Wednesday, 12 October 2011


**Hi, I will have my normal "Things I am loving Thursday" post tomorrow, Friday as well as announce the giveaway winner! **

Good morning! Lots of excitement here today!! Sit down, grab another cup of coffee and be prepared to be wowed! This is a long but "worth every word and picture" kind of post!  I am so excited about this interview today featuring someone who was referred to in 1988 as "One of the great American designers" by House and Garden, and let me tell you they weren't kidding! Say hello to.....
 Leta Austin Foster 
It is actually a funny and ironic story as to how this interview came to be. About a year ago I was going through one of my Farrow and Ball books, and noticed a few extraordinary rooms, I then noticed the rooms I was attracted to were by the same designer. I  made note of the name, Leta Austin Foster and stored it in my memory bank. Mind you this is WELL before I had a blog or even knew what one was! Fast forward nearly a year later, and as many of you know I interviewed Fairfax and Sammons, the wonderful Architectural firm a few months ago. I got a very large and positive response in both comments and emails as everyone was so excited about their incredible work. I had fun going through the many emails and comments that followed. About five weeks ago I wanted to clean up my email box from old mail so was scanning to see what to keep and what to delete and a wonderfully kind and lengthy email caught my eye.......from Leta Austin Foster? THE Leta Austin Foster whose work I so admired a year ago? Was Leta actually reading my blog?  I promptly wrote her and YES it was the same Leta I hoped it was!  Kathy Sue from Good life of Design once said it and its so just never know who is reading your blog.....I practically did a back flip across the room!

This dynamo of a person was beyond gracious, and her talent knows no bounds. One thing led to the next and she graciously agreed to grant me an interview. After spending almost 3 hours on the phone talking to Leta who was in Maine at the time, I felt like I saying goodbye to an old friend. It is very clear to me why she is highly regarded both with her colleagues and her esteemed clientele. I love her energy, savvy insight, incredible knowledge about design and architecture, hearing her regale me with her life was all such a wonderful treat. We hope and vowed to meet next time either of us are in the others neck of the woods and I will be sure we do Leta!!

A little background on Leta....
Leta has an incredibly successful business that has stood the test of time for nearly 35 years. She has offices in both New York and Palm Beach and works alongside her very talented daughter Sallie whose work was also featured in the Farrow and Ball book. In addition, all three of her girls inherited the "good taste" gene and have each gone on to their own highly successful design careers. Besides Sallie, there is  Elizabeth, yes that Elizabeth  as in Elizabeth Dinkel and then there is Eliza who practices out of Florida! Classic traditional is the style that appears to be Leta's forte but she is well versed in many styles as you will see. I know you will be as excited over her work (if you are not yet already a fan) as I was the first time I laid eyes on her fabulous rooms. Enough talking, lets all drool together over her amazing work....

As if this hasn't been enough of a treat, Leta is also generously offering a signed copy of

Farrow and Ball's book, The Art of Color  

in which many of her fabulous spaces are featured!! To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment here and I will announce the lucky winner on Friday!

And now the interview of this talented dynamo......take note lots of great information and advice here.

How long have you been practicing as an interior designer? I have been in business since 1975. I started off with Colefax and Fowler.

What region do you do most of your work in? Is it all residential or have you worked commercially as well? I have worked all over the United States, coast to coast. I have worked in France and Italy and would love to work in England. I have done a few commercial jobs but would love to design a store!

What is the furthest you have traveled for a job? I have been to San Francisco and San Juan island (off of Washington State) in the U.S. and abroad, I have gone to Europe. I have many repeat customers, those who own 2 or 3 homes and often I have done more than one house for a client.

How would you describe your signature style? I guess most would say I am a traditionalist but I am really happy with anything. If you look at photographs of my work, some is extremely traditional (such as the big Richmond house featured in the Farrow and Ball book) or either of the two houses in the Fairfax and Sammons Book, American Houses. But some- if you look on our website, you will see them, such as the townhouse in Florida with the China Seas fabric on the loveseat and sofa and the white shutters, is more what I would call contemporary classic. I actually love doing flat-out contemporary which we are doing now in a house in Hobe Sound for a young couple who are much more hip. But I will probably never like just all off white furniture with some modern pieces thrown in= you see so much of that in magazines now, and all these houses look alike.

Do you have a "go to" paint color or palette that is a "sure thing"? I most certainly do. I love blue and in particular love pale powder and Borrowed Light, both Farrow and Ball colors. They have really wonderful colors. I love warm rooms too and think those look best in the city. Gray is one of my all time favorites however!

Where do you find your design inspiration? Oh, from all kinds of things. It can be a fabric, a wallpaper, a painting. I am inspired by the works of Stanford White and Karl Larsson, also through great books. And of course nature, take for example a hibiscus, not necessarily my favorite flower but the colors are so beautiful they might inspire you to wonder how that color might work in a room.

Favorite design book and design icon? Billy Baldwin, to me, the greatest designer of the 20th century. He never compromises and has tremendous talent, he is just amazing as is Nancy Lancaster.
For books, I love the Billy Baldwin books as well as the Alberto Pinto book, they really answer every question you might have.

What is the most timeless color palette to decorate with? Gray! It can be a cool gray or a warm gray, it goes with everything. I have used gray and white with black and white stripes and with yellow and its just so beautiful.

What are two or three accessories that everyone can afford that can add a little panache to their interiors? Flowers for sure, and other wonderful things found in nature  like leaves and branches. Adding greenery to a room makes it feel so fresh and clean. It is something anyone can do. And pictures, everyone loves looking at pictures of family and friends, from special occasions. If you can't afford silver frames, get lucite ones which work with anything and when you are able switch them out to silver.

For a novice who cannot afford the services of a designer, what are two things that you would suggest that they do? First thing you absolutely should do, invest in the very best mattress you can afford. If you take care of it and turn it once a month it will last forever! Then to buy the best sofa you can buy, you can upgrade it with a better fabric down the road or change things around by adding a slipcover for the summer.

Do you have a favorite design era or style? If so, what is it?
Yes, I do, late 18th century French. But to do an actual reproduction in decoration would be so costly. A signed Ebeniste furniture is beyond most peoples budgets but you can buy Swedish antiques usually quite reasonably and paint them if if you wish. I love all the fabrics, they are so beautiful but often costly. You can then use French fabrics from sources such as Braquenie (throuhg Pierre Frey) or Christopher Hyland who has large selections of toiles and printed fabrics. A good source for less expensive French prints is Nicole Fabre.

Whats your feeling on the following very popular trends right now, reclaimed wood, chevron in fabrics, gray and starburst mirrors?
I love the wood found in old buildings, they have that glorious patina which is so gorgeous. Love Chevron, its been around since the time of the Egyptians, it is especially wonderful in bold woven fabrics like those with cashmere. You know I love gray and adore starburst mirrors, they are so versatile and I use them often.

What is your opinion on the use of wallpaper? I love wallpaper! I favor the old block prints like those by Zuber et Cie and Farrow and Ball.

Any advice when using wallpaper? Yes, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good paper hanger. Actually, that is my basic philosophy; good labor is the most important thing of all. It is so foolish to buy expensive fabrics, or papers and then have poor labor make up the curtains, cover the furniture, hang the coverings on the walls. I can see poor labor across the room especially with wallpaper.

Do you like the idea of mixing styles and periods or are you more of a purist? Absolutely, if that is what the client wants! A period room is great for a showcase Today's living is more informal and its about comfort and really living in and enjoying our homes, so that is a priority.

How has interior design evolved from lets say a decade ago? Branding! All these young people want to brand themselves and its just a much more popular way of marketing today. Labor is much more and 

Biggest mistake people make when designing window treatments is.....
When they make a treatment that doesn't move! In addition to looking pretty, they should have a purpose and be functional.They should work so that you can allow natural light into a room. English decorators like John Fowler always made sure his "worked" and his books demonstrate this well. 

What kinds of things does your firm do to adapt during these economically challenging tough times? We keep some things simple like using plain linens on upholstered furniture and allowing the pillows or accessories to change things up. We use "workhorse' fabrics, those that will stand the test of time. We also change things around by making slipcovers so that you can change the look by season without having to change out the furniture.

What do you think of Million Dollar Decorators? If it applies, do you have a favorite character? I haven't seen it yet, but keep hearing so much about it. I really want to watch it next season.

Whats your favorite room in a house to design? Definitely the bedroom!

Who would be your dream client? Dream location? I am so lucky, I already have several dream clients! Ones I love so much that I get excited when I wake up on the days that I am going to see them. For some of my clients, I am on house number 3 or 4 and for one, I have done 9!!! These are people who understand me and whom I understand. I guess if I could have anything in the world, I would have one of them buy a house in Paris and let me do it- or a country house in Italy or England, or really anywhere they want to be!

Thank you Leta!  Click here to visit her website and see more of her exquisite work as well as visit her store chock full of goodies hand selected by this incredible style maven.And thank you all for stopping by, hope you enjoyed this interview. To be eligible for this giveaway all you need to do is leave a comment here telling me which room you liked or what you liked about the interview! The winner will be announced on Friday. Good luck and hope you have a wonderful day.


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