A decorator at the top of his or her game knows just when to hold back —and when to go full throttle. The goal may be to soothe or dazzle, the place may be haute or humble, but a skillful designer is always completely engaged and in control.He is roundly celebrated for his sparse, timeless interiors, but designer Stephen Sills is not one to rest on his laurels. rooms date, even if they are as good as they can be, even if done in a classical way,”says the soft-spoken Oklahoma native. is one of interior designgreatest fallacies. There really isna space that couldnuse a makeover every now and then.”
For this designer, whose credits include the venerable St. Regis hotels in New York and Washington, D.C., and the Connaught in London, a once – in – a – while redo covers a very different time frame than it might for less rigorous designers. Think every two decades or more —a lifetime in the trend – chasing world of interior design.
Thathow long it has been since Sills first transformed the Manhattan penthouse of his longtime clients and close friends Barbara Cirkva and John Schumacher. Back in the early 1990s —before the designer installed multiple Corinthian columns, a porthole window in the foyer, and muscular molding throughout, turning the space into an extraordinary neoclassical palaz – zo —the apartment was a scries of big rooms with high ceilings and no architectural detailing or embellishments. , the tiled floor, which still works so well, was there,”he says.
His clients, Italophilcs for whom Sills stood as witness when they exchanged marriage vows in Rome, wanted their Upper East Side place to take them back there every day. and I have traveled all over Italy; every August we book the same room in the same hotel in Capri, and get the same view!”Cirkva says with a laugh.
Not that the couple arc resistant to a change of scene. After living in a home rendered in a rich, lush palette and filled with 19th – century furnishings, they wanted to lighten things up. find that people are gravitating to a more spare look,”says Sills, only pieces they really cherish and setting it all in a monochromatic color scheme. Itthe fashion in decoration right now.”
Cirkva, who presides over Chanelfashion, fine jewelry, and watch collections in the U.S., and Schumacher, a former fashion executive who now runs Fleur, their garden antiques shop in Mount Kisco, New York, both know a thing or two about changing tastes. Cirkva oversees six ready-to-wear lines and two couture collections every year, and points to the core beauty and simplicity of the Chanel label as the key to the fashion houseenduring appeal in such a trend – driven business. same principles,”she says, to an interior.”
What turned out to be a major redecoration of every room began as a simple refreshing of the style and color palette. Cirkva found that the bedroomceladon walls, plum carpet, and green side tables festooned with Venetian flowers had become too dark and overtly feminine for her taste. Striking the perfect balance of opulence, rigor, and surprise, Sills combined a soft palette and sharply edited antiques with an energetic Robert Kelly stripe painting that seems to be begging the garden sphinx in front of it to stand up. Itclassic Sills, seamlessly moving through centuries without missing a beat.
In the living room, the designer toned down the parchment and goldenrod walls, traded out heavy gold silk – taffeta curtains for the same design in lighter – weight linen, and painted the fireplace and terra-cotta mirrors above it to mimic stone. An 18th – century cabinet and a collection of 19th – century studio drawings mix effortlessly with a pair of graphic vintage French floor lamps that sits where a pair of pink porcelain Napoleon III ones used to be. Convinced that the dining room fitted nicely into the new design scheme, Cirkva lived with it for a year before she admitted it wasnworking at all. Down came the Empire bronze chandelier, away went the early – 19th – century table, and in their place a bronze pendant now hangs over a minimalist, Sills – designed table. But the designer will only simplify so much; he set a pair of Puglian urns beneath twin gilded sconces, giving the room his signature dose of gravitas.
Paring back so decisively might challenge your average client – decorator relationship, but Cirkva and Sills have developed a design shorthand after a decades – long friendship. not very forthcoming,”she says, he is always observing and taking everything in like a sponge. Watching the way my husband and I interact socially —it gives him invaluable information about how we like to live.”
Indeed, Sillspowers of observation —particularly when it comes to contemporary art —have a huge influence on his interior design language. always analyze modern art, looking to decipher who are the greats and who are simply fashionable. Are works by Christopher Wool or Richard Prince simply beautiful to look at or are they transcendent?”he ponders. For her part, Cirkva is thrilled with the aesthetic moment Sills finds himself in right now.
nothing like walking into your home and being surprised and delighted every time,”she says.