When the weather warms, Bunny Williams heads outside. Whether she’s pulling together an arrangement of flowers from the garden or entertaining poolside, she makes it all look so effortless. And if you ask her about it, she’ll tell you that it’s in the details. Lucky for us, she’s put that same thoughtful, creative sensibility into her spring and summer collection for Ballard. Every piece adds purpose with total style and ease.
We got the chance to catch up with Bunny to dish about her new collection, launching next week, and to see what’s in store for summer.
Ballard Designs: What does summer mean to you?
Bunny Williams: The garden, the garden, the garden! We’ve been sitting by the fire through the winter and now it’s time to get outside and get in the garden — and that is my great love. I can’t wait for the early hellebores and other flowers to bloom, and then come the vegetables. Summer is gardening time, and when you’re tired at the end of the day, you have a nice swim.
BD: What are some of your favorite summer traditions?
BW: I love entertaining casually outside. I especially love picnics. When the weather is good, you can do things in a much more spontaneous way, and life is more casual because you can cook hamburgers and be outside. We entertain a lot and really spend our time outside.
BD: Describe your ideal summer evening.
BW: The ideal summer evening is being outside with your family, all age groups. I love having the children, and I love having the parents and the grandparents. The children can run around in the yard and scream and yell, and the grandparents can sit and the husbands can grill the hamburgers and steaks. It just becomes a family time that is so wonderful because you can be outside. A lot of this collection was made for that.
BD: Yes, your love of casual outdoor entertaining clearly inspired your tabletop collection for Ballard.
BW: There are melamine plates, shatterproof glassware and wipeable, woven placemats that are great for outside by the beach or wherever you are. We made them from materials that aren’t fragile, and if you drop a plate it’s not going to break. It’s more casual. But, you know, nothing should be just for outside or just for inside. There’s no reason you can’t use these plates inside. A lot of my friends with children let their kids eat off melamine dishes every day, because they don’t break. It’s just easier.
BD: While these pieces are super low-maintenance, what we love most is that you didn’t sacrifice style one bit.
BW: Never! I love the wonderful checked blue-and-white tablecloth and the blue Iris plates. Everything is still based on glasses and china from other collections that I have, but we’ve just done it in materials that make it usable outside.
BD: Can you tell us about the blue-and-white color scheme that inspired your collection?
BW: I love blue-and-white china. I’ve been inspired by blue-and-white china through every collection I’ve done for Ballard. It’s such an ancient art — the Chinese did porcelain in blue and white, and many of the earliest decorations were also blue and white. Today, it’s a fresh combination. And I always say “there’s no blue food,” so food will always look great on the plate.
BD: With this collection, it seems like you’ve thought of everything for easy entertaining.
BW: One of the things I use all of the time in my own house is the big cooler. It’s very big and it’s a copy of an antique one I have. I fill it up with ice, and I put water and Coke and white wine in it. So when you have a lot of people, it can sit next to the bar outside and everybody can just open it and find a cold drink. It’s really pretty — you don’t have to look at the ugly Styrofoam cooler.
BD: Another example is the perhaps underrated Lazy Susan. Are you bringing it back?
BW: I love the Lazy Susan! I grew up with them. It’s simply a rotating tray that sits in the middle of your table, so that the jams and jellies that everyone is using can be easily passed around. You don’t have to keep saying, “will you please pass me the jam?” or “will you pass me the butter?”. It’s all on the Lazy Susan. Nice ones can be hard to find and we have two, a dark mahogany and a washed rustic pine, and one of those will look good on your table.
BD: Let’s talk florals. You’ve got a few different vases and something we’ve never sold before, floral frogs. How do you use them?
BW: Frogs were made in the Victorian era and even earlier. But they’re really just frames that go in the container to help you do a flower arrangement. I happen to have an old collection of them, so we copied some of the designs. If you put a frog in the bottom of any container, it makes doing flowers very easy. They hold the stem of the flower, so they don’t flop all over.
BD: So this is a great solution for people who want to make an arrangement quickly or for those who just aren’t any good at this sort of thing.
BW: Exactly. If you aren’t good at arranging flowers, use a frog with your container. It makes it quite easy to do flowers. And you don’t have to have a garden to enjoy an arrangement, because there are so many beautiful shrubs and flowers blooming. Anyone can go out and cut azaleas or lilacs or shrubs. It’s so pretty to bring those things in the house, to smell the lilacs and decorate with branches of dogwood or whatever. Those are the kinds of details that make your house come alive.
BD: Moving indoors, you actually have eight different styles of faux botanicals. When is it okay to go faux?
BW: Use them when you don’t have time to do flowers. You can take any of my cachepots I’ve done for Ballard and put in any of the faux plants — the ferns or the succulents — and it can go in the corner of the living room. Now, it doesn’t mean it can stay there forever. Sometimes what I do is I’ll use some of the faux things on the mantel when I don’t have flowers. But if I want to have a party or there’s a lot of people over, I put them away in the closet and I do fresh flowers. But it just allows you to have something if you’re in a hurry. However, I don’t do faux flower arrangements — I hate those. But I don’t mind a succulent or a fake fern, because it’s a plant and you kind of don’t look at it and go “oh, that’s fake,” but I don’t think you can get away with a fake flower arrangement.
BD: Noted! Your Zinc Palm Leaves make a big statement. Tell us about those.
BW: A room becomes more exciting when you put some large scale things in it. So if you’ve got a big table, you can put those big metal palm leaves in a vase, and it makes it exciting. What I love about them is they’re kind of contemporary even though they have a leaf shape. You know they’re fake. But they’re very stylish, because they’re a play on a big container of real leaves. Everyone tends to do small things, but if you’ve got a big front hall table and you’ve got these big metal leaves in there, it can be really fabulous.
BD: We imagine you have summer weekend guests in your home in Connecticut. You’ve said keeping them comfortable is all in the details, such as keeping covered tissues at bedside and bath.
BW: I always have tissues in every room, because if someone needs it, you don’t want them running around the house looking for them. But I want that box covered. Why do I need to see Kleenex written on the box? So I have several tissue covers in my collection. I have a metal one, a straw one and a fabric one, and they’re perfect for any room. You just cover the tissue box and it looks so much better. Those are the kind of details I love. You’re visually making sure you’re taking care of everything you see.
BD: What are other details you sweat to keep guests comfortable?
BW: If your house is organized, that adds to the sense of design. Having wonderful containers that instantly hide all of the stuff lying around makes such a difference in the way a room looks. I created these nesting baskets with lids and pretty scalloped liners that are perfect for keeping kids’ toys, storing your knitting or needlepoint or throwing in the guest room for laundry. If you’re organized, you’re going to be relaxed. If you’re not, your guests are not going to be relaxed either.
BD: In this collection, you’ve got some beautiful photos of your garden, taken by our very own photographer Brian Bieder. How did that come about?
BW: It all happened when he was up here doing the photo shoot for the catalog. I looked at the pictures he was taking, and I thought they were so beautiful. They’re some of the prettiest pictures I’ve ever seen of this garden. So we did a series of framed photographs for the wall. There are some with plant details and some with architectural details. I think there will be note cards, too.
BD: You also have these wonderful large-scale botanicals.
BW: I love big-scale, interesting botanicals, so we had a young artist here in New York paint the originals for us. They’re based on botanicals that were painted in India in the early 19th-century, which are worth $50,000, so nobody can afford the real ones. The artist hand painted our originals in watercolor, and then we made prints. You really can’t tell the difference — and the paper is beautiful.
BD: You’ve created a few other pieces of wall decor as well.
BW: Some of the things I create for my collection are things that are hard to find, like these wall brackets. You can put jars, candles or plates on them. You can hang brackets on either side of a mirror, break up an arrangement of photos with them or do a whole wall of brackets with wonderful plates on them. We have a white plaster one and a black lacquer one with a mirrored bottom, and they are both wonderful decorative accessories.
BD: You’ve carried the blue-and-white theme inside as well.
BW: The trompe l’oeil ginger jars are hand painted. They’re so charming and are copies of ones I have. They’re half-round and wonderful for decoration on a mantel, and you can use a real candle or the remote control ones behind them. My other great love is my dog, so I have a wonderful blue-and-white dog bowl that’s painted with Chinese foo dogs, and a faux bois mat to keep under the dish. It’s stylish and practical.
And totally Bunny.