Mixing up the matches

American interior designer Bunny Williams is thrilled her collection has come to Thailand

Bunny Williams has always been up for a challenge. After 22 years with the venerable decorating firm Parish-Hadley Associates, famed for decorating the White House, she established her company Bunny Williams Home in 1988. Now the veteran American interior and furniture designer has her sights set on Thailand.

"I was over the moon when I was approached [with] the proposal to showcase my work at DM Home, which already offers a great selection from other famous American brands," said Williams. "My collection in Bangkok is very much a mix-and-match of the various types of furniture I have designed. Some may have influences dating back to 17th century Italy, while others might have a touch of mid-century France. There are also items, such as the glass table, which can look good in both a traditional home as well as a modern home.

"My furniture is such that you can mix and match it to suit your lifestyle. There are also smaller-size sofas, tables and chairs that can be used in smaller spaces, such as condos."

Williams' passion for design extends beyond interiors into the garden, which she has written books on. She places as much importance on what she does to design beautiful rooms and furniture as she does to client service and the attention she gives to detail.

Satisfying a customer takes time and patience, according to this interior design maestro. Her rule of thumb is to ask plenty of questions when reaching the house of a client. Finding out everything from "What do you do when you come home?" to "What is your family like?", the point is to get a crystal-clear picture of what she's dealing with. "There has to be a genuine interest to serve the client to the best of one's ability."

Tell us something about yourself.

Well, let's see, I grew up in Virginia, amidst American colonial houses and fine horses. By 16, I knew it wasn't a fondness for steeds that I desired to develop into a career, but rather architecture. I studied interior design in Boston, heading for New York soon afterwards.

How did your work experience help you become the designer you are today?

My first job was with English antiques dealer Stair & Company. This very much set the foundation I have today about quality furniture. Working at Parish-Hadley Associates launched my lifetime career. I basically picked up all that needed to be learned about the business there. I started as a secretary, and then worked my way up to right-hand aide working directly with Parish and Albert Hadley.

How did the 22 years that you worked for them pan out?

I would say the initial decade was particularly productive in providing an incomparable platform for me to learn the ins and outs of the profession. I can honestly say it was more far-reaching and authentic than anything taught in schools. The on-the-job training involved all the minute elements that go into the making of a room _ everything from the measuring, cutting and hanging of draperies to the construction of sofas and chairs, the outcome achieved by mixing and applying paints, to a whole list of other things.

What were some of the pivotal aspects of interior design that you picked up during this time?

There were many, but above all, what I learned was that an eye for design is not enough. When you're in the decision-making seat, you have to know upfront what can and can't be done, and how it all comes together.

In 1988, I opened my design firm, supplemented three years later with Treillage, a garden shop. After interior design, my second love is gardens. My code is: A room should grow on you and become more interesting the longer you reside in it.

Tell us about your collection.

I would say [it's] very universal. If one browses through the collection, it would be like travelling through time. This is largely been so because I love to travel and observe other cultures and ways of life. Often I am inspired with what I see, and this can enlighten me to come up with a design.

What would you say is your style in designing furniture?

I have often been asked this question, and my reply is always: "What I believe in." My pieces are distinctive in that they are always very different in themselves, they are designed so they can be mixed and matched with other furniture. In a way, this allows the house owner to be creative in picking and choosing what would suit his or her lifestyle best. This will make it more personalised.

Is this the way you decorate yourself?

Yes, very much so. I do this because I am interested in different periods of furniture. So, when I design, it comes naturally for me to come up with individual or personalised furniture. For me, it could be putting something that I bought from Asia with a piece I picked up from France.

I think sometimes when you live in a modern space, it is interesting to put old things in the space to give a contrast, and vice versa, which would make it interesting. I am of the opinion that it is the variety of things that make for an interesting setting.

This is the way I have designed from the start of my career. I have travelled all my life. Some of my favourite furniture comes from France, Italy and a string of Asian countries.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your furniture design from? They come across as contemporary, unique and elegant and reflect colonial, continental, British, American and Greek influences.

It could be a handful of places. I found museums in France and England to be very useful, as well as tours of old European architectural homes to stimulate my imagination. Travelling to the four corners of the world has in itself opened avenues for me to take in the sights and sounds, which have in some way contributed to my creative juices.

Tell us what you keep in mind when you design the interior of a house.

As an interior designer, I start with what the rooms look like. I try to imagine how I can correct the space, where needed, before I can start the furnishing. You look at the space and you ask yourself: "What can I do to make it more interesting?" Then you see your furniture arrangement, which should reflect the lifestyle of the residents of the house. Needless to say, attention to detail plays a large part in success.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming interior designers who are equally talented in designing furniture?

From my years of work experience, I would say firstly research. Anyone interested in pursuing such a career has to know that this is a pivotal part of becoming a designer.

Searching over the net is not what I am referring to here, but rather the one-on-one experience of just how the room looks. From personal experience, photos don't always do justice to what it is in reality. You don't really know how high the ceilings are until you are there.

You have to also be curious. You have to have a desire to explore your surroundings, both in the country and abroad, because designing is all about architecture. When you think about furnishing, it is important for you to know how to construct the products that go with it.

About the author

Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert
Position: Reporter