Anyone who knows designer Bunny Williams knows she’s a consummate and gracious entertainer. She knows all the key ingredients to ensuring her guests have a good time. Lucky for us, she’s sharing her lifelong love for thoughtful details and timeless style with us. This holiday, she’s adding to her fabulously unique collections of decorative accessories and tabletop, plus she’s introducing a limited edition dining collection, designed especially for you and Ballard Designs. We spoke to Bunny about her new holiday collection and what she most looks forward to during the holidays.
Ballard Designs: Manor House Dining is your first furniture collection for Ballard Designs. Is this collection a reflection of the way you live and how you love to entertain?
Bunny Williams: The most important thing to me about the dining room is making sure your dinner guests are comfortable. So you want your furniture to be comfortable and somewhat flexible, because you may have six people or you may have 12 dining with you. These chairs are incredibly comfortable, but they’re also not too big, so you can fit more chairs around the table when you need to and they’re easy to move about. They’re just a great in-between size, and men will feel comfortable in them, too.
BD: You’ve really thought about the practical details. The table also extends to seat more people.
BW: You don’t necessarily want a great big table all the time, but then it’s a family dinner or a holiday, and suddenly you need the space. My Manor House Dining Table has a leaf that extends it to a greater size. I love round tables, and there are so few that have the leaf, and I thought it was important to make one that did. I love this table — the base and the shape are executed beautifully. It almost feels like it’s going to fly away. The cabinet is totally built for storage. The top drawer is designed to fit silverware, and you can store table linens and dishes in it. But you could also use it as a chest of drawers in a bedroom. It doesn’t have to be just a dining room piece.
BD: The buffet has these great Neoclassical details and the table is designed in a style that is reminiscent of Biedermeier. Can you talk about some of these details and what inspired this collection?
BW: I don’t want to make reproduction furniture. That’s not my goal. What I’m trying to do is design furniture that can go anywhere. I wanted to have these special details, because a big block of wood isn’t particularly attractive. And I like things to have movement. But I don’t want them to be so definitive in style. I think you could put this furniture in a traditional house or a modern apartment — and that’s what interests me. It allows people to create their own style. Again, I think furniture should be flexible, so you actually use it. If it’s too formal you think, “I don’t want to go in that room.” You can throw plastic mats on this table and have lunch, but you can also dress it up with an Ikat tablecloth, gold china and candlelight for a special occasion.
BD: You are known for designing your pieces with only one finish in mind. Why is that?
BW: In the past, when a cabinetmaker made a piece of furniture, the finish was part of the design. They had to think about what wood they wanted to use and whether they would paint it. I don’t think things should always be offered in five finishes, because original furniture wasn’t designed in five finishes. That’s the way I think about it. This is how I envisioned this furniture. I happen to like the mixture of the wood legs on the chair with the painted table, so that each piece stands out. If everything was brown wood, you don’t see one thing. When you look at this picture of the dining room, the chairs have a unique silhouette and finish, and so do the table and buffet, which makes each one of them seem special on their own. Also, you can really see the details on the buffet in this light finish. If it were dark, you wouldn’t see that.
BD: You mentioned your Ikat tablecloth. It’s perfect for layering.
BW: It’s a beautiful woven cloth — it’s not printed. It’s fabulous, and I just ordered several myself. I love the color, because it’s not just for holiday. It’s kind of a pink-y red. You could easily use it in the middle of summer, but it also works for a red and green look during the holidays. You can add magnolia leaves and pine cuttings from the garden and give your table a beautiful holiday look. This goes back to wanting things that are flexible, so you can use it all the time.
BD: The glass tureen is a beautiful piece all on its own. How do you use it?
BW: I have the original and I love to fill it with lemons, limes or artichokes. You could even fill it with nuts during the holidays. It’s just so pretty in the center of the table. It adds interest to the table without you having to go do a massive flower arrangement.
BD: You styled this very large entry for us, which is something a lot of people struggle with. How do you fill such a large space?
BW: What I love is scale. People should not be afraid of scale. Scale is what makes it exciting. I put a large hall table in the center and topped it with my Zinc Oversized Leaves in that big white vase. The leaves are an homage to my garden and to organic things. It’s so stylish and modern, and you don’t have to change it all the time. Much like the Decorative Discs, it gives you something sculptural and stylized to put on your table.
BD: We’ve never used our Bourdonnais Desk in an entry before, and we think this is a rather brilliant idea.
BW: This desk is finished so well, because it’s got the column sides, so it stands well in a large entry. It could even be in the center of the room. I put the X Benches below, because it fills in the space and gives another detail in the room. I always like to have benches.
BD: Tell us about your Diana Bust.
BW: It’s based on a plaster bust that I have. I think she’s so beautiful. I love the way her head is tilted. And being in a white material makes her look a little modern. Busts have been used for centuries as decoration, so it’s really a timeless piece. You can sit her on a table or a pedestal. Again, it’s all about scale, and this is an interesting object that gives you scale on a table.
BD: Our Trinket Box is made of found bone. We understand you have quite a few in your own home.
BW: I love bone boxes. They are beautiful on the table. You can use it in your bedroom to store your jewelry, or put it in the living room to hold your remote controls. There are tons of things that need to go in boxes — and when it’s a beautiful box in a beautiful shape, it becomes an object you’re happy to look at.
BD: You’ve also designed a Nailhead Folding Screen, something you use in your work for clients. Why do you like folding screens?
BW: A screen can really warm up a dead corner in a room. Plus, it gives you a way to hang small drawings. We always have little things we’ve collected — maybe it’s a drawing or a photograph or a small oil painting. Sometimes these items look too small on the wall, so you don’t hang them. Well, you can use a screen as a place to hang some of those smaller objects.
BD: Let’s talk holiday. The theme for the catalog this holiday season is a famous quote: “At Christmas, All Roads Lead Home.” What does that mean to you and what are those special traditions at Christmas that make a home?
BW: During the holidays, you bring out your decorations and you fill your home with the things you love. You put up your tree and your stockings or whatever tradition you have. Over the years I’ve collected lots and lots of ornaments, and I particularly like the handmade ones. You get them out and you remember them, and your tree is so much more interesting, because you have these things on it that are meaningful to you. I have an ornament that I’ve had since I was 6 years old, and I get it out every year. Those traditions are what make the holidays special.
BD: Your simple Openwork Star Ornaments give that instant feeling of tradition, because they have a very classic look. They’re perfect for decorating not just the tree but the mantel, too.
BW: Oh sure, you can hang them on a mantel or hang them on a mirror. You could put evergreens on top of whatever it is your decorating and then hang these snowflakes from it. And suddenly your home feels festive and special.
BW: I love embroidered fabrics and we found a particularly beautiful piece of antique Romanian embroidery. We took the design and translated it to the tree skirt and added it to the cuff of the white stocking. It’s funny, the plain white stocking with just the little bit of red embroidery up top almost looks contemporary. I also love my Vintage Knit Stockings. When I was growing up, sometimes people just had these big winter socks for stockings. I think this argyle knit stocking is fabulous in a very nostalgic kind of way.
BD: You also designed the Preserved Cypress Topiaries in two sizes. How are you using them?
BW: I love to put them on the mantel, the sideboard or the front hall. They can go anywhere you want to make a festive statement. I might mix the tall ones with a few amaryllis or do a group of them in different sizes. It’s a way of bringing in a touch of evergreen from outside.
BD: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to this holiday season?
BW: We are very lucky in the fact that we combine my family and a couple of friends’ families, and we often go to one person’s house on Christmas Eve and my house on Christmas Day. The one thing I love about Christmas is you look around you and see who’s alone. Maybe it’s a couple that doesn’t have a family or the family’s not coming this year. It’s the best time to really reach out and think about other people as well as yourself.
Browse all of Bunny Williams’ products designed for Ballard Designs, or learn more about Bunny Williams and her decorating style.
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