Top interior designer Thomas Pheasant talks about creating living spaces that are as beautiful as they are functional
CALM, LUXURIOUS and enduringly elegant, Thomas Pheasant’s interior designs for American furniture maker Baker’s latest collection are testament to his philosophy of simple serenity.
For 38 years, 16 of them spent collaborating with Baker, the Washington-based interior designer has balanced comfort and aesthetics with his love for design innovations. For example, the exposed wood of his case goods is executed in a palette of brass, glass, and solid dark-stained mahogany with either a high sheen finish known as Luxe, or a new lower sheen finish called Caviar, which is characterised by soft gold rubbed into the open pores of the wood’s grain.
The supports are finely tailored, the legs held together with artful brass dowels. The faceted geometry of the Diamond sofa series is carefully placed to add luxury to any space.
Known as the master of the neutral palette, Pheasant focuses on bringing a contemporary dimension to classic design principles, bridging past and present with attractive silhouettes and distinctive fabrics. In 2005, he was honoured by Architectural Digest US with the distinction “Dean of American Design”.
In high demand throughout the US, Europe and Asia, his recent projects include the redesign of Blair House, the US President’s guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House, and apartments in Washington, New York, Paris, and Moscow.
In Thailand, his entire collection for Baker is available through Chanintr Living. Pheasant flew into Bangkok late last year to introduce the 50 stylish pieces and found time to chat with The Nation Weekend.
“This is my fifth collection for Baker. They are a delight to work for as they have extraordinarily accomplished technical staff and devoted craftsmen. I began my first collection in 2002, and over the past 16 years each capsule has started to evolve in my mind as soon as the last has been presented. That’s a luxury most designers don’t have,” he says.
“What I’m proud of as the designer is the growth I can witness. As a designer in the creative world, you need to have the sense of growth for longevity, an accomplishment that personally keeps you going. Each piece has its own story and I find that exciting.”
Asked about his personal signature of simplicity and serenity, he explains: “Early in my career I found it was challenging to strip away what is unnecessary and try to create beautiful and fulfilling spaces. I never gave this approach a name even though it attracted a diverse clientele from all over the world. Interestingly, when I was asked to put together a book of my designs, my first thought was to centre it on my classical foundation coming from Washington DC and growing up. But as I talked to my friends and my customers, I kept hearing the words ‘simple’ and ‘serene’ and changed my focus. In the end we called the book ‘Simply Serene’ and concentrated on how you create that human connection with interiors.”
He is reluctant to define American design, saying: “We are young compared to the rest of the world, but we are also a melting pot. That gives us freedom to create as we don’t have rules or even traditions. I spend a lot of time in France and Asia and am always fascinated by how young designers interpret their heritage in new ways. In the US, we like to break the rules and that’s good too.
“I was just in Beijing and have also visited temples here in Thailand. To me, this is visual overload; there is so much decoration and I wonder how all of these stimulations are going to be absorbed.
“Creating a signature design is hard. I tell young architectural and design students that they must think about how they want to express themselves and how they are going to build on that over time,” he explains.
His inspirations for the new Baker collection, he continues, were modern American painters and sculptors like Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra and Tony Smith, whose minimalist works demonstrate refinement and sophistication.
“With simplicity you can’t hide. It is either yes or no.
“My signature is all about form. When I start the project, it is not about adding but taking away so as to create something. For example, the chair must have a comfortable feel but the least bulk. For the sofa, typically you would have the long continuous line on the back but this dimension is very subtle, the height increases and decreases, the legs taper from the front to the back like they are constantly taking the mass away.”
Pheasant also advises would-be interior designers to remember that any successful business requires both creativity and down-to-earth common sense.
“They require different brains,” he says. “As the creative person, the more you invest in that, the more fruitful, joyous and fulfilling the experience. I always get a kick out of talking to new clients and envisioning the rooms I will be working on. Then, of course, the practical realities come into play. We all accumulate things so we need to create storage, we need to take account of the kids and the pets. Certainly, it’s beautiful to have a vase with flowers on the table but you must always remember that you are building a space for people to live in, not just for photographs.
“Designers of residential interiors in particular have to be good listener to see and understand not just the space but the people. And that’s what’s so fascinating about our job.”