Designer Spotlight: Schuyler Samperton
Using vintage linen and her mother's silver, Schuyler Samperton created Mecox Los Angeles's 2016 Holiday Window! A fantasy of pattern, color and texture, this is one dinner party everyone wants to attend. We had a moment to catch up with the designer as she and her team made a romantic and magical scene and learned a lot about this go-to LA decorator!
In doing some research on you we discovered you come from a rather exciting design lineage-your father was a noted architect, and your mother was quite the D.C. style maker. How did your upbringing influence your own design aesthetic?
Both of my parents had an enormous influence on me, and I was taught to think outside the box from a very early age. My father designed the house in which I was raised which combined traditional materials with some unorthodox design elements. For example, the exterior was made of brick, but my father made the aesthetic choice not to remove the mortar that oozed out from in between each joint. The result was fantastically textural and quite unlike anything else I'd ever seen. My mother had a similarly fearless approach to both fashion and decorating. A regular on the best-dressed list, she was known for her bold combinations which were usually comprised of some artful mix of colorful Indian scarves, silver cuff bracelets, feathers, leather and fur. This attitude carried over to the decor of our house as well - our living room blended a pair of grey flannel sofas with a sculptural metal coffee table by the artist Donald Drum and a fur rug. Individually was encouraged and wild choices were applauded - I try to conjure my parents' stylistic bravery when given the opportunity. They were my first and greatest teachers without a doubt.
What made you decide to come west, being the quintessential east coast girl?
My move to LA was completely unplanned. I visited a friend for the weekend who was working for Barry Diller's newly formed Fox television network. We went to a party at his boss' house and shortly after I returned home, I got a message that they wanted to speak to me about a position within their publicity department. On a whim, I flew back out for the interview and got hired in fifteen minutes. At the time, I had absolutely no experience in that particular field whatsoever, so it was a huge roll of the dice but I absolutely loved it there and stayed for almost seven years.
You originally came to LA to make your mark in the entertainment business. What made you eventually switch to interior design?
After several years working in entertainment publicity I was looking for a change. I had interviewed for a position with a well-known fashion PR firm back in New York, but then I met Michael Smith at a party and we became friends. I had always admired his work and had actually sent him my resume a few years earlier. We had a laugh about that, and then he kindly offered me a job doing his publicity. A few weeks after I started, one of the design assistants left to start a family and I took over her projects. Since I grew up around design and have always been interested in it, it felt like the perfect career fit for for me.
You spent four years working for Michael S. Smith. Did you find that was like graduate school for interior design?
Working for Michael gave me the best training I could have ever dreamed of. I basically started out in the business working for someone with an extraordinary eye at the top of his game who had a vast knowledge of interior design, architecture, art history and the decorative arts. The types of projects we worked on introduced me to some of the best and most talented dealers, artisans and craftspeople in the design world. In addition, that experience and knowledge gave me, and others before and after me, the confidence to start our own businesses.
Well, whatever was in the water cooler at MSS clearly worked! So many talented designers (and, thankfully, Mecox clients!) have come out of that office: Joe Lucas, Anna Hackathorn, Tim Clarke, Matthew O'Dorisio, just to name a few! What was it about that experience that manufactured such outstanding creativity?
Never one to duplicate a cookie cutter formula, Michael taught us to see each project as a chance to push the design envelope. He was the master of the high/low mix and could turn a generic pool house into a fantasy worthy of Renzo Mongiordino with an armful of paisley throws from Urban Outfitters. Conversely, he appreciated the provenance of the perfect Louis XVI commode. It was a real treat to witness his thought process and you never knew what would inspire him. It could be anything from an Elizabeth Taylor movie from the '70's to an ancient Asian textile fragment. I learned that ideas could be found in almost everything. Oh, and I also learned the importance of making a quick decision and that almost anything can be repaired!!!!
When you work for a larger firm, when do feel is the right time to 'strike out on your own'?
Making the choice to start your own business is a gutsy one. If you want to be truly successful you have to be prepared to do whatever it takes and that often means a seven day a week schedule. I've enjoyed the logistic and creative freedom that having my own firm offers, but I have definitely made personal sacrifices to get there.
We LOVE your design style; an east coast sensibility merged with west coast Bohemia. Do you find that your clients understand this chic dichotomy going in, or do you have to 'explain' it?
Thank you for the nice compliment! Most of my clients come to me for my point of view, but some like to play it safe and need to be convinced to go with a statement wallpaper, strong color or an unusual mix of patterns. Unless they've seen it somewhere else, it can be hard for some clients to take the leap of faith. Thankfully my brand of quirky bohemian individualism is being embraced by more mainstream outlets.
You have many celebrity clients (we promise, we won't mention any names!). Is there an added pressure to satisfy a celebrity client over a non-celeb client? What is one of the wildest requests you have had from a client?
Working in LA it's sort of a given that we all have crossed paths with celebrity clients. I've found no difference between the level of expectation between a movie star, a banker or a stay at home mom. As designers we're ultimately in the service business, and in my office we strive to deliver a spectacular product, on time and within budget. Regardless of their profession, most of our clients are sophisticated and well-traveled so it's a fun challenge to present them with something they might not have seen before. To date, my most unusual request was to revamp an on-set trailer for the actor Michael Weatherly. We had a deadline of two weeks (including one holiday weekend) and a pile of technical restrictions, but we did it and it looks fabulous!!
How do you balance marrying your design aesthetic with a client's vision or taste level, which sometimes, may not be your own?
People want to feel they've been heard, so first and foremost I listen to my clients. Only they know how they live and what they'll be comfortable with. I've heard a lot of horror stories about designers who have delivered the "my way or the highway" speech and it just doesn't seem to work. I think people appreciate the concept of respect and collaboration which isn't to say that I won't encourage them to consider a new way of thinking. We usually come to some sort of aesthetic compromise that we're both happy with. Many times clients just need to be educated about what choices are available - they're out in the world living their lives and not necessarily on top of every new fabric or antique chandelier. It's our job to present them with a few beautiful options and create a space that we're all proud of.
Where do you see interior design headed to in the future?
I'm seeing a lot of individualism in design these days. My clients appreciate the back stories behind some of the more hand crafted pieces - it can be a family - owned furniture business in Vermont or a fabric designer that gets her inspiration from a trip to India. There seems to be more respect of and attention to the development of a unique space that fits with the people that live there and less of the soulless, generic and sterile. I think we'll be seeing more combinations of pattern on pattern which I personally couldn't be more happy about!!
You have been a Mecox client since practically the day we opened our doors in LA, and we thank you for that! Not to be TOO self serving, but what is it about Mecox that helps you complete a design? Mecox has been on my "go to" list since my days with Michael Smith! I've found some of my favorite pieces here!! A pair of lucite framed arm chairs! A linen sofa full of brightly colored susani inspired pillows! Woven leather side tables! Coffee table books galore and of course, countless scores of Christopher Spitzmiller double-gourd lamps! The store consistently has an amazing variety of classic upholstered pieces, lighting, case goods and accessories - it's practically impossible to leave empty handed. And did I mention they have the most helpful and cooperative staff as well as the best dogs AND candy on La Cienega...?
What's upcoming in the Schuyler Samperton world?
I'm currently designing a fabric line which I'm thrilled about. The process has been incredibly cool and creative and I hope to launch it in the Spring of next year. Professionally, I'd love to continue to work on exciting, inspiring projects that both challenge me and allow me to create something daring and mind-blowingly beautiful. Personally, I'll be traveling to far away places just wandering and taking pictures with my two favorite boys - Marc and Tricky.
Thank you so much for creating our first guest designer Holiday window! We love it! It's so fun and festive - and so you! What was your inspiration? I suppose the real inspiration for this vignette was the gorgeous holiday table that my fabulous mother created each year. The vintage tree of life panels belonged to her and were normally used as tablecloths, but I chose to use them as wall coverings. They were the first piece of the puzzle, and I knew I wanted to incorporate them because they put a slightly non-traditional spin on the idea of holiday while still looking quite festive. The fantastic dining table and leather chairs from Mecox lent themselves beautifully to creating an intimate dining space - one that feels charming, quirky and comfortable. I love throwing in unexpected elements like the crazy vintage feather fan, the enormous unframed dog portrait, antique books and marbleized soup bowls. That to me is what brings the character and life to a room.
Well, It's too fabulous and so are you! Thank you so much!
Schuyler's window will be up through January 3, 2017!