6 Life (And Design) Lessons From Mary McDonald

As many of you know, award winning interior designer Mary McDonald will be the guest of honor at our September showroom party. We are beyond thrilled and grateful. Her designs are glamorous, captivating and always inspiring. In honor of our evening with Mary, we’re revisiting her first book, Interiors: The Allure of Style, and the top 6 life and design lessons we learned.

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Be Fearless. In Interiors: The Allure of Style, Mary reminds us that we all deserve to feel like a star in our own home. So don’t hide your personality and style behind current trends. “I like rooms that resonate wit and self-assurance and unapologetically say, This is who I am – take it or leave it!” explains Mary.

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Don’t save your best pieces for special occasions. Life is busy, unpredictable and, frankly, messy, but Mary reminds us that we can still add an element of ‘fancy’ to our everyday routine. One of my favorite rooms in Interiors: The Allure of Style is Mary’s office where she “use silver for everyday items like paper clips and rubber bands” to dress up the space.

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“Comfort and chic should be synonymous,” says Mary. After all, a well-designed room is one you want to spend time in. While Mary has earned a reputation for glamour and drama, at the heart of her designs is the principle that form follows function. Her rooms are just as inviting and luscious as they are dramatic.

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Alway be curating. You’ll never be dazzled by your home unless you display the things you love. The key is not to arrange your room and then leave things to collect dust. “You must begin with wonderful things, but the magic happens when you arrange and rearrange…and then curate it again,” explains Mary.

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“Restraint is the sister of chic,” explains Mary. “It should feel like you’re pulling the reins on a bridle when the horse wants to gallop.” This tension between drama and restraint is what creates allure. It’s what draws you into Mary’s designs.

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Have fun. “Design is like theater. The better the sets, the better the play. As in life, if the play isn’t good, you might as well like the set.” In all of Mary’s room designs, I’m especially drawn to the fact that they look like they were fun to design. Don’t take design and fashion so seriously that you forget to enjoy the process.

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The ‘It’ List: Our Current Obsessions

A well-designed room is one that creates a sense of discovery. And the most important thing you can do to create this effect is to curate and edit.

I like to layer well-made functional pieces, like a comfy sofa in a durable fabric, with unique pieces that rise above the ordinary. Some of these are more expensive, investment pieces and others are fun finds or family treasures. The beauty of editing and curating is that it can be done at any price point.

I’m always editing and re-editing my personal collection. Here, I share some my current obsessions and where to get them.

Current Obsessions

  1. By Lanvin, this chess set is a completely unique take on the game. Pieces are based on illustrations by Alber Elbaz.
  2. Pretty much anything Malachite. It adds a pop to any collection on any bookshelf or tabletop.
  3. I love adding a chic spot table next to a lounge chair. Right now clients are all about this McGuire Coburg Faceted Side Table.
  4. I think every client I’ve worked with has wanted to maximize seating without over-furnishing a room. An unusual stool like Chaddock’s Chleo Bench with the pied-de-Biche detail will delight your guests.
  5. greco urn or vase always dressed up a bookshelf!
  6. A really great mirror can bring so much character to a room. I love the way the frame of this Folie Mirror reminds me of meringue.

Furniture With A Past

Any interior can be brought to life with a touch of something exotic. As we look for exotic touches this week, we have campaign furniture on the mind. It’s representative of such a distinct time period – one of colonization and global expansion – that it’s use in a room evokes a sense of adventure, exploration and travel.

Campaign furniture dates back to the Roman Empire and was designed to be easily assembled and quickly folded up by traveling armies. It reached the height of its popularity during the rise of the British military in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mary Campaign Chair Sketch

Born out of necessity, the hallmark of campaign furniture is its capacity to be broken down, packed away and reassembled. British officers were of a certain social class though, and didn’t want to compromise the comfort and luxuries of home. “Regardless of whether the officers were sent to the jungles of India or the veldt of Africa, the mahogany dining table and chairs had to come along,” explains Forbes. Even during military campaigns, furniture needed to be both elegant and practical.

As the British army’s demand for campaign furniture grew, furniture manufacturers such as Ross and Co., Hepplewhite and Chippendale began engineering new, opulent pieces that were simultaneously light and moveable. In fact, this gave rise to many design concepts that were ahead of their time, like X-frame legs, brass corners, folding seats, recessed handles and strap work.

By its nature, campaign furniture is beautiful, functional and sturdy. It’s lasting legacy is one of utilitarian beauty. Even today, campaign-style furniture adds a touch of functionality, beauty and adventure to a room. Ready for some inspiration? Check out these spaces we love:

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Mary Campaign Chair

MM1415_27 Mod chair_DISCO

Ralph Bed Trunks

Want to see more campaign furniture? Check out our Pinterest page!