19th century mahogany three-pedestal table for $2500—at Christie’s! And I bid $19 000!

Entering youngest daughter, Gigi’s room.
In Gigi’s room: lacquer chests from Bungalow 5 flank a headboard by Lisa Fine. The striped carpet is from Paul H. Lee Carpets & Rugs.
Gigi’s overflowing bulletin board hangs above neat piles of books and other cherished objects.
Katie and Peter’s son Tony’s room: A custom headboard is made out of a fabric design by Dagmar Loden from the Swedish company Jobs Handtryk.
A watercolor rendering by Genevieve Irwin of the family’s Millbrook house hangs above Tony’s bookcase.
A door in Tony’s bedroom leads down to the family room.
Peeking into the family room, renamed the “Zam Zam Room” for its Middle-Eastern design elements. Antique embroidered Indian fabric frames the entrance.
Moroccan influenced lattice screens by Mosaic House cover the windows and fireplace surround. The room, which is often used by Katie and Peter’s three teenagers, has a disco ball hanging from the middle of the ceiling.
A free form table and leather poufs from John Derian are placed near a one of a pair of long custom sofas that provide ample seating for frequent gatherings of family and friends.

A tail fragment from a Tai sailboat stands atop the built-in bookcase.
Looking across the orange-and-yellow Zam Zam Room. The chairs are Scandinavian-modern and the rug was purchased in Morocco.
On the right wall, a carved wooden altar was purchased by Peter during a trip to Hong Kong.
Looking towards the front of the Zam Zam Room. Katie designed whimsical ceiling-mounted red shades to illuminate the room.

Wow! I don’t have the nerves for auctions. I can’t bear them. What are your tips for getting a good deal at an auction?

First of all you’ve got to see everything. Don’t trust the catalogs. Everything always looks different. And leave absentee bids so there’s no time wasted; there’s no excitement at being at the auction. I discuss the price with my clients, including the Christie’s mark up and my mark up and then we cap it at that net price. Then you put in a bid the day before. I typically double the high estimate and I’d say I win 75% of the time. A lot of the auction houses, especially Doyle, under-estimate [in order] to create excitement.

And you once had a store, didn’t you? What was it like running a store?

Um … we got held up once. I was not there though. Someone in my office chased him down.

You mean there was design thief who wanted to shoplift … what? Chintz?

All the time there were people coming in grabbing things, small things and not even such small things. They would send me to the back, saying that “I’m here to pick up something for Mr. so-and-so.” They would leave and two minutes later I would notice a huge urn was missing. And I would get a lot of visitors, people who would come and just sit and chat. I quite liked that. I felt part of the neighborhood. But I didn’t like the hours, the bookkeeping, the buying, the packing … it was just kind of boring after a few years. And I was making $30 000 a year.

Katie chose blue-and-tan with orange accents as the overall color scheme of the living room. A Greek-key fabric from Clarence House dotted with antique textile pillows stands atop a 1980s Agra rug from Gallerie Shabab.

A ceramic elephant side table is positioned next to a sofa inherited from Katie’s great-grandmother.
The pair of Lucite floor lamps was made by Katie.
Hanging above the fireplace mantel is a Modernist work by German-born American painter Karl Schrag. The Italian metal flower urns were purchased at and Armory Antiques Show.
A mirror from Katie’s childhood home in California hangs above a Sheraton sofa inherited from her great-grandmother. Katie dressed up inexpensive silk-and-wool curtain fabric with a hand-stenciled border.
Julian Schnabel’s “For Anna Magnani” purchased at Christie’s hangs behind upholstered chairs in Leoni fabric from Romo.

An 18th century German secretary that Peter found at an auction in Sweden anchors a corner of the grand living room. The coffee table was purchased at the now-closed Tepper Galleries.
A ceramic pot by Frances Palmer stands in front of a plate by Picasso that Katie and Peter received as a wedding gift.
Waiting for spring to enjoy the screened-in porch.

I have written here, “Yorkshire pudding” because I read somewhere that your husband [Peter Pennoyer] cooks it. I’ve never come across any Americans who like, let alone make, Yorkshire pudding.

Ah. We have a friend, someone who Peter went to college with—his name is Bill Irvine—and he loves roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And so Bill comes once a month for dinner and we always have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Are you both cooks?

I’m a baker. I bake very good chocolate cake.

Recent Posts