When renowned interior designer Charlotte Moss agreed to take time out of her busy day to talk with HGTV.com about her new book, we were thrilled. Ms. Moss has enjoyed a celebrated career; most recently she was honored with Elle Decor’s Vision Award and named a top 20 design icon by Traditional Home. Charlotte Moss Decorates is an entertaining and insightful read. Packed with more than 200 photographs of sublime interiors, coordinating scrapbooks for each space, as well as an abundant offering of Ms. Moss’ “Why Not?” decorating maxims, it’s impossible not to feel uplifted and inspired after finishing the book. It’s a resource to turn to again and again. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did our time talking with Ms. Moss, who exudes great warmth, humor and Southern charm. (And now we know what podcasts she downloads on her iPad to get in the zone!)
AM: The gorgeous interiors featured in your new book, Charlotte Moss Decorates, are Kips Bay and other show house rooms. Why?
CM: When I sat down, I thought, “What are the messages in my head that I want to communicate? What can they learn from me?” The only time a designer is really on equal standing to someone decorating on their own is in a show house, because it’s blank and up to you. When you have a client, they are giving opinions. A show house is all about me. I’m just like someone at home staring at four blanks walls and asking where do I start?” That is the question I get wherever I go—”where do you start?” Everyone wants to know, do I start with the rug? You don’t start with a damn thing! It’s not about things. It’s about ambiance. You want a place where you walk in and say, “I want to be there!”
AM: Well, I want to be in the room on the cover. It’s luxurious, yet feels lived in. It’s such a romantic space. And it got me thinking, there’s such a fear of clutter these days. You prove that, to quote your book, “stylishly cluttered” is a look to be embraced, like in this space. Sure, downsizing is good, but when we over edit, we lose something.
CM: I’m all about more is more. My whole approach to design is layering and encouraging people to experiment with layering and to not be afraid of it. It’s about juxtaposition and mingling. Clutter can be just messiness. But this room looks as it should, like a room that has evolved over time. Layers tell a story. Look at the horizontals on the cover. A modernist may call it clutter, but there’s an order to it—a methodology. This design is about an enthusiasm for collecting. I wanted this to be an escape room. A place for a woman to unwind, relax and write. You want to be surrounded by what you like. It’s visually exciting, inspiring and comforting. Your collection is right there with you.
AM: You include scrapbooks and collages throughout your book. It’s very thrilling. You take us into your design mind. How essential are scrapbooks as a tool in your work process?
CM: I’ve always been a clipper. I see what I like, pull it out and show it to clients who can show me what they like and don’t like. It’s way easier than summoning words on demand without cues. They can point to a chair they like, and I know it’s an empire chair. They may never have said that is the chair style they like. You don’t want to throw industry words around that make the client feel insecure. You have to find another way to get them engaged and provide them with info. This way the client is learning, but you never pointed out what they didn’t know. You have to establish that relationship. A picture really is worth a thousand words. I find the clipping therapeutic, too. I can take all of this, put a board up and create a storyboard. It’s creative therapy. I can’t draw, so this is how I create visually. I’ll put Modern Family on my iPad, laugh and do my work. I zone out the world. I’m in my zone. Nothing can bother me.
AM: What else do you listen to on your iPad?
CM: I listen to a lot of podcasts from different universities. The BBC has great garden lectures. Lectures from the TED Talks are incredible.
AM: Will you ever go all digital, arranging your collages on your iPad?
CM: No, the tactile element is very important. I have to see it and feel it in real life. I’m still a fan of scissors and glue sticks. One of my favorite quotes is David Hockney, “The thing with high-tech is that you always end up using scissors.”
AM: Another one of my favorite rooms in your book is on page 43, the huge living room you made feel cozy, with diamond-quilted green silk curtains and walls painted in Farrow & Ball’s “Orangery,” a color you describe as wrapping “the space like a cashmere blanket.” You make bold statements in this space with unexpected elements like the tall topiaries and the eye-catching photographs. The one over the mantel was taken by you, right?
CM: They are actually photos I took of statues in Rome. I had them cropped, blown up and made into art. It’s like a Rorschach test—what the hell is it? It’s the ripples of fabric a sculptor captures in stone.
AM: Oh! I see it, marvelous.
AM: This living room and other spaces in your book are from designer show rooms. Do you incorporate your photography in work for your clients?
CM: No, I never do! I’ve had postcards made for clients from images of their home. Never my own art. I’d feel so insecure! I know my limits, but I have fun with my photography. I’m always refining my eyes. My husband allows me to stop and take photos when we are out. He brings a book, so I don’t bore him.
AM: Well, the topiaries, your art, the antler sconces work perfectly with the grandeur of this space.
CM: That room was so big. I thought, ouch! It’s very Georgian. I knew it needed to have bold color and white trim. Anything on the mantle had to be equal in scale. Two small flower arrangements would have been lost. Those tall topiaries remind me of umbrella pines. You have to figure out the balance. No standard topiary look with spirals or multiple balls would do. They’d interfere with the starkness of the photo.
AM: Let’s talk about mauve. Thanks to your book, I now know its history, about how it went out of fashion. And with your designs, you prove that mauve deserves a comeback, big time.
CM: Mauve is so Victorian. We think of it as heavy, dark, very “granny.” I hate it when something becomes an ugly step-child. You have to give a color that’s been shunned a chance to break away and shine without that association. Like here with Michael Devine’s Beekman fabric in the custom color we created.
AM: What’s the next color that’s long been out of favor you believe deserves a comeback?
AM: I’m curious, is green your favorite color? We were talking in the office about all the wonderful pops of green throughout your book.
CM: I would say gray is my favorite color, but now, as I look around, I’m noticing how much green is in my office. Wow – I didn’t notice this. You know, these are the things you learn about yourself when someone points it out.
AM: You say that rules are meant to be broken. But the heaping bowl of fruit in the kitchen on page 131 is a strong design statement that anyone can do, it’s so simple. Can’t that be a rule? Every kitchen design should include a bowl of fruit. Let’s make it a rule. Why not?
CM: Let’s not call it a rule. That reminds me of nuns. Let’s call it a “guideline.” Never lose sight of the simple answer. Too often we want the answers to our design dilemmas to be involved. Instead, look right under your nose, those answers will be the most successful. It’s okay when the answer is too easy. That decorative bowl of fruit is doable by everyone. All it takes is a stroll down the supermarket aisle!
AM: Like writer Evangeline Bruce’s hallmark use of silver biscuit boxes filled with heads of broccoli, which you mention in your book.
CM: Yes, or parsley instead of flowers.
AM: I’m looking at broccoli in a whole new way now, thanks to you!
CM: I will have to tell everyone! That’s the first time someone looked at broccoli differently because of me.
AM: So, what’s next for you?
CM: We are launching a new fabric collection in the fall. We’re getting geared up to do furniture. The line has European flair but at the core is American style. Pieces that would have been in my grandma’s house and my childhood home in Richmond. I want to honor American style. And I’m working on book eight, which is scrapbook driven. My own scrapbooks and those from famous women. After all, I’m all about honoring the female population and creating rooms for them.
AM: That sounds marvelous. I can’t wait.