In Part 1 of our chat with Bunny Williams, we talked about what inspired her new collection, but today we wanted to talk about her home, on which she based her book An Affair with a House, as well as what makes her style so iconic!
Ballard Designs: We can’t tell you how excited we are to work with you! Can you tell us why you took the plunge?
Bunny Williams: I’ve been a fan of the Ballard catalog for many years. I have my own furniture collection, and I had been thinking about producing a tabletop collection as well. But I found that dealing with the quantity and distribution and all of that was really something that I couldn’t do, so I sadly put it aside. But the Ballard team came to my office in New York, and I have to say I’ve never met a lovelier group of people in my life! I was incredibly impressed.
BD: And then we invited you to come to Atlanta.
BW: What I put my name on, I want to make sure that somebody’s going to be thrilled they own this item. When I came to Atlanta and went to the Ballard showroom, I was so impressed. The products are even better looking in person than they are in the catalog, which is very rare. I was undone by the quality of things. I bought quite a few little things, and had them shipped back. I thought then that this would be a great relationship.
BD: Ditto for us!
BW: This whole process has been great. If I didn’t like it, Ballard didn’t make it. We had absolute final say-so on every single thing, and they struggled with me on trying to get just the right watercolor for a plate or a little angel I wanted to have made for Christmas that reminded me of one my mother had made in the 50’s. We didn’t even have a prototype, but it came out beautifully. So they’ve cared as much as I have and I can only say, you know, I’m almost in tears when I see the final product. This is something that has my name on it, and I think whoever buys it is going to say, “Wow, I have a fabulous thing.”
BD: Before we get into the details of your collection, let’s talk about you. Tell us how you developed your unique style.
BW: I think my style really stems from the way I was brought up. I was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. We lived in the country on the same road as many of my relatives. In those days the county was dry, so people didn’t go out and there weren’t any restaurants. We did things at home. And we went from house to house. I have such fond memories of growing up and having so many shared experiences in other people’s homes — lunches and dinners and such. It really established what I feel is important about a home.
BD: And how does that continue today?
BW: I think that one’s style is informed by all the things they’ve seen in their life. I grew up in a family where my parents liked antiques. We went antiquing. I used to go to nice stores, junk shops and tag sales. And as you progress through life, you begin to have these rich experiences. You travel, you go to Italy and you think, “Oh, that is a nice thing,” or you go to France and you see something that’s so uniquely French. Or you may go to a house that’s contemporary and you think, “I like this.” You begin to train your eye, and you begin to like a lot of different things. For me, what I find interesting about my style, is how I can put those things together. So it’s not just a formula — it’s maybe my formula — but I like mixing different styles and periods. It makes a decor more interesting and more long lasting. It doesn’t get dated or become passé, because you’ve brought things that are new and put them with things that are old.
BD: So you find inspiration virtually everywhere.
BW: I’m inspired all the time, really. I think that you have to expose yourself to lots of different things. You have to go to museums, you have to go to art shows, you have to look at gardens. You have to be curious in order to be inspired. And inspiration may come from some of the oddest places. It may come while walking down the street and you see somebody in a funny costume and you think, “Wow, look at that.” It makes you look. What I do is obviously very visual, so I need to be looking all of the time. I don’t look at my Blackberry or my iPad. Too many people are focused on this little thing in their hand and they’re not looking out the window or they’re not going into a room and experiencing that room. And I think that you have got to look around you all of the time and you’ll find inspiration.
BD: Do you have somebody walk into a room and say, “This is a Bunny Williams room. I can tell by looking at it”?
BW: I hope that every room I do has its own personality, and I would really hate it if somebody walked in and said that. Reason being, the room is my client’s room– it’s not mine. I do homes for other people, and I want their homes to represent them – the way they live, where they live. All of those things go into making a design decision for someone’s home. And, really, I’m hoping it fits them and their lifestyle.
BD: We’ve heard you use two terms: sophistication and comfort. How do those two elements play into what you do?
BW: You start with comfort. No matter what you do, if you don’t have a room that’s comfortable, people are not going to want to be in it. Yes, it’s important that a room suits you, but it may have to suit your children, your family and your friends. I’d rather a room feel comfortable first before anybody begins to think about what’s actually in that room. The first feeling should be, “I’d like to be in this room.” And then, if people are interested, they will notice the tables, the details and all of the things that have gone into making that room comfortable. Not everyone is interested in interior design. Some of my friends are, and they love to come here. They want to know what’s going in the room, what I’ve done, what it looks like. But I have other friends who are very bright and who I like to be around that really don’t care. So I want that room to be comfortable for them as well.
BD: Thank you for inviting us to your beautiful home. Your love affair with your home is no secret. You’ve dedicated an entire book to it. Tell us a little about it.
BW: We are in a house in a little town in northwest Connecticut. Thirty-four years ago after looking for a house for a number of years, I was told about this property and we drove over to see it. I’m not a superstitious person, but when I turned in the driveway, I felt something through my whole body and my palms started to perspire and I had this unusual experience. I felt like I was in a place I was supposed to live. And it was the worst thing you have ever seen! It was a rooming house, the grass was three feet high, there were rusted cars in the yard. It was a disaster — and I was in love before I walked in the door.
BD: You renovated the house?
BW: We did a lot of the work ourselves – we literally steamed off all of the wallpaper. There isn’t an inch of this house that I haven’t physically touched. In the beginning, the living room had no furniture, because we couldn’t afford it. But little by little we did a room at a time. This has been a love affair of a property for 34 years.
BD: You also have these gorgeous gardens.
BW: I started with one little vegetable garden. The problem is that the gardens have gotten totally out of control, because as a designer, you design one garden and it’s done and you’re bored so you think, “I better design another one.” Things have moved around, but it’s really been done over a very long period of time.
BD: So this is your weekend retreat from New York?
BW: This is my home. I go to New York to work during the week. I get up, I’m out of my apartment at eight o’clock in the morning. I’m lucky if I’m home by nine o’clock at night. So on the weekends I come here, which is really what I consider my home. We have friends over, we entertain, we have house guests. My family comes at Christmas. When I’m in New York I’m working most of the time, so I can’t enjoy that space, though it’s nice. Luckily, John feels the same way. We have our dogs, too. They can’t wait to jump in the car and get here where they’re free and can run around and hide their bones. We all have a good time.
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BD: Where did all of this love for entertaining come from?
BW: My love of entertaining really came from my growing up with a big family. Every Sunday, we went to my great Aunt Verda’s for Sunday lunch, and there were babies and 90-year-olds, and it was the most fun thing to be with the whole family. The older people wanted to know what you had been doing that week. There was always good food. Everybody grew their own vegetables in those days. My father even raised his own cattle. So food was important, and nobody took it for granted. My mother was a wonderful cook, and she loved to give dinner parties. So I was always around entertaining and it was fun. I think whatever you do as a child that you remember as being fun, you want to keep doing it. I also love being with people, and there’s nothing nicer than having people in your house. It’s fun to sit around the dining room table with your friends or the kitchen or your living room and just talk and enjoy each other.