Hopefully, you’ve had an opportunity to read Olivia Mitchell Brock’s Contributor Series post on GMG talking all about Interior Design coffee table books. We wanted you to get to know Olivia better, to understand what drives her, to see what led her to interior design and to make use of some of her free advice.
Q: When did you start Torrance Mitchell Designs and what lead you to it?
A: The road to Torrance Mitchell Designs was long and winding, but the synopsis is that I got an M.S. in Historic Preservation and while doing so, wrote a design/preservation blog called Lacquered Life. Torrance Mitchell Designs was born out of the combination of those two things amongst a million others, but my first clients were all readers, my Lacquered Lifers.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to go into interior design?
A: No! I didn’t at all. I thought I was going to be a preservation minded real estate developer who specialized in the acquisition of historic property for the purposes of adaptive reuse. But my interest in that grew from my love of buildings and my desire to be involved in placemaking, and as an interior designer I get to spend all day working with buildings and creating places and spaces for my clients to live in and to love …
Q: What inspires your work?
A: What doesn’t inspire my work?! History is certainly an overriding theme. Whether it is the history of a building, the history of a city, or the stories of the decorators that have come before. Some of my favorite decorators are the ones that are no longer with us – Albert Hadley, Billy Baldwin, Mark Hampton – I believe that great things come from looking thru the past with a fresh perspective. Hmmm what else … color – my favorite color is blue. All shades of blue, particularly navy – and I love blue paired with white – in a shirt, on a beach, in a room … it’s no wonder I adore Mark Sikes.
Q: What do you love most about designing spaces?
A: I would be lying if I didn’t say that my favorite part is the renovation. I really love being involved in a renovation, especially with an historic house, and having the ability to get really personal with the building – building’s are like people to me, and renovating them is like being in a relationship. During the renovation the building is exposing all of its flaws and eccentricities, and as the designer you’re there to help the building find a balance without losing its charm. I know, I sound crazy. I have an unapologetic love for old buildings.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic and style?
A: This is always such a hard question! Classic? Collected? Lived in? I never want my spaces to look staged, or too precious. I like the rooms to feel as though you could pick any chair in the room, have a seat (and a cocktail) without worrying about spilling your drink or if you can put it down. With my historic house projects I always want to make sure that I respect and appreciate the history of the building, but that doesn’t mean decorating an historic house museum! Despite my love of history and historic homes, I love the juxtaposition of an historic space with contemporary furnishings. That’s why I so enjoy European shelter magazines like Elle Decoration and Marie Claire Maison – they often feature modern interiors inside the most amazing historic spaces.
Q: You’re a big history buff, at what point did you find yourself interested in historic homes?
A: From the time I was very young, on any given street my favorite house was always the oldest and the most run down – it’s is as though I was always looking for potential. Actually, one of my favorite books as a child was The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton – it is a children’s story about a little house and how it was loved and forgotten and loved again … so I was a preservationist from the beginning.
Q: What are your three biggest pieces of advice for people who don’t even know where to begin when it comes to interiors?
A: This is definitely a question that all my Lacquered Lifers would love to hear my answer to …
1. Just because something isn’t expensive, doesn’t mean it isn’t fabulous. Being able to navigate and achieve the perfect “high / low” mix is one of the most important abilities of great decorators. Tom Scheerer is the emperor of the “high / low” mix, and why he is one of the best.
2. When in doubt, stick with sisal. Or any other natural fiber – seagrass, jute, abaca, whatever. A natural fiber rug is a great foundation to any room – whether you are decorating a parlor full of silks, or a study full of linen – it always looks good.
3. Don’t be afraid of color or pattern. Choose a color other than white for the trim in your house or apartment, its just paint! Upholster your sofa in a bold pattern, all of a sudden the room will feel decorated even if there is very little else in the room.
Photos #1, #2 and #4 were shot by Francesco Lagnese