Bunny Williams on Life After Decorating
In her third book, Bunny Williams’ Scrapbook for Living, the New York uber-decorator best known in these parts for generously throwing open her Falls Village garden gate to one and all on behalf of any good cause, tells us how to live in our houses once they are ostensibly “done.” Instead of advising on furniture arrangements and fabric choices, she tells us how to set up a laundry room that works. Instead of wide shots of pristine rooms, the photographs by Amy Archer are of details and the sort of in-between places interior design monographs and shelter magazines tend to ignore. Archer then assembles some of these into collages that she calls Place Portraits. Archer’s fragments are a good match for Williams’ text, which is divided into brief narratives, broken up by lots of checklists and charts. This Saturday, Bunny Williams will be at Privet House in Warren, CT to talk about and sign copies of her new book.
RI Your new book is about what happens in a room after the big things—furniture, curtains, rugs—are in place.
BW: That’s right, it’s about art, mirrors, pillows, flowers, candles, music, table- and bed-linen. To me, a room isn’t finished if it lacks personality and soul. And that has to come from touches the owner brings to it. I can get a room to a certain point, but a year later, I want to see that the sofa has been sat on, that a comfortable cushion has been added, not necessarily because it looks better, but because, to the person who sits there every day, it’s more comfortable. I like it when I can tell someone uses a room; it’s always makes it more welcoming. I want to see that the owners have settled in and taken over. It’s a home, not a hotel room.
RI You describe your style as “appealingly undisciplined.” Yet in this new book, you advise us to organize our freshly laundered sheets in sets, then to tie each set with a ribbon before putting it in the linen closet. That doesn’t strike me as “appealingly undisciplined.”
BW: The “underneath” of a house, the parts that don’t show, should be highly organized. Even the parts that show can have an undisciplined, relaxed look, but there has to be underlying order and balance. It just makes life pleasanter if you’re not always searching for the things you need.
RI: You’ve created a scapbook of sorts here, and you encourage your readers to keep their own scrapbooks, or at least folders of tearsheets, scans and prints of photos they’ve taken themselves of things that inspire them. You even advise us to never leave the house without a camera in case we see something worth remembering. Even if it’s in another person’s house?
BW: You have to ask. Most people take it as a compliment.
RI: You admit that you are a big fan of gas fires and recommend Real Fyre Gas Logs. Why?
BW: Try managing the fires in an old house that has four fireplaces on the first floor! It’s a fulltime job. Gas is so convenient; just flip it on and off. And now gas logs look so real.
RI: When you entertain, you say that you usually serve buffet-style, then have platters brought to the table for seconds, and dessert served there as well. Please explain why that works so well.
BW: Because it lets people choose their own food, and once they’re seated, it keeps them at the table and let’s the conversation flow uninterrupted. Even if there’s no help to pass the platters, I keep the food on the side. I don’t like the way it looks on the table.
RI: There’s nothing aggressively impressive about the party menus you suggest in this book. It’s as if you are giving us all permission to keep the food simple and cozy.
BW: Personally, I’d rather have Kentucky Fried Chicken on a pretty plate served by a relaxed host than some complicated menu from a gourmet magazine that the hosts have exhausted themselves preparing.
RI: I love your advice for cocktail parties where there is no bartender: have multiple self-help bars and place food all around the house, as well. Then, if you have just one helper, (s)he can focus on keeping things tidy—replenishing the bar, as needed, picking up abandoned glasses and refilling platters.
BW: When John [Rosselli, Williams’ husband] gives parties at Trelliage [the garden antiques store he and B.W. co-own], we never have passed hors d’oeuvres. We just do huge plates of cheese and antipasta all over the place. No matter where someone is standing, they can easily get to the food.
RI: What is your goal with this book?
BW: Every time I walk into a house where there’s a sense of ownership by the people who live there, I’m enthralled. I’d like to encourage that. Anyone can get an idea from this book—it’s life after decoration!
4 Cornwall Road, Warren CT; 860.868.1800; 5 - 7 p.m.