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Bunny Williams on Everything from Design to Education and Legacy


It’s hard to introduce Bunny Williams without listing every award and accolade in the design industry. But despite her status as one of the world’s most celebrated decorators, Bunny has one of the most down-to-earth personalities in the business. Everything about her – from her enthusiasm for residential design to her decades of experience and commitment to educating the next generation of designers – is impressive and made known within minutes of meeting her. She’s been a friend of Mecox for years, but we recently had the pleasure of getting to know her even better. Want to know more about the accomplished designer, decorator, author and shop-owner? Here’s what we learned, and love, about Bunny.


Introduction to interior design…
I was lucky that my mother was a “frustrated interior designer.” Her friends would call her and say, “Can you help me rearrange my living room? What color should I paint this?” So I used to go with her—even at a young age. I loved it!

When she knew…
I always knew that I would love to do interior design. When it was time to go to college, my parents wanted me to go to a liberal arts college in Virginia, but I wanted to go to New York. I ended up going to school in Boston, but it wasn’t long before I made my way to the city. Being a designer is sort of all I’ve ever wanted to do.

The early days…
When I first moved to New York, I worked in an antique shop. After a couple of years of that, I was lucky enough to land at Parish-Hadley Associates.

Inspiration is…
The place. I’m inspired for a project based on where I am. You have to be inspired by people’s lifestyles because you’re creating a background for them to live in. You start out with a place and its spirit. Basically, you have a “philosophy moment” before you worry about color or which furniture your going to buy.

Most marked characteristic…
Comfortable floor plans. I don’t put furniture in a room for shock value. I design rooms—whether they’re in a beach house or a penthouse—for people to use and live in.

Changing times…
When I began in this business, clients were much more involved. They collected art or furniture. They went out and shopped. They ran their houses themselves. Today, people seem to be busier than ever.  We eat out more and don’t entertain at home as much. I guess the art of living has gone out of the equation a little bit.

A clients must have...
When a client has a piece that they must have, but it doesn't work with the space, I try to move it out of the most important site in their space, such as to a back room or guest room. What's interesting is that the more you educate your clients, the more they realize why that piece doesn't work in the space, and they feel more comfortable removing it. 

Greatest achievement…
I don’t think I have a greatest achievement. I think I’ve worked very hard over a very long period of time to get better and better and better.  I feel like the professional ice skater or marathon runner. You practice, you work at it, you discipline yourself and you get good at it. You gain confidence, you gain experience and you gain knowledge. I like to think that I’ve added something to the design world and will leave some sort of legacy for people to study and look at.

Gardening and growing up…
I grew up in the country in rural Virginia. My life as a little girl was on 300 acres surrounded by dogs, gardens and houses. People entertained at home. There were very few restaurants. We lived around our houses. It’s those memories that keep me inspired. I love being outside. I love digging in the dirt. Planting a seed and seeing a squash plant grow. I love the physical part of gardening.

Dogs and philanthropy…
When I was growing up, daddy raised beagles and at one point we had 42! Even as a kid I always wanted my own dog—a dog that was different. That’s how I ended up with terriers. I’m very passionate about dogs and that’s why I’m so active in the animal rescue community. (And that’s just one of the reasons Mecox has so much respect for Bunny!)

Most treasured possession…
A few years ago, my husband John’s nephew gave us a pair of paintings for Christmas. The paintings show our dogs sitting on our living room sofa, and I always think that if there was a fire, that’s what I would grab. I’m very sentimental, and I love the paintings because they show an interior of our living room with our furniture and our dogs.

Designing furniture…
The whole idea for me to design furniture came from what I couldn’t find. Mostly, end tables—I’m always designing an end table! The furniture design comes out of the interior work. So many of my designs come from the things that I spend hours looking for.

Educating clients…
I find that during a project, part of decorating is education. If you’re a good designer, then you are educating your clients all along. You want them to know what you’re buying and why you’re buying it.

Today’s trend…
All of a sudden, people don’t seem to want antiques as much anymore. A lot of people are looking for mid-century pieces, and they’re fortunate because there are many great mid-century furniture designers out there.

Sourcing antiques…
It used to be that you would travel and find things at tag sales or antique shows. I can’t find that interesting furniture anymore. I don’t know where it is! They didn’t burn it, but it doesn’t seem to be coming back on the market so I don’t think people are selling it. I believe in the end an interesting room is about interesting things in it.

Social media’s influence…
Social media is important. I love certain blogs and I love Pinterest. The great thing about social media is that it allows people to see much more. It’s exposed so many more people to the design world. It’s fun because you can follow someone who has similar tastes to you, and it’s far more interesting looking at a magazine. People are searching and hunting. I look at Pinterest sometimes and I’m like, “Where do they find all of these images?”

Next book…
I have one coming out this spring although it’s really just a reissue of my book on garden design. People kept asking for On Garden Style so in 2015, they’ll be able to get it! I’m also working on a book about the house that my husband John and I built together in the Dominican Republic. It’s very personal. I also keep photographing work, so maybe I’ll do another design book in the future…

What’s left to achieve…
Education and legacy. I’m on the board of the Institute of Classical Architecture, and I’m trying very hard to see that young architecture students can be taught classical architecture which isn’t really taught anymore in architecture school. Today’s students are taught to be free-thinking. I’m also trying very hard to start to create master class videos of today’s top designers. I think of the years that I was so lucky to work with Albert Hadley. The way he taught us to think about the design. The exposure. You don’t learn that in design school. You learn a lot of great things at design school, but the residential work that I’m so passionate about is getting lost. Design is getting too homogenized. Too corporate-looking. Before it’s all gone, before the people who are still practicing it disappear, I’d like to see it documented in some way.

From all of us at Mecox, a special thank you to Bunny for sharing some of her story. If you want to learn more about Bunny and her current projects, visit www.BunnyWilliams.com

posted on Dec 08, 2014 by