New Orleans-based antiques dealer and designer Tara Shaw specializes in French, Italian and Swedish antiques and designs her own line of reproductions, Tara Shaw Maison. Mary McDonald is a Los Angeles-based interior designer whose work has been featured in national and international magazines including House Beautiful, Veranda and Vogue. She became a household name this year when she was featured in the Bravo reality series Million Dollar Decorators. On Friday, Nov. 18, McDonald will spend an evening at Tara Shaw Antiques (1240 Camp St., 525-1131; www.tarashaw.com) signing her book, Mary McDonald Interiors: The Allure of Style (Rizzoli New York). Here, the two discuss McDonald's book, her work, her love of design and her take on New Orleans.
Tara Shaw: Tell us about your book.
Mary McDonald: It's a compilation of carefully edited design work spanning the last decade. I subtitled the book The Allure of Style because for me, design really is about style, and true style is seductive and alluring. Style is not necessarily any one look or period, but a marriage of vision and balance.
TS: You've had a stellar career. What it is about your style that makes so many want to emulate it?
MM: People are responding to my complete artistic commitment to style, whether it's the mood of my dress or a dining room. If I'm working a '70s look, I commit to a metallic wall graphic, or I get the jewelry and hair right. I go the extra step. I take time to collect items that appear personal to the room or outfit. Sometimes it doesn't even make financial sense to do so, but quite often, that's what makes the difference between my work and someone else's.
TS: You began your career as a milliner. I also went from fashion to design. Did coming from the fashion world help you as an interior designer?
MM: Yes and no. Yes, because all design is interrelated — you're still working with form, color, texture and balance. No, because interior design has such a different infrastructure business-wise that you really just learn from exposure and experience. The scale is so different in fashion that it really is a big learning curve technically to make that jump.
TS:What are some of the themes in your work?
MM: The base of my work is truly classicism, although sometimes it's not that blatant. I'm a real lover of pairs in the most classic sense. If I create a base of balance in my furniture placement, I'm much more free to layer with asymmetrical, one-of-a-kind pieces. I often do this through flanking pairs of chairs, brackets and vases off one major piece of furniture. I also make sure my color schemes are weighted evenly throughout a room.
TS: What do you think antiques do for a room?
MM: I love antiques and the visual and emotional texture they give a room. Even the most modern interior benefits from Greek klismos chairs or an antique bust on a pedestal. Antiques add human warmth.
TS: Do you have any favorite resources in New Orleans?
MM: M.S. Rau Antiques has great antique estate jewelry and some silver. Of course, Tara Shaw Antiques, and then there is also Piranesi Classic Antiques & Decoration, Kevin Stone Antiques, Disegno Karina Gentinetta and Mac Maison, Ltd. for some mid-century glamour.
TS: What's your top design tip for someone wants to recreate the kinds of interiors featured in your book?
MM: Short of hiring me, keep it simple and balance your furniture plan with your color scheme. I keep it to five colors and no more than five different patterns and solids. Make sure your most saturated colors are evenly placed, or have an equally saturated counterpart in another part of the room. Then, pop it up a bit and throw in something of contrast, be it white or a lighter shade. Rely on a pair or two of something to give a sense of classicism. A pair of urns on pedestals is a bit of a trademark for me. One odd personal collection goes a long way, be it half a dozen old hat blocks or collector-quality shells. There's no way to give one explanation for the multitude of room possibilities, but a few of these themes always seem to be present in my interiors.
Decorating Advice From Mary McDonald
1. Don't try to do every style all at once. I love every type of interior, but not all together.
2. Good design is really about balance. Don't fight a small, dark room with a light color. It will never be light, so utilize more saturated hues in dark rooms. Make them jewels, and you will make it special.
3. Address glamour sparingly. Pair glamour pieces (like crystal lamps, silver leaf tea paper or a vintage mirrored vanity) with something cleaner and less old-school: contemporary metal chairs or streamlined bookshelves.
4. Keep shiny elements (crystal, mirrors, metallics) to no more than three items. Cut down to two if it becomes overbearing.
5. One odd personal collection goes a long way. Don't have little bits and pieces all over, as it does not say "collection" or show clarity. A lacer or wood tray can give meaning and importance to a set of objects.