Scott Sanders

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“No one ever hires us to do yellow,” says designer Scott Sanders. “I love yellow.” He sounded a little regretful—designers, like all of us, have unrealized dreams—but he has had something of a charmed career. His very first independent design job, a mere week out of Parsons, was a 175-room hotel in Miami, owned by the Rubell family … and it all went from there. Not that he hadn’t paid his dues beforehand, working many years as a store manager for Ralph Lauren—he worked full time while studying for his design degree. Eventually he secured for himself the position of Ralph Lauren’s first in-house interior designer until things changed in that one fell swoop. It was a project that might have given even a seasoned designer some pause. “I think if I had been smarter and older, I probably would have been really scared but I was so excited and at that point, I was just, “Oh sure!”

It’s been a while – I saw you at the Kips Bay a few years ago …

Right, that crazy duplex double apartment on the West Side!

How do you feel about doing show houses? A lot of decorators have mixed feelings about them.

They’re very fun because you get to create something from inside of your head … a perfect example is that no one ever hires us to do yellow and we did a yellow living room in [a New Jersey] show house. You get that out of your system and then you can move on.

Arriving at Scott’s Chelsea penthouse apartment. In the elevator hallway hangs an LED screen artwork by Yuan Capote.
In the front hall, a mirror from Yale Burge hangs above a shelf displaying porcelain elephants Scott inherited from his grandmother.
A photograph by Richard Mosse from his “Infra Series” which is composed of images involving the use of color infrared film that registers chlorophyll in live vegetation. The photo is from the Jack Shainman gallery.
Peeking into the guest bath from the front hall hangs a photograph by Sanford Biggers.
In the master bedroom entryway walls are covered in wallpaper by Virgil Marti from Elizabeth Dee gallery.

Now why does no one ever hire you to do yellow?

I don’t know. I love yellow. It’s so happy. Show houses are so much fun because I also got to do a ‘70s TV room one time and a red-and-white pool. Yeah, I did this in 2003 when House & Garden was still around. I got the last space at one show house, which was the pool, a horrible pool with a red brick terrace. We built red-and-white striped awnings and we did red garden boxes with topiaries, sprayed all the furniture red and used red-and-white striped upholstery from Ralph Lauren—I still run into people who say, “Oh my God, I loved your red-and-white pool.”

We quite often hear that sentiment: “when House & Garden was still around”. It’s as if designers date things from before or after House & Garden, as if it represents some kind of watershed moment. What do you think of the changes where everyone looks at interiors online and not in magazines?

I think it’s cyclical because there are new things coming around. Du Jour magazine may be doing something on the home; and you just have to look at how beautiful Elle Décor is now. And all of the Cottages & Gardens magazines … they’re opening more and more regional magazines. There’s something to be said for having a magazine in your hands, looking at it – and I like tearing out pages. I love that!

In the master bedroom ‘Structure IV’ by Melissa Gordon from the Marianne Boesky gallery hangs opposite a custom bed covered in fabric from Maharam.
A vintage bench from Knoll stands at the foot of the master bed. The silk-and-wool carpet in ‘Ambassadeur’ blue is from Sacco Carpet.
Vintage lamps by Eduoard Wilfred Buquet stand atop a nightstand by Edward Wormley. The colored glass is by Elizabeth Lyons from Ruby Beets.
Scott carved a dressing area into a space behind the free standing bed. The bedroom wallpaper is from Phillip Jeffries.
A photo of Scott with his adorable dachshund, Bailey is arranged next to a collection of boxes.
In the master bath, river rock stone in the shower by Waterworks is surrounded by limestone tiles.

Peeking into the master bedroom from the bath. The “S Chair” sitting in the corner is by Anthony Sisto.

So we’re going to talk about Ralph Lauren because that’s where you sort of launched yourself. How did you end up being the first [interior] designer at Ralph Lauren?

I started as a store manager … I went in one day and I quit because I had gotten accepted to Parsons—[although] I wanted to continue to work while I got my degree. And the wonderful people at Ralph Lauren said, “We want you to stay. What can we do? Will you go to Madison Avenue and work on the Home Collection?” Within three weeks of being there, we got a new floor manager who saw that I was connecting with people and designing rooms for them and selling more things. [The floor manager] was very smart and saw this is as a business opportunity. The day that I graduated from Parsons, they said they would create my own department and I would officially be the first in-house interior designer for outside clients.

In the kitchen a group of plates by various artists were purchased at a benefit given by Edwina Von Gal to save the rainforest. They hang atop Sisal Imperial wallpaper by Scalamandre.
Light floods all corners of Scott and his partner Peter Wilson’s Chelsea penthouse.
The living room and dining room are combined into one open space. A lantern from Remains Lighting hangs over a custom dining table by Paul Ferrante. The Patrick Nagga chairs are from Ralph Pucci.
Whimsical brass ant sculptures by Arteriors are placed among 1940s French opaline vases from Yale Burge.
A leather bench from Knoll acts as a natural divider between the living and dining spaces. To the right are a pair of 1960s Jens Risom swivel lounge chairs from Wyeth.
A custom wood coffee table by Joe D’Urso is arranged with fresh orchids, books and favorite objects including a malachite box, a Japanese basket and a vase from Czechoslovakia.

A pressed wood cutout screen by Erwin Hauer slides open to the nearby kitchen.
A view across into the dining space from the living room seating area. The gray wall-to-wall carpeting is from Sacco Carpet.

So when you started to design “for real” so to speak, how did that come about?

The word just got out. Literally a week after I graduated from Parsons and [Ralph Lauren] gave me my title and I got my cards … this lady walked in. That was the beginning of everything. She said, “You know, I’ve heard about you.” [laughs] I had no idea who she was and we sat down and she said she wanted to get to know me … where was I from? Did I have a sister?” And so on. I thought, “Who is this crazy lady?!” I tell her this story now but she doesn’t remember. Anyway, [after the conversation] I went on vacation and when I got back there was a set of plans—and she said that she wanted me to meet the whole family … we set a date and the entire Rubell family comes in. Then I figured out who they were. And they said, “We really like you and we’ve bought this hotel and the name is Beach House and we just want you to create it around that name.” They gave me complete carte blanche. One hundred and seventy five rooms, 1500 feet of public space … I helped with uniforms, china …

A colorful acrylic puzzle sculpture by Liam Gillick and a lamp from Remains Lighting stand atop a Dunbar sideboard. The oil abstract to the right of the sideboard is by Andrew Masulo.
A print by Nicole Eisenman hangs near open shelves displaying a collection of American Indian pottery from Henderson’s store in Golden, New Mexico.

Bailey, curled up in her comfy purple bed.
A shelf holds drawings on constructed paper dishes from “Paper Monet” a project by artist Sean Mellyn while he was an artist in residence at Claude Monet’s garden and home in Giverny.
A view into the den. The teak sculpture on the windowsill was purchased in New Hope Pa. To the left of the sculpture are vintage abstract art pieces.
A large custom L-shaped sofa from Wyeth is the perfect place to watch TV and entertain friends.
The Wyeth sofa is given a pop of color from various pillows out of fabric from Hinson, Holland and Sherry and MONC XIII.

Didn’t you want to run and hide under a big boulder or something?

I think if I had been smarter and older, I probably would have been really scared but I was so excited and at that point, I was just, “Oh sure!” I still remember the day the opened in Miami … Mera [Rubell] comes over and she grabs my hand and she says, “You know, I just have to tell you this. I didn’t always quite understand what you were talking about and what you were going for but you were so passionate about it I thought, well, I’ll just go with it!”

You didn’t feel at any point that you were in over your head?

No … no.

What happened to the hotel in the end?

It’s gone now. Someone bought it because the real estate was so valuable. And they tore it down and built a Richard Meier building … [I felt] very sad. But you know, the world changes … [that hotel] opened up my career.

Bailey poses for Jeff.
Bailey ready for a nap.
“Broadway Boogie Woogie” a painting by Bob Knox dominates a wall of the den.

A colorful striped box from Paul Smith and fresh flowers pop on a vintage walnut top coffee table by Eero Saarinen.
A vintage “Praying Mantis” floor lamp is positioned next to a pair of swivel lounge chairs from Wyeth. The chairs are covered in a cobalt blue fabric from Osborne & Little.

Atop the fireplace mantel a porcelain double gourd vase stands next to “Green Giant Flaming Peas”, a 1998 work by Sean Mellyn.

Open shelving dividing the den from the dining and living room is filled with American Indian pottery, a tramp art box and cut logs for chilly evenings.
Stacks of art books are stored under window seats. The artwork to the right is by Josiah McElheny from Feature Gallery.

So what are the practical concerns when designing a hotel?

Durability … we use a lot of leather and vinyl. Everyone in the industry is moving towards putting in platform beds because you get rid of that awful bedskirt that always looks dingy and it’s always falling off. The other thing is that no one really wants a bedspread anymore … you want to feel like you’re the first person whose ever been in that room. For The Lord Baltimore Hotel, it’s a crisp white sheet with the logo of the hotel imprinted on the sheet.

I read this article years ago about how filthy hotel quilts are … about how much sex people have on top of the quilt … now the first thing I do when I walk into a hotel is get rid of it.

I know! You don’t want to touch it. It’s just shocking what people do … throw their suitcases with the dirty wheels on top of the bed … I’ve seen so much.

Looking across Scott’s home office towards stairs leading to the rooftop deck. The 1950s molded fiberglass chair is by Lawrence Peabody for Selig.

A view of the Empire State Building from Scott’s home office. The vintage elephant was a gift from Scott’s grandmother.
Artwork by Takashi Murakami hangs above a sofa bed from Avery Boardman. The coffee table is by George Nakashima and the custom colored rug is from Vermilion.

Photos of family and friends are arranged atop Peter’s office shelves. A Knoll chair in custom blue leather is tucked under a matching blue built in desk.
Two small works on paper on the left and one large work on paper hung on the right are by Chris Martin from Mitchell Innes and Nash Gallery.
Two vintage prints hang near a teak sculpture found in New Hope, PA.
“Four Seasons”, video art by Jennifer Steinkamp that can change with the seasons hangs atop the staircase landing to the rooftop deck.
An impressionist painting found at auction “years ago” hangs above outdoor cushions temporarily being stored atop a hall bench.
Amazing 360-degree views including the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower, and the High Line can be seen from the roof deck of Scott and Peter’s Chelsea penthouse.

You grew up in Ohio – tell us about Ohio.

Well it was a little town called Piqua, population 18 000 people. My father and grandfather were builders and developers. Between them I think they were responsible for about 25 percent of the houses in the town. I would go with them to pick out materials and they saw that I had an affinity for it. So by the time I was 12 or 13, I would go by myself and pick out interior and exterior finishes, things like the brick, the colors of the shutters, the light fixtures, the carpet … they built spec houses.

And your taste helped sell the houses?

Yes. Of all the houses I only had one that ended up being an issue. It was 1976 and I was 13 years old. I thought we should do a “Spirit of ‘76” house. It was two-story, red brick colonial with Wedgewood blue shutters on the outside, which was fine but the inside had red shag carpeting, Wedgewood blue cabinets with red countertops and Minutemen wallpaper. It was fabulous and no one got it.

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